I saw Carrie Lorig read with Nick Sturm and a couple other local-ish talents in Cincinnati, my current digs, a week or two ago. When she began, or maybe it was after her first poem, Lorig mentioned that her being into sound is pretty obvious. It is. It really is obvious, and this chapbook from Magic Helicopter is proof and success.

The first thing I feel I must relate this book to is Ariana Reines’s book THE COW, as that book and this one both have some amount of focus on the cow’s body in order to discuss the human body, but this book is a book much more concerned with the sentence, with its restructuring, with its ness in every sense, and with making or Imageremaking or tweaking slightly certain words to help the flow flow. What I mean is: “a cow looks like me when it pets all over my underneat. a cow looks like me when i choke light. when i choke light, it is immediately.”

The language here is playful, sentence-considerate, and somehow Lorig manages to vary sentences over long-ish poems that sustain themselves on this language and on this variance. The poems, in discussing the body somewhat, mention blood or the body often, but rarely directly, and I have this wild idea that this restructuring of language while playing with modes of variance and repetition seeks, perhaps, to consider a restructuring of the body, to restructure a considering of the body, to make a body happen out of thin air. This book is a body.

Wong‘s first full-length, a chunky and beautiful thing composed of sections, is a rhymic dynamo that lulls and startles. Now let me explain. Wong creates these sort of formulas and rhythms of speech very organically and naturally, making the sentence-level writing do most of the work, and the accumulation of images and thoughts exist just under the surface. These sentences, after you begin to get lulled into their schematics, will suddenly pop like a bottle rocket and force you to snap back to some other state of mind.

Though some of these formulaic results are dull compared to the starkness of the others, the gems are wide awake and ready to work. Wong’s sentence-level play is so strikingly beautiful and simple and provokative that I’m running out of words for it all. So here’s an example: “opening: the edges: of fabric braiding into itself / and how making the bed requires: uncurling: like / a piece of parchment a declaration an admission”.

There are enough surprises embedded into this collection to warrant a good handful of re-reads, which is exactly what I plan to do. This book is a mass of fairy-tale-like punches that expose accidental self-reflection in a mess of descriptions about a slowly burning world of social intricacies and accidents. It’s a beatiful mass. And mess.

Mud Schematic: How do you find Chicago leaking into Ghost Ocean and Tree Light? How do your projects leak into the city?

Heather: I’m fascinated by how tethered to the urban landscape I feel (after living in Chicago for several years) but also to the rural, country landscape that I was surrounded by much of my life. I grew up in Arkansas and I’ve never lived more than maybe 30 miles from a body of water. Ever. That probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve never lived more than three blocks from Lake Michigan — which is the “Ghost Ocean” on our website — since I moved to Chicago, even though I’m in my third Chicago apartment.

We’ve published work that straddles these natural and man-made landscapes, such as Adam Morgan’s “In Our Dreams” in Ghost Ocean 6. Adam imagines Chicago as a city “hidden deep in a forest, covered in flowering vines and writhing trees.” I’m compelled by this vision—it would be my dream world were it not in such ruinous shape—as I am by similar settings, because they bridge these two worlds I love, which are often seen in opposition.

The majority of the time, we tend to select work that doesn’t operate in cityscapes. Maybe Chicago has a hand in this, because when I hop off the train, the last thing I want to read is a story about someone on the train. Then again, maybe that’s just me. If I were pressed to make another Chicago-connection, it would probably be to the urgency or energy in the work we publish. There’s an urgency here, in the city, that I would equate with the work of J.A. Tyler (not just his work in Ghost Ocean) and the work he publishes through Mud Luscious. But that work isn’t always set in urban areas. It’s the rhythm and the language — even the longer, more complex sentences — and, overall, the energy that feel uniquely urban to me.

I haven’t really answered your questions directly, though. Forgive me? (ed: forgiven!)

Mud Schematic: Has starting and running Tree Light Books changed the way you operate Ghost Ocean Magazine?

Heather: Absolutely. Something that’s challenging for me is delegating responsibilities—or rather, loosening my grip. When I started Ghost Ocean I had it in my head that I would read (at least twice!) every submission, regardless of genre or if everyone on staff had already said No way. That philosophy didn’t last long anyway, but since I’ve moved forward with the press I’ve realized I have to succumb to delegating certain things and not worry over it. I still read the majority of the submissions that come in, but I’m able to trust the instincts of the staff. They make my job easier, and if I didn’t have them to rely on, I’m not sure I could juggle both the press and the magazine on my own.

Mud Schematic: What would be your dream situation/growth for Tree Light?

Heather: Well, I think about selling digital copies of the chapbooks side-by-side with print, but I have this dedication/admiration/obsession with handmade chapbooks that is holding me back. We’re set to sell electronic versions once the originals sell out—we have less than half of the copies of our first chapbook left, so this may happen sooner than I anticipated—but maybe one day I’ll cave and sell them simultaneously. Not to mention, the more print copies we sell, the tidier my apartment is.

