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Collected Works Bookstore interviews poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Collected Works Bookstore interviews poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

CJJ:  Hello, the Roses is your latest in a long line of poetry volumes, but it is your first work to appear on the New Directions label.  Some folks such as myself, would consider this an honor as New Directions has had a long and famous history in the publication of American Poets: Robert Duncan, H.D., Ezra Pound, Hayden Carruth, William Carlos Williams, and Kenneth Rexroth, to name a few, have all shared the label.  Among your many distinguished accomplishments, how does this further one make you feel?

MMB:  The black and white New Directions classics are a big part of my literary history, including great works in translation.  It is an incredible honor to have this book.  I do feel that.  But it was also an honor to be published by Kelsey Street, a small press collective for new women’s writing for over forty years.  I like to think about time ahead and how my writing will participate with innovation in the contemporary, and I like to think of New Directions as a venue for that.  They are a spirited, idealistic and free-minded publisher.

CJJ:  Scholars and critics have housed your works under the moniker of a Language Poet.  What does this mean exactly?  Or is it a term, like so many terms, that has a center, but edges that blur in obscurity.  Do you agree that you are a language poet?  Is there such a thing?  


MMB:  The Language movement began with a specific group of writers in NYC and San Francisco in the late 70’s, with L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E magazine and a community of writers and artists who were developing a theory about language as a material, and in the beginning their writing was abstract and utilized juxtapositions.  I’ve always written in sentences, but I learned from my friends who were language writers, and I share some of their influences in French philosophy and the visual arts.  I believe you can feel the heft of language even with grammatical sentences, and I think ideas can be continuous with emotion.  I think it’s interesting to move in a continuum from language as material to language as illusionistic, back and forth in one poem.


CJJ:  You frequently collaborate with visual artists such as Kiki Smith and Richard Tuttle.  What does poetry add to the visual arts and, transversely, what do the visual arts add to poetry.  Is poetry an art form that is conducive to collaboration?  Can you give us a few dreams that you’ve envisioned of such collaborations between poetry and other arts?  


MMB:  With collaboration, the space between two artists opens out.  You have material or content from the other person and permission and communal energy to create in that new space, and you can give something to a particular person, a particular artist.  Since I spent a great deal of my young adulthood living alone, I welcomed opportunities to be with others in this way.  Today, I would “dream” of collaborating with perhaps the spirit of a cloud or a plant.  I would love to do that.


CJJ:  Your poetry is very distinct and not quite (speaking visually here, about your line) what many readers expect to see upon the page when they open a book of verse.  In a certain sense, your lines give an immediate impression of aphorisms (which are brief philosophical ponderings), maxims or fragments.  How did you come to this distinct use of line?  Is it just part of the language poetry inheritance (I am reminded of My Life by Lyn Hejinian, but far more controlled) or else, how did you come to this use of line?


MMB:  I make many, many notes before I write and arrange them with pictures on a big table. When I am ready to write, I start arranging the notes as if they were a large collage on the table, and I write from that.  It might feel natural to juxtapose an aphorism-note next to a note describing a cat, just as a visual artist would juxtapose a pink with green.  I follow a sense of the energy of the composition.  I don’t usually include all the steps that lead up to a thought, so as not to be boring.  Even though I leave out some links and make jumps in a composition, there is still for me a logic of the whole, as in a film.


CJJ:  Of local interest, your latest book has a lot of New Mexico landscape imagery.  You have, in fact, lived in Northern New Mexico for quite some time.  Certainly the landscape here continues to inspire you, but could you talk a little bit about New Mexico and its influence on you as an artist?


MMB:  I’ve lived in New Mexico for almost forty years.  The light and landscape are very, very important to me.  I believe I developed the longer lines to accommodate the wide sense of the horizon and long span of changing light we experience in the high desert.  The cultures and the writers and artists I have known here have been seminal.  Also, there is a sense of time I experience, when the sun crosses a wide space every day, which becomes cyclical.  Trying to describe the changes of light on the land has led me to using nuance as a way of proceeding through a poem.  When you live on one mesa for a long time, you come to trust your experience of a place, and then you can use that place as an opening, a portal, to other explorations of time and space and relations with people.


CJJ:  You also create visual arts, do you not?  When you are working on a literary form as opposed to a visual form what, to you, is the major creative difference?  


MMB:  The visual arts are a source for my work, but I do not make visual art.  Seeing is a way of creating the world, speaking with the world.  Now, I am working with the idea that seeing itself is a kind of description or expression of the world, but I don’t know quite what I mean by that.  Looking at art is joyful exercise in seeing.


CJJ:  Lastly, what is, right now, in your book bag or on your coffee table?

MMB:  Selected Poems of Keats, Ooops! by James Sherry, Wallace Stevens by Charles Altieri, Molecular Consciousness Alchemical Medicine by Clare Goodrick-Clarke, Bone Horses by Leslie Poling-Kempes, Denver Review, Turquoise Ledge by Leslie Silko.


Interviewee Mei-mei Berssenbrugge

Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson

Hello, the Roses Cover Image
ISBN: 9780811220910
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: New Directions Publishing Corporation - April 24th, 2013

I Love Artists: New and Selected Poems Cover Image
ISBN: 9780520246027
Availability: Temporarily Unavailable with our Distributor (Disregard for Forrest Fenn books - always in stock)
Published: University of California Press - April 10th, 2006

Halloween Kick Off! An Interview with Jared Walters of Centipede Press

CJJ: What does Centipede Press publish?


