Micro-Interview with Xandria Phillips

Xandria Phillips will be reading from her new chapbook Reasons for Smoking (chosen by Claudia Rankine as the winner of our 2016 chapbook contest) at Open Books on Saturday, February 17, 7 pm and teaching a workshop at Open Books on Sunday, February 18, 10 am. As our excitement for these terrific events ramps up, we're thrilled to share this short interview with the author. 

Gabrielle Bates: This chapbook ends with a series of poems (“Edmonia Lewis and I on Academic Leave,” “Anarcha and I Negotiate Trauma,” “Michelle Obama and I Self-Medicate”) that imagine circumstances in which the speaker interacts with famous historical figures. Each posits a specific and intimate “we” relationship. Would you talk a little bit about your relationship—or your work’s relationship—to the word and idea “we”? And/or speak to how this “_________ and I...” series came to exist? I’m interested in so much (how the conceit allows you to collapse linear time and physical space, the power dynamics at play when animating historical figures as characters, the sexual atmosphere of them...). Were there any particular challenges you faced in writing this series? Anything that made them feel particularly fruitful or important to the chapbook as a whole?[1]

Xandria Phillips: Reasons For Smoking absolutely privileges the “we” pronoun as well as the implied “we” you mentioned in the “_______ and I…” series. I see the “we” particularly in my middle passage series as a kind of diasporic chorus made up of ancestral voices enslaved into the English tongue. I call this an assemblage voice rather than a collective one because assemblage better connotes a gathering that did not will itself as one. With all of my work that involves an assemblage voice or some notion of sameness, I want to cut monoliths down at the knees, and illuminate the grotesque nature of forced homogenization.

The “_________ and I...” series began with Anarcha, who I had been trying to engage with on the page for the longest. I wrote this poem during the 2016 Cave Canem retreat, when I was for the first time in my life, surrounded by other Black poets. Being there among so many poets I had cherished from the page changed me. I afforded myself all kinds of permissions within my writing practice that I had never fully considered before, one of them being communicating with people I had no access to. Of all the Black women I write myself in conversation with, Anarcha is the softest and most like me. My deepest concern was that the historic subjects in the poems could read or register as versions of myself more so than individuals. As a measure to de-romanticize and complicate, I build intimacy in these poems that is strained, labored, or at the very least, temporary. I am interested in what lives between the erotic and sex, especially in regards to relationships between Black women. I place myself at the mercy of Edmonia, Michelle, and Anaracha’s intimacy because I always want to peek at what lies beneath the bonnet.

GB: You’re teaching a poetry workshop at Open Books: A Poem Emporium on 2/18 (which sounds *amazing*), to focus on “un-grammar / marring language and the emotional resonance of sound.” For you, what is the role of destruction and violence in the making of poems? When you think of “the emotional resonance of sound,” do any particular sounds, words, phrases, or lines come to mind?

XP: In regards to destruction and violence, I make a point to use linguistic interruption as a tactic that is, in a sense, an involuntary prayer or tribute to the terrors cast onto Black bodies that the reader must utter. In my middle passage series, this interruption takes the form of an un- or invented grammar in which at any place I would write the word “us”, I instead write: “we”.  The technical grammar of it speaks to a reclamation of agency with “we” being a subject pronoun and “us” being an object pronoun, the beings being acted upon. While the narrative stresses the inevitability of eternal objecthood for the enslaved, the language itself resists commodification. The language depicts a population who was not born into slavery, and had to make the existential commute into objecthood. This didn’t happen overnight. People lost themselves to colonial capitalism cell-by-cell. How does humanity mutate in the newly-enslaved body? I think language and communication would have been the first things to thrum under tyranny and to change irreconcilably.

Sound’s own resonance for me is linked to its context and the way it blocks the shortcuts my mind builds to navigate language on auto-pilot rather than with precision. A poem I read recently that is exemplary of this is “Bring Back Our Girls” by Marwa Helal.

***

[1] For those who don’t know, two brief biographies:

Edmonia Lewis (1844 – 1907): American sculptor of international fame; she was badly beaten while studying at Oberlin and spent most of her career living and working in Rome

Anarcha: an enslaved 17-year old in Alabama on whom Dr. Sims (still often considered the “father of gynecology”) conducted 30 gynecological surgery experiments, without anesthesia, after she went through a very traumatic birthing experience

 

Reasons for Smoking by Xandria Phillips is available for order!

Xandria Phillips's chapbook Reasons for Smoking (chosen by Claudia Rankine as the winner of our 2016 chapbook contest) persevered through a very long rollercoaster of production mishaps and has finally arrived from the printer strong, smart, and ready to rock your world. We'll be mailing out copies to all of you who opted to receive one when you submitted to the contest back in 2016 very soon. Others can now order a copy by visiting the "Issues" tab of our website.

