Literary Offerings into the World | April 2017 Report

During the academic semester, there’s a trend: I don’t write or send out that much material. I hope to remedy that after mid-May.

Note: Since Poetry Has Value no longer offers the fabulous guest posts I looked forward to reading each month, I’ve changed the name of The Whole Megillah‘s blog post series to Literary Offerings into the World.

Poetry: 1 submission (Ilanot Review), 1 acceptance (Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest Honorable Mention and publication in Paterson Literary Review), and 4 rejections to report (Bennington Review, Silver Birch Press, Passages North, Noctua).

I am currently teaching an adult school class in ekphrastic writing taking place at the Montclair Art Museum and wrote two new poems last week focusing on Native American artwork and American artists influenced by Matisse. I’m also writing new poems at the monthly poetry workshop at the Kearny Public Library.

Year of the Book: My poetry chapbook, Chicken Fat, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press. It’s targeted for August-September pre-sales and October publication.

Fiction: No activity, although I am working on a new short story that includes magical realism in Prague. No, it does not involve a Golem.

Creative Nonfiction: I am particularly excited about the essay I’ve sent to Agni, n+1, Orion, Image, J Journal, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Salmagundi. I have another essay ready to offer and two in revision. I’ll be generating yet another in May for the online class I’m taking.

Picture Books: 1 rejection (Calkins Creek). I have four mss. now in revision.

Academic: No activity.

Question 4U: What has your activity been like?

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SCBWI and PJ Library Team Up for Jewish Stories Award

The following comes from the SCBWI website:

SCBWI PJ Library Jewish Stories Award

SCBWI in partnership with PJ Library has established the Jewish Stories Award to encourage the creation of more high quality Jewish children’s literature. PJ Library®, a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, sends the gift of free Jewish children’s books to more than 170,000 North American participants each month.


Deadline: Submissions will be accepted from September 1st 2017 through October 31st 2017 only.

Award: $2,500 will be awarded to the author of the manuscript deemed most promising for publication and for distribution by PJ Library. PJ Library will make every effort to partner with a publisher to have the manuscript published and to carry the book in the PJ Library program. The award is separate from and in addition to any monies received by the author from a publisher. The author will also receive tuition to the SCBWI Winter Conference in New York, as well as a transportation and accommodations stipend of up to $500.

Eligibility: The manuscript must be an original work of fiction or nonfiction written in English and geared toward children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years. Whether the manuscript exemplifies a Jewish value, takes place during a Jewish holiday, or addresses Jewish history, it must contain Jewish content. Reference books, books about the Holocaust, and books about the death of a close family member will not be considered. Text only and text with illustrations submissions are welcome. Text with illustrations submissions should include one finished piece of art and 2-3 sketches. The author must be a member of SCBWI, and may submit more than one manuscript for consideration, however manuscripts under contract will not be accepted.

Guidelines: All submissions will be accepted only via email at pjlibrary@hgf.org as PDF or Word documents with the subject line “SCBWI PJ Library Jewish Stories Award Submission” and with complete contact information (name, address, email address, and telephone number) in the body of the email. The PJ Library Book Selection Committee will determine the finalists and a three-member panel of judges comprised of a representative from PJ Library, a librarian or other leader in the children’s book field, and an author, will make the final selection. The winner will be announced at the 2018 SCBWI Winter Conference in New York.

Book ideas for PJ Library for ages 6 months through 3 years

Book ideas for PJ LIbrary for ages 4 through 8

Questions?: pjlibrary@hgf.org

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Gauging Your Interest in Two New Online History and Literature Courses

The Whole Megillah wants to gauge your interest in two new courses. If you’re interested in one of the following, please contact barbarakrasner(at)att(dot)net or comment below.

The Holocaust – A six-week online course that covers anti-Semitism across Europe in the nineteenth century through the aftermath of the Holocaust. I will provide readings from leading scholars.

Method: Private Facebook page

Cost: $300

Holocaust Children’s Literature – A four-week survey course of historical narratives about the Holocaust written for children and young adults. Emphasis will be placed on books published since 2010, including picture books, novels, and nonfiction. We’ll cover a range of Holocaust-experience categories ranging from occupation and flight to recovery.

You will have to access the books on your own.

Method: Private Facebook page

Cost: $200

Barbara Krasner holds an MA in History and teaches the Holocaust at William Paterson University in New Jersey. She also holds an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and served for four years on the prestigious Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries. She teaches children’s literature at William Paterson University and is building a website and database of Holocaust children’s literature.

