Two Faint Lines in the Violet named Foreward Reviews' 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards Finalist

MOBILE, ALABAMA – Today, Negative Capability Press is pleased to announce Two Faint Lines in the Violet has been recognized as a finalist in the 17th annual Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards. Here is the complete list: https://indiefab.forewordreviews.com/finalists/2014/

Each year, Foreword Reviews shines a light on a select group of indie publishers, university presses, and self-published authors whose work stands out from the crowd.

In the next three months, a panel of more than 100 volunteer librarians and booksellers will determine the winners in 63 categories based on their experience with readers and patrons.

“After 17 years, our awards program has become synonymous with quality because our editors set such a high bar on the finalist round, which makes it especially tough for the judges who select the winners,” said Victoria Sutherland, publisher of Foreword Reviews. “In every genre, our judges will find an interesting, high-quality selection of books culled from this year’s entries.”

“Negative Capability Press is committed to publishing quality books of exciting and innovative poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. We work diligently with our authors and view our publishing endeavors as a mutual commitment toward excellence. We are so pleased that Lissa Kiernan’s Two Faint Lines in the Violet has been named a finalist,” said Publisher, Sue Brannan Walker.

Foreword Reviews will celebrate the winners during a program at the American Library Association Annual Conference in San Francisco on Friday, June 26 at 6 p.m. at the Pop Top Stage in the exhibit hall. Everyone is welcome. The Editor’s Choice Prize for Fiction, Nonfiction, and Foreword Reviews’ 2014 INDIEFAB Publisher of the Year Award will also be announced during the presentation.

About us: Negative Capability Press was founded in Mobile, Alabama and has been publishing award-winning books since 1981. They are a Member of APSS: Association of Publishers for Special Sales (formerly SPAN) and the Poetry Society of America. For more information visit our website at www.negativecapabilitypress.org.

About Foreword: Foreword Magazine, Inc is media company featuring a FOLIO: award winning quarterly print magazine Foreword Reviews and a website devoted to independently published books. In the magazine, they feature reviews of the best 160 new titles from independent publishers, university presses, and noteworthy self-published authors. Their website features daily updates: reviews along with in-depth coverage and analysis of independent publishing from a team of more than 100 reviewers, journalists, and bloggers. The print magazine is available at most Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million newsstands or by subscription.

You can also connect with them on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. They are headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan, USA.

Processing the Process: A Cabinet of Curiosities

Guest Blog by Lissa Kiernan

I’m currently busy shilling my first collection of poetry, Two Faint Lines in the Violet, published by the wonderful Negative Capability Press. It’s fun. No, really! I get to do stuff like this, for example, in addition to my full time job, my three part-time jobs, and working on my next title, Glass Needles & Goose Quills: Elementary Lessons in Atomic Properties, Nuclear Families, and Radical Poetics, a book-length braided lyric essay.

In between, I pencil in dates with my husband while my cats look on, perplexed as to where the Brooklyn "kitty-spa" they once called home has gone.

I’m also trying to sell said home in order to move up to the Catskills to establish a physical presence for my business, The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative, a provider of online poetry workshops. But that's just the pretense. The truth is I've lived in New York City now for 30 years, and having been raised in the wide open spaces of northern Massachusetts, I’m craving space madly—specifically, horizontal space. If only I could lay Brooklyn on its side, I might be able to hold out a little while longer, though that isn't likely to happen, and even so, it would still be tight living. I want to raise a barn where we can hold residencies, readings, and retreats, and to sit outside at night and hear slightly more mellifluous sounds than sirens and the Mr. Softee truck.

Speaking of sound, I've been told that I have an unusually wide repertoire of voices. I used to lament this, thinking I had not yet found that one signature voice—“my voice”— a concept that gets bandied about often enough in writing workshops. But one thing I keep hearing from readers of Two Faint Lines in the Violet is how full of surprises they find it and, surprisingly, that makes me happy. One reader went so far as to call it a page-turner!