JW: Horror, crime, science fiction, art books, and some anthologies. 

CJJ: Your editions often come at a very high cover price. I also find them incredibly well put together, I am tempted to say curated even, and they are so often visually beautiful. What should a potential purchaser of your book line know about the quality and care your company puts into its publications?


JW: First of all, nothing is perfect. The first thing I see with a finished book is the flaws, compromises, goofs, etc. Overall, however, they are looking better. I want the book to be very much a “private theater” and offer something that you do not get from a digital book. The idea is superior design, fonts, typesetting, layout, cloth, dust jacket material, artwork, etc. The dust jacket needs to be a work of art in itself. And there are just little things you can do with the design to provide relaxing moments for the reader. Fun things, pictures of authors, pictures of old editions, things like that. 


CJJ: In your series, Masters of Horror and the Weird Tale, you often publish author compendiums, such as those of Arthur Machen, Frank Belknap Long William Hope Hodgson, to name a few of my favorites. How do you decide which authors make this cut and which do not? Are there any forthcoming editions like those I’ve mentioned that are right now in the works?


JW: There's always a bunch there. Clark Ashton Smith, Arthur J. Burks, Carl Jacobi, David Case, Fred Chappell, and the obscure John Metcalfe are all in some stage of production. There's no real decision on who makes the cut or not. First, is their work in the weird tradition? Does there seem to be enough interest to make it into a large book like this? Some people, like Maurice Level, did not work in the weird tradition and so got the smaller, more tradition 6 by 9 inch hardcover. 

CJJ: You pay homage to contemporary horror authors as well with authors like Peter Straub and Thomas Tryon. How are these authors selected?


JW: That's pretty simple. You get feedback from customers, artists, and other writers—even other publishers. I try to find books that I liked, or always wanted to read, and I see if they are in print, and, if so, if they have received a limited edition. 

CJJ: Given that your books are so artful, so completely collectable and long-lasting (I’m thinking here of their quality: the bind and paper), what do you most want to see out of other publishers’ books? I mean, when you go out to pick up a book, what do you admire and, also, wish to see improved?  


JW: I mostly look at cutting-edge publishers. These would be Taschen, MIT Press, Genesis Publications, and others like that. If I am at a bookstore, the Art and Architecture, Science, and a lot of the children's book sections have, for me, great design. This is where I go for inspiration. Books on design seem to have the best printing and sharpest illustrations. Children's books seem to have a lot of engaging designs, as they are facing a lot of competition from other media. Genesis Publications are huge and rambling and gorgeously printed and bound. Taschen publishes so much in music, movies, and art, and each book has its own personality, along with sumptuous design and breathtaking reproductions. MIT Press uses an engaging, asymmetrical layout for a lot of books, in addition to unusual cover cloths and type treatments. 

CJJ: Who were some of your favorite authors when you were younger, in high school for instance?


JW: I liked Stephen King a lot, up until It, which I read in my senior year and could just never finish. Nowadays some of my favorites are Joan Didion, Harlan Ellison, Philip K. Dick, Peter Matthiessen, Clark Ashton Smith Gene Wolfe, and Jim Thompson. Before high school I was a huge fan of Stephen King, James Herbert, and Peter Straub in that order. High school was H.P. Lovecraft, William Goldman, T.E.D. Klein, and some others. 

CJJ: Do you have an ideal Halloween books list? What I mean to say is, if you were in some scenario where you found yourself not only on a desert island, but also perpetually waking up to October 31st, what books would be in your festively appropriate survival kit?


JW: The Haunting of Hill House, Salem's Lot, The Shining, At the Mountains of Madness, Harvest Home, The Ceremonies, The House on the Borderland, The Night Land, The Tenant, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, The Search for Joseph Tully, Falling Angel, Lord of the Flies, the complete works of Jean Ray, Edgar Allan Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, and Stefan Grabinski, and—there’s just too many to list.

But of course I would want something besides horror: Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The White Album, Far Tortuga, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, The Snow Leopard, Kom-Tiki, and then The Odyssey, The Iliad, The Aeneid, and the complete works of Shakespeare, Euripides, William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison—blah blah. Did I go on long enough?

Interviewee: Jared Walters

Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson

Mass for Mixed Voices: The Selected Short Fiction of Charles Beaumont Cover Image
ISBN: 9781613470282
Availability: Temporarily Unavailable with our Distributor (Disregard for Forrest Fenn books - always in stock)
Published: Centipede Press - March 19th, 2013

Brood of the Witch-Queen Cover Image
Email or call for price.
ISBN: 9781613470398
Availability: Out of Print
Published: Centipede Press - December 24th, 2013

Arthur Machen: Masters of the Weird Tale Cover Image
By Arthur Machen, T.E.D. Klein (Introduction by), Caitlin R. Kiernan (Afterword by), Matthew Jaffe (Illustrator)
ISBN: 9781613470046
Availability: Temporarily Unavailable with our Distributor (Disregard for Forrest Fenn books - always in stock)
Published: Centipede Press - December 1st, 2012

Dark Melody of Madness Cover Image
By Cornell Woolrich, Matt Mahurin (Illustrator), Bill Pronzini (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9781613470374
Availability: Backordered
Published: Centipede Press - August 6th, 2013

The Worst Desert Island Reads, Seriously.

