Congratulations Kevin Simmonds, 2017 Founders’ Prize Winner,
and Runners-up Tim Woods and Willie James

rose redear yellow horn rhino

The RHINO editors are happy to announce the winner and runners-up for the 2017 Founders’ Contest!

  • The winner will receive $500.00, publication in the next issue, will be featured on our website, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
  • Two runners up will receive $50.00, publication in the next issue, and will be featured on our website. We occasionally nominate a runner-up for a Pushcart Prize.
  • The annual issue will be published in April 2017.

The winner of our Founders’ Prize for the 2017 issue:

Kevin Simmonds, “Exit Wound”

Runners-Up:

Tim Woods, “Shiki”
Willie James, “Andrew Wyeth: Helga”

 

RHINO 2015 Online Issue No. 1.1 is up!

RHINO 2015 cover largex

The editors of RHINO are thrilled to announce that our first installment of our online edition of RHINO 2015 is here!

 

We continue to remain committed to publishing a print journal yearly; the publication of the poems online in three installments (beginning 6 months after print publication) is intended to supplement and broaden the outreach of the print journal.

 

The second installment will go up in October and the third and final installment will go up in December.

You can now find the poems from the authors below, here.

 

Featuring work by

Dilruba Ahmed • José Angel Araguz • Nayelly Barrios • Peter Burzynski • Marcelo Hernandez Castillo • Sara Biggs Chaney • T. Zachary Cotler • J. Jerome Cruz • Chelsea Dingman • Joe Eldridge • Jenny George • Farouk Goweda • Walid Abdallah • Andy Fogle • Susan Grimm • Sara Henning • Amorak Huey • Esteban Ismael • Olja Savičević Ivančević • Andrea Jurjević • Don Judson • Samantha Leigh • Gregory Mahrer • Nate Marshall • Carlo Matos • Meredith McDonough • Faisal Mohyuddin Christina Mun-Lutz  Maureen O’Brien  Sunthorn Phu  •Noh Anothai • Khadijah Queen • Kevin Riel • Carol Sadtler • sam sax • Kevin Simmonds • Rachel L. Slotnick • Lisa Summe • Paul Tran • Rachel Jamison Webster • Keith S. Wilson • Monika Zobel 

 

RHINO Contributor updates – prizes and honors abound

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Join us in celebrating our contributors’ book publications and prizes from the last few years!

Past and current issue contributors to RHINO are encouraged to email their major literary updates  to editors@rhinopoetry.org.

 

Carl Adamshick received the 2010 Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets judged by Marvin Bell. His book, Curses and Wishes, is published by Louisiana State University Press. Carl is also the 2012 Stafford/Hall Oregon Book Award Winner.

 

Jeffrey Alfier is the winner of the 2014 Kithara Book Prize for his poetry collection Idyll for a Vanishing River (Glass Lyre Press, 2013). He is also author of The Wolf Yearling (Silver Birch Press) and The Storm Petrel – Poems of Ireland (Grayson Books, forthcoming). His recent work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review and Tulane Review.

 

Jeffrey Allen received an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award for his poem “Johnny” in RHINO 2013.

 

Karina Borowicz won the Codhill Poetry Award for her book Proof, which was also finalist for the National Poetry Series and the Nightboat Press Poetry Prize, and semi-finalist for the Akron Poetry Prize and the Felix Pollack Prize.

 

Lauren Camp is the author of two volumes of poetry, most recently The Dailiness (Edwin E. Smith, 2013), winner of the National Federation of Press Women 2014 Poetry Book Prize and a World Literature Today “Editor’s Pick.” Her third book, One Hundred Hungers, was selected by David Wojahn for the Dorset Prize, and is forthcoming from Tupelo Press. Other honors include The 2012 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Poetry Award, writer’s residencies with the Mabel Dodge Luhan House and Opus House, and juror for the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature.

