Sunday, July 20, 2008

Letters to a Stranger

Bravo, Dark Knight. I can't believe Spiderman 3 (which I haven't seen nor do I want to see) stayed at the top of the weekend box office earned list for so long. $155.34 million certainly overtakes $151.1 million.

Heath Ledger's death probably helped push the numbers, yes, but I, like many, have been a fan of his from way before his death (If you haven't seen Candy, you need to, because the acting's pretty incredible and the film's beautiful and heartbreaking without being too terribly bleak by the end), not to mention flipping when finding out he was going to play The Joker.

And if you haven't gone through some of the IMDB boards to see all the hilarity going on, it's a nice cure for boredom. All the "#1?! WTF? OMG! ROFL MF!" posts and such.


My friend (and incredible poet) Craig Beaven, in an email the other day, mentioned that Graywold's Re/View series re-released Thomas James's Letter to a Stranger. Like Joe Bolton, James apparently shot himself in the head at the age of 27 (though Bolton was 28), and showed remarkable promise for great poetic things to come. Alas, the suicides.

But the book is brilliant.

You can sense the suicide to come from reading the book as a whole, which is even more frightening, but so many dark subjects are handled so beautifully, with bizarrely perfect metaphors and a great sense of rhythm, both in the free verse and traditional forms.

The Re/View series is incredible and with Mark Doty as the editor, will undoubtedly continue to be. Lynda Hull's Collected Poems (a book that you need to own if you don't) was released about two years ago, I think, or maybe a year ago. And James L. White's The Salt Ecstasies is next, or one of the next few. I was lucky enough to get an original, though it seems to be falling apart...

James died shortly before or after the publication, but thankfully because of a few brave people who went to bat for it, it did come out, and again thankfully it's being reissued, and that's another book to get when it comes out.

And here's a shout out for Craig: his great poem "Are You Okay?" from a recent issue of Rattle.


I worked on my manuscript for almost five hours today, and three hours last night. I cut four poems, got it down from 68 to 58 pages, changed the title (from "About Ravishment" to "Ghost Lights," which works better in many ways), and reworked some poems (mostly more surface minutiae like line breaks and punctuation). It's a total -- minus front and back matter -- of around 53 pages now, which seems to me to be the perfect length. And the poems I cut I didn't miss at the end, or even really remember, which is a good sign that the right decisions were made.

I kind of look at the last year as training, all of it before entering the real competition. I did send out to around 30 contests already (I originally thought 40 and mentioned that in a previous post, but thankfully it was only 30, which means there are some good ones I haven't sent my manuscript to yet), but many of the versions were flabby, out of whack, and just a mess, even some that placed in contests. Now, though, I'm ready to compete I think, legitimately.

In an interview with Didi Menendez, for her Men of the Web series, Blake Butler was asked this question, with the answer following. So this is what one critic is saying (read the whole interview here) about my manuscript:

Recommend a poetry book, blog or web site to our audience (not from one of your press) and why.

Keith Montesano's GHOST LIGHTS. This as yet unpublished ms has almost won several contests, and when someone realizes they are going to publish it their whole face is going to fall out. Keith's ms absolutely crushed my skull, it is one of the most bleak and yet most powerful poetry books I have read in years, I could not stop looking at it, I read it in the dark on my glowing laptop and felt like I was being strangled, it is absolutely massive. People need to read this book. Publishers, talk to Keith.

Blake is, of course, way too nice, and though many people probably don't want to feel like they're choking or having their skull crushed while going through the seemingly innocuous process of reading a book of poetry, I suppose that can be a good thing.

There have been a lot of objective, rather than painfully subjective, flashes of realization lately, which is another reason I'm spending an insane amount of time getting this sucker where it needs to be. Like most of the poems in the manuscript, I was writing what I needed to write, writing what I need to get out of my head, and I started to realize I was forming them into a book and not just the ol' MFA thesis. It's not a book until someone wants to publish it, of course, but it's hopefully getting closer.

Either way, thanks to Blake. Hopefully someone else in the publishing world feels like that eventually. And his manuscript of short fiction, SCORCH ATLAS, is the manuscript that really deserves to be published.