Guest Blog by Barry Marks: When Someone is moved by your writing but doesn't get what you intended to communicate

Guest Blog by Barry Marks: When Someone is moved by your writing but doesn't get what you intended to communicate

The fact is, once we throw a word or any sort of communication into the wind, whether at someone specific or not, we no longer control it. Each receiver can find things in it, consciously intended or not, that I think are every bit as valid (and “true”) as what the transmitter THOUGHT he/she intended.

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Dividing by Zero featured in SPD Books Best of the Press

Barry Mark's Dividing by Zero is featured in Small Press Distribution's Best of the Press feature for March 2015. Look for it in an issue of Publisher's Weekly this month and use code "BEST" to save 30% through April 1st on your copy at SPD's website here.

An interview with Barry Marks

Dividing by Zero cover - designed by megan cary

Negative Capability Press is happy to announce the release of Dividing by Zero by Barry Marks – Birmingham, Alabama attorney and author of the 2010 Eric Hoffer Award Finalist Sounding.

Dividing by Zero is a a riveting volume of poems, stories and narratives that weave a complex tale about a man, Raymond Shaw, who commits suicide and his daughter L. The unique structure, which Marks uses to tell both L. and Raymond's story, is inspired by the Talmud – the Jewish Rabbinic text that contains statements of religious law, case histories and interpretative notes on each page. 

This title is available through your local independent bookstore via IndieBound or on Amazon.com and will soon be available for distribution through SPD (Small Press Distribution).  

Barry, Negative Capability Press is proud to publish Dividing By Zero.  I think a lot of our readers would be interested in learning more about the book, especially your thoughts about the process as you wrote it.  

We don't usually ask this about poetry books, but what is Dividing By Zero about?

 Well, it isn't exactly a poetry book and there is a story. A daughter finds her father's unpublished poems, work he never shared. She resolves to publish it along with a strange narrative he left about his life and her own stories and memories of life with him.

The book combines poetry, fiction and personal remembrances. Did it start out that way?

Yes and no. Years ago, I was introduced to the Talmud, a centuries-old rabbinic text in which each page contains a statement of religious law and case history, augmented with commentary in the margins by half-a-dozen rabbis and scholars.

That seemed to me to be a wonderful way to express something difficult to describe, be it the law or human experience. How can we state the "truth" unless we can see it from many perspectives at once. A sort of written cubism seems necessary to address the mystery of truth.

 As I assembled poetry for a new book, I kept feeling that something was missing and that there should be more than just poems. One day, I remembered the Talmud and it mushroomed from there. I decided I wanted to present multiple points of view, but more than that, multiple modes of written communication, not only poetry and what it can share, but fiction and its allegorical message and narratives with their often flawed perspectives.

The poems are at first funny, then increasingly thoughtful and finally downright somber. Are you saying that this is how life is?

 No. Bear in mind that the conceit is that the poets daughter assembled these poems. In some ways, the order reflects what she saw her father's life and her hopeful belief that he became more empathetic at the end of his life.

Tell the truth, are you Raymond?

I hope not. Who we are and what we are really like is best told by those who love us. Ask my children, especially my youngest daughter.

You say in your preface that none of your characters resemble real people and none of the events described in the book ever happen. Yet you call this a true story. How can that be?

This goes to the heart of the book. As it developed, I realized that I was trying to tell a story not by a simple first or third person narrative, but by the emotions, perceptions and reactions to experiences of the characters.

 If I ask you "what did you do today?" You will say, "I got up slowly,  ate breakfast, was late for work but got there before the boss noticed." But what you experienced was not just those factual events. No one stood behind you saying, "You're up, you are eating, you are rushing to work..."

What you experienced was more like: sleepy....awake...disoriented....hungry... full...anxious... scared....relieved." In fact, it might be more accurate to tell a story about a knight who awakens from a witch's spell, shakes his hunger with food from a basket left by fleeing peasants, thinks himself in a strange kingdom where he does battle with a fire-snorting dragon with a great glass eye, who he vanquishes without realizing that he is in the present and he has done battle with a bus.