 

James Capozzi is the author of Country Album (Parlor Press, 2012), winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize.  He was also awarded the 2012 New Letters Prize for Poetry.

 

Kyle Churney received an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award for his poem “Desert Ghazal” in RHINO 2013.

 

Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of four books including Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012) – a collection of poems on contemporary conspiracy theories (the first of which appeared in RHINO in Spring of 2010) – as well as The Green Condition (Ricochet Editions, 2014) – a book-length hybrid lyric essay / long poem. She completed her MFA in poetry from the University of Washington in 2013 where she was the recipient of the Nelson Bentley and Frederick Ingham Fellowships.

 

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of ERRATA (SIU, forthcoming 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award.

 

Albert DeGenova has published four books of poetry; his 2014, A Good Hammer, is a limited edition hand-made letterpress chapbook from Timberline Press.  He earned an honorable mention in The Allen Ginsberg 2014 Poetry Competition sponsored by The Paterson Literary Review and the Poetry Center of Passaic County, NJ.  Albert continues as publisher and co-editor of After Hours, a journal of Chicago writing and art.

 

Matthew Dickman published 50 American Plays (co-written with his twin brother Michael Dickman, Copper Canyon Press, 2012), and Mayakovsky’s Revolver (W.W. Norton & Co, 2012)

 

Andrea England is the recipient of a Gwen Frostic Award in Poetry (2013) and a month-long residency at the Vermont Studio Center (2014). Her chapbook INVENTORY OF A FIELD is available now from Finishing Line Press (2014).


Jennifer Fandel
was selected by the National Park Service to serve as a writer-in-residence at the Homestead National Monument in Beatrice, Nebraska. She spent two weeks in June 2014 working on her poetry manuscript, The Cold Reaches.

 

Kim Farrar‘s second chapbook, “The Brief Clear”, has been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press.

 

Brett Foster‘s second poetry collection Fall Run Road received Finishing Line Press’s Open Chapbook Prize and appeared in 2012. Last year his poem “On the Numbness That Will Be Our Future” was awarded Baltimore Review‘s 2014 Poetry Prize and he was a featured reader in Yale Divinity School’s “Literature & Spirituality” writing series.

 

Carol Frith won the Gribble Press 2012 Chapbook Contest with her poetry manuscript Elegiacs in a Closed Room.

 

Meredith Davies Hadaway served as the 2013-14 Rose O’Neill Writer-in-Residence at Washington College. Her third poetry collection At the Narrows is due out from Word Poetry in 2015.

 

Rochelle Hurt‘s first book, The Rusted City, was published by White Pine Press in 2014 as part of the Marie Alexander Prose Poetry Series. She was selected for inclusion in the Best New Poets 2013 anthology, and she received the 2013 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize from Crab Orchard Review as well as the TQ3 Poetry Prize from Tupelo Quarterly.

 

 

Don Judson won the 2012 Boudreaux Prize in Poetry from Cream City Review; he has also recently won the Thin Air poetry competition and received a nomination for a Pushcart Prize from Palooka Magazine as well as being a prize winner in the 2013 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize and receiving an honorable mention in the 2013 Nimrod Literary Awards.

 

Virginia Konchan received an Illinois Arts Council Agency Literary Award for her poem “Zsa Zsa Gabor Learns to Read” from RHINO 2013.

 

Diana Lueptow was selected by Peter Campion to receive the 2013 Wick Poetry Chapbook prize. Her collection, Little Nest, will be published by Kent State University Press in January 2015. One of its poems, “Peripherally Yours,” appeared in RHINO 2014. Diana was also chosen for a 2014 Individual Excellence Award by the Ohio Arts Council.

 

Donnelle McGee is the author of Shine (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2012). His first book of poetry – Naked – is forthcoming from Unbound Content and his novel – Ghost Man – will be published in Fall 2015 by Sibling Rivalry Press.

 

Kathleen McGookey’s chapbook, Mended, is forthcoming from Kattywompus Press this fall, and her full-length collection, At the Zoo, is forthcoming from White Pine Press in 2016.

