INTERVIEW: Stephen Ira and Kay Gabriel on Trans Poetry Journal ‘Vetch’

Vetch, a biannual journal of trans poetry and poetics has recently published its first issue! The journal aims to publish work highlighting the ways in which power shapes language, poetry and relations among trans people. Editors Stephen Ira and Kay Gabriel recently took some time to sit down with intern Emily Kaufman to discuss the online periodical, among other things.

Emily: Why did you start Vetch?publication that, like most poetry journals, had an open reading period and published only poetry. It feels like a way to stake out space in the poetry world for trans writers.

Emily: What do you hope Vetch will provide to the public?

Vetch: Our call for submissions for this issue asked for work “by trans poets in trans language,” which “does not bother to translate itself for a cis reader.” To elaborate on this point, we see Vetch as supporting work by trans poets that allows itself to speak primarily between trans people, and that is not faced with the necessity of authenticating itself to a cisgender audience through appeals to a narrow and reductive set of tropes. Our hope is that Vetch will help broaden the horizon of trans poetics, and through the work we publish, foster trans poetry written in new and currently unimagined registers.

Emily: The media has put a spotlight on trans culture in several ways, including shows such as Transparent. Why do you think it took the media so long to highlight trans issues and how do you think the face of trans people in the media will change in the future?

Vetch: It’s very popular right now to talk about the importance of trans visibility and representation in mainstream media. The thing is, trans people–particularly trans women–are already hypervisible in our culture. We’re thinking here of the stares and street harassment trans women receive walking down the street, or the way the bodies of trans people are scrutinized by the medical industrial complex in order to be eligible for lifesaving care–or of the constant jokes in media that posit trans women as repulsive punchlines. In 2015, a year that’s ostensibly the best it’s ever been to be trans in America, twenty-three trans women had been murdered so far. So this increase in visibility does not necessarily bring better living conditions with it, particularly not for those trans people who are most marginalized intersectionally–the majority of those murdered women were black. In the future, we hope that trans people will have increased agency and ability to tell our own stories in media, rather than having scripts written and scenes directed for us by cis people. Maybe that can bring this conversation beyond visibility, and then we can ask different questions: When we see trans people in media, what are they doing? How do representations of trans people in media train us to treat trans people in daily life? As lurid and disposable spectacles, or as fully-fledged three-dimensional human beings?

Check out more on Vetch and download the issue for free!

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks Re-opens

From J.J. Grandville’s The Flowers Personified (1847), courtesy of the Public Domain Review

One of the few independent bookstores left in Manhattan, Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks recently reopened at a new location on 28 East Second Street. The store’s owner, Bonnie Slotnick, sat down with Augury to discuss her shop and the recent changes it has undergone.

Augury Books: How did you decide to start selling books?

Bonnie Slotnick: I had begun collecting cookbooks when I was in my twenties. When I was thirty, I saw a store selling new cookbooks in the city. I ended signing up to become a book scout for them. After a while, I was sick of being under somebody else’s sphere of influence and I opened my store. That was 17 years ago.

A: What made you decide to focus on cookbooks in particular?

B: I used to look at my mother’s cookbooks when I was a kid. She didn’t have a lot, but there was one that I was just particularly taken with. I used to look at it all the time. It was my favorite book when I was ten or eleven. When I started seeing the books in stores, they really resonated with me. I found old cookbooks and they really struck a chord with me. The old ones are much more interesting; there’s so much history. The new ones all look the same to me.

A: What are some of your favorite books you’ve sold?

B: I like books from the 20s, 30s, 40s. I like books that are in the format of conversations. Some books at the start of the 19th century were written as a conversation between an older woman and a new bride or young girl who has to take care of her family. I like that the conversation isn’t just comprised of instructions. They’re in the form of letters.

A: How has the move been?

B: It was very traumatic to lose the lease on my store after all these years. I was very lucky to find someone who wanted to rent to me. And now I’m a tenant and I have a much bigger spot for the same rent. And it has a backyard. It’s really unbelievable. They really wanted a bookstore as their tenant.

A: Do you have any plans for the new space?

To restock. I’m now certain to buy again. And I have enough room that I can have events here – author events. Because I have a nice space in an interesting neighborhood, people are already getting in touch with me. If somebody wants to have a talk or a book club, I have space for that. Classes can come. Professors would bring their classes to the old shop, and we’d be packed in. Now I feel like I can have a square dance in here!