 Of course that is a silly story that has nothing to do with what actually "happened" but is it really like what you experienced in many ways?

 Cliché alert: I am asking for your definition of truth.

Would you call this book experimental?  I am thinking here of some of the work published in Against Expression: An Anthology of Conceptual Writing, edited by Craig Dworkin and Kenneth Goldsmith.  Your book makes exciting use of typography in portraying the worlds of father and daughter.

 When I hear that word, I think of a confusing, boring, book that is either academic or downright impossible to understand. I hope this book is fun, accessible and worthwhile whether or not the reader "gets" what I am trying to do.

 As I assembled poetry for a new book, I kept feeling that something was missing and that there should be more than just poems. One day, I remembered the Talmud and it mushroomed from there.

In the case of your book, I’m sure your realize that from the process form initial manuscript to finished product was not a quick one.  We went through many edits and back and forth exchanges in terms of content and format.  Would you please comment on the revision aspect of editing and publishing?

This book was in many ways a collaborative effort, which is how the editorial process should work. After talking to you and seeing your comments, I rethought the format (there were four elements at one time, instead of three) and at a couple of points, had to ask myself what I was really trying to do. Even when I disagreed, rethinking and responding to challenge made it a better book. 

Part of the challenge was the fact that the format demanded synchronization of poems, stories and narratives. I didn't want them to be too close. I did not want the narrative to explain the corresponding poem or what was going on as one or the other was written. Remember that this is L. assembling her father's work and her own and I didn't want it to look contrived. Nevertheless, when a poem was deleted or replaced, I often had to reorganize the narratives and stories around it.

 I have to tell you a funny story. Just as I thought I was done, about 6 months ago, I read a book on Maxwell Perkins, the Scribners editor who guided Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, Lardner and others. While I didn't fancy myself one of those guys, reading about the torturous rewrites, and passionate arguments made me feel terribly guilty. I put the book away for a month, came back to it and dropped, moved or revised 30% of what I thought was perfect. 

Emily Dickinson is dead.  We can’t sit back and assume that even after we cease to be, someone will pull poems from our dresser drawers and gift them to the world.  How important do you think social media and marketing is to the poet today?

 It depends on what the poet wants. Once again, I'll turn to the book. If we want to be Raymond and put our work in drawers, then we deserve what we get out of it. If we care enough to want to share, if we want to be really serious about doing our best, then having it read is important. 

Sure, you can get carried away. I detest social media and marketing my work sometimes feels degrading. But when I read to an appreciative audience, I can see what works and what doesn't and really hear myself for the first time. When someone I don't know writes to me or stops by a reading and gives me feedback, I feel less like a strange little man hiding away scribbling and more like an artist true to both his craft and his humanity. OK, that was inflated, but if we don't get our work out there we risk being Raymond.

Now, Barry, what next?  Do you have thoughts about what directions you want your writing to take?  

Of course, I have a couple of dozen new poems, one or two of which are pretty good. ( You know, the book contains less than 10% of what I wrote during the period since my prior book was published). I may do another book of poetry in a couple of years.

I'm still toying with the idea of a book that combines poetry with experience/commentary/prose - perhaps more directly related than DBZ and more Talmudic. It would take a lot of work and I would want a serious, action-heavy plot. I have the first chapters and/or outlines of several novels I never got around to.

On the other hand, I'm working on a chapbook of minimalist, visual and funny very short poems. Really stupid stuff. I may let that part of my brain take over for a while!

A Thanksgiving Cento


(A Cento by Sue Walker)

Thanks for
Bells with their stentorian tongues,
the relic of a summer barely gone,
river fog, wandrin’ damp and pathless under a flower moon,
goldfish, frogs, and lilies and wild plum thickets.

Thanks for
Ham and roast turkey, stuffed eggs and watermelon pickles,
old warriors, vests covered with patches,
a gypsy dressed in dreams wearing a white cat,
a drawer of tarnished knives.

