poetry

Sips Card: Sharing Stories on the Go

Sips Card LogoI first read about the Sips Card in the pages of The Writer and learned shortly thereafter that one of my favorite artists, Kristen Solecki, is on the team behind this ingenious new way of sharing fiction. (Kristen’s art, by the way, graces the cover of To Be Friend a Fox, a volume of poetry by the late Richard Pearce, which I edited in 2010.) Given my interest in spreading the word about new sources of fiction and in Kristen’s work, I was happy to have the chance to chat with the artist about her latest endeavor.

What is the Sips Card, and where is it available?
Sips Card is a writing publication that shares the work of independent writers with independent coffee shops. A Sips Card is a business card with a QR Code, that when scanned, downloads a short story or poem onto your cellphone/smart device that is meant to last as long as your cup of coffee. They are available in participating coffee shops around the country, and in Scotland. You can see our current locations at http://www.sipscard.com/venues. If you are interested in becoming a venue or would like to recommend one, please email us at sipscard@gmail.com.

How did you come up with the idea?
It was a cold day in December and we were reading on a couch, trying to stay warm. Tim was explaining to me the idea of using QR Codes to market my artwork. We then were talking about sharing other media through the codes and we somehow connected the thought of reading, QR Codes, and coffee shops and spent the next two months developing the idea into what it is today.

Is there a way for readers to ask their favorite coffee shops to carry the Sips Card? In other words, how can we help spread the word?
Most definitely. We love hearing about favorite coffee shops from our readers and writers and want to support venues who support their community. There is no cost to the coffee shops or the customers. Once a shop is on board, we ship them the current issue with a compact display stand they can use as they wish. We create a page for them on our website and then ship each new issue as it is published.

Can you tell me a little bit about the works you’ve published in your first year? What was it about these stories that jumped out at you and made you want to publish them? Along similar lines, do you have any advice for writers who might want to submit their work for publication?
We’ve published a wide variety of stories and poems in our first year. We are open to all types of general fiction that has strong characters and appeals to a variety of people. We look for work that breathes with a life of its own and prefer narrative poems because we feel they compliment short fiction best.  However, we don’t only publish narrative poetry.
A well crafted story, with great character tension, along with a professional looking submission will grab our attention. We want to know that the submitting writers and poets care as much about their work they are submitting as we do about the work we publish.

Thanks, Kristen for the opportunity to chat about the Sips Card. It’s a great idea, and I hope it continues to gain in popularity!

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Circe

Aficionados of Greek mythology will find much to love in Circe by Nicelle Davis. This collection of poetry deftly and movingly reimagines the mythic figure — best known for turning Odysseus’s crew into pigs in Homer’s Odyssey — as a woman scorned. Throughout, Davis blends elements of classical mythology with contemporary culture to create a vision of Circe that is at once timeless and timely. Additionally, Davis’s playful approach to the vaunted “loveliest of all immortals” allows her to breathe new life into Circe and to explore elements of her character that the Odyssey fails to consider. Case in point: Homer makes no mention of Circe buying scratch-n-win lottery tickets, whereas Davis does to great tragicomic effect. Beautifully complementing Davis’ moving and inventive approach to the Circe myth are a series of evocative and enchanting illustrations by Cheryl Gross. Together, Davis’s poetry and Gross’s illustration offer a magical blend that would feel right at home among the pages of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, yet which more than stand on their own as a contemporary take on an ancient myth. An ingenious and heartfelt collection.

