Dec 5, 2011

Interview with Annah Browning

How did you get started writing poetry? Was it reading poetry or a specific experience?

I honestly don’t remember when I wrote my first poem. My family was always reading to me, and not always things for children, either. My dad had a fondness for Tennyson, Byron, and Robert Burns especially for some reason, and my grandmother recited folk ballads to me that she’d learned growing up. So with all that going on, the idea of making things with language seemed like a natural thing to do. Then I took some really wonderful poetry courses in college, and they just solidified the feelings I already had. I was hooked.

Can you explain what inspired you to write the poem “Flat Hills”? How did you develop this narrative voice? Is it a voice you use often in your work?

This is one of the few poems I have that actually has a very specific origin story. I was reading the New York Times one day, and there was an obituary for the photographer Joe Deal. (Here’s a link if you’re interested: There was a black and white photograph with it called “Flat Hills,” and it showed these flattened mounds with odd stones on them. Then I thought, “gee, they look more like jawbones than stones.” And then I wrote the poem.

I think I have this thread in a lot of the poems I’ve written in the past year—they’re lyrics, but many of them have these odd little narratives inside of them. I get the sense of a particular speaker existing in a world that’s not friendly, and trying to talk to herself as a kind of way out of it. Obviously, that doesn’t work out so well for this particular speaker.

What poets have had a major influence on your style? Who are you reading now?

I was exposed to Berryman, along with Theodore Roethke, James Wright, Sylvia Plath, Charles Simic, and a score of other poets early on in college, and I think that first potent cocktail has been with me ever since. But Berryman especially is close to me. Berryman throws you up in the air, associationally, tonally, musically—but then he catches you with these moments of deep pathos. I love poets who take poems out to the edge of sense and control—to where, in the words of Stevens, they resist our intelligence almost successfully. I think a lot of Dickinson’s poems work that way, too. If I think of any poet as my patron saint, it’s her. The more I read her poems, the more I feel they’re in my blood. It doesn’t really get better than Dickinson for me.

As far as more contemporary poets go, I have to say something about Laura Jensen, particularly her book Memory. She’s more on the quiet side of insanity, but there’s something delightfully slant about her as well. They’re so fierce and fiercely odd. There’s a way in which the restlessness of the speaker’s interior life throws itself out into the world, and I just can’t get enough of that. Of books written more recently, Sandy Florian’s Tree of No and Sabrina Orah Mark’s The Babies have both been useful to me. The strange worlds that they both create are really fantastic. I value that kind of writing— if I have to take a side, I’m always on the side of mystery. I’m a postulate of the uncanny.

What is your motive as a poet? (For instance, do you set out to make your own discoveries as you write, or to inspire the reader? What do you view the poet’s role as?)

I’m all about the adventure, really. I don’t like poems that sit on things. I crave movement and risk. Discovery is a nice word for it. I think of a poem as a discharge of energy, from me to you.

What projects are you currently working on?

Lately I’ve been working on sorting poems into stacks. But in more seriousness, I have a group of poems I just started writing that are radically different in form than what I’ve been writing the last few years. They’re more expansive, slippery, and maybe a little funnier too. We’ll see where they go.

Annah Browning's poem "Flat hills" appears in issue 11.1. She grew up in the foothills of South Carolina. She received her MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Kenyon Review Online, DIAGRAM, Southeast Review, and Word for/Word.

Nov 30, 2011

Interview with Clark Knowles

Clark Knowles' story, "Trash," was the winner of the John Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction. Mr. Knowles agreed to be interviewed by Harpur Palate intern, Claire.

When and how did you first get started writing fiction?

I wrote my first story in high school, another couple in college, and called myself a writer all through my twenties despite the fact that I didn’t really write anything other than scribbles in journals. When I turned thirty, I began my real apprenticeship as a writer. I went back to school and started my practice. I’m a slow learner. It took a long time to really begin to feel comfortable writing stories. After about ten years of difficult and laborious trial and error, some sort of mysterious door opened and I passed through. That’s when I started writing fiction.

As a creative writing professor at the University of New Hampshire,
what would you say is the most important writing advice you give your

Trust yourself. Work very hard. Don’t let rejection get you down. The writing life is going to be way harder than you think it’s going to be. Be kind to yourself as a writer, but not mushy about the work. Hardly anyone wants to talk about revision, but that’s the only thing there is: revision is writing. You simply must be willing to break a story (or poem or essay) apart if it is not working properly. Perhaps most important is this: Read all the time. If you want to write, an intensive reading life is non-negotiable.

Do you remember how you first got the idea for the story, “Trash”?
What was the process of writing it like?