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Poet’s Notebook | Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub
Photo courtesy Pearl Gluck

I had the pleasure of getting to know Yermiyahu Ahron Taub through his collaboration with Ellen Cassedy. I was thrilled to meet up with him at AWP this past February in Washington, DC. His new poetry collection, The Education of a Daffodil, was hot off the press.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): When did you start writing poetry?
Yermiyahu Ahron Taub (YAT): Poetry came to me as a life force while I was adrift in a graduate program in history.  Reading three or four monographs in addition to numerous scholarly articles every week was both satisfying and satisfying.  The satisfaction resulted from “mastering” the dense arguments of various historical texts and historiographical schools, a kind of determined slogging through the epochs and their loquacious interpreters.  And yet that satisfaction proved fleeing.  I invariably had the sense that there was just another text waiting for me—that to be an expert truly, I had to read yet another book or at least one more article.  Rather than sifting through mountains of photocopies and scholarly tomes, I encountered in poetry a means of reaching (for)—in a few pointed lines and images—a different kind of truth.  The anxiety I felt in preparation for my history seminars and papers fell away.  Instead of being a yoke, poetic writing provided solace and renewal.

And yet, that academic training in history has held me in good stead.  Prominent historical figures—Rosa Luxemburg, Emma Goldman, the poet Rahel—as well as imagined activists and various characters placed in history, appear in my poetry.  And more broadly stated, historical concerns such as the Yiddish culture movement, labor movements, and the Holocaust also figure in my work.

TWM: Who inspires you?
YAT: The sources of my inspiration are widespread.  I read widely in fiction and poetry and have been an avid library patron since childhood.  I read for pleasure, insight, vision.  Some of my favorite poets, to name but a small few, are Anna Akhmatova, Nina Cassian, Rosario Castellanos, C.P. Cavafy, Jane Kenyon, Irena Klepfisz, and Minnie Bruce Pratt.  There are a number of poets in the Yiddish literary tradition whose work speaks to me, including Rokhl Fishman, Rokhl Korn, Anna Margolin, and Kadya Molodowsky.  Some of my favorite fiction writers include Pat Barker, Anita Brookner, Michelle Cliff, Janet Hobhouse, Brian Moore, James Purdy, Jean Rhys, Marilynne Robinson, Sinclair Ross, Elizabeth Taylor, and Colm Tóibín.  I am drawn to the arts generally and find that engaging visual art, listening to live musical performances, and seeing films help free my creative process.

I am inspired by those who work to make the world a better place through their words, actions, and presence—who fight for social justice globally and locally, who seek bridges or initiate dialogue across culture and interpersonal and familial divides.  Similarly, I am inspired by those who fight to overcome adversity in their own life, who find dignity and meaning on a small scale, in the every day.

TWM: What poem do you wish you’d written?
YAT: I don’t know if I’d say I wish I’d written them, but there are certainly poems that shimmer brightly in my consciousness.  They’re ones I return to regularly.  To name but a few, they include:

  • “The Last Toast” by Anna Akhmatova; translated by Stanley Kunitz with Max Hayward
  • “Lady of Miracles” by Nina Cassian; translated by Laura Schiff
  • “Ajedrez/Chess” by Rosario Castellanos; translated by Magda Bogin
  • “The Afternoon Sun” by C.P. Cavafy; translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrand
  • “Frying Trout while Drunk” by Lynn Emanuel
  • “Yo No Quiero Más Luz Que Tu Cuerpo Ante El Mío/I Want No More Light Than Your Body Facing Mine” by Miguel Hernández; translated by Michael Smith
  • “In Time of Plague” by Thom Gunn
  • “Having It Out with Melancholy” by Jane Kenyon
  • “Bashert” by Irena Klepfisz
  • “Leyve/Crazy Levi” by Rokhl Korn; translated by Seymour Levitan
  • “Coal” by Audre Lorde
  • “Metai/My Dead” by Rahel; translated by Robert Friend
  • “Just Once” by Anne Sexton

TWM: That’s some list! Your latest collection, The Education of a Daffodil, was published by Hadassa Word Press. How did you find them and what inspired this collection? 
YAT: I received an invitation to submit work from Elena Djima, an acquisitions editor at Hadassa Word Press.  I submitted this collection, and it was accepted for publication.  Incorporating Yiddish text into a manuscript is never without challenges and some of these poems are quite long, but Ms. Djima was supportive and flexible throughout the publication process.

