On the Poets & Writers Blog: “Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford Unveiled at the Silo City Reading Series”

Poets & Writers – the organization that made our Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford unveiling last month in Buffalo possible – invited me to write about the experience for their readers. I described the genesis of Constant Stranger, the background of the extraordinary Just Buffalo Silo City Reading Series, and the readings from Kazim Ali, Marcus Jackson, Matthew Henrisksen, and Bill Willett that made the night so special for all who attended.

On August 18, the city’s grain silos held a “micro-arts festival” to honor the work of Frank Stanford and herald the publication of a book that takes its title from one of his posthumous manuscripts, Constant Stranger. With the support of Poets & Writers, the festival brought the poets Kazim Ali, Marcus Jackson, and Matt Henriksen to Buffalo for one extraordinary night of performances, which included readings by Stanford’s close friend Bill Willett and a theatrical performance by Torn Space Theater.

Next, Foundlings editor at large and LA office manager S. James Coffed and I are headed to Fayetteville, Arkansas for the Frank Stanford Literary Festival, which will mark our book’s official release. We’ll be presenting a panel discussion, “’Like a Song of Hog Blood’: New Directions of Frank Stanford Scholarship,” moderated by Ata Moharreri and featuring Patricio Ferrari, Murray Shugars, Bronwen Tate, Susan Scarlata, Leo Dunsker, and me.

More on Frank Stanford and Foundlings Press

“You think Frank would have liked this?” I asked Bill Willett, a 70-year-old landscape architect, Frank Stanford’s best friend since the eighth grade, and a constant steward of his legacy these past 40 years. He stepped out of Max’s Hyundai Elantra into the middle of Silo City, its dirt roads puddle-pocketed from the previous night’s Biblical rain.

“Oh, yes,” Bill said as he took his first long look around. “He would have liked this.”

I came to Stanford’s poetry through my friend Max Crinnin, who came to it through his father, the poet Gerry Crinnin, who came to it while at Brown studying and working with his close friend and mentor C.D. Wright. Wright, who loved Frank, co-founded Lost Roads Press with him, and inherited half of his papers, led countless readers to Stanford, generously sharing her insights and archives with almost anyone interested until her sudden death in 2016. Frank’s voice has been a major influence on my own poetry, but Max and I also looked to Frank’s efforts as a publisher and art-evangelist when we decided to start the poetry magazine Foundlings, and we continue to consider his efforts and legacy in everything we do.

When Max and I visited Soho’s McNally Jackson bookstore on a trip to new York in the final days of 2015, we picked up copies of the recently released collected works What About This and the archival selection Hidden Water — a stupefyingly significant joint effort from Copper Canyon Book and and Third Man Books, led by Michael Wieger and Chet Weise, and made possible by the support of Wright and Stanford’s widow, Ginny Crouch Stanford. Until this point we had only known Stanford through Gerry’s Lost Roads first editions of You, Crib Death, The Singing Knives, Arkansas Bench Stone, and Battlefield. We began to think about how these books might signal a reevaluation of Stanford’s place in the contemporary poetry landscape.

Before their publication of these two books, Stanford’s work was passed from hand to hand in the form of Lost Roads first editions like the one’s we’d been lucky enough to encounter. Most of his work was out of print — except the formidable 400-page Battlefield, republished by Lost Roads in 2000 — and he was a peripheral and misunderstood figure in popular literary discourse, near-absent from academic circles other than at Brown, the University of Arkansas, and a few other English departments where his scattered acolytes had landed in tenure tracks. A mountain of anecdotal evidence confirmed that anyone who encountered Stanford was touched with a Pentecostal fire, and wanted to share his work with any other serious lover of poetry. Artists from Tom Waits to Terrance Hayes, Michael Ondaatje to Jack White were said to be fans, but critics, educators, and most importantly, the majority of English-language poetry readers, didn’t seem to recognize the enduring vitality and relevance of Stanford’s work. Over the following year, as our own fledgling publishing efforts matured, we watched these two seminal Stanford releases, wondering if they would break the levee of obscurity that kept most readers from Stanford. They met well-deserved praise among reviewers; some even imagined, like us, that Stanford would step into a sort of spotlight that had been reserved for him all these years. But this didn’t happen. As we approached 2018 — the 70th anniversary of Stanford’ birth and the 40th anniversary of his death — we wondered if we could use our little magazine as a vehicle to position the poet and his work in a contemporary context, by inviting contributions from all of the writers who knew him, studied him, or have felt his influence.

We should have known a magazine wouldn’t come close to suiting the job. Contributions came in from every corner of the country; some came from overseas. Everyone seemed to know three other people who were Stanford fanatics. The authors of seminal critical essays connected us with rising PhD and MFA students. Twentieth-century titans led us to poets in their twenties. The problem we set out to answer, to borrow from Albert Einstein, couldn’t be solved on the plane of its original conception.