Since my book came out, some curious or perhaps simply polite people will ask me what it’s “about.” My go-to and perhaps evasive answer is that my poems are almost always about many things at once: cabinets of curiosities, composites of disparate experiences issuing from the throat of a composite persona.

Thematically, though, Two Faint Lines in the Violet is more or less a collection of volatility. The poems vary topically, but share an undercurrent of trouble. The wonderful Irish fiction writer Claire Keegan once advised me that our characters should always be in some sort of trouble, lest there be no tension. It’s safe to say this collection does not lack tension. 

The first part, titled “The Daughter Element,” is reserved for the parallel stories of my father’s developing and dying from complications of a brain tumor and the decommissioning of a nuclear power plant that practically operated in his backyard. While many of the poems in “The Daughter Element” are quite personal, because of the gaze more often being directed outward than in, I think of these poems as social. The second part, titled “Inseparable Elements,” holds mostly poems of intense interiority on a variety of highly-charged autobiographical topics.

Some particularly curious, or perhaps, particularly polite people go so far as to ask me about my process. That question’s a bit more difficult to field. A poem’s genesis, for me, typically begins with the Wordsworthian spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings. Despite evidence to the contrary (this blog post, for example), I'm a pretty private person, so I tend to keep my feelings tamped down until they inevitably surface in search of air, an outlet, expression—a condition my former mentor Jeanne Marie Beaumont fittingly calls “critical mass.”

Robert Frost said: “Like a piece of ice on a hot stove, a poem must ride on its own melting.”  Similarly, Richard Hugo suggests in The Triggering Town that a poem has both a “triggering” subject as well as a subject or subject(s) that the writer discovers along the way. All of these concepts could describe different "key frames" in my process.

The triggering event, however, need not be extraordinary; it might be as simple as something newly or acutely observed, or simply derived from a heightened sensitivity to a perceived change in my emotional temperature. After I’ve completed the first draft of a poem, that temperature seems to regulate to a point whereby I am no longer seized by the need to write a poem, though I am then likely to be obsessed by the need to edit it.

Suffice to say that when I start to write a poem, I’m usually trying to figure something out but I’m not even sure how to pose the question. But if, in the process of writing, I manage not only to formulate that question but also to answer it—even if the answer isn’t perfect or the one that I’d hoped to find—that's when poetry feels a little like magic.

Paul Baumann Reviews L. Kiernan's Two Faint Lines In The Violet

Paul Baumann Reviews Lissa Kiernan’s Two Faint Lines in the Violet

Do you happen to know Faulkner's speech, on the occasion of his acceptance of the Nobel Prize? It comes to mind, as he apparently had to work a bit against the perception that his work created a pessimistic attitude.  It’s a horror, to say the least, to look back, with Faulkner, to the Civil War, and to contemplate the current situation, in which his metaphors seem all the more stridently realized, "the only question now is when will I be blown up?". Nothing different has emerged from the ground that Faulkner depicted with a musical vividness.  

Lissa Kiernan's book, Two Faint Lines in the Violet (Negative Capability Press, 2014), has the same fierce determination not to flinch, and the same sense of wonder, the same idea of what a poet's job is:  Not to avoid reality, but to take up the most abject along with the most lulling, and to make something that stays wonderful from the materials of experience. We need to see these images of ourselves blown up, just as we need to have new, beautiful songs.

It’s been some weeks since I read it now, but its rich atmosphere along with its palpable embedments continue to resonate, being mixed now with the amazement of Absalom, Absalom, which I am now reading for the first time.

--Paul Baumann, multimedia artist 


Damon Marbut Reviews Lissa Kiernan's Two Faint Lines in the Violet

Lissa Kiernan’s Two Faint Lines In The Violet is one of the more important collections of poems to have been recently published. Important because of what will come after this declaration of her presence in modern poetry. A gorgeous publication from Negative Capability Press, Kiernan’s poems appeal to all palates, which is rare and so very necessary. And it is a complete book, not accidentally written, and naturally generous with impact.