We're so excited to share Xandria Phillips's stunning work with you!

Also, if you live in Seattle, don't forget to attend Xandria's launch reading at Open Books: A Poem Emporium on February 17 and to pre-register for her poetry workshop on Sunday, February 18!

Reasons for Smoking Cover.jpg

Double Issue 9: 1 &2 is here!

Double Issue 9:1&2 is here, resplendent in summer colors and bursting with delicious work from Christopher J. Adamson, C. Dylan Bassett, Katy Chrisler, Matthew Cooperman, Adam Fagin, Robert Glick, Penelope Gristelfink, Autumn Hayes, Eliana Hechter, H. L. Hix, Chris Holdaway, Davy Knittle, Maggie Millner, Christopher Nelson, Jeremy Schmidt, Alison Strub, Rosalynde Vas Dias, Zachary Tyler Vickers, H. R. Webster, and Kenneth Yuen.

We're so excited to be sharing this tremendous work with you! Hop on over to our "Issues" tab to order a copy.

2016 Poetry Chapbook Contest Winner & Finalists Announced!

Join us in congratulating the winner and finalists of our 2016 Poetry Chapbook Contest judged by Claudia Rankine!

1st Place Winner:

Reasons for Smoking by Xandria Phillips

Top 2 Finalists:

The Long Now by James Meetze & Panacea by Alison Strub

Finalists:

Rats Running To and Fro Through the Gates of Hell by Kell Connor
Woman, No Children by Asa Drake
Negotiations by Paul Hlava
Owls of Senegal by Baba Badji
Shorn Ellipses by Keith Jones
Dysphoria by Shane Neilson
Kindling by Nathan Wade Carter

We received an unprecedented number of manuscripts this year, and the quality of the work was staggering. Thanks to all who submitted poems for consideration. It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with such a diverse array of brilliantly crafted work.

Claudia Rankine on REASONS FOR SMOKING by Xandria Phillips:

“Let’s deflate something that we can all agree is / monstrous, and take its air inside us,” writes Xandria Phillips in “Elegy for the Living and Breathing." A decolonization of space and self is made physical in this stunning, textured, and ambitious collection of poems. 

This work positions snapshots of contemporary black, queer selfhood against an embodied historical backdrop in order to trace the tolls and infringements of white dominant structures and embedded historical violence upon the body. When I read it, I am reminded of the ways in which language can be repurposed as an amplification device against narratives that seek to erase, bury, and diminish. The poems in Reasons for Smoking articulate how living, touching, noticing, speaking, and remembering are necessary and subversive acts.  

 

About the Winner:

Xandria Phillips is a poet who hails from rural Ohio. She was raised on corn, and inherited her grandmother’s fear of open water. Xandria received her BA from Oberlin College, where she studied creative writing and Africana Studies. Currently, Xandria is Winter Tangerine's associate poetry editor and an MFA candidate at Virginia Tech. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and Callaloo. Her poem "For A Burial Free Of Sharks" was selected by Lucas De Lima as the winner of the fifth annual Gigantic Sequins poetry contest. Xandria’s poetry is present or forthcoming in Callaloo, West Branch, Transition, Nepantla, and elsewhere.

 

 

About the Judge:

Claudia Rankine is the author and editor of numerous books of poetry and criticism including Citizen: An American Lyric, winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award, among many other awards. She currently lives and teaches in California.

Excerpts from Issue 8.2

From Ledge by Emma Winsor Wood:

In an act of pity his hands

are trees she cannot see for the forest’s so lovely

for a moment she forgets the elegance

languishing in her grasp

white paper napkins fluttering in the wind

on an egg-blue bright day, he

cannot remember the clarity of parallax

weather, a telegram yet to be sent

unspoken sentences, irrigation canals, the sky’s vacant corral

the color of a drowned seagull

 

From 1982 by Justin Bigos:

            After the movie (Bronson’s daughter kidnapped, raped, and impaled on an iron fence after jumping out the window of an abandoned factory; Bronson hunting down each gang member with his revolver, then somehow, in the final scene, managing to give the audience a mustached smile in his light gray, zipped-up windbreaker) Nick Senior and his son are the last to exit the theater. The locked metal door closes behind them, and Junior is once again surprised by the sudden light, even in overcast, blustery February; remembers how easy it is to forget the time of day inside the movies. He shields his eyes, just for a moment, and watches a van drive past on Boston Avenue. He thinks of the gang members’ yellow van, with the trapezoid of gray primer paint on its side. His father takes his hand – which Nick Junior doesn’t mind, even at the age of nine – and they head south on the avenue, and after just a few blocks cross the line back into Bridgeport, where they live, though now in different homes.

Announcing our 2016 Poetry Chapbook Contest Judge: Claudia Rankine

Our 2016 Poetry Chapbook Contest will be judged by Claudia Rankine.