My work moves from jotted down ideas to individual poems to full collections.  The bulk of this book was written during a residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA).  During the initial writing phase of a new project, I allow myself the freedom to create individual poems on whatever comes to me, to allow the words to flow freely and without interruption. As the writing continues and certain themes predominate, the focus of the collection emerges and a manuscript begins to take shape.

This particular collection was the result of an examination of emotional trauma long buried and my own work to understand better the toll that trauma was having on my body and my being in the world.  It then moved from that personal experience outwardly to fictionalized form.  It was also inspired by English literature.  The title character engages with the William Wordsworth poem “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” and the rhythms of the book play with the rhythms and cadences of English from a different time.  Certain English-language slang words for homosexual male, including “daffodil,” were also crucial sources of inspiration.

TWM: You’ve been nominated for a Pushcart award four times. What has that meant to you?
YAT: I’m honored to have my work recognized by various editors and publishers by those nominations and to know that my work speaks to others, that what I have written has touched a reader in some way.  Isn’t that what all writers seek?  And I am especially gladdened when I receive letters to that effect, knowing that someone has taken the time to write such a letter.

TWM: Is there one poem among those you’ve written that stands out above all others?
YAT: This is where I respond along the lines of “Could a parent name a favorite child?”  This question is a difficult one, obviously.  All of my poems have to pass some kind of internal test.  Do they work?  Are they complete?  Do they say what I’d like them to?  That said, some of my current favorites from The Education of a Daffodil include “Clarissa’s Convocation of Muses,” “The Problem of Cacophony,” “Varieties of Light,” “Before Dusk in the Herb Garden,” “Portrait of a Predecessor,” and “Movement in Black and White.”

TWM: What advice would you give aspiring poets?
YAT:

  • Clear out the noise in your head, whether that’s self-doubt, or the doubts and naysaying of others, or simply the many endless distractions of modern life.
  • Find a way into quiet. Make time to write regularly. There are very few writers who have the means to write literary work full-time. Don’t let exhaustion deplete your spirit.  Let your creativity sustain and strengthen you.  Seek out activities that help bring your creativity to the surface.  Be open to the mus(e)ic when it comes, and foster the conditions so that it can flourish when it does arrive.
  • Read widely. There can be no effective writing without reading the work of others.
  • Never let rejection discourage or stop you. All artists have to face rejection. In fact, all human beings do.  As a poet, one has to be “sensitive” to the world, but one also needs to be steely and determined.  Remember you can’t expect your work to speak to every reader.  Allow yourself time to recover from the sting of rejection and then return to the rejected manuscript after a period of time.  Re-examine it with a fresh, critical eye.  Can it be improved?  Or does it stand up well?  You’ll know.
  • Don’t focus too much on the career paths of other writers. Yes, it can look like everyone else is giving many readings, receiving the awards and prizes and grants and residencies, and having their work accepted into the most “prestigious” journals. Know that they too have struggled and been rejected.  Every one’s path is their own.  Your work will find a home.
  • Hone your voice and your project. While it’s essential to read the works of others, it’s equally crucial to develop your own voice. What are your concerns?  What motivates you?  How do you see the world?  What is your urgency?  How can those concerns be developed in textual form?
  • Be involved in literary community. Organize and participate in panel discussions, readings, and, conferences. And, again, engage with the work of other writers.  Celebrate the recognition of writers whose work you believe in.  Do what you can to get your work out, “network” to the extent possible, but cut yourself some slack, too.  Work on that balance between the solitude needed for creativity and the connectivity needed to bring your work out to the world.
  • Find the joy in writing, maximize its pleasure. Writing is hard work, but it also brings immense personal fulfillment.

About Yermiyahu Ahron Taub

Yermiyahu Ahron Taub is the author of five books of poetry, including most recently The Education of a Daffodil/Di bildung fun a geln nartstis (2017).  Tsugreytndik zikh tsu tantsn: naye Yidishe lider/Preparing to Dance: New Yiddish songs, a CD of nine of his Yiddish poems set to music, was released in 2014.  He was honored by the Museum of Jewish Heritage as one of New York’s best emerging Jewish artists and has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize and twice for a Best of the Net award.  His short stories have appeared in Jewish Fiction .net, The Jewish Literary Journal, Jewrotica, and Second Hand Stories PodcastWith Ellen Cassedy, he was the winner of the 2012 Yiddish Book Center Translation Prize for Oedipus in Brooklyn and Other Stories by Blume Lempel (Mandel Vilar Press and Dryad Press, 2016). Please visit his website at www.yataub.net.