 

Rachel Mennies‘s first book, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, won the Walt McDonald First-Book Prize in Poetry from Texas Tech University Press and was published in March of 2014. She recently received a grant from the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council.

 

elena minor’s book of bilingual poetry, TITULADA, was published by Noemi Press in 2014.

 

Travis Mossotti‘s chapbook My Life as an Island won the Blue Moon Chapbook Contest and was published by Moon City Press in 2013. His second full-length collection Field Study won the 2013 Melissa Lanitis Gregory Poetry Prize and will be published in 2014 with Bona Fide Books. Mossotti is currently the Poet-in-Residence at the Endangered Wolf Center and a professor of creative writing at Maryville University. He’s been awarded grants from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and the Regional Arts Commission. More information about Mossotti can be found at his website.

 

Elisabeth Murawski won the 2013 Mudfish Poetry Prize for “Waking Alone on Sunday Morning,” selected by Charles Simic. Her poem “Gaithersburg Bus Stop Accident” received a commended in the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry and Medicine contest (UK) and was published in the 2013 Hippocrates Anthology.

 

Rodney Nelson’s chapbook In Wait was published in November 2012. Bog Light and Sighting the Flood appeared subsequently. The chapbook Fargo in Winter took second place in the 2013 Cathlamet Prize competition at Ravenna Press, Spokane. Directions From Enloe won third in the Turtle Island Quarterly contest. Nelson’s chapbook of prose narratives Hill of Better Sleep is out from Red Bird Chapbooks. Mogollon Picnic, poems (Red Dashboard), is already in print and the poetry ebook Nodding in Time (Kind of a Hurricane Press) is “up.” Another chapbook, Fargo, came out in April 2014. Directions From Enloe has been accepted at Popcorn Press.

 

Jeffrey Oaks‘s new chapbook, Mistakes with Strangers, was published this summer by Seven Kitchens Press

 

Ladan Osman‘s collection, The Kitchen Dweller’s Testimony, is the winner of the 2014 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. The award includes publication of her book with the University of Nebraska Press and Amalion Publishing in Senegal.

 

Diana Pinckney won the Atlanta Review’s 2012 International Poetry Prize. She also has a fifth volume of poetry forthcoming, titled The Beast and The Innocent. Her fourth collection, Green Daughters, included the poem, “Out There” that was published by RHINO.

 

Kenneth Pobo has a book forthcoming from Blue Light Press called Bend Of Quiet.  In June 2014, Spruce Alley Press published his chapbook When
The Light Turns Green
.

 

Octavio Quintanilla is a regular interviews contributor to Voices de La Luna: A Quarterly Poetry and Arts Magazine. Octavio’s first poetry collection If I Go Missing (2014) was published by Slough Press. His poem, “Tell Them Love Is Found,” included in the collection, was published in the most current issue of RHINO and was a 2014 Editor’s Prize honorable mention. He has also been selected as a CantoMundo Fellow for 2014.

 

Jim Redmond’s poetry chapbook Shirts or Skins won Heavy Feather Review’s chapbook prize and was published as an insert in Issue 3.2.

 

Christopher Robley is the 2013 winner of Boulevard’s Poetry Contest for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of “Short Works Poetry.”

 

Jenny Sadre-Orafai‘s debut poetry collection Paper, Cotton, Leather was published Fall 2014 by Press 53. Jenny’s prose was also recently published on The Rumpus and The Toast and she was a Hambidge Center fellow in May 2014.

 

Michael Salcman‘s  anthology, Poetry In Medicine, The Anthology of Poems on Doctors and Diseases, will be coming out late this Fall from Persea Books in New York.

 

Erika L. Sánchez was named One of Chicago’s 25 Writers to Watch by The Guild Complex. She won the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize.