The infamous question rings again. Well, kind of. I’ve been asking folks lately what their desert island books or authors might be. You know the scenario: a violent storm or other unexpected catastrophe leaves you stranded on a desert island inexplicably (in most cases) with a few of your favorite things. Certainly it’s one of those well, how can I be sure answers, an ace up the interviewer’s sleeve, a worn and obvious card. But what if we turn the stock-standard question into something fresh, so as they do in the fashion industry, we put the trend in reverse? So I ask instead: what are the absolute worst desert island books?


First, The Complete Works of Shakespeare:


We all know Shakespeare’s language. He gave us a pageantry of words, metaphors and similes that have marked the English imagination for all time. His lyricism enchants us; it’s melody easily stamps the mind. And yet, Shakespeare’s greatest achievement is his insight into the human character. The characters that populate Shakespeare are people of many motivating layers. Their monologues present reasons that are hardly predictable, hardly rational and ear-marked at every turn of events with distraction. Even when Shakespeare is transparent to the audience, as he often is, his characters are swept into an undertow of themselves. Their motivations lead them like carrots while they continually argue with themselves over the wherefore by which they are led. Samples are easily found, to name a few: Much Ado About Nothing, Richard II, The Tempest, King Henry IV, Parts I & II.

  Shakespeare’s characters have deepened my understanding of those around me and, at the same time, made me more comfortable with my bewilderment at human nature. Shakespeare makes personalities his landscapes on the spare Elizabethan stage. His works are a tribute to the very architecture of the psychology of people in all their diversity and shallowness, to their generosities and their innocence: it is a painful reminder of exactly what one has lost, should they find themselves stranded on, say, a desert island.


Second, the novels of Henry Miller:


Like Shakespeare, the works of Henry Miller are about characters. Sometimes that character is simply Henry Miller himself, but more frequently his novels have a healthy cast of unending and utterly unique personalities. I think most often of Tropic of Capricorn, The Black Spring, Tropic of Cancer, Quiet Days in Cliché, The Colossus of Maroussi and Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch; these are books that, consequently and, perhaps a little personally, I read as a single series marking the passage of Henry Miller from an inwardly focused to an outwardly focused person.

Miller isn’t for everyone. That has frequently been noted. The author of the now very antiquated Twayne’s Author Series volume on Henry Miller seems annoyed to write on the subject. Time, however, has won Miller a vast following. I have no doubt that there are those who read Miller for the historically taboo thrill of reading banned literature. Others, though, who have the patience to come to several of his books, will find an author whose character deepens through the years. His friendships, often with reoccurring characters, comprise a large portion of his writing. His relationships are constantly in flux between finding understanding and that understanding falling apart.

Reading Henry Miller is something like talking to a stranger on the subway for a very long time, a trip long enough in fact, that he tells you his whole life. Sound like companionship? I’m not so sure, because again, I’m by myself on that desert island and reading Miller’s life, I feel, would over time seem like a bad Twilight Zone episode. It’d feel like looking into a living diorama of the vast and diverse world of humans and their prosaic cultures, but unable to live there.


Third, the poetry of Frank O'Hara:


O'Hara is a well-known and beloved poet of the New York School. He had an agile and full mind. Looking back over his works I feel like he was a prototype for Wikipedian knowledge. A knowledge, if you will, that sprawls into every crack. His encyclopedic awareness of artists, writers, commercial products and city life seems unending. So many of his poems contain a “see also” option. They redirect you. O'Hara sends our minds out into the worlds of culture over and over again. He is constantly encouraging us to engage with the wide world of people, to delve deeper into history and, at the same time, to embrace something fresh, something so new that it is new to us on this very day.

O'Hara’s poetry is, in of itself, a vast metropolis. There is no walking through the forest, no trip to Grecian seaside; his forest is one of piping, concrete and glass windows and his seaside is the deepening histories and ways of humankind. The poetry of O'Hara is like a Wallpaper guide to New York, and Tokyo, London, Detroit and Cape Town as well. It is anywhere people are swarming and bustling. It is about a deep and always proliferating world of doings, meetings, buildings, appreciations and endeavors. If one were to compile photographs that represented his poetry, they’d put together a scrapbook of friends enjoying one another’s company in a busy restaurant, faces passing in a city buys, children buddied-up and holding hands as their teacher leads them to the zoo and the halls of art museums; and what is the opposite of all that? A solitary desert island, of course.


Fourth and finally, the paintings, drawings and other collected works of Egon Schiele:


Schiele’s works on the human form are a veritable tribute to the sensuous. His work has frequently been imitated, sometimes loathed and other times idolized, but never since his time forgotten. Schiele doesn’t give us the body as defined by a drawing compass. Rather, his bodies are imperfect: sometimes they are too thin, or huddled awkwardly clutching their knees, or their complexions seem blotchy, their bones uncomfortably pronounced. They are, in short, blemished.

Schiele was one, like Rodin, who knew beauty was in every form and that, if this appears to be false, it is not the form which fails, but the eyes that view it. In other words, every body is beautiful and stands as a nexus to the world of the sensual. His work reminds us that the beauty of a person is not always just in the smooth, unbroken and voluptuous line, but rather more often it is in the attitude of a person or, better yet, the way in which their soul, their personal pomp, their coyness and forwardness resides in their bodies. Even the knees of his figures seem to blush; all of this sumptuous stuff I would want to forget if I were stranded on a desert island.


