Tag Archives: Frank Stanford

Remembering the Great C.D. Wright

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When Carolyn Doris Wright died on January 12, 2016, tributes galore spattered the big media: the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many more praised this fabulous poet, better known as C.D. Wright, who dared to “braid research, reminiscence, and reportage with ode and elegy,” as an eulogy in the New Yorker praised. But that was January, and C.D. Wright wrote poetry, that hardest of all sells in the reading world. As we embark upon National Poetry Month, how should we reflect on C.D. Wright’s legacy?

Strangely enough, C.D. Wright’s life and words may now be as relevant as ever, as we tread through an inundation of creative expression and a fierce battle for human rights. Wright used poetry as a tool to make sense of these realities.

C.D. Wright was born January 6, 1949, in Mountain Home, Arkansas, a community of roughly 2,000 overshadowed by the Ozarks. She was the daughter of the judge and the stenographer of an Ozarks courtroom. Her upbringing fueled her interest in current events that would run through her poetry. Wright’s later work was fascinated with the tense injustices of our times: One Big Self drew from Wright’s numerous visits inside Louisiana state prisons to react against the prison industry, and in Rising, Falling, Hovering, Wright addressed (among other things) illegal immigration. In the meantime, the MacArthur Fellow wrote many other collections, arguing for the importance of poetry as an art in its own right.

onewithothers Guernica interviewed Wright in 2012 about her early life and work, and discovered that the poet always thought she would end up in a “plainly useful occupation.” And she started that route too, going to law school for a brief time before dropping out to get her MFA. She wrote that “a few carelessly set mental fires [including] a fateful encounter with a poet my age who wrote in a lexicon known to the marrow of my bones, lit for me, poetry.” That poet was another legend coming into his own: Frank Stanford. The two met in the mid-1970s and started their own poetry press, as well as an affair that would last until Stanford’s early death. Of her relationship with Stanford, C.D. Wright was quiet, but his influence carried into her stunning work One with Others.

One with Others was published in 2011 by Copper Canyon Press, which also published the majority of Wright’s work later in life. In a combination of investigative journalism and poetry, Wright tells the story of her mentor “V,” a white woman who fought for civil rights in the Arkansas of the 60s and 70s. The title won a National Book Critics Circle Award and secured a National Book Award nomination. The book opens and ends with a line from Frank Stanford’s poem “The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You,” which puts in short form the continued need for open minds when it comes to race relations in the United States:

I want people of twenty seven languages walking back and forth saying to one

Another hello brother how’s the fishing

And when they reach their destination I don’t want them to forget if it was bad.

poet lionAfter One with Others, Wright published the lovely, ridiculous The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, el Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All on January 5, the day before her sixty-seventh birthday. This love song to poetics illustrates what Wright told Guernica in 2012: “Even though I get blatantly sick of poetry. . . I cannot for the life of me imagine my life without it.” Wright saw her world through poetry, using it to interpret reality, to cultivate compassion, as “My American Scrawl” hints:

“My American Scrawl” (excerpted from The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, el Farolito, a Wedding in St. Roch, the Big Box Store, the Warp in the Mirror, Spring, Midnights, Fire & All)

Increasingly indecisive, about matters both big and little, I have found that poetry is the one area where I am not inclined to crank up the fog machine, to palter or dissemble or quaver or hastily reverse myself. This is the one scene where I advance determined, if not precisely ready, to do battle with what an overly cited Jungian described as the anesthetized heart, the heart that does not react.

Seven days after this collection was published, Wright died, leaving a forthcoming collection with the prophetic title, Shallcross to be published during this National Poetry Month, on April 26. In line with Wright’s intense engagement with the hard issues of reality, this collection includes a collaborative suite responding to photographic documentation of murder sites in New Orleans.shallcross

Poetry is relevant, poetry is imperative to understanding our times and ourselves. Wright herself said it best: “[Poetry] could still galvanize people during a crisis, but let’s just say, as I heard Heather McHugh tell an ample audience, there are two points at which poetry is indispensable to people—at the point of love and the point of death. I’ll second that emotion.”

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Every Single One’s Got a Story to Tell: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Publishing of Third Man Books

thirdmanIf you’ve ever jammed out to the thumping bassline of “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, you’re probably already familiar with the extraordinary Jack White and his record label, Third Man Records. What you might not know about is Third Man Records’ sister company, a hard-rock publishing house aptly named Third Man Books. Officially launched in the summer of 2014 with a solo music-poetry hybrid title called Language Lessons: Volume I, Third Man Books has been steadily gathering steam to become an indie publishing force to be reckoned with. On March 23, the Detroit Metro Times sat down with co-publisher Chet Weise to talk shop.