Early on, in Sun-Faint Suggestion, I wrote “Sigh” next to this near-perfect line: “You’re ice-locked in this painting Dad traded for a stuffed owl he’d found molting high in the house—attic where my lissome self unearthed hills of blue hula hoops flecked with paper flowers.” In “Crack” she demonstrates awareness of pause and language so that no devices in poetry are detected. She’s just exploring and offering the reader access to her exploration. And in “Labor Day” it’s arguably impossible to avoid getting lost in her opening:

Cricket buzz pedals over river-
rush. Starfish limbs splay
across the sea-sky. Kindling.

We need kindling.

Over weak coffee, we crumple
page after page of Sunday’s
Times. Poker gray bundles

Under twisted twigs.

The poems are also very personal and observant. You will understand her connection to family, father, womanhood, selfhood. One “wow” piece is Short-Term Memory Loss: Conversation #48. Historically I don’t go into detail about the poems that bowl me over, but this one does it. I would buy the book for this piece alone.

Vigilance and Proxy remind me of Paul Monette’s Love Alone, which are heartbreaking and touching affirmations of human connectivity. Through these poems I learned Kiernan is capable of being many things at once in the governance of her narrative strength. Poems are supposed to have that quality, that characteristic of otherness that blends with the real to tilt readers off balance. It is an art of both nearness and distance, and Lissa Kiernan seems to write poems with this important truth in mind.

Something of power exists in almost every poem. In Anniversary, a standout line is “I confess: in that month of black things, I could not have told you the season.” In The Hollow Clap Of Castanets In Hospital Rooms, I loved the lines “You did not even intend to suggest a desire for your own bed—where you might glimpse earth’s curve through leafless woods, and know you’d hear the songbird soon,”. And the end of Still Life With Irish Dirt, I was wowed again with “You look up to see your face walking towards you.”

Two Faint Lines In The Violet also contains neurosis, fun, vulnerability, and humor. It took me a full week to read because of how much it provides its audience, whereas some books can be sped through due to its tone and pacing. But Kiernan’s debut collection of poems must be carefully considered. And followers of poets and poetry will understand when I restate that this is an important book because of what she gives, as well as what she is sure to offer next, and next. Lissa Kiernan is a spectacular addition to the art form.

An Interview with Lissa Kiernan

Lissa Kiernan

Lissa Kiernan

Let’s say we’re sitting at a café in Brooklyn. Let’s say we’re drinking café au lait – and we’re talking about writing, about your new book: Two Faint Lines In The Violet – just out from Negative Capability Press. 

SBW:  Let’s begin in the beginning:  when did you start writing poetry – and what in your background led you to believe that you were a poet?

When I was a sophomore at the University of Michigan, enrolled as a flute performance major, I took a modern poetry course to fulfill a humanities requirement, discovered Yeats, and fell in love.

Both of my parents were artists, my mother a pianist and my father a photographer. I remember they gave me a poetry collection by Stanley Kunitz for a birthday in my early teens. Kunitz says that both gardening and writing poetry depend on the "wild permissiveness of the inner life" but I didn’t give myself that permission for a long time because, in addition to being an introvert, I resisted the negative stereotypes associated with poets. Narcissistic, depressive, neurotic, pretentious? That couldn’t be me! LOL….

I still prefer to call myself a writer who writes poetry, rather than a poet, since I also write essays and short stories.

SBW:  Place:  How has the sense of place played a role in your writing?

The abbreviated version: sorry, there is no abbreviated version. Place has played a tremendous role in this collection of poems. Here's how:

My father was diagnosed with cancer in 2003 and died from complications of his brain tumor four months later. During one of his three protracted hospital stays, he announced, apropos of nothing, “I’m not trying to be Erin Brockovich, but did you know that my closest neighbor also has a brain tumor?” I couldn't unhear that.