 

In 2013 Penelope Scambly Schott published LOVESONG FOR DUFUR, a  chapbook about a small wheat-growing town in central Oregon, and LILLIE WAS A GODDESS, LILLIE WAS A WHORE, a verse history of prostitution.  Her newest book, just out, is HOW I BECAME AN HISTORIAN.

 

Peter Sears is the new Oregon Poet Laureate, and his book Small Talk, New & Selected Poems was released this spring (2014) by Lynx House Press.

 

Claudia Serea received the New Letters Readers Award in 2013. Claudia is a four-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net. She is the author of three full-length poetry collections: Angels & Beasts (Phoenicia Publishing, Canada, 2012), A Dirt Road Hangs From the Sky (8th House Publishing, Canada, 2013), and To Part Is to Die a Little (Cervená Barva Press, forthcoming). She also recently published the chapbook The System (Cold Hub Press, New Zealand, 2012.) Serea also translated the Romanian Adina Dabija’s Beautybeast (North Shore Press, Alaska, 2012). In 2013, she co-founded and currently edits The National Translation Month blog.
Joan Siegel won Poetry Quarterly’s Rebecca Lard Award and Atlanta Review’s International Merit Award in the 2014 International Competition. Joan has two books, both published by Shabda Press — the first is Light at Point Reyes (2012) and the second is The Fourth River, forthcoming in 2015.

 

Kevin Simmonds wrote the music (and co-wrote the text) for Emmett Till, a river, a Japanese Noh-inspired oratorio that debuted at Theatre of Yugen in late 2013. His most recent collections are Bend to It (Salmon Poetry 2014), Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof (University of South Carolina Press, 2012), the final work of the late writer Carrie Allen McCray, and the poetry anthology Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion & Spirituality (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2011).

 

Danez Smith‘s poem “Dear White America” makes Upworthy from the 2013 Rustbelt Midwest Regional Slam Champion. His full-length collection, [insert] Boy, is forthcoming in 2014 by Yes Yes Books. He was awarded a 2014 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.

 

Paul Sohar won first prize in the 2012 Lincoln Poets Society contest; second prize in Rode Island Writers’ Circle prose contest (2014); and the Translation Prize from Irodalmi Jelen (2014, Arad, Romania, celebrated in Budapest, Hungary). He published two poetry translation books: Silver Pirouettes (TheWriteDeal 2012) and In Contemporary Tense (Iniquity Press, 2013); he published two prose works: True Tales of a Fictitious Spy (new, revised edition from SynergeBooks in 2013 and the collaborative novel The Club at Eddy’s Bar (Phaeton Press, Dublin, Ireland, 2014).

 

Sidney Thompson‘s now serves as the Assistant Fiction Editor for the American Literary Review and teaches at Texas Christian University.

 

Nhã Thuyên is the author of several books of poetry, flash fiction, and some tiny picture books for children. She currently co-edits the bilingual magazine Ajar, based in Hanoi, Vietnam, an online, printed space for poetic exchange. Nhã has had two books published since 2012: Poems of Lưu Diu Vân (Vagabond Press, Australia) and Màu c xanh trong sut / The Transparent Greenness of Grass -flash fictions, five authors (Tre Publishing House.)

 

Brian Turner’s forthcoming book, My Life as a Foreign Country, is published by W. W. Norton & Company and is scheduled to be released in September 2014.

 

Laura Van Prooyen’s second collection of poems, Our House Was on Fire, nominated by Philip Levine, was awarded the McGovern prize from Ashland Poetry Press and will be published in 2015.

 

Megan Volpert edited the anthology This Assignment is so Gay: LGBTIQ Poets on the Art of Teaching (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013). It was a Lambda Literary Award finalist for best anthology, honored by the American Library Association’s annual Over the Rainbow list as one of the ten best books of the year, and honored by Split This Rock as one of the top three anthologies of the year. Megan herself is currently serving as her high school’s Teacher of the Year, and her own collection of prose poems, Only Ride (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014), is currently short-listed for the ALA’s Over the Rainbow consideration.