A Stanford-themed issue of a small-distribution poetry magazine had turned into a 300-page book with 30-plus contributors. Though the official release was slated for September 21, 2018, at the Frank Stanford Literary Festival in Fayetteville, Arkansas, it was important to us to celebrate the book in our hometown. For an unveiling party, we knew there would be no more suitable venue than the Silos.

An unveiling party presented an opportunity for Foundlings to collaborate with two of our favorite cultural organizations: Just Buffalo, sponsor of the Silo City Summer Reading Series, and Torn Space Theater, which puts on daring and innovative site-specific performances at the Silos each summer.

Over the course of the past winter, Falck, Torn Space’s Dan Shanahan, and Max and I outlined a way to combine all of the events that we planned to hold at the Silos in August 2018. While each element — the Just Buffalo reading, the Torn Space performance, and the Foundlings book launch — would exist independently, the spirit of Frank Stanford would interpenetrate, animate, and bring together all of the experiences unfolding within and among the monumental architecture of the Silos.

And that’s exactly what happened. Of the 200-plus audience attendees of the earlier Just Buffalo and Torn Space portions of the fest, many stayed well after the unveiling, and a dedicated cadre of about 75 pushed the party past midnight, lingering even after the bar’s stock of Miller ponies and local craft ale cans ran out to. Ali, Jackson, Falck, Henriksen, Willett, and many others shared thoughts and responses on Frank Stanford, startup publishing in 2018, problems of representation in contemporary literature, questions of form, and far-flung reminiscences. The oft-returned-to consensus, of course, was that we’d all experienced something singular, strange, and for some of us pivotal, a confluence of artists and art forms in an inspiring setting that returned us to that early and essential form of expression that Stanford pinned, when he wrote in Battlefield that “before men could speak they enjoyed confounding one another with signs”:

they enjoyed this as much as a mirror enjoys an image

as much as the evening like a ship enjoys its sapphire grave

they came to this not out of folly or spite but love the love in their own eyes

like rivers of no return and the other eyes like two dead moons

so it is that some youth who had grown old before his time due to the barnacles of sleep

to the impossibility of anyone comprehending his dreams

as he remembered them at dawn

decided to retell them not as a member of a dwelling or a tribe

and the marching of hands

but in a manner where he made something more than was there before

he forgot about the fish between his legs and the fog in his head

he embarked on the water of his soul alone he went out among sharks

bringing things into his bosom and making them one

night was nothing to him but a song

Read about the unveiling on the Poets & Writers blog.

Buy Constant Stranger.

A Micro-Arts Festival on the Buffalo River: Constant Stranger Release Profiled in the Buffalo News

On Saturday, August 18, Foundlings Press will unveil Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford, the biggest release yet from the little publishing collective a few friends and I started only two years ago. Including a cross-generational cast of luminaries and legends like Forrest Gander, C.D. Wright, Ada Limón, Steve Stern, and Terrance Hayes, the book celebrates the life and work of the poet Frank Stanford. Our unveiling — this Saturday at Silo City — coincides with the last Just Buffalo Silo City Summer Reading Series performance of 2018, featuring Kazim Ali and Marcus Jackson (5pm), as well as an immersive theatrical experience, STATIONS, presented by Torn Space and a host of international an internationally acclaimed collaborators (7:30pm).  (Tickets to STATIONS are available here, for $20 with the discount code “JBLC”.) Our unveiling will be held at Duende, an awesome bar on the Silo City property.

The Buffalo News previewed our “micro-arts festival,” a term coined by Just Buffalo’s Noah Falck, founder and curator of the Silo Reading Series (and Constant Stranger contributor). He added that visitors can “pop in and out” of events as they choose, and can expect to be “inundated with poetry, music, pop-up art and avant-garde theater.”

Noah Falck’s Silo City Summer Reading Series is the most-anticipated reading series in Buffalo, and one of the highlights of the city’s arts culture.

Following readings from Ali and Jackson, and a musical performance by UVB76, Foundlings will bring Matthew Henriksen (poet and organizer of the Frank Stanford Literary Festival) and Bill Willett (Stanford’s friend) to read some of Frank Stanford’s poetry as a transition into the Torn Space portion of the evening’s events.

Torn Space Theater’s RESPONSE festival, set at the Silos for the past several years, always proves an unforgettable experience.

Our after party starts between 10 and 10:30pm, in Duende, where we’ll have copies of Constant Stranger on sale. The Buffalo News called the book “a timely project that Foundling Press’s Aidan Ryan said ‘spiraled out of control’ after he and co-editor Max Crinnin sought to build on renewed excitement about Stanford following two major 2015 publications of his verse,” and one that “aims to solidify Stanford’s status as a major American poet.” To offer a mix of new and old perspectives on Stanford — the Buffalo News called him “a Southern poet whose prolific production of hauntingly visceral verse was cut off with his  tragic death at age 29 in 1978” — we pulled together tributes, poems influenced by Stanford, critical essays, memoirs, and Spanish translations of Stanford’s verse, all culled from the 40 years since his passing.