So, what should you put in your survival kit’s book storage?


I’ve got some ideas, but they are harder to define. Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is certainly in the list with its litany of the individualistic self. The Works of Seneca, John Webster and St. John-Perse are all possibilities. Most certainly the literary works of Djuna Barnes, whose biting wit is often a comfort to me in my darker days. The poetry of Cesar Vallejo with its penetrating and mystical loneliness. A book of Casper David Friedrich’s nature studies would be most welcome too.

They would have to be works that offer bread to the lonely and fortify the sense of a strong and solitary mind. Works like that are hard to swallow sometimes, but a desert island climate would be the perfect spot to engage them and engage them and engage them again.

 -Christopher J. Johnson


The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works Cover Image
ISBN: 9781408152010
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Bloomsbury Academic - December 15th, 2011

Tropic of Cancer Cover Image
ISBN: 9780802131782
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Grove/Atlantic - January 6th, 1994

The Collected Poems of Frank O'Hara Cover Image
By Frank O'Hara, Donald Allen (Editor), John Ashbery (Introduction by)
ISBN: 9780520201668
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: University of California Press - March 31st, 1995

Egon Schiele: Drawings and Watercolors Cover Image
ISBN: 9780500511169
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Thames & Hudson - May 17th, 2003

Collected Works Bookstore interviews the latest recipient of the Yale Younger Poets Prize Will Schutt

CJJ: The Yale Younger Poets Prize is a very prestigious and long running award.  Past recipients have included: James Tate, Robert Hass, Peter Streckfus, Carolyn Forche, Jack Gilbert, John Ashbery, W.S. Merwin. Muriel Rukeyser and many other well-known poets, but our readers may not know the ins and outs of the award.  What, to your mind, should people know about this honor?

WS: Besides its illustrious recipients, the Yale Younger Series has a jawdropping list of judges. The same poet serves as judge for several years, and I think that tradition is what distinguishes the Yale Younger from other book prizes of its kind. (Face it: there are a lot of fine debut book awards out there.) The judge really has a chance to leave his or her mark on the series. Plus he or she is also expected to write a foreword for each book, which is immense! And – at least in my experience working with current judge Carl Phillips – the award offers young poets an opportunity to engage with their elders in a meaningful conversation about the making of a book. Carl really made me feel as though he was invested in Westerly, and that investment means everything to someone wading out into the water for the first time.

CJJ: In your book, Westerly, you have a very melodic and yet down to earth voice that seems to range from the lyrical and confessional to the political and narrative.  How, as a poet, do you view your voice.  What is uniquely Schuttian in your work?  Or, rather, how would one pick a Schutt poem out from any other poet’s work?

WS: Modesty is a virtue I stand by, as is hesitation. But can I call myself modest and still claim to be modest? Regardless, it’s not a quality you would dub unique. Nor is it true of all the poems in Westerly. I’m still young – or so I’d like to think – and therefore still available to a range of voices, as you rightly point out.

It’s also true that I’m given to pretty lush music. I respect some talky poems, but I don’t think the world needs more of them. A poem isn’t everyday speech. Why pretend as if it were?


CJJ: Many of our readers are aspiring poets themselves; do you have any advice for them in regards to the work of poetry?  Do you have, for instance, any drafting habits or habits pertaining to keeping a notebook for ideas?  What practices most inform and shape your poems?


WS: I don’t think you start with some idea or larger vision and impose your feeling on the material. You start with the material, and with luck that leads to the rapture of a poem. I try to have a notebook handy, yes, always. And I’m not worried about filling that notebook up with descriptions, even if those descriptions wind up on the cutting floor. My interest in description probably stems from my interest in travel writing and the itinerant life I’ve led for the last several years. Travelers stare; that’s their thing. Then they go home and try to make sense of what they’ve seen – or merely admire the pictures for what they are. I’ve just moved to Baltimore, where everyone has colossal tattoos, and all I’ve done over the last few weeks is take all the ink in. Today I stood in line at a kiosk behind a guy with a tattoo covering either calf: a ball of fire on his left, a blue wave on his right with a goldfish leaping out of it. They looked funny on him; nothing else about his appearance struck me as yin-yang. Maybe something’ll come of that.

CJJ: Is poetry a personal or a public act?  Once a poem of yours is printed, I mean, in the light of day does it change in your eyes or is it still yours in a personal sense, but somebody else’s in their personal sense.  Does poetry have a social function and, if so, what is that function.

WS: It would be untrue to say writing poetry is an entirely personal act, but that’s how I feel at the moment of composition. I don’t go in for large-scale message making and am wary of poets who do. Once a poem is in print, yes, things change. I think poems – in the eyes of their authors – wither with exposure. I don’t like looking at a poem of mine in print. It inevitably fails to move me. I see nothing but flaws. As for its social function, all I can say is that I turn to literature for a shot of language, animating conversation, keener eyes. Delivering those goods seems function enough for me.

CJJ:  The poet Mayakovsky claims, in his book How to Make Verse, that a pencil, a notebook and a bicycle are the most important tools a poet can possess (outside of interest, drive and discipline).  What tools are in your poetry toolbox?