In the summer of 2010, I abandoned a novel toward the end of June. I had two months left of summer break and I didn’t know how to direct my writing time and energy. I decided that I’d write a story a week—eight stories in nine weeks. I wrote a thousand longhand words a day (give or take) and by the end of the nine weeks, I’d completed my goal. “Trash” was story number five in the list. The opening paragraph had been kicking around for a few years in a folder somewhere. I don’t think there was an “idea” per se, but I became very interested in how Nick observed the strange interactions of the adults in his life. He did a lot of watching in the story, so I was happy to let him take the reigns and do a little exploring at the end. By that part of the summer, I was well into a pretty nice rhythm with the writing. Since I was writing longhand, the sentences seemed longer, more fluid than they do when I’m writing on the keyboard.

What do you envision your purpose as a writer is? In other words,
what goals do you have in mind when you sit down and write a story?
Do you have an ideal reader?

My purpose is to heal the world….No, just kidding. That’s a really tough question. I’m drawn to it continually, even when I’m pretty sure I’ll just stop writing and devote myself to some other endeavor (which is a cyclical pattern of thinking for me—I probably decide to quit writing three or four times a year). Each story seems to dictate its own goals. It sounds a bit hokey, but I really try to stay out of the process as much as possible. Perhaps it’s better to let those folks more suited to figuring out those type of questions deal with it. In “Trash” for instance, I just wanted to tell Nick’s story. Ultimately, I found myself writing him into that strange abandoned house where he found the stuffed birds. I didn’t set out to get him there, but by the time I revised the story enough, it felt like the only place he could go. I didn’t know that his father would find the piece of pipe in the dumpster, either, but it felt right that he could have a little triumph too. I guess the goal, such as it is, would be to follow whatever thread seems to be unspooled as I draft and redraft. As far as my ideal reader, I feel I’m trying to write for people who like the same books I do. Recently, some friends of mine said nice things about “Trash” after having read it in Harpur Palate, and I realized that writing for my friends is a pretty nice way to look at it. It’s nice knowing that several of my neighbors liked reading my story.

What are you currently reading, and any all-time favorite writers or books?

Only the toughest question in the world! Right now I’m reading David Rivard’s collection of poems, Otherwise and Elsewhere, and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day is one of my favorite books. I’m massively in awe of Jennifer Egan—both The Keep and A Visit From the Goon Squad knocked my socks off. Stunning work. When I saw that Goon Squad had a chapter written as a PowerPoint presentation, I thought, “there’s no way she can pull that off…” but she does. It’s spectacular. I love Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees and Jose Saramago’s Blindness. I’ve been reading Proust (three volumes down!) and find it maddeningly amazing. The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann ranks as one of the all-time great reading experiences for me, along with Eliot’s Middlemarch. I love Ian McEwan—Saturday is brilliant. I feel like I should mention so many people here! Raymond Carver and Jhumpa Lahiri and Graham Green and Graham Swift—how much space do you have?

What projects are you currently working on, and do you have any new
books or stories coming out?

I’ve had a lucky run recently. Aside from “Trash,” I’ve had stories in: Conjunctions, Eclipse, Limestone, and Nimrod. I’ve got a story coming out in Glimmer Train and just today got word that Bellvue Literary Review accepted a story. I’m working on a zombie novel. Hopefully I’ll get it written before the current zombie craze is over. It’s way outside what I normally write and I assumed it would be easily and quickly written. It turns out that nothing I write is easy or quick. So many zombie stories are rife with plot-holes, I just wanted to see if I could tell a good story… about flesh eating undead. I’m hoping it will be a massive best-seller so that I can afford my own private island somewhere. The ultimate writer’s retreat.

Clark Knowles teaches creative writing at the University of New Hampshire. His works have been published in numerous publications, including Pank, Zahir Tales, Inkwell Review, Red Rock Review, and The Black Warrior Review.

Check out a copy of 11.1 to read his amazing story, "Trash."

Nov 19, 2011

Updates: Event & Website

A Mid-Autumn Night of Literature was a great success! Thank you everyone for coming out to hear our excellent readers, Jim Capozzi, Adam Fitzgerald, and Andrei Guruianu.

Harpur Palate has a new website. There you will find information about submissions and subscriptions. You can now order subscriptions and individual issues via a PayPal account (and through the mail, as always).

The website is:

Nov 16, 2011

11.1 Design

Learn more about the cover design for 11.1 at

We hope you like the new look!

Nov 14, 2011

Interview with Kirby Wright

Kirby Wright's creative non-fiction story, "The Ethel Merman Show" appears in issue 11.1. Wright was born in Hawaii, and is best known for his two novels, Punahou Blues and Moloka'i Nui Ahina. Harpur Palate intern, Claire, interviewed Mr. Wright in conjunction with the release of our latest issue.

When and how did you get started as a writer? What is your writing
process typically like?