 

Ocean Vuong published the chapbook No (YesYes Books, 2013), won a 2014 Pushcart Prize, the 2012 Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, and the 2013 Beloit Journal Chad Walsh Prize. He was awarded a 2014 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship.

 

Charles Harper Webb‘s collection of poems WHAT THINGS ARE MADE OF was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in 2013.  They will publish his next book, BRAIN CAMP, in 2015.

 

Nicholas Wong’s poems were finalists for the Tupeolo Quarterly Contest and in the August issue of Better.

 

William Kelley Woolfitt‘s poem “Memento,” which first appeared in RHINO, will be in his book Charles of the Desert, forthcoming from Paraclete Press.

 

Bill Yarrow published Pointed Sentences (BlazeVOX) in 2012, Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku (Cervena Barva Press) in 2013, and The Lice of Christ (MadHat Press) in 2014. He was one of nine commended poets out of 6000+ entrants for the 2013 Erbacce Prize. His poem “Cranshaw on a Boat” was nominated for a 2014 Illinois Arts Council Literary Award by RHINO. His poem “We Don’t Need No Education” was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize and a 2013 Best of the Web award by Blue Fifth Review. His poem “Chapel Access” was nominated for a 2012 Best of the Web award by Friction: Review. He was poetry editor of THIS Literary Magazine in 2012 and guest poetry editor of Scissors & Spackle in 2013.

 

 

 

 

RHINO poets at WHY THERE ARE WORDS – Sausalito, CA July 10, 2014

July 10 collage
RHINO is a feature in the popular WHY THERE ARE WORDS Literary Reading Series in Sausalito, CA on July 10, 2014!
Thank you, Peg Alford Pursell, founder and curator of this reading series.
Doors open at 7pm; readings begin at 7:15.
$10. 
studio-333-courtesy-shot-500x377Readers:
1. Kevin Simmonds – RHINO 2012
2. Karen Llagas – RHINO 2012
3. Cintia Santana – RHINO 2014
4. Julia Levine – RHINO 2014
5. Roy Mash – RHINO 2009
6. Daniel Suarez – RHINO 2012
7. Angela Narciso Torres – Senior Editor of RHINO
Why There Are Words, curated by founder Peg Alford Pursell www.pegalfordpursell.com, draws a full house of Bay Area residents every second Thursday of the month. Studio 333 is located at 333 Caledonia Street, Sausalito, CA 94965. Phone Studio 333 at 415-331-8272.

 

 

“The Writing Life is Now” – Interview with Kevin Simmonds

Kevin Simmonds won the 2004 RHINO Editors’ Prize with his poem, “The Smell of Nutmeg“; we also published his poem “The Poet, 1955” that year.  I met Kevin when he gave me a ride to and from the Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop where we were both fellows in 2010 — but discovered our RHINO connection when I was putting our new website together two months later. This interview was conducted March 10, 2011. ~Valerie Wallace, Associate Editor

VW: I love this photo of you for many reasons, but one is that it shows an aspect of your personality that I think is connected to your physicality — that is, you carry yourself like a performer, you use your body in your art. The two seem interconnected. Is that the case?

KS: No one has ever said that to me. I do know that I tend to overuse my body, especially my shoulders and neck, which stems more from stress than any kind of grand performer’s carriage. I did have a strong interest in dance. Unfortunately, my mother and stepfather didn’t take notice of me running around the house kicking up my legs.

VW: What took you to San Francisco? Tell me about the poetry community there, and your poetry community specifically.

KS: I moved to San Francisco in 1996 to live with a very accomplished composer and conductor. We’d met 3 years earlier when I was senior in college. I did love him but it was more awe than love. He was much older and doing everything I thought I’d wanted to do. We were together for a short time before I moved out.

