Gazing Grain Press is pleased to announce that judge Brian Teare has selected Laura Neuman as the winner of our inaugural feminist chapbook contest! Hir chapbook The Busy Life will be published this month and launched at a celebratory reading during Fall for the Book on Sunday, September 30, at 5:30 p.m. in the Mason Hall Atrium at the George Mason University Fairfax campus.
We are also happy to announce that Brian Teare has named Natalie Eilbert’s book The Life and Death of the Venus City runner-up.
Brian Teare’s comments on winner Laura Neuman’s The Busy Life
The Busy Life turns the prose poem into a paper theater of a million intimacies, each sentence a stage on which perform the I and the other I called you. Though their dramas partake in the venerable feminist tradition of asking questions about the ethical, philosophical and sexual relationships between you and I, these poems know “There is no longer any possibility that we will ever locate ourselves absolutely. Not on bodies, on paper, or on streets.” While this might strike some as a potentially hopeless position to hold regarding gender, sex, language and self, The Busy Life is about the many possibilities that arise in the absence of The Absolute. “You gave up five other subject positions in order to read the body that used to be your only shot,” it proclaims, “We were lucky to have such demanding material for selves.” Regarding the demands this chapbook makes on its readers, we should count ourselves similarly lucky: its grave intelligence gives shape to an inexhaustible playfulness. This work knows that though language provides one of the primary means of communication between two subjects, both speaking and writing transmit knowledge in a way that introduces epistemological static into even the best of connections. So what’s a poem to do? With a predilection for sexy syntax subverting its unflagging allegiance to the logic of the sentence, The Busy Life takes pleasure in the unpredictable, difficult terrain of intersubjectivity. Its theorizing driven by lived experience, it takes pains to record with great faith the friction that gives relationship such hot frisson and terrible blisters. Their wit and intellectual ambition symptomatic of the vulnerabilities they reveal, paradox is the native language of these poems. Their deep ambivalence about holding any one subject position is totally committed to making pages that can hold all of yours.
Laura Neuman was born in San Francisco and currently lives somewhere between Seattle and Philadelphia. She/xe holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Bard College Milton Avery School of the Arts & an M.A. in Poetry from Temple University. Hir poems have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, Tinge, Omniverse, and other publications. In Philadelphia, she performed and co-conspired with The Workshop for Potential Movement.
Brian Teare’s comments on runner-up Natalie Eilbert’s “The Life and Death of the Venus City”
Are certain forms of solitude, disappointment, frustration, anxiety and melancholy inherently gendered? The Life and Death of the Venus City argues for an explicitly feminist engagement with negative affect and emotion, revisiting lyric subjectivity in order to ask difficult questions about the experience of being a woman in the United States of late capitalism. Using the Venus of Willendorf as a kind of talisman, the poems conjure a narrative of women’s suffering across histories and cultures: “Her purpose/was her mimesis of riches, the fat breasts like our towers…The sick glint of empire.” And yet what makes these poems successful is that their contemporaneity resists and at times critiques the gender essentialisms they venture, showing how any narrative we might make of the Venus is always already doomed: “There is no document/of civilization that isn’t also its ruins.” The black sun that shines over the devastations of these richly allusive poems might make us wince and squint, but their ferocious address to the Venus remains remarkable: “If I am angry/it is because I miss no one the way I miss being monstrous/and small and mindless like you.” Craft as adamant, intelligent and as committed as this guarantees a reader leaves these poems, sees how the towers of the Venus City rise around her, and again feels what it means to know a civilization “can be both the animal and what kills it.”
Natalie Eilbert received her MFA in poetry from Columbia University, where she was awarded the 2010 Linda Corrente Poetry Prize. She has recently completed her first collection, to which many of the poems in this chapbook belong. A recent fellow in the 2012 Summer Literary Seminars, her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Colorado Review, Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, Barn Owl Review, La Petite Zine, Two Serious Ladies, No, Dear, Boxcar Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.