Buy the book.

An image from inside Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford.

Review: Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

The Arctic Monkeys came into my life around ’05-06, as a burned copy of the UK version of Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, that a friend pressed into my hands with the urgency that defined all of our musical exchanges back then, and which I’ve found absent from life as an adult. Alex Turner, then younger than I am now, sang about Sheffield lechers and cuddles in kitchens and fake record executives and running from suburban British cops – nothing I could claim to understand. But it’s undeniable even today: that first album articulated something about hitting the peak of puberty in a post-“Mission Accomplished” world of continual, ever-visible, but mostly ignored war; of ringtones; of . It made our former interests in Lil Wayne seem merely dilettantism and our enthusiasm for Linkin Park look embarrassingly adolescent. And Alex Turner’s croon has continued to undress desire, vapidity, hypocrisy, ennui, ego, loneliness, and obsession on every album since.

AM (2013) was a grime-glam parade of hits, the album that was just as meaty, fast, and infectious as their debut, but with the benefit of maturity, confidence, an L.A.-noir aesthetic, and dark 90s hip-hop vibes. The songs will continue to pop into my mind for the rest of my life. Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino follows a tough act well, but not triumphantly. It proves the band is still culturally relevant and ready to dare – and Alex might even be at the height of his lyrical abilities – but it’s too much of Alex’s subconscious, not enough pop magic. I reviewed the album for The Skinnyread it here.

It will be interesting to see how these songs, mostly absent pop hooks but dense with the atmospheric noise of collaborators, will hold up live (apparently on a set Alex designed himself, while working on the cardboard model on the album’s cover). I caught the Monkeys in Toronto in 2013 and Lewiston in 2014 (and saw Alex with The Last Shadow Puppets in Manhattan in 2016). I’ll be seeing them again this summer in Canandaigua. You can count on reading about it here.

UB Spectrum Profiles Alums in Publishing, Foundlings’ Max Crinnin and S. James Coffed

The Spectrum today ran a nice featurea nice feature on UB alums S. James Coffed and Max Crinnin, editor-at-large and editor-in-chief of Foundlings Press, respectively. I also talked with the Spectrum‘s Benjamin Blanchet about working with these two impressive individuals to launch a magazine that became a press.

On the name:

“We were going to look for funny quotes in it and there was this one passage, Canon Law #1115: ‘Foundlings are presumed to be legitimate until the contrary is proved.’ We liked that word, ‘foundlings.’ It spoke to finding poetry where it’s hiding in plain sight, writing some poems, too, and tying it all together.” – Max Crinnin

On publishing in print:

“[Ryan] and I have a nostalgia for reading as children, reading books specifically. We spent years as undergrads reading literature, reading physical books. For me, it’s always more impressive to combine the creative design work that someone like [Canham] is able to do with words on a page and be able to flip through it, having it all together. For me, I don’t get the same effect when I’m scrolling down a browser.” – Max Crinnin

On ‘winging it’:

“There’s no roadmaps to this, and we’re sort of winging it. … I’m happy we’re not coming from the New York City publishing world. I don’t want to subscribe to anyone’s stamp of influence. We’re making it up as we go along …” – Aidan Ryan

On the Foundlings West Coast-Buffalo connection:

“I’d like to see more West Coast talent, especially from a more diverse group of writers. We’re always looking for people from new backgrounds. Buffalo has proven to be a petri-dish for poetry and literature, but it’s still a small, tight-knit community that can benefit from a few new bastards on its doorstep.” – S. James Coffed

On the next Foundlings projects:

“Stanford’s work is amazing and in his own timeline it got some recognition for being amazing but because he died so young, I don’t think he ever took off and became famous. Our work, our idea, is to publish a collection of people who have been influenced by Frank Stanford and people, if we pull everything off, who knew Stanford.” – Max Crinnin

Read the article.

In Conversation With Noah Falck for Rain Taxi

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with Noah Falck on a lot: My Next Heart, a Foundlings book release, programming at Just Buffalo, and much more to come. Last January, we sat down over a few pints in the Statler City bar, just off Buffalo’s Niagara Square, and turned our attention for a few hours to a subject Noah rarely brings up: his own work.

We covered a lot of ground: the reissue of Noah’s 2012 full-length debut, Snowmen Losing Weight from BatCat Press, the forthcoming release of his book Exclusions from Tupelo Press, the early influence of music on his work, the genesis of his Silo City Reading Series, his experience of parenting, and his feelings about calling Buffalo home. You can read that recorded conversation in the Spring 2018 online edition of Rain Taxi.