San Francisco is a very disappointing place for someone (like me) trying to find a poetry community. It’s a very expensive place to live and people are always hustling, trying to get their work out into the world while making rent. Frankly, I have not found one person here that I consider poetry kin. No one commits to long-term, involved relationships. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I expect more than people are willing to give. Whatever the case, despite all the hype, the poetry writing groups, readings and all that, I find it an insular, mostly uninspired place for building community. I know many would probably disagree with me, especially those who are connected to the spoken word scene and the older, Beat or political poetry scenes. I know nothing about that.

VW: During our trip back from Squaw Valley you told me about your Hugging Asians project. Please explain it, and where things are at with it.

KS: Last April, Tian Sheng Yu, a Chinese Oakland resident, was beaten by two intoxicated Black teenagers. He died as a result and the media spun it as yet another example of Blacks targeting Asians for crime. It bothered me because, as a Black man who has an Asian partner and who’s lived and worked in Asia and with immigrant Asian communities in San Francisco, I know we certainly won’t benefit from reports amplifying perceived and real tensions between these groups.

I started thinking about what happened three years earlier, in 2007: Imus’s “nappy-headed hoes” comment and New York DJs JV and Elvis’s (Jeff Vandegrift and Dan Lay) racist call to a Chinese restaurant happened within a day of each other. Why didn’t Asian activists stand with the Black community? Why didn’t Blacks stand with the Asian community? Where’s our solidarity? To begin processing these questions, I wrote a poem entitled “Orient.” Then I decided I wanted to create a website featuring the poem and photographs of me hugging Asians — strangers and friends. I grew up in the South and we hug. I lived in Japan for a few years and, though it’s not at all culturally acceptable to hug, I did it frequently. It was my way of embellishing my language skills. An additional way to communicate. huggingasians.com went online last spring. Some people thought the site was great, others derided it. Regardless, huggingasians.com was part of my process and remains online. I add to it occasionally.

A few months later, I had the idea to create a multimedia performance piece entitled “ORIENT: a new anthropology,” which I’m working on now. I got a 2011 San Francisco Arts Commission grant for it. ORIENT will trace the lives of Asians and Blacks in America, beginning with the divisively racist work of early anthropologists in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

From the beginning, Asians and Blacks were pitted against each other as each group tried to build lives in a country that resisted their very presence. I want to underscore our interconnectedness, not just as people on the margins but as two groups that have stood together historically. Richard Aoki, a Japanese American, helped start the Black Panthers. He donated some of the first weapons. I learned that very recently. I know of a Black woman in LA (the mother of a friend) who, during the Japanese internment, took care of the belongings of a Japanese family. ORIENT is helping me get an education. And I think it’s especially pertinent now. The 20th anniversary of the LA Riots is next year, 2012. 20 years ago Asians and Blacks were killing each other on the streets. Have racial tensions diminished at all? I’m going to travel to LA several times to interview people whose lives were affected by the riots. Much of the poetry, music and images in ORIENT will emanate from interviews.

VW: What else are you working on?  Do you have any themes or preoccupations that you find yourself returning to?
KS: I’m putting the finishing touches on Ota Benga Under My Mother’s Roof, a collection by the late Carrie Allen McCray Nickens. I can’t tell you how very special this project is to me. I met Carrie through Cave Canem in 2004 and, while I was finishing my Ph.D. in South Carolina, she and her sister Rose were my family. I’m talking about them cooking for me, opening up their home and giving me my own room during my return trips to complete my dissertation, telling me stories, coming out to my performances, giving me strength to endure and understand the grand (wizard) peculiarities of South Carolina. Carrie was 91 years old at the time and an accomplished and widely published writer. Rose was 92.

The collection tells the story of the Congolese pygmy Ota Benga who was infamously exhibited at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Shortly after that, Carrie’s family took him into their home in Lynchburg, Virginia. I edited many of the poems for a theatrical adaptation we did in 2007 and, after Carrie’s passing in 2008, a team of extraordinary people (poet Kwame Dawes and Carolyn Micklem, the former director of Cave Canem, among them) helped get these poems into print. The collection will appear in early spring next year.

