The Manuscript in the Corner: A Conversation with Wendy C. Ortiz

by David L. Ulin

Wendy C. Ortiz and I met when she was an MFA student and I became her graduate mentor. She was working on the first draft of the manuscript that would eventually become Excavation (Future Tense; 2014), and even then, it was clear that this was remarkable work. Ruthless, self-interrogating, resolute in its unwillingness to look away, Ortiz’s book—which involves the sexual relationship she had with a teacher when she was an adolescent—represents an astonishing act of reclamation, an author writing her way back to her own life. Ortiz is not looking to lay blame so much as she is interested

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An Interview with John Marx: Balance, Beauty, and Burning Man

by Colton Alstatt

ZYZZYVA: The poetics of études are compelling. The poems within play with open space, linework, and non-invasive markings to texture and guide the flow of reading. In their verbal substance, the pregnant subtlety of some poems remind me of Master Basho’s enigmatic haikus. What were some influences on the spatial, serene nature of your writing? JOHN MARX: There are two parts to this.  First is my background in the visual arts, specifically architecture and photography. Within these there is a quest for a spareness and economy of form, alongside an emphasis on compositional clarity and dynamic flow. The internal spacing […]

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Q&A with Rachel Swearingen: ‘How to Walk on Water and Other Stories’

by Christine Sneed

One of the best story collections I’ve read in the last several years, Rachel Swearingen’s How To Walk on Water and Other Stories (182 pages; New American Press), winner of the New American Press Fiction Prize, is defined in no small part by its author’s ability to immerse her readers in the complex and varied interior lives of the characters who populate her stories. Whether Swearingen is describing a graduate student’s attempt not to be driven to murder and madness by rude undergraduate neighbors or is offering us an intimate and highly specific view of a widower still grieving over […]

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Q&A with James Richardson: ‘For Now’ and the Small Things

by Troy Jollimore

There is no such thing, any longer, as a “mainstream” of American poetry—if there ever was. So each of us is forced, or encouraged, or provoked, to make up our own. In my personal conception of the American mainstream, James Richardson dwells near the center and looms large. His books are, in my view, some of the most beautiful produced by any American writer of the past few decades; they contain echoes of many poets distributed throughout many countries and centuries, yet they always sound contemporary, as if they were written last night—or ten years from now. Also, his work […]

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Q&A with Garth Greenwell: ‘Cleanness’ and Finding Beauty on the Margins

by Chia-Chia Lin

Garth Greenwell’s celebrated new book, Cleanness (FSG; 240 pages), which follows a gay teacher searching for intimacy and purpose in Bulgaria, is both quiet and explosive. Wherever Greenwell’s attention lands—a hushed conversation, a sexual encounter, a political protest—there’s heat and urgency and a concentrated, almost unbearable feeling of aliveness. Much has been said about the sex scenes in Cleanness; Sheila Heti wrote, “Most American literature seems neutered by comparison.” And it’s true, where so many writers fail or grasp for clichés or simply give up and elide the act of sex, Greenwell zooms in and stays. And stays and stays. […]

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Q&A with Daniel Mason: Diagnosis and Distillation

by Regan McMahon

After publishing three novels, The Piano Tuner (2002), A Far Country (2005), and The Winter Soldier (2018), Bay Area author Daniel Mason released his first collection of short fiction in May, A Registry of My Passage Upon the Earth (240 pages; Little, Brown). As he does in his longer works, he takes us into the minds and hearts of complex, nuanced characters and places them in intricately described settings, often in the natural word, detailed with the depth and precision of a botanist or anthropologist. He is, in fact, a man of science—by day he’s a clinical assistant professor in […]

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Q&A with Adam McOmber: ‘Jesus and John’ and Godot in Wonderland

by Christine Sneed

Adam McOmber’s new novel, Jesus and John (232 pages; Lethe Press), is a uniquely engrossing book, one that blends the sacred and the secular, the real and the surreal, and also offers an artful and subtle interrogation of what consciousness is and what, ultimately, it means to be alive. Not only is it a genre-defying novel, but the author immerses us in the strange world of ancient Rome, which at the time was the seat of a polytheistic empire.   Throughout Jesus and John, there’s the inimitable sense of the biblical title characters advancing through a mysterious and possibly malevolent, maze-like Roman […]

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I Guess It Must Be Up To Me: Larry Beckett’s Western Cries, and Whispers

by Paul Wilner

Portland poet, musician, and polymath Larry Beckett’s work explores the narratives which help define, however imperfectly, our history. American Cycle, a 600-page labor of love he has been working on for forty-seven years, tentatively set to be published in the Fall by Running Wild Press, encompasses characters from Paul Bunyan to John Henry, Chief Joseph to P.T. Barnum and Amelia Earhart. His current collection, Wyatt Earp – Poetic Narrative of a Wild Life in the Wild West (Alternating Current Press), pays homage to the reluctant lawman, offering an elegiac mash-up of the conflicting accounts of Earp’s life and legend. Fade […]

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by K.L. Browne

In Kate Milliken’s first novel, Kept Animals (350 pages; Scribner), Topanga Canyon of the early ‘90s is an isolated, wild place, beautiful but vulnerable to the destruction and chaos of wildfire. Two teenage girls suffer loss one summer in this rugged canyon nestled beside a Los Angeles of wealth and celebrity. As they seek solace in one another, their connection ripples through the small community with dangerous consequences. Milliken’s clear-eyed telling weaves their story with that of Charlie, a young woman who two decades later searches into the mystery of this relationship and the fire that swept through Topanga. The […]

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Draw a Bigger Circle: Q&A with Joyce Jenkins

by Meryl Natchez

To anyone in touch with the Bay Area literary scene, the publication Poetry Flash is part of the furniture—comfortable, essential, taken for granted. Its small office on Fourth Street in Berkeley is crammed with books, journals, and broadsides—a crush of continually incoming poetry, reviews, and fiction managed by Joyce Jenkins. She is the force behind this literary nexus, and  has been dedicated to the Bay Area poetry world since the early ’70s, working daily to serve that community and advocate for the arts in general. This interview describes her history with Poetry Flash and how the non-profit organization has grown […]

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Q&A with Daniel Handler: ‘Bottle Grove’ and a Changing San Francisco

by Oscar Villalon

In Daniel Handler’s seventh novel, Bottle Grove (227 pages; Bloomsbury), which was published in the fall, San Francisco gets both a kiss on the cheek and a flick to the ear. For those who have lived in the city for two or more decades, the novel has a magnetism perhaps unfelt by others who’ve only known the place in its most recent incarnation—as that of a giant Lego set, one pulled apart and restacked according to the heedless whims of the tech industry. Handler, a longtime San Franciscan, evokes the city in its beloved pre-boom familiarity, but because he’s telling […]

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