Shanna Compton


Populating Lewis Baltz's photographs

Elsewhere someone asks about ekphrastic poems inspired by photographs, and requests links to the images as well, to use in a writing class. So I gathered these and figured I would post them here too.

In Brink, there's a poem called "Back in Seaside." I wrote it in April 2011, after visiting the National Gallery of Art, where I was particularly fascinated by the photography of Lewis Baltz. The show included 50 black-and-white photographs plus a 12-panel color work that was backlit and displayed in a darkened gallery.

Here are some of the images.

Seaside 1970

Ideal 1976

Monterey 1976

Gilroy 1967

Fairfax 1973

Ronde de Nuit 1992–1995

The only one I mention by name is Seaside 1970, and I remember other images that I can't find online right now. I particularly love the lettering on the glass and the reflection in Ideal. A vocabularly of images repeats and recycles through his work, so other photos that are not part of this series also resonate.

Here is the poem (at the Academy of American Poets site, Baltz's photographs only rarely have people in them—so I provided those.


Designing a cover for The Sonnets

Just realizing I never posted the cover design I had talked about a few times below, based on one of Joe Brainard's.

The Sonnets by Sandra Simonds is coming out next month (Nov) from Bloof Books. Here is the cover we chose:

And it is inspired by this design by Joe Brainard, for Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets:

Joe Brainard: Cover for Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets
Gouache, 13 x 10, 1964
At first we were going to mimic it exactly, and create a gouache painting just like Joe's but with Sandra's name penciled in. But after we mocked that up and talked further about it, we decided an updated homage was better, and Sandra wanted some color too. So we incorporated those ideas and went with a digitally created cutout look, keeping the original's composition and choosing a stencil typeface. In keeping with the original too, I didn't measure anything with placing the objects in the layout, so it's paste-up in that sense, like Joe's was.

When we revealed the cover, a few people recognized the reference right away, and there's a note inside the book too. (Sandra has written about how sonnets are always copies, of the form itself and of their well known precedent examples, so this concept and the other ones we discarded all had to do with copying, including some photocopied backgrounds, etc.)

"Addendum: The Mountain" at WGLT's Poetry Radio

It aired a few times last week and is now available online and via the Poetry Radio podcast.
Addendum: The Mountain (mp3) 
Publish Date: 10/02/2014 11:25 AMRun Time: 1:59written and read by Shanna Compton; music by Brad Mehldau & Mark Giuliana (Sassyassed Sassafrass from Taming the Dragon)
This poem is from Brink.

The poem is a sort of answer (or addendum) to a poem in my first book, Down Spooky, called "Contraposto" [sic, not contrapposto].


I'll be in Philadelphia next weekend

I'll be at the Philalalia Small Press Poetry & Art Fair all three days: Thursday–Saturday, September 25–27.

On Friday the 26th, I'm giving a book-making workshop at noon, at the bookfair.

Later that night, I'll be part of the reading above, with Coconut + Bloof.

Hope to see you there.


An interview by Sarah Marcus at Gazing Grain Press

Shanna Compton Talks Bloof Books, Poetry, Labeling & Feminisms

I don't think I mention it there by name, but the title has changed for the new/forthcoming book: The Hazard Cycle.

I can explain. Another poet recently used Seam as a title. Though our work is quite different, I didn't want to create confusion or detract attention from her book. The new title is actually an older title, one of many that the manuscript has known. But this fits, and I like it better now, so I think it will stick this time.


A new review of Brink

Surprised and grateful for this thoughtful look at Brink, by Stephen Burt.

It appears in full in the current issue of the Yale Review, but is excerpted at the Bloof blog.

Compton – based in Princeton and in Brooklyn – writes the eclectic, distractible poetry of people just a few years younger than I am, or the same age as, but more plugged in than I am, people who grew up with electronics in everything, pursued by glowing screens. (Her first book was an edited collection about the pleasures of video games.) Though her poems of Brink belong to venerable genres – the aubade, the erotic sonnet, the sequence about a breakup, the ‘‘Panoramic View’’ – their delights lie in the verbal swerves and sparks that belong only to our time, or else to a time just ahead of ours. Her lines are a millefeuille of generational markers, coming of age between the advent of the Internet and the first season of Girls, in or near a New York of toxic assets, multiple piercings, collapsing finance: 