KW: This may sound weird, but I wrote my first creative nonfiction piece at age 9 on the island of Molokai. In that story, I am picking purple and red beetles out of horse manure and feeding them to my big brother, pretending they are M&Ms. Needless to say, there was sibling rivalry there. (What I actually fed my brother was onion gum, but that's another story). Anyhow, I sent the Beetle story to my mother in Boston and she got such a big charge out of it that I realized writing was a powerful thing. She shared it with all her Boston relatives and they liked it too.

My process is erratic. Sometimes I'll jam on something 12 hours straight, other times I won't lift a pen. I'm also a terrible reader. I know teachers say to read everything, but I think the voices of certain writers are boring. The poet in me demands fresh observation and travel, so that's why I went to the Czech Republic and Vienna. I don't necessarily write everything down immediately--I capture poetic images the way a man throws a net to catch fish. And I try to link those images later.

Hawaii features prominently in many of your works, including “The
Ethel Merman Show” and your novels, Punahou Blues and Moloka’I
Nui Ahina. How has the cultural experience of growing up in Hawaii
influenced you as a writer?

KW: I think my biggest influence was my part-Hawaiian grandmother. She had such incredible stories about the Roarin' Twenties in Waikiki and her cowgirl life on the rural island of Molokai that I probably spent more time listening to her than riding horses or fishing. She also told great ghost stories. Once I caught her talking to her dead mother. I did devise a way to fish and listen to her stories by finding a 100-pound cord line in the Wash Room with a giant hook. I strung an octopus leg through that hook and dropped it 100 yards out near our barrier reef, tethering the end to my bed post on the lanai. I would wait for the bed to jump from a strike while listening to my grandmother ramble on. I think it was important for me to have the experience of both a suburban lifestyle in Honolulu and a rural one on Molokai, and in a way I had 2 mothers since my grandmother watched over me for 14 straight summers. I carried rural and suburban/city stories between these 2 mothers, and naturally I exaggerated a few things to get their fur up.

In your experience, is it more challenging to write creative
non-fiction or fiction? Which genre do you prefer to write, and why?

KW: Both genres are challenging. Sometimes a small canvas fiction piece comes fast, and I just write it down like a court reporter. Often that piece comes in a dream. I'm really enjoying flash fiction right now. I'm actually using this form of fiction to procrastinate on my futuristic novel, telling myself, "Oh, maybe you can use these flashes in the novel." Sure. So, it depends what kind of fiction we're talking about.

I prefer to write non-fiction. I get such a charge out of going back in time and resurrecting those moments that shape a child's existence, such as my kid sister's struggle to make my father less of a tyrant. There's a tremendous sadness in her today, and I want to go back and figure a few things out for her and for me too. Writing it down is the best way for me to do that. I often use humor to help balance the sadness.

What advice do you have for young writers?

KW: Get away from the computer and go out and experience life. Don't let television and movies shape your creative self. Hear that bird chirping? Check out the shapes of clouds. The lean of a tree. Your singular voice is what's powerful, and you need to connect to your inner world by doing simple things, such as writing in a journal or drawing, or doing anything that only you could do. I would say that making short movies would be creative also because you'll learn how to direct and place characters, even if those characters are only dolls or household pets. Also, don't be afraid to lie. I'm not kidding. Lying is a good thing because, if you're challenged, you'll be required to continue lying to support that initial premise. That continuation process both stimulates the creative side of our minds and allows us to think on our feet. Now go out and tell a few fibs.

What are you currently reading?

KW: Kafka's prose poems/short shorts. I'm also reading Plath, Eliot, and a little Truman Capote.

What writing project are you working on now?

KW: A futuristic novel, due out in late April 2012. Want to come to my book party? I've got 2 former American Idols who'll be singing a duet.

Here at Harpur Palate, we look forward to reading Wright's latest novel, and are left wondering which American idols will be performing at the party...

Nov 7, 2011

Come to a Harpur Palate reading Friday, Nov. 18 in downtown Binghamton. Free admission & refreshments.

Oct 20, 2011

Send Your Poems

Don't forget, we're currently accepting submissions to the Milt Kessler Memorial Prize for poetry. Send us your excellent, unpublished 3-5 poems. You could win $500 and a highlighted publication in the journal. We also pick finalists and consider all submitted poems for publication in the journal. Your $15 entry fee not only helps support a small literary journal, but gets you a one year subscription to Harpur Palate, so everyone's a winner! Check out our contest page for more details.

