Kyle Minor

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction. Recent stories and essays were published in The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Arts & Letters, Surreal South, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, and Best American Mystery Stories 2008.

A Conversation with Philip Graham

IMG_0385 IMG_0399 IMG_0400Three of Philip Graham’s early books are newly available in Dzanc/Open Road ebook editions. Graham asked me to write the introduction for one of them, The Art of the Knock, and while I was working on it, I asked him a few questions to satisfy my curiosity about his years working with Donald Barthelme and Grace Paley, his time in Africa, and his thoughts on symmetry and design, which are influenced in part by the poetry of Charles Simic and the plays of William Shakespeare.

Kyle Minor:  I’ve just finished re-reading The Art of the Knock, the book that first brought you to the attention of many readers. I was struck by its symmetries of design, a thing that seems to have been a preoccupation of yours. So many story collections are simply a grab bag, a greatest-hits-lately. But The Art of the Knock is, first and foremost, a book. The parts are in conversation, and they are arranged like a series of Chinese boxes, or Russian matroyshka dolls, on the one hand, and on the other, they are directional. We begin with digging through toward China, and we land in China. We go through three iterations of the “Art of the Knock” series. And the rest of the stories are nested in two in-between sections that seem mirror images one of the other, or at least they are in conversation. How did you find the form of that book? Did you write your way into it, or did the design arrive first?

Philip Graham:  Actually, The Art of the Knock grew out of a combination of the two approaches.  I’d just published a first book of prose poems, The Vanishings, and my new work was tending toward the short story form.  I’d written the first China piece, the first Art of the Knock story (though at the time I didn’t consider them part of a series, they just were what they were), and a few of the family stories—“Silence,” “Shadows,” and “The Distance.”  I was simply working my way into a new book, and didn’t have a definite sense of what it might become. READ MORE >

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June 4th, 2014 / 10:00 am

What do I do with my memories, my longings, my hurts, the things unresolved between us?

A Review of A Questionable Shape, by Bennett Sims (Two Dollar Radio, 2013)

shapeThe first zombie in Bennett Sims’s A Questionable Shape doesn’t appear until page 161, and then only as a silhouette seen from across a lake. Most of the zombies have been detained, quarantined, or “put down” by a government that seems relatively more functional in its performance of disaster relief, especially in Louisiana, than in its earlier iteration, not so long ago, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The undead that remain roaming the bayou possess “roughly the same citizen status and legal rights, as, say, coma patients or the mentally ill.” FEMA funds refugee shelters and welfare checks and undead search operations, although, by now, the term “undead” is increasingly frowned upon for being “dysphemistic and dehumanizing.”

The search for the undead yet at-large in Louisiana has grown quite urgent by the novel’s beginning, because in five days it will be the end of July, and the beginning of hurricane season. The story’s narrator, a young bookish man named Vermaelen, has agreed to help his friend Matt Mazoch search for his undead father.

The five days they have left in their search–Monday through Friday–serve double- READ MORE >

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May 27th, 2013 / 6:26 am

Who Are The Tribes, by Terrance Hayes

Terrance Hayes

Pilot Books publishes limited edition poetry chapbooks and comics from the likes of Matthew Zapruder, Mary Ruefle, and Jessica Fjeld. They contend that “innovative work demands innovative design,” so: “all of our books are designed and printed in ways unique and luminous to the manuscript itself. We take the editorial and design process as a seriously creative act, one that gives the poems an opportunity to live a physical life that the reader can interact with in new ways.”

They’ve been at it for five years. All of the books are beautiful, but none more beautiful than Who Are the Tribes, their latest offering, by Terrance Hayes. The book was produced in a limited letterpress edition of 300, bound in a double pamphlet handstitch, with illustrations (pen-and-ink drawings, it looks like) by the author.

The text is a single poem in 15 parts, and it is wild, formally and otherwise.

The first movement, “1. BEEFS,” begins with a spreadsheet in which the rows are delineated Tribe, Color, Poison, Smoke, Loves, and the columns are 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Each tribe is given a name (ANTLER, SPIKE, QUIXOTE, BILL, and SIXFOUR) READ MORE >

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November 10th, 2012 / 8:24 am

Some Notes on the First Two Poems in Saint Monica, by Mary Biddinger

Saint Monica begins with an entry from the online Patron Saints Index. It goes like so:

Memorial: 27 August

Mother of Saint Augustine of Hippo, whose writers about her are the primary source of our information. A Christian from birth, she was given in marriage to a bad-tempered adulterous pagan named Patricius. She prayed constantly for the conversion of her husband (who converted on his death bed), and of her son (who converted after a wild life). Spiritual student of St. Ambrose of Milan. Reformed alcoholic.