We’re still in the skinflint sheets 
of a place we’d rather not be, 
languid among no-account debris . . . 
I’ll pretend to miss the day we met 
if you can try not so much to mind 
the piercing when we go wrong, 
foaming in the evening, toxic refraction, 
to baffle this diminishing sun 
into peach-rust-gold derivatives.     
[Sometime  I'll Perfect My Adoration]
There is nothing quite like this exuberance, on the edge of paraphrasable sense but not over it, among Compton’s contemporaries, though many of them have tried. It can remind me at once of Frank O’Hara and of Edna St. Vincent Millay (as with Millay, we can fear it will seem dated later, or just enjoy the way it sounds now). Compton rakes in diction that has not turned up much in serious poetry before – if it is not the lingo of today’s teens, then it belongs instead to her own youth: ‘‘He gave me a nonsarcastic thumbs up in the parking lot.’’ ‘‘A neon / ring above an extincted / window showcasing something / formerly fabulous now kinda / poignantly disappeared.’’ When Compton is off her game, her poems can edge past the hyper-contemporary into the ridiculous, the quasi-sarcastic, the perhaps deliberately bad: ‘‘I celebrate the tanginess of your gruntly curves.’’ It is, perhaps, the kind of risk that any writer willing to be explicit about eroticism must take.

Compton sounds as if she knew that her ‘‘tendril-like projections / of youthful slang’’ have not often made it into poetry before, but that her topics – urban disillusion, political snafus, falling in and out of love – certainly have. ‘‘Timetables & Humble Pie’’ translates, into its twenty-first-century screen-driven lingo, Shakespeare’s sonnet 129, with its ‘‘waste of shame’’: ‘‘Alas, the day is wasted. Toss the scrapped commodity / in a pile like snipped stockings, admired / in the morning but soured by noon.’’ Compton, like Shakespeare, asks whether ‘‘love’’ names a commodity, though for her it is a commodity newly on sale: ‘‘What will we do,’’ she inquires, ‘‘if affection / is discovered to be . . . something we inhabit / like a hoodie from H&M, hot yellow / and scored at a deep discount?’’ She speaks to her heart, as Philip Sidney spoke to his, but she speaks in the era of biodegradables, of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch:
Preening heart I have tended 
like a weak flame on the beach, 
do you have a box or bag 
(the tearing aside for a moment) 
to purse our decay? . . . 
Perhaps, my precious clutter, let us recast 
our likeness in plastic and endure as timeless litter.       
[One More Favor]
‘‘Timeless litter,’’ both ephemeral and perdurable, eternal and apparently without use: there are worse figures for poetry. Brink is a good book to come upon last in a stack, or last in a year: rather than complaining about how bland and frustrating everything is, in the city or in the country, Compton takes it upon herself to make everything interesting, to make daily life spark and fizz. So do the friends she imagines alongside her poems: ‘‘We shout in marquees. We stud the clamoring / traffic in our brightest, most orange cones.’’ Two sequences about couples, in love and at loggerheads (parts two and four of this four-part book), cannot retain the power in Compton’s always accelerating stand-alone poems, because their construction requires them to slow down or to look back. Even the sequences, though, can succeed in making the familiar strange: after a quarrel,
Each sentence held back an ache to crack 
the domesticated shell. It’s as if 
an illustrator has come through with a fine- 
nib pen, to hatch and crosshatch everything.         
[The Deeps]

The Yale Review 
Volume 102Issue 3 
pages 152–166, July 2014


Abstract    Order

The Two Yvonnes: Poems, by Jessica Greenbaum (Princeton University Press, 80 pp., $29.95 cloth; $12.95 paper)
Almanac: Poems, by Austin Smith (Princeton University Press, 96 pp., $35, cloth; $12.95 paper)
A Glossary of Chickens: Poems, by Gary J. Whitehead (Princeton University Press, 72 pp., $29.95 cloth; $14.95 paper)
Brink, by Shanna Compton (Bloof Books, 86 pp., $15 paper)
Lobster  Palaces, by Ann Kim (Flood Editions, 96 pp., $14.95 paper)
3 Sections: Poems, by Vijay Seshadri (Graywolf, 64 pp., $22 cloth)


Bingo: Another cover by Joe Brainard

Here's another cover by Joe Brainard, for Bingo, a play by Dick Gallup (Mother Press, 1966).

I love the hand-lettering, of course, but especially that g. The comics-style solid-not-solid black is really good too. The idiosyncrasies in the drawing offset the formality of the geometric bingo grid, as does the pink square. And of course the title is playful, as is the way he's broken Gallup at up, and then dropped that down.

So there's his tension, as well as the tension created in the variable heights of the letters in the title—the way the i and g get a little shorter to fit the box. I like the way the letters in the title are more perfectly drawn than the small caps in the byline, which though regular in height and positioning within the grid avoid becoming totally stiff because of their intentional imperfections.

There's so much personality in these, don't you think?

Brainard also had illustrations inside. Excerpts from the play had previously appeared in issues of C Magazine (which also had Brainard covers).

Read more about this cover at Mimeo Mimeo.