Thanks for
A time before airboats and outsiders,
a soft urgency for sleep,
the tracery each beat and breath provides;
may I never be ungrateful for any shelter, any mouthful of
food or sip of water, any friendly gesture, any offer
of help, any touch of understanding.

Thanks for
Whatever comes of love,
kerosene, gasoline, Maybelline, Vaseline,
beads, brass, candlesticks, cotton sheets,
the sound of Anglo-Saxon laced with Latin.

Thanks for
The calm font of gentleness
when I had given up looking;
I wanted you to kiss me
on the street going to a store.

Thanks for
Belief in the infinite scheme of things
when times like lifted faces changed so slow,
little cataracts of blue ice in the stream gully
for the heart that waits.

Thanks for
The radio controlled turbo race car,
memory more satisfying than cold fried chicken
flowers and silk, girlish folderol
and earrings big as moons.

Thanks for
Gulps from a sun-warmed hose
small bubbles of sound,
mothers, fathers, siblings, lovers—
Ah! Suzette, Suzette.

Thanks for
Hot metal down South: beer cans, oil cans, tin trailers,
rusty barrels of smoking fish,
the gradual acceleration of a bird,
an octant for navigating by the stars
and the whole world looked new-made.

Thanks for
The peach overcome by her own sweet juices
one moment at a time,
reminiscences, poignant memories,
Eudaemonia, the concept Aristotle spent much of his Nicomachaen Ethics discussing.

1. Michael Bassett: “In the Forest of Whispers,” Hatchery of Tongues
2. Vivian Smallwood,:“And Finding No Mouse There,” And Finding No Mouse There.
3. Charles Rodning: Waitin’ ‘Round the Bend
4. J. William Chambers: Collage

5. Joseph L. Whitten: “Remember Rosella Gossett Winkler After Christmas Dinner,” Learning to Tell Time
6. Mary Elizabeth Murphy: “Reflecting Faces, Blama.
7. Philip C. Kolin: “Lunar Equations,” Departures.
8. Lissa Kiernan: “The Thinning” Two Faint Lines In The Violet

9. John Davis, Jr.: Everglades Requiem,” Middleclass American Proverb.
10. Maureen Alsop: “A Willow Tree And often, A River,” Later, Knives & Trees
11. Jim Murphy: “Almost Georgic, Alabama,” The Uniform House
12. John J. Brugaletta: “Itadakimasu,” With My Head Rising Out of the Water

13. Mary Carol Moran: “Vincent Implores Her Husband,” Equivocal Blessings
14. Pat Schneider: “Mama,” Wake Up Laughing
15. Melissa Dickson: “Fourteen Fragmented Quatrains,” Sweet Aegis
16. Michael Bugeja: “Little Dragons,” Little Dragons.

17. Robert Gray: “Sermon on the Mount, Circa 2008,” Jesus Walks the Southland
18. Barry Marks: ‘Finding You,” Sounding
19. Irene Latham: “New Year’s Eve, 1988,” What Came Before
20. Kathleen Thompson: “raising rails,” The Nights, The Days

21. Harry Myers: “Hang Loose,” Let Your Mind Run Free
22. Maurice Gandy: “An Old Mobilian,” An Uncharted Inch
23. Shanan Ballam: “The Porcupine,” Pretty Marrow
24. Vivian Shipley: “No Anesthesia,” Fair Haven

25. Roger Granet: “Christmas Eve,” The World’s A Small Town
26. P.T. Paul: “Cold Fried Chicken In Cadillac Square,” To Live and Write in Dixie
27. Mark J. Mitchell: “She Says Good-Bye To A Hat,” Three Visitors
28. Patricia Harkins-Pierre: “Aunt Janet’s Legs” Prophets of Morning Light

29. Clela Reed: “Five-Thirty,” The Hero of the Revolution Serves Us Tea
30. Sue Scalf: “Star Gazer,” To Stitch A Summer Sky
31. Lloyd Dendinger: “Freud,” Autumn Legacy
32. Clavin Andre Claudel: “Ah! Suzette.” Louisiana Creole Poems