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Yom Hashoah 2017 | The Whole Megillah’s Top Ten Holocaust Books for Children & Young Adults

In commemoration of Yom Hashoah 2017, I’m listing here my Top 10 Holocaust Books for Children and Young Adults (published since 2010), in no particular order:

  1. Prisoner of Night and Fog by Anne Blankman (Balzer + Bray, 2014)
  2. Once and Then by Morris Gleitzman (Henry Holt, 2010 and 2011)
  3. Requiem: Poems from the Terezin Ghetto by Paul Janeczko (Candlewick, 2011)
  4. The Whispering Town by Jennifer Elvgren and illustrated by Fabio Santomauro (Kar-Ben, 2014)
  5. The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb (Arthur A. Levine, 2013)
  6. The Berlin Boxing Club by Robert Sharenow (Balzer + Bray, 2011)
  7. Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport (Candlewick, 2012)
  8. Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit (Knopf, 2016)
  9. Dear Canada: Pieces of the Past: The Holocaust Diary of Rose Rabinowitz by Carol Matas (Scholastic Canada, 2013)
  10. The War Within These Walls by Aline Sax, illustrated by Caryl Strzelecki, translated by Laura Watkinson (Eerdmans, 2013)

There are many, many other fine books published. They span the spectrum of the Holocaust experience ranging from occupation and flight to liberation and recovery. Stay tuned for the launch of my Holocaust kidlit website and database along with the database’s analytical findings in June 2017.

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Poet’s Notebook | Richard Michelson

In honor of National Poetry Month, we continue in our series of interviews with poets of Jewish content. This week The Whole Megillah talks to prolific author and poet, Rich Michelson.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): How do you get your ideas for your poems?
Rich Michelson (RM): While writing for children I generally have an idea,  subject or question in mind before I begin, and then I search for the words that will best bring it to life. In writing poetry for adults I most often start with a word or phrase, and only slowly discover the idea or theme as I write. It is the love of language that fuels my poetry, though I am drawn toward narrative, and I am deeply engaged with my cultural and political surroundings, so the words naturally lead me to reflect on subjects I have been reading, conversing or thinking about. If I sit down to write with an idea in mind, it almost never works as poetry; I am better off writing an essay.

TWM: How much does your Jewish culture figure into your poetry? Your submissions?
RM: I have been blessed to see my books valued and shared within the Jewish community. I’ve had poems published in many of the journals (on paper and on-line) I read—Moment, Tikkun, Tablet, Jewish Currents. I am involved with Jewish culture and so I naturally submit to publication I check out on a regular basis; but I submit as often to poetry and general magazines I read. I don’t send work out scattershot; if I do not value a journal enough to subscribe, I have no interest in joining their conversation.

Jewish culture and history figures greatly in my poetry, because that seems to be the lens through which I view the world. Which is strange, as I grew up without a Jewish education of any kind; I never attended Hebrew school and was not “bar-mitzvahed.” My parents were anti-religious and didn’t attend services or socialize with any organized Jewish groups. My mother  wondered where she went wrong when I began to accept invitations to speak at various synagogues (though in hindsight, I guess we can call that a typical Jewish mother response!). But when my wife, Jennifer, converted – against my wishes – I began to read the books she was studying and decided it was about time to learn something about my heritage (Jennifer has since become an interfaith minister, so you never know what paths people will travel).

TWM: How do you find time to write since you run a gallery and also write picture books?
RM: If you want something done ask a busy person! I am a full-time gallery owner, a full-time poet, a full-time kids’ book writer and these days it seems every writer needs to be their own full-time publicist. But I do find time to bike, exercise, go to the theater, and I love traveling and spending time with my wife and grown children. Yes, I do sleep.  But I tend not to watch TV and I don’t see many movies or play computer games. Not because I wouldn’t love to do all those things but there isn’t time and I’d rather be reading or writing.

TWM: What poem do you wish you had written?
RM: Open any book by Yehuda Amichai. Randomly put your finger down. I wish I had written that poem.

TWM: What characterizes a good poem to you?
RM: A poem that appeals to the heart, the ear, and the mind equally.