So I started doing some research and discovered that, in February 1997, under pressure from local watchdog group Citizens Awareness Network (CAN), the Massachusetts Department of Public Health had conducted a health study of the area where my father lived. Referred to locally as the Hill Towns, the cluster of eleven small, economically-depressed communities in the Berkshire foothills, including Charlemont, were chosen due to their location downriver from Yankee Rowe Atomic, one representing the greatest opportunity for exposure to the plant’s air emissions. Despite a dizzying array of disclaimers, the study—Assessment of Cancer Incidence and Down Syndrome Prevalence in the Deerfield River Valley, Massachusetts—nevertheless found statistically significant elevations in breast cancer, Down Syndrome, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the type of cancer my father had.

So there was this splintering disconnect between the lush, idyllic landscape where he lived, and this invisible, toxic threat that loomed around it. That feeling of the beautiful-terrible, the fortunate hazard, informs the first half of my poetry collection.

After he died, I finally gave myself full permission to write poetry. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but a need, moving my hand across the page, working its way through my grief.

Awhile later, I did make a conscious decision to pursue honing my craft when I enrolled in a workshop with Amy King at Poet’s House. Called “Making the Urban Poetic,” Amy posited that poetry was mutable enough to inherit the distinctive attributes of the cities in which its authors lived, and I play with that idea in the second half of my collection. These are poems more or less written from the point of view of a country mouse coming of age in, and coming to terms with, living in New York City, specifically Brooklyn, pre-gentrification.

SBW:  On poetry, in prose, in writing in general – maybe stories and plays, what formal devices – repetition, permutation, poetic forms such as prose poems, sonnets, villanelles, etc. are a part of your poetic repertoire? 

A lot of internal rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance, and awareness of meter and/or breath. Thanks to my early infusion in music (my mother was a piano teacher), my ear is pretty well-attuned to hearing harmonics and my heart fastened to pulse. Two Faint Lines in the Violet is primarily free verse, but includes several pantoums, two ghazals, a triolet, and a blues poem.

SBW:  In many ways your poetry is daring; you address the political ramifications of nuclear power plants and the sexuality of your father, how do you steel yourself to tell knotty, even dangerous truths about our human “being.”

One poem at a time. LOL. Seriously, though, it took what felt like forever before I began to find the words to disclose—even to myself—that I was writing poems that were also a form of investigative journalism into nuclear power. I was concerned that people would think I’d gone mad with grief, looking for someone or anything to blame.

However, by exercising due diligence and educating myself about the history of nuclearism, specifically that of Yankee Rowe, I began, tentatively, writing documentary poems about the energy plant, and, separately, elegiac poems about my father. Then it took yet another, steelier steeling, to write the poem that attempted to connect the dots, one that implicated Yankee Rowe, so to speak, as the scene of the crime.

As for my father’s sexuality, and other such "knotty" truths, that was somewhat less daunting. My father came out when I was 17, after twenty years of marriage and three children, and as shattering as it was at the time (1979, which was just before Rock Hudson's death brought about public awareness of AIDS) ultimately, his courage led to greater intimacy between us. Putting my own personal truths out there took a lot more nerve.

SBW:  Please explain duende – and its role in your poetry.

Sure...so speaking of personal truths, duende is a type of muse, though not the beatific, benign one we usually envision. It’s the muse that comes to interrogate us, to terrorize, to torture us into confession, to write the poems we're most afraid to write, the poems that might kill us in the process of writing them. Not all of my poems result from dancing with the duende, but I think some of the best ones do, such as “Census,” which I ended up making into an audiopoem. Other poems in the collection that are very duende is “Erratum, Last Line, Final Stanza” and "Dog Days."

SBW:  Who are your literary influences – poetry, fiction, nonfiction?