33. Carolyn Page: “Stump Sound Hollow”; Barn Flight.
34. Alison Touster-Reed: “A Little Box of Us,” Bodies
35. Diane Gardner: “Boy With Spinning Top,” Measures to Movements
36. Richard Moore: The Mouse Whole

37. Louie Skipper: “The Other Kind of Silence Left By Wind.” To Speak This Tongue
38. Alexis Saunders: “ The Truth is . . . “ A Place Never Imagined
39. Nicholas Rinaldi: “”Bunker Wedding,” The Luffwaffe En Chaos
40. James Walker, Thoughts On High School & Beyond

What Others Say about Negative Capability Press

Maureen Alsop

Thank YOU for the privilege!!! It's an honor to be among your authors and high quality publications. The cadre of writers you support and the high quality books you produce are top shelf! Elegant. Beautiful publications with an eye for detail. The production support has been phenomenal and increasingly generous at every turn. Your press is an exemplary example of what a small press can be at it's very highest potential: a shared vision in supporting the integrity and evolution of literary arts. Ingenious!

John Brugaletta

My book's title, With My Head Rising out of the Water, was a piece of prophecy. The book was not just put together, it was assisted at its birth by two expert midwives, Sue Brannan Walker and Hena Skelton. I gave them the text, and they turned that into a physical book with a cover to dazzle the eye of a browser on Amazon and with pages to carry the reader along on handsome paper and a tasteful typeface.

 I wish all my publishing experiences were as happy as this one.

John Chambers

When two of my poems were published in Negative Capability, Vol. XIV, 1994, I was in joy.   Later,  Negative Capability Press  published my  A Taste of Wine and Gentian (2000),  Collage (2006), andSuite for Stefano and Luisa-Gatta (2012), and  I thought that was an unbelievable achievement. Then I was honored when Sue Brannan Walker asked me to co-edit Whatever Remembers Us: An Anthology of Alabama Poetry (2007).

 Working with Negative Capability has been a grand experience!  I extend my eternal  thanks to Sue Brannan Walker and Negative Capability Press!

Diane Garden

Publishing my book Measure to Movements: Poems on Artworks was a challenging task, as the press needed to keep costs down to make the book affordable, but at the same time obtain top- notch photocopies of the art.  Sue Walker and Megan, the graphic arts editor, spent a lot of time and effort to obtain these results, which they accomplished. I am forever grateful to them.

Robert Gray

Working with Sue Walker and Megan Cary  is quite awesome. I've been humbled and honored to have had three books published by Negative Capability Press. Megan Cary is the best cover designer anywhere.  Sheer genius!

Melissa Dickson Jackson

My Medusa collection, Sweet Aegis, began as a private passion, but upon hearing a few of the poems it became one Sue Walker and Negative Capability Press shared. With Negative Capability's support and encouragement, it grew into a book length collection, found a physical form, and was celebrated by writers, editors, and poet-peers. That it exists at all is due to the generosity and foresight of Sue Walker. For that I am ever grateful and ever humbled. To be part of this amazing 35-year journey of one of our country's most enduring small presses is an honor indeed. My hat, my hand, and my love to Sue Walker and her essential, inspiring, and beautiful Negative Capability.

Barry Marks
Challenging yet respectful. Prompt. Caring. Willing to work, creative, committed to excellence, and possessing the talent to push the poet and the work to their full potential.

(At the risk of being precious) Positively capable.

My work is better for having been published by Negative Capability and I can think of no higher praise to give a publisher.

I give Sue Walker and her talented staff my unqualified recommendation. And I thank them.

Clela Reed

While going through the publishing process with Negative Capability, I was reminded often that it was a cooperative venture, that my opinions and preferences mattered. And Sue Walker and her staff were true to their word--even when my wishes may have caused added effort and time. I'm very pleased with the finished product of "our" book!

Sue Scalf

My experience with Negative Capability Press goes back a long way. Sue Walker  first published a poem of mine in the same magazine in which she published a poem by our President,  Jimmy Carter.