Claudia Rankine is the author and editor of numerous books of poetry and criticism including Citizen: An American Lyric, winner of the Forward Prize for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award, among many other awards. She currently lives and teaches in California.

Claudia Rankine Seattle Review

Submission period April 1 - July 15, 2016

20-30 pages

!st Place wins $1000 + 20 copies of the chapbook

Top 2 Finalists win $100 each + Publication in Seattle Review

Please visit this page for more detailed submission guidelines.

Ready to submit? Click here to go to our Submittable page.

Congratulations, Adrienne Raphel!

Adrienne Raphel's BUT WHAT WILL WE DO was chosen as the winner of our 2015 Poetry Chapbook Contest!

Robyn Schiff has said of Raphel’s work “What indeed will we do with the dangerous chants and terrifying, unsettling tonal shifts at play in But What Will We Do? This violently charming, apocalypse-charged collection is ‘wound and unwinding’ toward a reeling undertow where menacing rhyme and swirling repetition lure the innocent into the harm’s way that the best poetry promises. There’s something seriously sinister in the revelry here, where a ‘boy is practicing the origami goose/ on a thousand-dollar bill; the roses rot, war planes fly overhead, and everyone’s meanwhile marching down the basement stairs, all ‘Still to the tune of the carousel.’”

Congratulations, also, to our runner-up If It Be A Skeleton by Katy Chrisler, our finalist Trappings of the Dewey Decimal System by Alison Strub, and our short list: Swimwear by Jeremy Schmidt, PANACEA by Alison Strub, Puppet by Jay Deshpande, Empathy for Cars/ Force of July by Davy Knittle, MAY by Adam Fagin, Heronry by Caitlin Roach, Anxious Sonnets by Kenneth Yuen, Brightening Elsewhere by Chris Salerno, and Drip, Drip by Lizi Gilad.

Top 2 Chapbook Contest FAQs

Our 2015 chapbook competition is currently open for submissions and will be until July 31. You can find all the basic information about the contest (our judge, the prizes, etc) on this flyer here.

In addition to that info, here are the top 2 FAQs we've been asked in the last month or so:

1) Do you accept simultaneous submissions?

Answer: Yes! Unlike our policy for regular submissions (no simultaneous submissions allowed), we are happy to consider simultaneous submissions for our chapbook contest—provided you let us know immediately if your manuscript is accepted elsewhere by emailing us or withdrawing your submission on Submittable.

2) What if some of the poems in my chapscript are previously published, or are under consideration elsewhere?

Answer: As long as more than 50% (the majority) of the poems in your manuscript have not been previously published, you're good! If you win the contest, you'll have the chance to acknowledge where the previously published poems first appeared. You are welcome to include that information at the beginning or end of your submission as well.

 

A Reading by Robyn Schiff & Nick Twemlow

Join us Tuesday, May 19th at 7:00 pm at Vermillion to hear original work read by distinguished visiting poets Robyn Schiff and Nick Twemlow!

Robyn Schiff, author of Revolver (2008) and Worth (2002), and judge of our 2015 chapbook competition

Robyn Schiff, author of Revolver (2008) and Worth (2002), and judge of our 2015 chapbook competition

Nick Twemlow, senior editor of the Iowa Review and author of Palm Trees (2012)

Nick Twemlow, senior editor of the Iowa Review and author of Palm Trees (2012)

Trust us—You don't want to miss this.

For more info, check out this facebook page.

Vermillion: 1508 11th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
(206) 709-9797

NEW GOODS FOR SALE

We are excited to announce that Issue 8, No. 1 is officially for sale. Be sure to check out our Issues Page to get your copy. Also, we now have Tony Mancus' chapbook City Country for sale as well, hot off of the press. Both items, along with other goodies, will be for sale at AWP. Be sure to check out our booth (#650) to say hello and check out the issue and chapbook in person.

2014 Chapbook Contest Winner

Congratulations to Tony Mancus! His chapbook City Country is forthcoming and will be designed and printed by Paper Hammer. Luckily for you, it will be available for purchase at our table at AWP this April. 

The chapbook was carefully chosen by Ben Lerner, who said of Tony's work: "neither the built space of the city nor a fantasy of pastoral escape; instead, these poems are a zone where the natural and artificial interpenetrate, often violently: electricity circulating through a doomed calf, the blade of a mower that “bends like / a thought / into the future.” In other words, the work is real--poems that summon considerable lyric powers to cut through the genre’s false consolations: “and the guests / guess wrong / about the necks // of birds / of reptiles / of mammals // of the hurt on the human form…” The line is the blade; see it shining in Tony's hands."

Our finalists include Douglas Piccinini's manuscript Shadowplay and Alison Strub's manuscript  Dust Rites.