Oct 12, 2011


Our summer & fall issue, 11.1 is now available for purchase! The issue features poetry from Sherman Alexie, Christopher Ankney, Michelle Chan Brown, Lisa Fay Coutley, John Davis, Joseph Engel, Rebecca Faught, Chelsea Henderson, Brian Patrick Heston, Sean Patrick Hill, Amorak Huey, John James, Katharyn Howd Machan, Al Maginnes, Lincoln Michel, Christopher Munde, William Neumire, John Nieves, Doug Ramspeck, Faisal Siddiqui, Karen Eileen Sisk, Mark Wagenaar, Sara Watson, and Jennifer Yuill

Fiction from Kati Cortese, Marian Crotty, Christen Enos, Steve Gibbon, Frances Gonzalez, and Tim Jones-Yelvington

Creative non fiction from Jesse Goolsby, Jacob Newberry, and Kirby Wright

Selections for the Underground Theme include works by Karina Borowicz, Jan Bottiglieri, Annah Browning, Anna Catone, Jeongre Choi, Kyle Churney, Will Cordeiro, Gretchen Fletcher, Joshua Gottlieb-Miller, Kent Johnson, Kristine Ong Muslim, Ben Nadler, Mohamad Atif Slim, Gabriel Spera, D.E. Steward, Cody Todd, and Steve Vaughn

And the short story "Trash" by Clark Knowles, the winner of the John Gardner Memorial Prize for Fiction

Sep 29, 2011

Pages & Places

Harpur Palate will be attending the Pages & Places Book Festival in Scranton this Saturday, October 1. We'll be there from 9:30-3. Hope to see you there! :)

Check out the Pages & Places website for more information:

Sep 7, 2011

Fall Update

Our fall reading period is now open! We would be happy to receive your submissions of short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. Please check our submission guidelines.

The Milt Kessler Prize for Poetry is now open.
The reading fee is $15 and includes a year's subscription to Harpur Palate. The winner receives a prize award of $500 and publication. All contest entries are considered for publication.

May 3, 2011

three things

1--Our spring reading period is closed. Thanks to all who submitted. If you haven't already, you should hear from us about the status of your work in the coming few weeks.

2--Harpur Palate exhibits itself all over the Ithaca Commons this Friday 5/6! Come join us from 5 to 9pm:

3--Our launch party is set for next Friday 5/13, 7-9pm, at River Read Books. Scheduled readers include HP contributors Randall Brown, Susan Maurer, Rob Tillett, and Jason Schossler. Free wine and food!

Feb 17, 2011


Harpur Palate issue 10.2, featuring poetry from Milt Kessler Prize Winner Francine Witte, Carolyn Moore, Sara Tracey, Edward Adams, Ryan J. Browne, Kara Dorris, Andrey Gritsman, Alec Hershman, Susan H. Maurer, Travis Mossotti, Mark Neely, Jack Ridl, Rochelle Jewel Shapiro, David Starkey, Wanling Su, Robert J. Tillett, William Varner, Thom Ward, and Catherine Woodard.

Fiction by Bipin Aurora, Kate Blakinger, Randall Brown, Peter Grimes, and Shirley Sullivan.

AND DON'T FORGET... The 2011 John Gardner Fiction Contest is well underway with just over a month left in the reading period. Send us your stuff!

Jan 27, 2011

More Eponymous News!

If you've read anything published in Harpur Palate over the last few years, you've read the work of T.J. Forrester, whose stories have appeared in issue 6.2 ("The Revolving Door") and 8.1 ("Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail"). T.J.'s debut novel, Miracles, Inc., will be published by Simon & Schuster on February 1st, and we are doubly proud to learn that his collection of stories, Black Heart on the Appalachian Trail, is set to be released next year. You can learn more about T.J. and order copies of his book through his website, and, if you want to learn more about the type of inter-office dancing we do each time we learn one of our contributors has a forthcoming book, you can ask for a sample jig if/when you see us at this year's Association of Writers & Writing Programs Conference, held this year in Washington, D.C.

Come watch us shake for quarters!

Jan 26, 2011

Online submission manager go!

Harpur Palate now accepts online submissions! Follow the links on our Submissions and Theme Issue pages . . .

Jan 12, 2011

New Year, New Issue, New Awesomeness Abounds

We're excited to say that issue 10.2 is off to the printer and getting churned out as I type this. So, fingers crossed, we should have it ready to go for AWP next month. If you're going to be there, swing by the HP table, say hi, and pick up a copy.

Also, a big congrats to issue 10.1 contributor Nick Lantz upon winning the GLCA 2011 New Writers Award for his first collection We Don't Know We Don't Know (Graywolf). Nick's a hell of a nice guy and can write like no tomorrow and we were lucky enough to publish three of his poems.

Finally, we're in the process of joining the hip crowd: a test run of our new online submission manager is set to go up in the very near future. No promises on its reliability or our interweb savviness, but we're hoping to make the transition for 11.1. Stay tuned.