I’m editing the first LGBTIQ anthology featuring poems about faith, religion and spirituality. It’s called Collective Brightness and the title comes from Benjamin Grossberg’s beautifully odd poem “Beetle Orgy.” It’ll be published by Sibling Rivalry Press this December and I’m extremely excited about it. Religion has done major damage to LGBTIQ people and this anthology will show how resilient, observant and resourceful we are. I hope it travels into the most dangerous places for us in America.

VW: You’re also a composer. I recall from a session we shared at the workshop a poem of yours which included a rhythmic hitting of the table.  Is that a typical style for you?

KS: That was new for me. I was trying to bring musical notation into a poem. It was effective for that one poem that one time.

VW: How do your music and poetry feed each other?

KS: I have a good ear for phrasing, tempo and timbre. I think that comes from growing up in New Orleans in a household with music. My mother played Motown and jazz records quite frequently. And it’s true what they say: music fills the streets of New Orleans. I heard it at school, walking in the neighborhood, at Catholic church and, of course, in the French Quarter.

But I’ve  always been in love with words, too. I’m pretty sure I get that from my mother and her sister, my Aunt Trina (now deceased). They loved books and reading. The first trophy I ever won was for a poetry contest in 2nd grade. My ear feeds my music and writing. It’s a body-based practice. No matter how much I try to get away from my ear — and the sounds and subject matter I keep wanting to manipulate — there’s no use. I actually feel a physical discomfort if I sing, play or read something that’s willfully intellectualized outside of my own personal “powers.” I’m not sure how to say this.

VW: One of the most revealing questions you asked me on the way home from SVWW was “Who do you want to publish your first book?”  This question forced me to consider myself beyond “being” a poet to consider how I wanted to activate my goals.  Tell me how your forthcoming book came about, and what your goals are for it.

 

KS: It’s a great story. Salmon Poetry, one of the foremost poetry presses in Ireland, had an anthology call for poems about dogs. I sent “Seeing Eye,” the only poem I have about dogs and, about a month or two later, got an email from the publisher. She poked around online and saw my other work and asked if I had a manuscript. That’s how it happened. (And they did use “Seeing Eye” in the anthology.) My first collection, which will appear in September 2011, is entitled Mad for Meat. The title comes from the final couplet in the poem “Inheritance.” The poem is about, among other things, my appetite for food, substantive human interaction, especially with men — in their various “cuts.”

I figure a debut collection should tell you about the poet and his concerns while leaving room for readers to want more — a second collection, perhaps. There’s growing up in New Orleans, being an altar boy, gay, Black, the child of divorced parents, my travels (especially my years in Japan), music of all kinds, struggling with Christianity and racism — the list goes on. There are also persona poems in the voice of historical figures. Before I became brave enough to write more directly about myself, I wrote loads of persona poems.

VW: I remember when I was back in Chicago working on the new RHINO website, and came across your poem about Jacqueline du Pre. It blew me away and then I found out you wrote it in college!  What was your relationship with poetry then, and how did you find out about RHINO?

KS: I’m pretty sure I wrote that poem when I was finishing my master’s degree, not college. I didn’t write in college but did take a poetry survey class with Dr. John Plummer my sophomore or junior year. Dr. Plummer was extraordinary and everything I learned in that class affected how I would read poetry for a number of years. And it was music that influenced my decision to take Dr. Plummer’s course. I studied voice very seriously in college and was drawn to American and British art songs, especially the works of Barber, Britten, Copeland, Finzi and Vaughan Williams. I adored the sonic properties of their melodies, harmonies and all that, along with how the text transformed.

Kevin Simmonds composed the music for the “Voices from Haiti” Pulitzer Center project with Kwame Dawes.