For more on Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, visit the website.

Diana Spechler Starts "Going Off" Column for The New York Times

Ernst Haeckel’s Radiolaria (1862), courtesy of the Public Domain Review

Augury friend Diana Spechler has recently begun a weekly column for The New York Times’ Opinionator entitled “Going Off.” In this series, she recounts her experiences while coming off of the prescription medications she uses to treat depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Diana sat down with Augury assistant editor Nicolas Amara to talk about the new column.

Augury Books: What has the initial response to “Going Off” been like?

Diana Spechler: A lot of advice. A lot of people sharing their own stories. Some thank you notes. Some anger–that I’m not coming out as staunchly anti-meds or staunchly pro-meds. I love it. All of it. What’s clear to me from the response and what was clear to me before I started the column, is that in 2015 psychiatric medications are still a taboo; now that I’m writing about them in the New York Times, in this very candid way, people are dying to talk. For some reason, we’re supposed to hide our psychiatric disorders and treatments. We’re supposed to feel embarrassed about them. That’s silly. There’s this story a guy once told me, probably seven or eight years ago, that’s always stuck with me: He went out with a woman and was turned off because he found antidepressants in her medicine cabinet. He relayed this information to me to explain why he never called her again. I told him, “You have to be kidding.” For one thing, what was he doing in her medicine cabinet? For another thing, turned off by her medication–her efforts to be healthy and happy? Jeez. Tough crowd! Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed drugs in America. Chances are, you know a lot of people on antidepressants and benzos and sleeping pills and mood stabilizers. Great. We’re all on drugs. Now let’s talk.

A: Did you ever feel nervous about running the column?

D: I was terrified before I started. Even after I started, I was terrified. I had a couple of bad days when the first piece ran. I felt so exposed. I felt like I was mooning the world. But it’s worth it for me to do this, to be as honest and open and straightforward as possible. It’s still scary, but now that I have this platform, I feel intense responsibility: I have a voice; I need to use it. I’m grateful to have public support through such a brutal process. Most people getting off their meds have one or two people to talk to, or they have no one. I’m extremely lucky and I never forget that.

A: Do you think the sort of writing you’re doing helps de-stigmatize depression?

D: That’s the idea. I don’t like any topics to be off-limits. I want to talk about everything. I want everyone to tell me everything, too. You know how people cover their ears and say, “TMI! TMI!”? There’s no such thing as TMI to me. If you’re insanely jealous of someone, or if you’ve stalked someone, or if you have a rash on your genitals, I totally want to know about it. I’m not above talking about my exes on a first date, either. We have all these pointless rules. It’s not hurting anyone if I talk about my period, if I talk about my panic attacks, if I talk about my medication. What are we, Puritans? I hope to help others feel less ashamed.

To read “Going Off,” click here.

More on Diana Spechler

6 More Days: Support Stevie and the Lion’s IndieGoGo Campaign for ‘The Perpetual Emotion Machine EP’

Kate Branagh, vocalist and guitarist of Stevie and the Lion, recently sat down with Augury to talk about the band’s upcoming EP, their Indiegogo campaign, their Taylor Swift parody that recently blew up online, and songwriting in general.

Kate Branagh, vocalist and guitarist of Stevie and the Lion, recently sat down with Augury to talk about the band’s upcoming EP, their Indiegogo campaign, their Taylor Swift parody that recently blew up online, and songwriting in general.

Augury Books: Tell us a little bit about your upcoming project, The Perpetual Emotion Machine EP. What can your fans and followers expect?

Kate Branagh of Stevie and the Lion: The Perpetual Emotion Machine EP is Stevie and the Lion’s recording debut. These are true and personal stories sung by big expressive voices. The songs selected for this album balance artful sincerity and intimate, straight-up, unashamed pop. A vocal duo accompanied by guitar, accordion, and clarinet, Stevie and the Lion delivers a stand-out sound with an untraditional framework to support strong pop sensibility and poignant lyrics. These songs are as thought-provoking and emotionally stirring as they are fun and easy to listen to.

A: How did you start songwriting? How has your process changed or evolved since you started?