-Review by Marc Schuster

Working Class Represent

The first dozen or so poems in this charming collection by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz read like something a slightly more urbane version of Pam from NBC’s The Office might write if she lived and worked in New York City. Topics in this portion of the book range from the poet’s love for her morning cup of coffee to an odd talent for answering all phone calls with a sunny disposition. But then the collection takes a turn when a poem about 9/11 recasts all of the previous poems in a new light; there used to be something light and bouncy about working a dead-end job in NYC, this poem and those that follow seem to say, but in the wake of 9/11, it’s time to for the poet to get her priorities straight. In this case, it’s a matter of deciding to leave the relative comfort of a steady paycheck and health benefits in favor of the poet’s hand-to-mouth lifestyle. Needless to say, there’s no moment where the poet says, “And then I decided to focus on poetry because 9/11 put everything into perspective for me,” but the structure of the collection makes the lasting effect of that pivotal moment in both world and personal histories difficult to ignore. What follows, then, is a series of meditations on the place of the poet in society: poems about being a touring spoken word poet, poems lauding the efforts of baristas to hold off on making steamed beverages until there’s a pause between poems, poems lamenting the failures of other poets, and ultimately poems about falling in love with Shappy Seasholtz (no poetry collection is complete without at least a handful of these). Other topics covered in this collection include the “outsider” art of Henry Darger, college cafeterias, first words, abandoned words, and the exquisite sense of schadenfreude involved in seeing a rival poet fail. From tragedies both global and personal, Aptowicz expertly milks equal amounts of pathos, humor, and self-awareness. What’s more, there’s a story in this collection, a subtle narrative about priorities, about anxiety, about the myriad performances we put on throughout the day. And, ultimately, about finding one’s place in the world.

Oh, and also rejection:

Dear Future Boyfriend

Dear Future Boyfriend offers fans of Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz a glimpse of the poet’s bittersweet past. The book is a reissue of her debut collection, which was initially published a little over a decade ago. As the title suggests, the focus of the collection is young love in all of its forms — excerpt, perhaps, the requited variety. Rather than coming across as a hopeless, pining adolescent throughout this volume, Aptowicz endears herself to the reader by coming across as a witty, charming, and self-deprecating adolescent who also happens to be hopeless and pining — a teen who wants nothing more than to be loved but also can’t help stopping to observe that a 25% off coupon for a discount bra store in the largest outlet mall in Pennsylvania does not make for the most romantic of anniversary gifts. Moreover, the poet doesn’t focus entirely on young love in this collection. Aptowicz also takes time to pay touching homage to her parents, her hometown, and the friends who shared the experiences that led her to becoming the poet she is today.

Of special note, at least for a Philadelphia native like myself, are the poems “August in Philadelphia,” which offers a backwards glimpse at the City of Brotherly Love as the poet prepares for her first big move to the Big Apple, and “To the Boy Who Builds and Paints Sets at the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia,” which is a fitting paean not only to the “boy” in question but also to hopeless infatuation itself. Also noteworthy are “The Guy Who Hated My Stuff on Poemfone (A Found Poem),” in which the poet reproduces a borderline psychotic voice-mail response to one of her poems to great comic effect, and “Hard Bargain,” which sees the poet making an IPO of sorts for the rights to her virginity.

Anyone who’s ever been young and in love will find something to enjoy in Dear Future Boyfriend. What’s more, fans of Cristin O’Keefe Apotwicz will enjoy bearing witness to the initial stirrings of wit and sharp observation that mark her later work. Overall, a fun and at times moving read.

-Review by Marc Schuster

Love in the City of Grudges: Poems by Will Nixon

I know better to conflate the poet and the poem, the writer and his creations, but I want to believe that the “I” of the poetry collected in Will Nixon’s Love in the City of Grudges is, indeed, the poet, for his “I” is honest and forthright about a time in his life that was, in retrospect, magical but which appeared, in the heat of the long summer moment, to be the deadest of ends. I could be friends with that “I,” in that time and place.

The collection is about being young and poor and in love and wanting to be a writer and not knowing what to say because you don’t yet realize that all that lies before you is plenty to say. It’s about promise. It’s about potential. It’s about living in Hoboken and naming your cats Sid and Nancy because you wish you were more of a punk. It’s about dreams. It’s about fitting in. It’s about cockroaches and survival. And, towards the end, it’s about zombies.