TWM: When did you start writing poetry? Who inspires you?
RM: I started writing comparatively late. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer and I spent the majority of my school years as “class clown” until my 12th grade teacher, Mr. Ketchum inspired a love of literature. I began writing seriously in my 20s. To paraphrase Abraham Joshua Heschel: I used to be inspired by clever people but the older I get the more I am inspired by kind people.  I am also inspired by people who strive to make a difference in the world; people who reach for the stars, but always remember where they came from. I’ve written a number of children’s books about individuals who have inspired me including Heschel (As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom), Leonard Nimoy (Fascinating), Lipman Pike (Lipman Pike: America’s First Home Run King), and William Powell (Twice as Good).

TWM: You recently gave an awesome workshop and reading at the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in New Jersey with Mark Doty. What did you two talk about in the car ride back and forth to Massachusetts? 
RM: Well, thank you. I was pleased to visit PCCC and I thought the audience was engaged and receptive, and that is always half the equation, so give yourself a pat on the back also.

Mark Doty is an amazing poet and all-around good guy. Of course, we discussed philosophy, ethics, and the nature of the universe during the car ride to and from.  OK. Kidding. Mostly we talked about our feet, since Mark broke his distal phalanx two days prior and I’d just fractured a metatarsal bone. 🙂 Sorry to disappoint you, but I am sure you noticed we both hobbled our way onto the  stage. Then we caught up on old times and gossiped about former schoolmates (we were in the same MFA class at Goddard*). We did get around to discussing Whitman for a bit, so maybe I should have just written that.

TWM: What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
RM: I hate to repeat myself but I’d give the same advice I gave to aspiring children’s book writers on your blog previously: read, read, read—and see what the best of your elders and contemporaries are doing. And more importantly, sit down and write. I mean right now. Still here? We all have a million reasons why we don’t have time “right now.” Since this is the last question and you are done with the interview, instead of scrolling back to Facebook, and checking your email: WRITE!!!. Now. Still here?

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Poet’s Notebook | Matthew Lippman

Matthew Lippman Photo by Meriah Burman

Continuing in our month-long series of interviews with Jewish poets, The Whole Megillah welcomes Matthew Lippman.

The Whole Megillah (TWM): Matthew, how do you get your ideas for your poems?
Matthew Lippman (ML): The best way to answer this is to say that they really come out of nothing, or, what is seemingly nothing. For instance, when I drove into my school this morning, early, there was a policeman, a traffic cop, in neon yellow, standing in his neon yellow vest. It was way too early for him to be there but he was there. I wondered about why he had arrived so early in his neon yellow vest, standing in the rain. So, I wrote a poem about him. It’s always the littlest things.

TWM: How much does your Jewish culture figure into your poetry? Your submissions?
ML: It figures in and it does not figure in at all. I did, once, write a whole series of poems about being a Jew that turned into a collection called Salami Jew. But, I have strayed from the topic. My wife is in rabbinical school. My kids go to Jewish day school, and I am very secular. I suppose, unconsciously, it’s there but I don’t focus on it too much. In terms of submissions, not too much.

TWM: How do you find time to write since you teach at a day job and then also teach online and in private consultations?
ML: I write every day. I get to school early and write. It’s the blessed time. No one is here. I have huge windows in my classroom and things are quiet. I also write in the evening, after the kids have gone to sleep. Its just part of my day like all the other things—going to the market, making dinner. I don’t consider writing to be lofty in any sense. It’s very mundane and dirty like everything else.

TWM: What poem do you wish you had written?
ML: When I was a kid I wanted to have written “America” by Ginsberg. Now, in my later life, I wish I had written Danez Smith’s “Dinosaurs In The Hood,” or Kerrin McCadden’s, “The Mother Talks To Her Son About Her Heart.”

TWM: What characterizes a good poem to you?
ML: The integration of imagery, internal pressure, voice, attitude, funkiness.

TWM: When did you start writing poetry? Who inspires you?
ML: I started really young, in 1st grade. I was always drawn to it because of the quickness of a poem. I think I probably have some sort of attention deficit situation. I can’t focus too long on a piece of writing and I love language. Poetry was the perfect medium for me, especially as I got older, to indulge in my love of language and to appease my inability to stay focused.

Inspirational folks are Juan Felipe Herrera, Michael Morse, Bob Dylan, Elizabeth Murray, Frida Kahlo, Gerald Stern, Chris Burden, Annie Leibovitz, Diane Arbus, Toni Morrison, Matthew Dickman, Jay Nebel, and Tracy K. Smith, oh, and Daniel Nester.

TWM: Great list! What advice would you give to aspiring poets?
ML: Write everyday. Read a lot. Steal from poems and poets that you love. Incorporate imagery and surprise in poems. Write everyday. Oh, I said that. But, it’s true.

 

 

 

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