We have a handful of other projects in the queue, all manuscripts from our first chapbook contest, and they’re all projects I’m excited about publishing. Each chap has a central theme (or themes) that I haven’t encountered in chapbooks put out by other presses, so I hope Tree Light can add something interesting to the chapbook conversation. Susan’s chap, our debut, captures the essence of what we’d like to continue publishing, though I hope we can surprise and reinvent ourselves in the same way I feel that Ghost Ocean has started to cast a wider net in terms of what we’d like to publish, while continuing to put out things that are recognizably Ghost Ocean.

If we ever grew into a full-on publishing conglomerate, I don’t think I’d ever get a chance to sleep. So I’m fine with our smaller scope. I just want to focus on putting out good books, supporting our authors as best we can, and getting to know our readers somewhere along the way.

*

Heather Cox is a poet who founded and continues to edit the online literary journal Ghost Ocean Magazine and its imprint press Tree Light Books. Heather loves books, biking, typewriters, vinyl records, sunlight, and puppies. Heather was born in Texas and raised in Arkansas, and now she lives on Chicago’s north side with her partner and their two dogs, Milo and Roscoe.

This first tiny gem from Tree Light Books is one of the best chapbooks (maybe the best) I’ve encountered all year. Honest.

The thing is filled with dry death: with bones, ghosts, dirt. It’s stark and self-aware, acutely focused on delivering these dark images thick with brilliant and quick language — something like speaking with sweet top soil in your mouth and on your teeth. Picture it.

Lists are also present, molding this darkness into an organized chaos (I’ll admit I’m a sucker for such things). Here’s a selection from one of my favorites, called “Characteristics of the Murdered Object,” which sheds light too on the incredible textured language this thing has to offer:

2
next door, pistols laboring to fire.

3
a muffled hour, a rotted footstool.

4
a woman cast into dark mirrors, fretwork and filigree.

5
dreaming of nightgowns, of calving moons.

I’d go longer but I hate spoiling. This tiny, gorgeous thing is available over at Ghost Ocean Magazine‘s brand new Tree Light Books.

Keeping alive her often-focus on Saginaw, a Michigan city ranked among the most dangerous in the country, Gina Myers‘s False Spring is a sort of diary in the life of a Saginaw resident. This simple and beautiful little chapbook from Spooky Girlfriend Press chronicles a daily exhaustion of life, of work, of a significant other halfway across the country, all while the bang-bangs of gunshots ring from beyond the window.

Each page contains a stanza of a day, maybe a week, flowing with frustration and confinement and a subdued urgency cloaked in static. I suppose you could call each staza/page/piece/fragment a list of activities, of problems, of possible temporary solutions to the ailment of an existence in a violent city like Saginaw. But what keeps this chapbook from stepping foot in the dead-grass-dog-shit-backyard of sappiness and darkness is the underlying powerful love for Saginaw which Myers keeps in this book’s engine.

As with all of Juan Sweeney’s work Chad gets his hands on, this collection of Juan’s lost notebooks delivers a whole range of qualities: surprising imagery, mythic visions and descriptions, and some knowing and excited tone that screams calmly and consistently.

Wolf’s Milk just fucking delivers. Here’s a bit from my favorite poem in the collection, the 23rd piece:

“My autobiography: / The womb was my first house. / Its garden was the world. / Its rose / was emptiness and music. / You know the rest. / Every so often hell sends up / a white balloon.”

This cohesive tone ties all these insane images together. Later there are elephants, blue wolves, granite wolves, lighthouses and knives. And bones. So many bones. Together, they help paint these colorful, thick-brushstroked poems that keep the stylistic tonalities Juan intended and which Chad keeps so alive, so glowing. These notebooks glow.

MLP‘s anthology First Year, which takes a piece from each pocket-sized chapbook published between 2008 and 2009 and throws them together, is a thick, beautiful, energetic thing. I say thing because I don’t like to think of it as a bunch of samplings of work. Rather, as a book-thing, it’s wonderful.

My fondness for this book-thing stems largely, I think, from the grayness it creates in itself. That is, it is composed of both stories and poems, but never introduces a piece as belonging to either genre. It just is. That’s the brilliance of the read-through. Working my way through the book, I found myself caring less about genre and more about effect. Many of the pieces here operate on sort of an organization — lists, alphabetizing, etc. I love that. I get excited by that.

That isn’t to say, of course, that the “more traditional” stuff isn’t fantastic (it is), but the number and variance of those organizing pieces is quite large and absolutely delightful. Get this book-thing into your hands and enjoy its organized grayness. The cover is very colorful, though. So no complaining.