Born 322 at Tagaste (South Ahrus), Algeria.

Died 387 at Ostia, Italy

Patronage: abuse victims, alcoholics, alcoholism, difficult marriages, disappointing children, homemakers, housewives, married women, mothers, victims of adultery, victims of unfaithfulness, victims of verbal abuse, widows, wives.

Then we get a dedication: “For all the girls with names that begin with M.” The reader notices right away that the author’s first name begins with M.

Already, by the dedication, before the first poem begins, the reader is attuned to a strange quality that attaches to the cult of saints, which is that their personhood is inextricably mingled with the personhood of the latter-day people who revere them. Saint Monica, mother of St. Augustine, was born in Africa in the fourth century, and died in Italy sixty-some years later. What has that to do with American girls whose named begin with M., in the twenty- and twenty-first century? What is the relationship between the Saint Monica of help and reverence and the Saint Monica who gave birth to a son, took up and then gave up devotion to alcohol, and studied with St. Ambrose, more than 1700 years ago?

Time and tradition have warped a flesh-and-blood person into an abstraction READ MORE >

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November 3rd, 2012 / 5:24 am

An Interview with Christine Schutt

Christine Schutt is the author of two short story collections, A Day, A Night, Another Day, Summer and Nightwork. She is also the author of two novels: All Souls, which was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize, and Florida, a finalist for the 2004 National Book Award. With Diane Williams, she edits the literary journal NOON. Her new novel, Prosperous Friends, will be published by Grove Press on November 6.

Michelle Y. Burke is the author of Horse Loquela, winner of the 2007 Red Mountain Review Chapbook Series Award. She lives in Cincinnati.

Burke: One of the things I admire most about your writing is how it sounds. Your sentences are so rich and lyrical. To what extent are you thinking about sound when you’re writing?

Schutt: I do think about sound. What I want to do is wed sound to scene. What comes first is a picture. READ MORE >

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October 14th, 2012 / 1:17 pm

A Few Notes about Joyelle McSweeney’s Percussion Grenade

The Montevidayans, a loose group of writers and poets and visual artists (including Joyelle McSweeney, Johannes Goransson, Lara Glenum, Danielle Pafunda, and, more loosely, Kate Bernheimer), are distinguished from the preponderance of those who are identified (or who self-identify) as avant-garde or experimental or “new” or otherwise willfully other, by their willingness to embrace and explore rather than to exclude, and by their idea that art can accommodate the high, the low, the middle, the sideways, the backwards, the constructive, the destructive, the deconstructive, the narrative, the anti-narrative, the lyric, the dramatic, the miniature, the epic, the restrained, the willfully artful, the willfully artless, the garish, the respectable, the kitschy, the hybrid, the hi-bred, the high bread, and the red hype. Where others out of explicit big-timing (and implicit self-protection or self-promotion) construct ever smaller boxes within which art might reside — and say, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly): because I reject your standard notion of rules, which are meant to bind and shame me, I will make an idiosyncratic notion of rules, which are meant to bind and shame all who are not like me — the Montevidayans, in general, say: Yes.

This is not the only reason I am drawn to their work READ MORE >

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June 24th, 2012 / 9:03 pm

Nick Flynn on “A Crisis of Narrative” in Memoir

“A lot of it feels, to me, like a crisis of narrative. These stories basically follow the same model, often it’s the redemption narrative—a Christian redemption narrative of sinking low then rising above. This same narrative is repeated over and over, the culture can’t get enough of it for some reason. It’s not a bad story, but it’s crowding out alternative tellings, alternative versions, and this is very limiting, and basically false because it is limiting.”

(Read the rest, from the 2006 print interview newly posted at the Sycamore Review.)

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April 2nd, 2012 / 1:24 am

1163 Audio Files – author readings, interviews, talks about writing — from Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, and from the archives of the University of Iowa Libraries. All free (but not downloadable — you have to use the library’s media player.)

Some Notes on Deformation Zone: On Translation, a Chapbook by Johannes Goransson and Joyelle McSweeney

Deformation Zone: On Translation is the latest installment in Ugly Duckling Presse’s Dossier Series, which is edited by Anna Moschovakis, and which has already distinguished itself as one of the more adventuresome and aesthetically exciting projects in American publishing. (Other titles in the series include Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl, Jon Cotner’s and Andy Fitch’s Ten Walks/Two Talks, and Laura Nash’s Brownfields.)