WS: I might trade that bicycle in for a good pair of walking shoes. Otherwise Mayakovsky’s got it about right.

CJJ:  What does the future hold for you?  Do you have another book in the works or is it time for a break?

WS: I’m working on new poems, but it’s too soon to say what they’ll amount to. I am also translating the poems of Edoardo Sanguineti, a major figure in the Italian avant-garde movement of the ’60s and ’70s.

CJJ:  Lastly, our stock standard question, what authors or books can you not do without.  If you are stuck or blocked in your process, to whom (authors) do you turn for inspiration?

WS: I turn to prose as often as I do to poetry, especially the prose of Denis Johnson and W.G. Sebald. Two novels I love that don’t receive enough attention are Sergei Dovlatov’s The Suitcase and James Baldwin’s Another Country. For inspiration I find myself consistently returning to several poets, including Elizabeth Bishop, Henri Cole, Robert Frost and George Herbert. Two contemporary collections I can’t do without are B.H. Fairchild’s The Art of the Lathe and Arda Collins’ It is Daylight.



Interviewee: Will Schutt

Interviewer: Christopher J. Johnson

George Jones reviews Lean In by Sandberg

Lean In Leans On

The most widely criticized new author in our country just happens to be the Chief Operating Officer of a company whose market cap is measurably greater than that of United Airlines, Delta, Southwest and American Airlines combined. That same COO, the person who is responsible for all of Facebook’s global operations, also just happens to be a woman. And that’s where the excitement surrounding her book begins.

Lean In explores a familiar American theme: that our society and culture treat women’s career aspirations and the presence of women in the workplace with an all too ever-present bias. Yet Sandberg’s treatment of the familiar theme contains two significant elements that other recent books have not.

One element is her illustration of her points with personal experiences and very specific advice as well as providing supporting data and references. Her own story is recounted over the course of the book, each chapter focusing on a sub-theme of the biases she has encountered, the very biases that Sandberg hopes to resurface as a subject of our cultural, economic and political discourse.

While some may question the need for one more book on the subject of women and equality, Sandberg demonstrates why the subject warrants new discussion based on where we are today. Sandberg’s personal stories of her own experiences in pursuing a career are much more relevant to today’s young women than the stories, important though they are, of Gloria Steinem and her colleagues. Nor is she reticent to speak the truth, stating clearly in the book’s introduction, “It is time for us to face the fact that our revolution has stalled.”

The second element is that Sandberg makes the significant philosophical and political shift from the idea that only men and male institutions need to change their behavior in order for change to occur. Sandberg argues for the more realistic view that women need to change their behavior as well.  Here again she provides a wealth of personal experiences, very specific advice and supporting data to make her case while lending a fresh perspective to a longer struggle.

The title of the book, Lean In, comes from the observation that women are all too often the quieter and less aggressive players in the workplace. One example she provides is the typical conference room meeting in which women routinely take the chairs that are along the wall instead of at the table. By doing so they position themselves at a disadvantage from the outset. Another is not taking a new assignment that would offer more responsibility and career advancement because they are not totally prepared, whereas a male colleague would readily take the challenge. Ms. Sandberg’s view is that until cultural biases have disappeared, women should understand how men behave and play the male game, otherwise they will continue to wait for their chance to have the power to make change happen.

As noted at the start, Sandberg has been widely criticized. The criticisms range from the clearly petty to the thoughtfully semi-accurate. On the clearly petty end is her self-acknowledged use of a writer to assist her with the book. The men who have criticized her on this point must also believe that Fortune 500 male executives write every word of their own books without an editor. On the thoughtful end she has been criticized, often by women, for not recognizing that she is among a privileged few – career women who can afford a nanny and have a husband willing to help take care of their children.

Sheryl Sandberg was actually not a privileged child, as many have suggested. Her first chapter portrays the history of her family: a grandmother that was part of a poor family and was pulled out of high school to help make money; a mother who had to drop out of a Ph.D. program when she became pregnant with Sheryl; and Sheryl herself a high school nerd, never picked for team sports. This is not someone who got into Harvard on the basis of family legacy.

Sandberg was not a product of affirmative action, a critique made to imply that she is really not that talented. Before joining Facebook as COO, Ms. Sandberg was vice president of Online Sales and Operations for Google, the world’s undisputed leader in web technology. Prior to both of those positions she spent a short time with McKinsey & Company, the name brand management consulting firm that hires only top MBAs from only the top three business schools. There is no affirmative action program for McKinsey, the executive level of Google, or the COO role at a major tech company.

Sandberg does not advocate that all women should have a career; she advocates that any woman should be able to pursue one if that is her choice.  Nor does she overlook that millions of single moms in our country struggle to make ends meet at minimum wage jobs. What she does argue is that these issues are not likely to be solved in a cultural environment that precludes women from top roles. The burden, of course, will be on those women who make it to the top to take action and make a difference.

Which brings us right back to why Sheryl Sandberg wrote her book and started a foundation, the Lean In Foundation, to advocate for all women.
I personally find that her critics, both male and female, tend to expose their own biases. Given her overall credentials, if Sandberg’s full name were Jack Welch, tribute would be laid down before her every word. But her first name is Sheryl and, as she will help you understand, that may have a lot to do with the often intense critiques of her and her book. I think the stalled revolution needs to be re-ignited and if you agree then you must read Lean In.