Poetry: Almost too many to name, both “the greats” as well as contemporaries. As for the greats: WB Yeats, Muriel Rukeyser, Sylvia Plath, Walt Whitman . . .

Fiction: Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, Marilynne Robinson, Michael Cunningham…

Nonfiction: Lewis Thomas, Rebecca Solnit, Anaïs Nin, Susan Griffin, Susan Sontag . . .

Playwriting: Samuel Beckett, David Mamet . . . Shakespeare! Hmmm. I notice that I can't list any women in this category.

SBW:  I notice in reading a number of Paris Review interviews which I enjoy and that serve as models for written interviews, many are of male writers.  Eavan Boland speaks of the influence of male writers, especially Yeats and Joyce.  Are women occupying a more viable position of influence in American literature today?

I am optimistic for the increased purview of women writers in American literature, though the numbers show that women are still underrepresented, not that we need numbers for confirmation. In my experience, women feel sexism and misogyny’s effects, however recessive and insidious, in and out of the literary arena, just about every day.

For me, the best way to counteract all that and stay positive is simply to keep writing, to keep trying to write better, to win better, to fail better (Beckett) to keep submitting, to keep mentoring and encouraging other women writers. I’m also heartened by the interest and admiration for women writers among many of my male friends, poets and non-poets, who readily self-identify as feminists.  

But in Ireland, Boland’s turf, and where I studied for two residencies during my MFA program, I gather it’s still a lamentable situation, though she and her contemporaries—Sinéad Morrissey, Medbh McGuckian, Claire Keegan—to name a few, are throwing down the gauntlet. Morrissey won the TS Elliot prize last year, for instance, and was just named the inaugural poet laureate of Belfast. So there’s hope, which makes me happy as an Irish-American woman.

SBW:  I know that you run a fabulous Poetry Cooperative, “The Rooster Moans.”  Tell us about it – how it began, what it does, and please mention The Poetry Barn.

Thank you, Sue! As a web developer by day and writer by night, creating a private, online space for writers to converse and share drafts of their work seemed like a perfect fit. The idea came to fruition when I was the poetry editor for Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal. Each Lobster author received an invitation to join The Rooster Moans, where I led ad-hoc online poetry workshops. So our community was already writing at a very high level; Susan Yount, Maureen Alsop, Brenda Mann Hammack, and Chris Crittenden, all fierce poets, were early adopters. Soon, they offered to "give back" by leading workshops of their own. I recruited more fabulous teaching artists, and after obtaining my MFA, took The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative public.

Now we offer up to three workshops every month, free to gently-priced, on a wide range of themes: magic realism, ecopoetics, objectivist poetry, confessional poetry, ekphrastic poetry, the grotesque, the prose poem, the fairy tale poem, nuclear poetics, poems influenced by film, oulipo, conceptualism . . .the list goes on and on. I’m incredibly grateful to our teaching artists and our “moaners,” as we fondly refer to the poets who enroll in our workshops, many of whom are regulars, for their steadfast support.

Our next step is to find a physical space in which to hold in-person workshops, retreats, readings, and residencies. I envision a generous number of acres in New York’s Catskill Mountains, and am actively looking for our home, the centerpiece of which will be an eco-friendly barn made from boards branded with poetry! I’m super excited for this next phase, and our supporters have been enthusiastically cheering us along.

SBW:  What else would you like to say about writing / writers?

Someone once told me: if you can do anything else, do it! And that's not half-bad advice for anyone on the fence about writing. It's such hard work. But its rewards—self-knowledge, empathy, self-respect, love—for me, at least, dwarf the energy expended to reap them.

And for those wondering if you are cut out to be poet, I promise you’ll eventually know, instinctively, just as you know your own name. Because like family, you don’t choose poetry, it chooses you. And when you accept that, and all that kin demands, you’ll finally, ironically, arrive at a complex peace—simultaneously more energized and exhausted than you ever thought possible. Welcome home.