Deformation Zone might also be considered the latest installment in the intertwined multi-platform and multi-genre project that the careers of Joyelle McSweeney and Johannes Goransson have become. Both writers seem to have long ago eschewed any of the preexisting boxes into which literary artists typically confine themselves. Their work routinely crosses the borders that perhaps artificially have separated the practice of poetry, fiction, the personal essay, the scholarly essay, the Internet post, the stage play, the translation READ MORE >

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March 26th, 2012 / 3:31 am

Laura Kasischke v. John McCrae

The rondeau is a fifteen-line poem appropriated from a French form dating to the 13th century. Here is John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” the most famous rondeau in English:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Note the straitjacket of the form — the AABBA AAB(refrain) AABBA(refrain) structure, and the refrain itself lifted from the first half of the first line.

Here is Laura Kasischke’s “Rondeau,” from the April 2011 issue of Poetry:

Small and panting mass
Of moonlight and dampness on a log
This glistening tumor, terrible frog
Of moonlight and dampness on a log
My small and panting mass READ MORE >

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October 19th, 2011 / 4:17 am

Some Notes on Kate Bernheimer’s Complete Tales Trilogy

Kate Bernheimer’s Complete Tales of the Gold sisters is a a trilogy of novels published over a ten year period. It is also part of a broader project, a life’s work, that includes not only the practice of reviving and revivifying the fairy tale, but also the tasks of developing a contemporary theory of the fairy tale, of identifying the ongoing subterranean influence of the fairy tale upon the work of writers not ordinarily associated with the fairy tale, and of championing and legitimizing and de-ghettoizing the fairy tale as a literary form.

Bernheimer is probably better known in her critical and editorial roles than as a writer. Her Penguin-published anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (co-edited with Carmen Gimenez-Smith), which includes fairy tales by the likes of Kelly Link, John Updike, Neil Gaiman, Lily Hoang, Michael Cunningham, Kevin Brockmeier, Joy Williams, and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya, is the most prominent of these efforts. In her introduction, Bernheimer invokes a line of Nabokov’s: “All great novels are fairy tales.” Then she makes a broader claim: “all great narratives are fairy tales . . . READ MORE >

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June 19th, 2011 / 1:37 pm

A Few Notes on The Necropastoral by Joyelle McSweeney

The Necropastoral is a chapbook by Joyelle McSweeney. It proceeds in five parts. First, “Necropastoral, or, Normal Love,” an essay that sets out McSweeney’s idea of the Necropastoral by examining Jack Smith’s film Normal Love. Second, a series of poems, all titled “King Prion,” which may be read as individual poems, as a cumulative poem, or as parts of a longer poem which isn’t present in its entirety. Third, “Arcadia, or, Anachronism: A Necropastoral Effigy,” an essay or possibly a story in the form of a list which is also in the form of an effigy. Fourth, “Infernal Tributaries of the Necropastoral,” which is an acknowledgements section that we might also read as a deletion of the boundaries of the chapbook. Fifth, ten blank white pages. There are also pages between sections illustrated by black-and-white collage.

The task of the first paragraph of these notes was to describe the contents of the chapbook, but already the reviewer has had some trouble, because questions of genre and form and the place of each section have been blurred in a manner that requires the reader to rethink each how each element works and what each element is.

For starters: The chapbook form. What is a chapbook? READ MORE >

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June 18th, 2011 / 12:57 pm

Catching Up with Garth Greenwell

Garth Greenwell is the author of Mitko, a novella of sexual passion and transaction in Bulgaria, which calls to mind the richly textured fictions of Imre Kertesz, W.G. Sebald, and Marguerite Duras. Greenwell grew up in Kentucky, studied poetry at Harvard, and taught high school in Michigan, before settling (for now) in Bulgaria, where he teaches at the American College of Sofia. Mitko is available in bookstores, and also through Small Press Distribution, Amazon, and the publisher. We corresponded last week by Facebook messaging.

MINOR: I first became acquainted with you through your poetry, but your first book, Mitko, is a work of fiction, a novella, which reads in some ways like that variety of fiction that hews close to autobiography.

GREENWELL: Until coming to Bulgaria, all of my creative work was in verse, and in some way I don’t fully understand I think that moving to a place so free from things I recognized or understood READ MORE >

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May 29th, 2011 / 11:23 pm

Bill Knott Week: Last Postings

Best Deal on the Internet:

If you send your mailing address to, Bill Knott will send you a one-of-a-kind staplebound edition of his poems, with handmade cover art.