-George Jones


George Jones co-authored The Seven Layers of Integrity®, a book on professional and business ethics used in college and university courses. He lectured at Rice University where he developed and taught “Science Policy and Ethics” for a graduate school program. A management consultant, George’s career began with Arthur Andersen’s consulting division, now Accenture, where he was a partner for five years. He then worked with information technology startups for over twenty years and continues to do so in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. He earned his M.S. in Computer Science at The Ohio State University and is a CPA. His blog site on corporate ethics is He resides in Santa Fe.

Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385349949
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - March 11th, 2013

An Interview with Author Thomas Heise

Christopher J. Johnson of the Collected Works Bookstore staff interviews Thomas Heise, author of the recent MOTH; or how i came to be with you again.  Heise is a poet and teacher who spends his time between Montreal and New York City.  He is an Associate Professor of English at McGill University.

CJJ:  The structure of your book is very unconventional. There are uniformly no paragraph breaks in your book from chapter to chapter. The sensation I receive from it is similar to viewing uncut blocks of sculpting stone, but rather than bare stone the sides have been painted on. On what level does this aesthetic play into Moth and its story?

TH:  The book is all form, but that is not to say there isn’t a “story.” I think of story as the sensation or the affect created in the reader by form. Feelings of breathlessness, exhilaration, disorientation, wonder – that is Moth’s story. For me, the closest analogy for Moth isn’t sculpture, but film, because of its built-in sense of movement through time – sliding into the past, propelling into the future – but also movement in time, the time of reading, that duration for the sedentary traveler for whom there is no break, no place to pause as the theater of the mind moves.

CJJ:  Your book has a rolodex of authors and artists from the more well known like Goya and Turner to the less known and obscure like Khlebnikov and Lili Brik. Is this a little bit of Thomas Heise’s passion slipping into the metaphors or is it uniquely the unnamed narrator’s preoccupations?

TH:  The distinction between the narrator as a character and the narrator as the author is blurry. The opening of the book, as well as a few other encounters, suggests that the difference might be minimal. I take to heart Rimbaud’s rabbit-hole of an insight, “Je est un autre,” or “I am an other.” So the short answer is yes.   

CJJ:  Your book presents a number of places, for instance, a café that are destroyed in some way or in a state of disrepair. Is this a response, say, to the eerie and personless worlds of the popular imagination found in books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? I read in your book a sort of post-rapture tranquility, is that simply my own doing or is it an intended thing?

TH:  Ruins fascinate me. Decaying factories, abandoned houses, industrial lots that are turning back into fields: these are places where we can see time, where time becomes visible through the erosion of the material world. When we enter such spaces, we come “after” but we can see “before” because it leaves a trace in the dust, the crumbling walls, the shoes scattered on the floor, the drawers filled with papers. Such places are haunted with memory, but they also are evidence that we ourselves have survived.

CJJ:  The title of your book, MOTH; or how i came to be with you again, refers to what? I guess I’m asking if there is a light somewhere in the “you” of the title that the rest of the book is drawn to?

TH:  Among other things, Moth itself is short for “mother” and it contains the letters of my name, “Thom.” I like this interplay, which the book also plays with in scenes of pregnancy and writing.  The narrator, at one point, imagines his mother pregnant with him and then re-imagines the same scene as his mother pregnant with the need to write as the seed of an idea begins to gestate. That seed of an idea is the writer giving birth to him- or herself.  I suppose the “you” in the subtitle is anyone and anything for which we are always in pursuit, for which we desire, but which we can never light upon for long without risking the extinction of desire.

CJJ:  When you are writing a poem or a book how do you keep track of your ideas? Do you keep notes in a notebook or put them down as suddenly as they come onto napkins and credit card receipts or, perhaps, type them into your phone? Is your process nothing like this at all at all?

TH:  I keep a notebook. I write by hand and I write by computer. I do so to capture image so I won’t lose them. But whatever I imagined I would say about them invariably changes when I finally sit down to draft.

CJJ:  Lastly, a standard; if you had only two books, but you could carry them easily in your coat sleeves and so have them with you always, what would those two books be?

TH: An impossible question, ha! But let’s go with Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s A Hundred Years of Solitude and Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood.

Moth; Or How I Came to Be with You Again Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936747573
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Sarabande Books - July 2nd, 2013

Moth; or how I came to be with you again Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936747566
Availability: Available Now
Published: Sarabande Books - June 13th, 2013

Thomas Heise and the Haunted Box.


Thomas Heise is what scholars call “a writer’s writer”. He is the author of two books, a collection of poetry entitled Horror Vacui (2006) and the recent MOTH; or how i came to be with you again. MOTH is a startlingly experimental novel of run-on sentences and no paragraph breaks whatsoever. It is dense as a brick and binding as the bricklayer’s cement.

What is the plot of MOTH? Memory, childhood, consciousness itself. The paragraphless text is kin to the denseness of our very own thoughts, an unending shower of retrospection through words, a ceaseless question about our most uncertain certainty: the past, memory.

The book is accentuated with scholarly references: Mayakovsky, Goya, Turner, and Khlebnikov pepper the text with a metaphoric depth intended for the initiated, the literati level reader. The devotee of art, especially slightly out of date and fashion art, will delight over this book and find it, perhaps, suited to the interior of their own internal dialogues.