 Since then Negative Capability  Press has published "Bearing the Print," a full-length collection and "To Stitch a Summer Sky" which encouraged me with a  first prize chapbook award, judged by Mary Moran.  Both publications were beautifully produced, with striking covers, and both were thoroughly professional and polished  presentations.  I have always felt the warmth of Sue Walker's personal kindness, love of and support of poets and poetry.  Thank you, Sue, for your years of devotion to our chosen art form.  I count you a friend and I cannot say enough about all you have done for poets and poetry. Through your efforts and through you, your work, and your boundless and positive energy,  your press has received national attention and brought honor to our state.

Pat Schneider

In one sense, my acceptance for publication by Negative Capability Press was the most important of my life, because it was my first acceptance by an established and respected national literary magazine.  Just as we can never forget a first love, a writer can never forget a first important publication.  [Insert comic element here if you want it — see below]  Over the years, Sue Walker accepted more poems and finally published my first autobiographical book, Wake Up Laughing: A Spiritual Autobiography.  From the first poem and always, I consider publication by Negative Capability Press to be a joy and an honor.

 Pat Schneider, author, ten books including Writing Alone and With Others and How the Light Gets In, both from Oxford University Press.                                                              

(Comic and personal addition, if desired, may be inserted:)

[The poem was about one of my daughters.  When I told her it would be published, she said the equivalent of “Over my dead body!!” So I had the miserable task of telling the editor that I could not publish the poem after all.  To which Sue Walker, the editor, replied, “Oh, I understand!  I have two sons!  Just send me another poem!” That generosity, combined with an intense care about literary excellence, is a constant with Walker, and with Negative Capability Press.]

I met Sue Walker on a soccer field in Massachusetts. We were introduced by an extraordinary poet and mutual friend, Leo Connellan. I was very unsure of myself as a poet and Sue's interest in publishing my poetry gave me the courage and confidence I needed to put together a manuscript for a book. Without her encouragement, I don't know if I could have ever allowed myself to take the time needed to compile Devil's Lane (Negative Capability Press, 1996). I was working full time as a Professor at Southern Connecticut State University and raising three sons. I felt a constant sense of guilt because I worked rather than staying at home and being a full time mother. So I had great difficulty in allowing myself to do anything that was not strictly work related. I needed to write poetry for emotional reasons but I did not submit much of it for publication because it was too time consuming. In addition to publishing Devil's Lane, Sue also nominated it for a Pulitzer Prize and helped me get reviews in numerous national journals like Chelsea, Quarterly West, Cimarron Review, Puerto del Sol and Birmingham Poetry Review. As a result of my poetry publications, I was named the Connecticut State University Distinguished Professor in 1998, a title I still hold today. The positive critical response to Devil's Lane also enabled me to win the 2000 Faculty Scholar Award from Southern Connecticut State University. This award and the interest in my poems gave me inspiration for new poems and also helped me get grants that supported my writing. In 2000, I was fortunate enough to have Sue Walker publish Fair Haven.  The title poem in the collection had won the Ann Stanford Poetry Prize from University of Southern California. The judge was Marge Piercy. Fair Haven was reviewed in 31national literary journals including The Literary Review, Rattle, The Briar Cliff Review, The South Carolina Review, The Chariton Review and Blueline. I continue to write and teach poetry writing full time at SCSU where I was named The Faculty Scholar in 2005 and 2008. I am the only faculty member who has won the award 3 times. Without sons who played soccer, without Leo Connellan, Sue Walker and I might have never met. It's very possible that my life would have been very different because without Sue's confidence in me and my poetry, I suspect I might have become discouraged and never tried to publish my poems. There is no way to say thank you for the gift of so many years filled with friendships with other poets, the opportunity to edit Connecticut Review for many years because I was a poet and the privilege of teaching gifted poetry students for 45 years. Because of her generosity as an editor, her talent as a poet and author, Sue has helped countless others like me find their voice and help keep the creative spirit alive in a world that threatens to drown out song.