K: I have been songwriting and performing as a solo artist since I was 15 years old. I went through a Joni phase. And then an Ani phase. And then with my solo album “Minutia” I finally accepted that I was INDEED a writer of pop music. Dan Testa, with a musical theater background, started experimenting with songwriting in college, collaborating and performing with a band and lending his amazing sense of harmony as a backup singer to many of us in the NYC music scene. In 2009 we became roommates and started to collaborate naturally around the house, at first just with Dan adding harmony over whatever I was working on. But soon he started bringing his own lyrics and melodic ideas to the table. Over the past few years of writing with Dan, I have seen him develop into a thoughtful and mature songwriter. On my end, learning to collaborate with Dan has made me a much more focused and prolific songwriter. We regularly schedule songwriting sessions and are continually talking about editing whatever ideas we’ve been chewing over. It’s an amazing connection to have with a person! We make each other better artists.

A: What is the history of Stevie and the Lion? What about the meaning behind the name?

K: Stevie and the Lion was formed by Dan and myself in 2010—the year before I developed vocal nodes that ended up altering my sound and limiting my range. As I started to teach myself to sing again, Dan and I started collaborating. Eventually our casual writing sessions turned into something more serious. We developed our writing style and sound over the next year, and then in 2011, Carolyn joined the band after seeing us perform live.

The name Stevie and the Lion took us a year to come up with. We like to leave the source a mystery but what I CAN tell you is that it involves Ebay and a T-shirt made by some hippy witch from the Midwest. That’s all you get!

A: What encouraged you to do an Indiegogo campaign?

K: The music industry is an ever-changing beast. Albums used to be funded and produced by record labels. Today musicians and artists need to be directly connected with the audience. Through crowd-funding sites like Indiegogo, fans get to impact the industry by ensuring the music that they love gets made! We subscribe to this notion as fans of music, and so it was an easy decision when it came to raising money for our own EP.

A: Your recent parody, “5 Taylor Swift Songs that Are Actually About Sandwiches,” has really blown up. What inspired this song? Do you frequently incorporate comedy in your music, or was this a departure for the band?

K: Ya know … we are just a funny bunch of kids! When we’re together we’re constantly making up fake songs about random nonsense and/or inappropriate subject matter. Dan’s endless well of creativity and comedic timing is a near miracle. Despite the serious subject matter of our songs, our Internet presence and onstage banter tends to be sweetly inappropriate and always hilarious. The idea for the song came from our friend Armand Valdes at Mashable. Dan and I lived with Armand for a time and so he knew that we were the perfect group to tackle this challenge. Dan Testa also happens to know every Taylor Swift song in existence, so we had that business pounded out in about 20 minutes! We had a blast doing it and look forward to working on other parodies!

Purchase the full digital download of Stevie and the Lion’s “The Perpetual Emotion EP” and help support their campaign for six more days! Go on—it’s the holidays!

Halina Duraj on "The Family Cannon" at The Story Prize Blog

19th century ice skating

Detail from “Le Vrai Patineur” (The True Skater) by Jean Garcin. Courtesy of The Public Domain Review

The Story Prize, founded in 2004 by Julie Lindsey and Larry Dark, annually highlights collections of short stories published in the U.S. Halina Duraj, as part of a contributor series, recently had the opportunity to talk appropriation in regards to The Family Cannon (Augury Books, 2014) on TSP’s blog. She speaks briefly about how the writing process becomes unconsciously driven, taking things directly from casual experience.

Maybe somebody had asked me what I was working on, and I said something about neighbors, and my friend told the anecdote about two neighbors sharing a property line on some land in Colorado. One neighbor was so angry about something the other neighbor had done that he situated a cannon, a real, working cannon, in his yard and aimed it at the offending neighbor’s house. I remembered laughing, and thinking about the anecdote’s resonance with my own story. But by the time I’d sat down to work on the story a few days later, I’d completely forgotten my friend’s anecdote—I’d forgotten that my friend had told it, and I’d forgotten that it ever existed outside of my own brain.”

Read the full post here. The Story Prize is currently accepting submissions of books published (or forthcoming) between July and December. See their website for more details and guidelines.




INTERVIEW: Alison Espach Talks Kindle Singles, Her New Book, Teaching

Photo by Dave Bledsoe, FreeVerse Photography

Friend of Augury Alison Espach (The Adults, Scribner, 2011) is currently working on a new book, and she recently took the time to sit down with Augury assistant editor Nicolas Amara to talk about it, among other things.

Nick: If you’d like to say, what is your upcoming book about? What subjects does it deal with?