Heise’s style is reminiscent of so much that one can only surmise that it is unique. Readers of John Hawkes’ New Directions years or the early works in English of Vladimir Nabokov will find this book irresistible. It is a book without linear structure. A book that attempts, like memory, to defy time itself by parceling moments into fragments and viewing them through a kaleidoscope. Time, memory, and the narrator are MOTH’s central figures. Other reoccurring characters are few and far between: the narrator’s mother and father are ghostly and mostly guessed at apparitions; a love interest or two is denoted simply with S., M., and other assorted initials.

MOTH is a dream that suffers from the clarity and haze of dreams. It sticks in one’s mind like the brief moments of a pre-impact car crash. Time slides, the surroundings spin, and there is something strangely, unearthly slow in the space between recognition and outcome. The narrator may have nowhere to go, but where he is going is so vastly interesting, he wonders in his thoughts throughout a Europe of his past as one might imagine an explorer wondering into the dense and uncharted Brazilian rainforest Heise’s jungle, however, has for its flora and fauna pipes, zoos, dilapidated buildings, ghostly women, cafes and antique furniture. It reminds one of the bizarre urban environments of French Symbolist poets like Baudelaire and LaForgue and, later on, a young T.S. Eliot.

Heise is a talent to watch. It will be interesting to see what he, as a writer, grows into throughout the years. MOTH is a huge change from the earlier collection of poetry. Like John Hawkes of William Faulkner, Heise is making a major transition as an author between mediums, but still under full influence of earlier, highly poetic roots. Heise will be known, but it is a little early to tell exactly in what ilk. Be assured it’ll be haunting and glorious.


Christopher J. Johnson

Moth; Or How I Came to Be with You Again Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936747573
Availability: Available to Ship - Est. Delivery in 8-13 Business Days
Published: Sarabande Books - July 2nd, 2013

Moth; or how I came to be with you again Cover Image
ISBN: 9781936747566
Availability: Available Now
Published: Sarabande Books - June 13th, 2013

An Interview with Poet Sophie Cabot Black

All questions asked by Christopher J. Johnson and answered by Sophie Cabot Black

CJJ: Did you always have an affinity for poetry; I mean, did you always want to be a poet?

SCB: I am tempted to say that that an affinity for poetry first began in utero-- the heartbeat of my mother and my own as they intermingled-- I know it sounds rather esoteric and even far-fetched, but some germ began there. Childhood landscape is where I return, often, to begin entering a poem (the idea comes first, then the entering) and also, where I think much of my own longing and sense of disquiet stemmed from.

Also I believe music, rhyme and being read to kept me in a kingdom of sound: Mother Goose, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Lear.

But the one moment I came to realize the power of getting down my own line  of poetry was at school when I was 11, and a teacher had put on the board a selection of photographs pulled from LIFE magazine-- she asked us to pick one image and write to it, and either she, or myself, gave the extra task of writing only in one line. I so loved this-- the distillation and the pressure, something to be puzzled out.

CJJ:  Is being a poet a job?  Is it sustainable in the sense of work?

SCB: This is a hard one. I think if you are a poet, there is nothing else you can do as well. To be a good poet, you cannot veer away from the path of poetry. It is not something to dabble in. But as far as making a living at it: there are a precious few who really can. Most of us supplement by teaching.  But sustainability-wise, if you must write poems in order to live, then that already is part of the equation of your own preservation.

CJJ: What are your influences in literature?  Strictly poets?  Any novelists or dramatists and so on?

SCB: In poetry, I tend to go back to the dead greats: Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, the Metaphysicals. There are a few (live) poets whose work I follow and always go to when there is a new book from them: Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, C.D. Wright. Also W.S. Merwin, Mark Strand, Anne Carson. But I think much influences us in the world by surprise, and so all forms of literature and wordsmithing I look forward to.

CJJ: Desert island books?  Do you have any?  Do you think it’d be possible to choose, say five or so?

SCB: Today’s desert island books (this changes all the time): Cormac Mccarthy’s THE ROAD, Italo Calvino’s ITALIAN FAIRY TALES, a complete Shakespeare, the Collected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, and a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus.

CJJ: What habits are crucial to building a poetic craft?  For instance, do you keep a notebook of any kind?  Do you have a drafting process?

SBC: I think it complicated to analyze or even speak of one’s own process, but I do use both computer and notebook. Most of the time, in the current phase of my life (mother, domestic engineer, etc.), I cannot get to the desk to write for many many days. Sometimes the whole summer is gone, as I am also summer camp. So I take notes all the time, and however I can. But I also believe in reading out loud the many drafts-- but now it is only to myself, as those whom I did this with in the past have died or disappeared.

CJJ: What is your favorite time period in literature?  Is it our own?  The Italian Renaissance?  Augustan Roman Period?  Russian Futurists?  What voice in time do you feel the strongest gravitational pull towards?


SBC: I don’t think I have read enough from any one period to land in any one place. I have loved many books, and our current time is fairly burgeoning with them. In fact, I feel I need a curator to get me to the right ones, given how many are being published.

CJJ: Lastly, what is your favorite moment as poet?  An award, for instance, or inauguration or particular publication?  Maybe it was something in your inner world instead, a realization or feeling of successful growth...