Third Man Books was created in order to expand the brand’s creative production from solely music to “any and every form of expression, from music to poetry, fiction to film,” according to an interview in Publishers Weekly with Weise. Their motto is “Third Man Books: Where Your Turntable’s Not Dead & Where Your Page Still Turns.”

While Third Man Books definitely honors its roots by producing titles on and payingtotalchaos homage to the history of music (such as this fall’s Total Chaos: The Story of Iggy and the Stooges), they’re also dedicated to publishing powerful contemporary poetry and literary fiction. The founders – White, Weise, and Ben Swank – always knew that “the aim of the press would be to publish anything that is good, relevant, meaningful, and beautiful,” said Weise.

“Good, relevant, meaningful, and beautiful” includes titles by well-known members of the literary canon (like Hidden Water, a collection by Frank Stanford) and up-and-coming new talents (like My Dinner With Ron Jeremy by Kendra DeColo and When The World Wounds by Kiini Salaam.

The indie sensibilities of Third Man Records transferred over perfectly to launching an indie publisher, and while many of the company’s fans are drawn in by the high-voltage literature alone, many of them also follow them from the music scene.

“As I always suspected/knew,” Weise says, “people who have a genuine, engaged taste for music are usually involved in language, too.”

A lyrical, literary revolution – we’re proud to be groupies for Third Man Books!

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The NBCC Thinks Coffee House Press and Copper Canyon Titles are a Big Deal

This past week, the National Book Critics Circle announced their list of WhatAboutThisfinalists for the 2015 Book Awards. Not one but two Consortium titles made it through the incredibly competitive selection process: What About This: Collected Poems of Frank Stanford from Copper Canyon Press, nominated in Poetry, and The Story of My Teeth from Coffee House Press, nominated in Fiction.

StoryOfMyTeethThe Story of My Teeth has been garnering attention since before its debut. A review in the New York Times raved about it, saying the novel is “playful, attentive and very smart without being for a minute pretentious.” What About This is a collection that has been anticipated for decades, containing works that had been out-of-print since Frank Stanford’s death in the mid-1970s. NPR.org even called its release “the big event in poetry for 2015.”

You might be asking yourself, “But what are the NBCC Awards?”

Each year, the over 600 members of the NBCCcomprised of critics, authors, literary bloggers, publishers, and students—nominate books that they believe are the most critical, groundbreaking titles of the past year. From that pile, the board chooses five titles as finalists in each category (Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, Autobiography, Biography, and Criticism), and, after a long review process that lasts several months, the winners. This year’s award winners will be announced on March 17th. The chosen authors will join ranks with literary greats such as Vladimir Nabokov, Toni Morrison, John Updike, Sharon Olds, and Louise Erdrich. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal.

Best of luck to Copper Canyon Press and Coffee House Press!

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Copper Canyon Press and Third Man Books Give New Life to Prolific Southern Writer

Some authors neWhatAboutThisver get to see their work grow in popularity in their lifetime – think F. Scott Fitzgerald and the surging popularity of The Great Gatsby years after his death. This is the case with Frank Stanford, a prolific poet who has had two collections published posthumously this year, from Copper Canyon Press and Third Man Books. Since Stanford’s suicide at 29 in 1978, his fan base has grown slowly, with little work available to the majority of readers. The titles What About This from Copper Canyon Press (April 2015) and  Hidden Water from Third Man Books (August 2015) give readers a definitive collection of Stanford’s works, and the titles are getting attention.

What About This brings together Stanford’s published and unpublished manuscripHiddenWaterts and poems, and drafts and segments of previously uncollected work. Third Man Books’ companion title, Hidden Water is a collection of previously unpublished poems and drafts, as well as photographs and letters that illuminate the person behind Stanford’s mysterious character. As the Houston Chronicle said on August 21, 2015 in an article about the “mainstream acceptance of the author,” Stanford has never been widely known or read, but instead has “floated, ghostlike, through certain segments of the literary South.” The article continues, saying the two collections “make Stanford’s work feel legitimate, as though he’s been recognized by the academy and will soon take his place in anthologies and high school textbooks.”

HiddenWaterIllustration

Illustration from “Hidden Water” by Ginny Stanford. Used by permission of C.D. Wright, Ginny Stanford, Estate of Frank Stanford.

Both Third Man Books and Copper Canyon Press publish stunning poetry, and they were naturally drawn to Stanford’s talent and mystery. Copper Canyon Press was captivated by Stanford’s lyrical and dramatic voice and his range in topics covered, from politics and race to culture and humanity, while Third Man Books’s title provides the intimate Stanford–replete with letters and photographs that paint the human Stanford.

These titles introduce Stanford to new readers and gives long-time fans a definitive collection of his works. Clearly, for Third Man Books and Copper Canyon Press, intense, dramatic, and thought-provoking work deserves to be published. And read.

 

 

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