Alison: I would love to say, but every time I have talked about my upcoming book, I have ended up drastically changing what it’s actually about. Talking about the book too early had sort of demystified the subject matter for me and when I returned to the manuscript, I found myself wanting to write a different book. I’m really enjoying working on the book now, so just to be on the safe side, I’m going to shut up about it.

N: Do you see any parallels between The Adults and this new work? The Adults and your Kindle single, “Someone’s Uncle?”

A: I don’t think there is too much that’s similar about the new book, except the fact that I’m the author, which means there will, without a doubt, be some parallels I’m not aware of at the moment. I’m not referring to plot developments, but the kind of details and conversations I tend to focus on in my writing. Most of my writing falls within the space where the sacred meets the meaningless, and that results in a kind of absurdity, for better or for worse. An absurdity that was definitely present in The Adults and surely in the next book as well.

N: What was the experience of writing the single like? Did you already have this piece done or was it written specifically for Kindle?

A: I didn’t write the Kindle single to be a Kindle single. I just wrote it as a short story, so it was very much like the process of writing all of my short stories: I wrote a very bad skeleton version of the story, didn’t know what to do with it, forgot about it for almost two years, and then returned to it when I was frustrated with writing the novel. With two years of distance, I could see so clearly what was wrong with it. It was a rambling story that took place over the entire continent of Germany, and it had no frame or structure. That week, I had just been talking with my students about setting, and we had been looking at stories that were entirely contained in one physical space. I realized that was the kind of structural tension my story needed. I was most interested in the cathedral stairwell, the second tallest one in Europe, so the challenge of writing it became keeping the characters within that one space and to, ultimately, make it read like an infinite stairwell. It was a lot of fun to see who the characters became (and what was revealed) by the time they reached the bell tower.

N: You’re now teaching writing–what is your approach to teaching? How does one teach writing? How much of it can be taught?

A: I certainly think you can teach writing. I don’t think the point of teaching writing is to create writers out of non-writers; that’s a kind of pressure I don’t put on myself as a teacher. But I do believe that everybody can learn a lot from taking writing classes.

Sometimes people devalue creative writing classes by saying that creative writing cannot be taught, but I think that this assumes the creative writing class is all about “teaching” someone how to write. It’s not like I stand behind a podium and lecture, while they sit and absorb. A creative writing class doesn’t work like that. We all read, we all edit, we all talk, we all write, and we all listen. Yes, it’s the professor that guides the class and serves as a very important kind of anchor, but it’s really more of an interactive experience.

And creative writing classes aren’t just a place to teach and be taught; for many people, the classes are places where students can find necessary support from fellow writers and inspiration. They are places where students can benefit from the structure of a weekly meeting or a writing prompt in class. For some students, the twenty-minute writing prompt is where their real stories begin. The spontaneity of a writing exercise can eliminate some of the pressure students feel to write “serious literary fiction,” and it’s during those prompts when I find students often write their best work.

Some people say that “you can’t teach passion” either, and while that’s true to some extent, I do think that as a teacher you can aid passion. When I’m not reading, I’m always at risk of falling out of love with literature. When I’m not reading carefully, I’m missing the magnificence of something. I learned how to read critically and actively from some of my best professors and fellow graduate students. When I can fully see and appreciate a story (something that usually happens most when I teach a story), I’m passionate about it. So in that way, I think maybe you can teach passion.

Though Espach continues to work on her new book, her Kindle single “Someone’s Uncle” is available online for only 99 cents. Both “Someone’s Uncle” and The Adults can be purchased from Simon & Schuster.

Frances Justine Post Interviewed in Print-Oriented Bastards

Photo by Dave Bledsoe, FreeVerse Photography

We are excited to acknowledge that Pennsylvania-based journal Print-Oriented Bastards has recently interviewed Frances Justine Post (BEAST, Augury Books, 2014). The interview, conducted by Ines Pujos, POB’s senior editor, covers questions of process, environmental influence, and the overall aesthetics of BEAST.

Post: ‘Self-Portrait as Beast’ was the first self-portrait poem I’d ever written. Though it was new to me, there is a long tradition of self-portrait poems (Lucie Brock-Broido and John Ashbery come to mind). I found myself most drawn to writing ‘Self Portrait as…’ poems. Rather than writing straight-up self-portrait poems about my actual self, I started treating them as almost-persona poems. In these poems, I’m not really trying to speak in the voice of someone else. I am still the speaker; I just try on different skins for a little while.”

The whole of the interview, as well as the rest of issue 4, can be read online!