SBC: My favorite moment as a poet? The one right after I have looked up from the page, convinced the poem is done. But this is also the same moment just  before I re-read the poem to realize it is still undone! That is a wonderful in between world to live in-- albeit for just a little while-- with the in-door behind you and the out-door not yet apparent.



The Exchange Cover Image
ISBN: 9781555976415
Availability: Temporarily Unavailable with our Distributor (Disregard for Forrest Fenn books - always in stock)
Published: Graywolf Press - May 7th, 2013

Richard Matheson

Richard Matheson.

Writer Richard Matheson passed away at the age of 87. His might not be a household name, but his stories are widely known and often satirized. He is the author of Nightmare at 10,00 Feet upon which the famous episode of the Twilight Zone is based wherein a hysterical William Shatner watches a Gremlin no one else can ever quite glimpse tear apart the plane piece by piece. Matheson wrote many Twilight Zone episodes. He also wrote the iconic story and sci-fi classic The Incredible Shrinking Man. He wrote Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come and, The Duel which were all turned into well known movies.

But his most cult and most crowning achievement is as the author of I Am Legend. I Am Legend follows the trials and tribulations (and scientific curiosities) of the last man on earth in a world overrun by ghoulish vampires. Matheson evokes a scene we have all become familiar with as the survivor ekes out a living among the daylight ruins of his former town and the quiet nighttime desolation of his fortified home. Matheson brought the concept of the vampire into a broader sense. No longer was the vampire a loner, hiding in the crypt with a “bride” or two, rather he shows himself to be a social creature who, like all creatures, must face the inevitability of population demands: feast or perish. Previous to Matheson’s book there were few examples of this concept and certainly none as captivating as his.

I Am Legend and Nightmare at 20.000 Feet share one feature that may be hard to miss.  Not because it I expressed subtly, but because it is expressed in opposites.  In Nightmare we have a man who  alone witnesses something; alone he sees the gremlin outside the plane window, no one else views this with him, no on else is aware.  In I Am Legend the lone survivor must experiences everything alone though he fruitlessly searches for others to partake in his survival, which is the survival of humankind itself.  Similar themes can be found in nearly all of his work both for page and screen.  Time and again Matheson gives us consciousness without validation.  This has become an underlying current in films and novels.  The mind alone.  The mind, if you will, in apocalypse. 

Over the span of his career, Matheson wrote about 20 novels, half a dozen short story collections and about 100 television scripts. His mark is broad and will last for many generations to come.  Many of his achievements have sunken into the popular mind and will be told and retold again for generations to come.


-Christopher J. Johnson

Nightmare At 20,000 Feet Cover Image
ISBN: 9781429913683
Availability: Available Now
Published: Tor Books - March 31st, 2007

On Drafting

On Drafting

In my several experiences working with high school teens in creative writing one idea that reoccurs is, drafts? I don’t do drafts. My poems/stories express how I felt while I wrote them. If I change them now the feeling will be destroyed. It is a pretty idea, but it contains a tragic flaw. If the feeling is so fragile and so one-off how shall anyone else recognize it? The idea simply denies the role of readership.

The reality is that drafting a literary work clarifies it. No author is devoid of this need in their original drafts; some comment somewhere says of Nabakov’s manuscript for The Real Life of Sebastian Knight that the editor was surprised to find hardly even a spelling error (the hardly here is very important). What I mean to say is, nobody’s perfect.

In writing something one anticipates a readership even if that reader is only ourselves. Nobody looks at a cup, functional or not, without seeing in it the idea of drinking something or containing; the same concept goes for how nobody actively writes a word without the idea of its being read. So, drafting a work lets one be read well. It is an opportunity to make sure that what has been written is understood just as the author wanted it to be understood.

We’d certainly be at odds if we set out to find a work of literature that hasn’t seen at least a draft or two. If we consider Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey, for instance, we discover that these epic poems were composed approximately 400 years before the written word; there is a long and famous passage in the Iliad that lists all the Greek ships that set sail for Troy, among these ships is an Athenian ship (and a few others) which is surprising as Athens wasn’t a city state in Homer’s lifetime. The fact is is that Homer’s famous epics existed in oral tradition and were passed by word of mouth and in such a way were they refined by a long oral tradition. In fact, when we consider the works of the Greeks it is important to note that many surviving Ancient Greek texts were preserved solely in Arabic in Arabian libraries after the Great Fire of the Alexandrian Library wherein many original texts in their original language were lost to us forever. Only in the Renaissance were these many missing texts rediscovered and retranslated into Greek from Arabic.

What am I getting at? I am suggesting that essence is the lion’s share of a literary work. The order of words in a piece of prose or poetry might be moving and very well put, but the aftermath of a book is its essence. Very few of us in our modern era remember the exact words as they fell out in a paragraph, poem, or block of text; what we are more apt to remember is the moral, feeling or information in a text.

Thus, an author is at odds to make that moral, feeling or bit of information memorable and palpable. This view is in direct opposition to that old high school feeling of, drafts? I don’t do drafts. My poems/stories express how I felt while I wrote them. If I change them now the feeling will be destroyed. Drafts allow that feeling to move from a personal and potentially closed experience to a universal and transmutable experience. After all, to deny a readership is to deny the meaning of the written word.

-Christopher J. Johnson




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