James Wright on Bill Knott, from Wright’s collected letters:

New York City
September 6, 1975

D. Groth,

You kind letter made me happy. Poetry is a strange adventure: at crucial times it is––it has to be a search undertaken in absolute solitude, so we often find ourselves lost in loneliness––which is quite a different thing from solitude. America is so vast a country, and people who value the life of the spirit, and try their best to live such a life, certainly need times and places of uncluttered solitude all right. But after the journey into solitude––where so many funny and weird and sometimes startlingly beautiful things can happen, whether in language or––even more strangely––in the silences between words and even within words––we come into crowds of people, and chances are they are desperately lonely. Sometimes it takes us years––years, years!–to convey to another lonely person just what it was we might have been blessed and lucky enough to discover in our solitude.

In the meantime, though, the loneliness of the spirit can be real despair. A few years ago, when I lived in St. Paul, Minn., I received unexpectedly a short note from a young poet* who was bitterly poverty striken in Chicago. READ MORE >

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May 6th, 2011 / 12:26 am

Bill Knott Week: An Essay by Peter Jurmu

Some notes on Knott from Peter Jurmu:

When What You Really Really Want Is To Cover Territory

Sex on Quicksand: Collected Short Poems 1960-2009, like Breccia (or An Incomplete Inventory of Dorian Gray’s Closet—cover pictured above—that phone number is the request line for a Boston-area oldies station, WODS— READ MORE >

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May 5th, 2011 / 2:02 am

Bill Knott Week: First Step toward a New & Selected Poems

Another Knotty thing worth snagging for your e-reader: Bill Knott is offering (again, for free!) what he’s calling a “first step” toward a long-awaited New and Selected Poems edition. From the introductory note:

This volume is a selection of poems I’ve written through
the years, from 1960 to the present.

My choices are personal, though in some instances I’m relying on what other people have indicated they liked,
deferring to their judgement.

Farrar Straus & Giroux marketed my book “The Unsubscriber” in 2004, and then foolishly, considering what a critical and financial failure that book was, proposed to publish as a follow-up my Selected Poems, and suggested I should prepare a 240-page ms. for that purpose. Luckily wiser heads prevailed, the Selected was quashed and never appeared.

This is the shadow version of that stillborn book.


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May 4th, 2011 / 1:42 pm

Bill Knott Week: A Knottian Contribution from Jeremiah Gould

photograph and photograph preparation by Jeremiah Gould

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May 4th, 2011 / 12:48 am

Bill Knott Week: mythkitty

Bill Knott, perhaps in response to a suggestion on this site that he make his already-free digital editions of his books available as text files for convenience of e-reader types, published a first draft of mythkitty, a new selection of his poems, on his blogspot site. I copied it immediately to a text file, and sent it to my Kindle.

From Knott’s introductory notes to mythkitty:

Philip Larkin urged poets to refrain from rummaging in what he called the “myth-kitty” and to instead take their themes and images from the immediate daily life around them, as he himself did so brilliantly and with such genius.
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May 3rd, 2011 / 6:05 pm

Bill Knott Week: An Anecdote from Steven Breyak

"quote from Pasternak (if the poet's chair is not empty, beware)," Bill Knott, 2009 (media unknown)

Steven Breyak lives in Osaka, Japan. He writes:

Late in the summer of 2006, I had finished my MFA and was drained from it. With the last of my thesis off to the printers and no agents or potential employers calling, a long empty future seemed to lay before me and my art; it had seemed that we’d lost purpose for each other and it was best I consider a career change to reader. Then Bill Knott asked me if I would rent a car in Boston and drive out to the Poconos to pick him up along with a few of his belongings. In a desperate attempt to establish myself in some medium, I decided to buy some professional recording equipment (on credit) and interview Bill on the drive east. READ MORE >
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May 3rd, 2011 / 4:36 am

Bill Knott Week: Matthew Salesses on “The Enemy” and Two from the Bill Knott Mailbag

Matthew Salesses is author of the forthcoming novella The Last Repatriate, and two prose chapbooks–Our Island of Epidemics (PANK) and We Will Take What We Can Get (Publishing Genius). You can find some of his stories in Glimmer Train, Witness, Mid-American Review, Pleiades, The Literary Review, and Quarterly West. He is also a columnist and fiction editor for The Good Men Project. He lives in Boston.

I asked him to write a few words about Bill Knott’s poem “The Enemy.” Here is the poem:


Like everyone I demand to be
Defended unto the death of
All who defend me, all the
World’s people I command to
Roundabout me shield me, to
Fight off the enemy. The
Theory is if they all stand
Banded together and wall me
Safe, there’s no one left to
Be the enemy. Unless I of
Course start attack, snap-
Ping and shattering my hands
On your invincible backs. READ MORE >

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May 2nd, 2011 / 11:45 am