Throughout the volume, Nixon dazzles with his attention to detail, bringing the worlds of his squandered youth to life with images as precise as they are telling: the hapless brother who “unscrews Oreos for the cream,” the unfinished copy of Gravity’s Rainbow (“All summer, I couldn’t get past his octopus/with Pavlovian training”), the rubber masks of Nixon and Reagan, the Hefty bag of laundry, the chocolate syrup masquerading as blood in Night of the Living Dead.

 All told, it’s a strong and moving collection that bespeaks the myriad ways in which the past and the present, not to mention the living and the dead, are always closer to each other than we might care to admit.

-Review by Marc Schuster

Hot Teen Slut

First, apologies to anyone who found this review by Googling “Hot Teen Slut.” More than likely, you will not find what you are searching for here, but you will find a review of a great collection of poetry — a memoir in verse chronicling poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s brief career in the adult entertainment industry.

Hot Teen Slut opens with a poem about a job listing for a “Guide Service Manager,” which is a nice way of describing (I think) the person who writes the copy for pop-up ads that guide those in the market to websites proffering pornography. From here, we move on to the job interview in which the details of the job are delicately explained, and then the first few days on the job during which Aptowicz describes her initial awkward conversations with coworkers (“The first thing you have to acknowledge is/that you will be looking at porn all day,” her supervisor explains while the “guy in charge of sports” grumbles in an adjoining poem that what he really wanted was the porn job) and the dawning realization that she does, in fact, work in the pornography business.

One of the things Aptowicz does especially well in this collection is write dispassionately about her subject matter. Hot Teen Slut is neither an investigative “tell-all” about the evils of working in adult entertainment, nor does it serve to glorify the industry. Rather, Aptowicz explores her own ambivalence with respect to her job to shed light on America’s odd relationship with porn. Pornography “has nothing to do with love,” she writes early on, and being immersed in the business produces a kind of numbness to the stereotypical imagery and language she sees every day. At the same time, however, Aptowicz also finds that working in pornography garners her plenty of attention when she returns home for holiday parties.

In many ways, Hot Teen Slut bears the trappings of a chick-lit novel: Aptowicz gives us the young college graduate struggling to pay the bills and find a happy medium between work and romance while learning something about herself. Yet Aptowicz takes the form a step further by placing herself in the role of the college graduate and by eschewing the traditional chick-lit job in editing for the Guide Service Manager position. In so doing, the poet offers a window into a world that most never see. Overall, it’s an insightful, frequently funny, always intelligent collection of poetry about the adult entertainment industry.

Track This: A Book of Relationship

Track This: A Book of Relationship by Stephen Bett is an emotionally generous collection of stylistically spare poetry reminiscent of the work of Ezra Pound and e.e. cummings. As the title of the book suggests, the poetry collected therein tracks the evolution of a single relationship, but it does so in ways that will likely challenge the casual reader to rethink conventional notions of language.

(Parenthetical statements, for example, tend to open without closing. A commentary on the nature of relationships, perhaps? On the contingency of the ties that bind? We enter into these deals with other human beings without knowing how or when or whether they will end. We hope, for the most part, that they will go on forever, but…

(Ah, yes, he uses ellipses, on occasion, too. And, to be sure, some of his parenthetical expressions both open and close.)

All of this is to say that by toying with the conventions of language, Bett draws attention to the ways in which language and relationships are given to the same types of uncertainty. More to the point, his poetry suggests that just as the uncertainty of language — the inability of words to capture the ineffable, the sublime, the exact essence of a moment or feeling or heartbeat — does not stop us from attempting to communicate, the unlikeliness of ever connecting one’s soul to that of another will not stop us from trying. We love because we want to connect, the poems in this volume suggest, and it’s in the attempt, in the grappling we do in the dark among the interstices of communication and amidst the firing of neurons, that we find the agony and ecstasy of all that makes life worth living.