A poem on paper is different than its incarnation as song. Two different musics. I’m still fascinated and confounded by that. Often, as a composer, I’m unable to find “additional” music in poetry. It’s a running joke between Kwame [Dawes] and I. I’ve set several of his poems to music and, anytime we begin a new collaboration, he wonders aloud if I’ll be able to find that music. He’s funny.

I’m pretty sure RHINO entered my consciousness because of an edition of Best American Poetry.  To date, you’re the only journal that’s ever awarded me a prize. It meant so very much to me. At the time, I was finishing my PhD and overwhelmingly miserable. You published two very different poems of mine: one about famed cellist Jaqueline du Pré; the other about the racially motivated murder of 12 year-old Emmett Till. Many journals don’t include such range in subject matter.

VW: Any advice for managing and advancing the writing life?

KS: Unless you have a benefactor, you’ll always have to do something to make money. You better figure out a way to compose in your head, make notes during your lunch break and in the bathroom. The writing life is now, not later. Sure, there will be blessed moments when you get a residency or your partner takes up more of the burden so you can get away. You might get some breaks. But chances are you won’t get very many. And certainly not enough to conceive of something, develop and finish it. Don’t be selfish: send out your work and give readings. No one will know you and your work exists otherwise. Don’t be selfish: support other writers by attending their readings and purchasing their books.

VW: Please tell us what poetry events and poets have inspired you most recently. And, what do you do that is NOT poetry or music which feeds your creative life?

KS: I’ve been enamored by poet Nikky Finney for years. Her latest and long-awaited collection, Head Off and Split, takes me to church and school each time I crack it open. It’s next to my bed right now. She’s one of the most important poets writing in America. I was lucky enough to hear her read at the book launch at Howard University during AWP. That experience will carry me for a long time. I can’t say enough about how much contemporary art/performance art and dance inspire me — both live performances and film documentaries of those things. San Francisco has a strong contemporary dance scene and I take advantage of that. We also have art galleries and world-class museums everywhere. All that inspires and sustains me. Other than that, I enjoy swimming, finding new restaurants, traveling and working on my Japanese.

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Kevin studied voice at Vanderbilt University and taught middle school in Maryland for two years. Then, after stints as a teacher and part-time graduate student, he finished a masters degree in music at Middle Tennessee State University while starting Tono International Arts Association, an international arts presenter in northern Japan that sponsored the 2001 Tono American Music Festival.  Simmonds Company, a gospel choir that grew from workshops he led for amateur singers, won Second Place at the 2002 All-Japan Gospel Competition at Toyko’s Nakano Sun Plaza; the Company continues to perform throughout Japan.

He returned to the States, started his fellowship with Cave Canem, and finished a Ph.D. in music education at the University of South Carolina. He received a Fulbright fellowship to Singapore where he got hip to the work of Kumar, Alfian Sa’at, Cyril Wong and Su-Chen Christine Lim. Kevin has published poems, essays and reviews in journals like 42opus, American Scholar, Black Issues Book Review, FIELD, jubilat, Kyoto Journal, LA Review, Massachusetts Review, Poetry, Rhino and Salt Hill, and in the anthologies Beyond the Frontier, Gathering Ground, The Ringing Ear, To Be Left with the Body and War Diaries.

As a composer and performer, he’s collaborated with poet and writer Carrie McCray on a musical adaptation of Ota Benga, Under My Mother’s Roof and with poet and writer Kwame Dawes on I Saw Your Face, Hope and Wisteria: Twilight Songs of the Swamp Country. Wisteria was the subject of a 2007 BBC Radio documentary and Hope received a News and Documentary Emmy in 2009. His music has been performed throughout the US, Japan, the UK and the Caribbean. sfexhale.com features his photography.

Kevin has received fellowships from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, Cave Canem, Fulbright, Jack Straw, Squaw Valley, Napa Valley and the San Francisco Arts Commission. His debut poetry collection, Mad for Meat, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry in late 2011. He creates and teaches privately in San Francisco and can be reached at simmondskevin at gmail dot com. http://kevinsimmonds.com/.