More re: Joe Brainard covers—& a whoa-inducing discovery

So just a few minutes ago, I'm looking at my bookshelf, thinking I'll pull the copies of all the stuff I have with Joe Brainard covers. I figured my copy of Stones was pretty buried, because it's been a while since I've seen it. (Alas my shelves are deep, maximally stack, and completely disorganized except all the poetry is separated out from "everything else.") But there was a good chance it was vertical and in a particular case, because it's hardcover and has an acetate covering, and I tend to shelve those first each time I attempt to rein in the chaos.

I found in within a few minutes. Went gaga over the cover again, the type (though the uncial-inspired titles inside are very dated-looking they are charmingly so), the way the titles are aligned flush with the poem block away from the spine (so they mirror on facing pages), and the (now foxed) deckled fore-edges.

Bonus: it smells amazing.

I don't remember when I bought it, but I know it was about ten years ago and at a used bookshop, not in New York. (Maybe one of the ones we tend to hit in Maine. Or one of the road trip "book barns" we stop at whenever possible. Who knows. Sometimes I remember clearly, but not in this case.) The receipt is just adding machine tape and isn't dated or marked with a name. I paid cash. Certainly I got it someplace it was undervalued, because it's a first edition and was only $12.

What I hadn't noticed before was this handwritten ex-libris inscription:

I think this book was previously owned by poet-translator Coleman Barks?! (Here's a signature of his, to compare. This is not a signature obviously, so less swooshy. But the top of the C? The loop at the bottom of the B? What do you think?)

This isn't the book cover I'm imitating but I feel like this is a significant sign. Of something.

Cover concept for Natalie Eilbert's Conversation with the Stone Wife

I posted Joe Brainard's remarks below because I've been reading him as I work on a cover design based on one of his. I can't show it yet, but it's been a lot of fun researching his methods, finding photographs of the mimeograph book, looking up the original materials and dimensions, and working backward from these details about how he made the piece we're mimicking. I need to track down a few more bits of info, to make sure we get it just right.

Just trust that'll all make sense when you see it. I'll post it in the next week or two, as soon as the author and I are both happy with it.

I've also been working on a new chapbook for Bloof—Natalie Eilbert's Conversation with the Stone Wife. 

Natalie Eilbert's Conversation with the Stone Wife

Here's the description of the design from the Bloof site:
The "artifact" design concept is inspired by the same figurine as the poems themselves. Like the Woman of Villendorf, each book has been colored by hand, rubbed with natural earth pigments—red ochre and yellow ochre, plus river valley soils dug in Bloof's native NJ. The title plate appliqué is inspired by a museum display, printed in archival ink. The interiors are laser-printed on natural white acid-free, archival-quality paper. Handsewn in natural twine.
You can read more about Natalie's chapbook here.


Joe Brainard: Doing cover designs and drawings for books and poems is something else entirely

"Doing cover designs and drawings for books and poems is something else entirely. This I love doing. And I do it very well. I know how to work with or against words in a good way. I don't think I ever fall into the 'elegant' trap. Or the 'arty' trap. (Too beautiful.) (For the coffee table.) (Etc.) There is always something slightly unprofessional about my graphic work. Which is probably the best thing about it. My drawings for words do not fly off into being too beautiful in themselves. Sometimes I do this by being a bit boring. (Very straight.) …Another ploy of mine is to set up a little tension. But not too much. Tension can make things work well together. A little tension. Not too much. One thing I always keep in mind when I do a cover design is how it will look in a bookstore. This, I think, is one reason why my book covers always end up looking a bit crude. If you have ever seen Stones by Tom Clark in a bookstore you will know what I mean. It sticks out like a sore thumb. And a beautiful one. Well—I am really giving myself pat on the back today for a change."

The Collected Writings of Joe Brainard (Library of America) edited by Ron Padgett

Two poems in Sink Review

Cover art: In Static Canyon, Eric Amling

There's a lot of great stuff in this issue of Sink. I am still reading it, but for instance, read these sonnets (after Berrigan) by Bruce Covey. (There are three there, and another poem. Use the "next" button.) And this excerpt from Carrie Lorig's long poem "The Pulp vs. the Throne."


Sunday in Washington, DC

This coming Sunday, May 18th at 3:00 PM
Details here (FB) or here (DC Arts) 

Don't make the kitten sad. Come hear us. I'll have some new poems to read. Maureen and Anselm both have new books too.


Morning on the couch, midday in the woods, afternoon in the coffee shop. Chose several beautiful (but wildish, hardy) native plants from the fundraiser at the wildflower preserve. Then I read about a year's worth from this sprawling cache of draft poems, deciding what to finish, what might be mined, what should be abandoned. I guess this is the way I work, because I remember this process—write, but don't look back, until there's enough collected. I still have a few more years to get through, in this stash. I don't know, the weather's changed, hasn't it. I can smell the thunderstorm, hear it rumbling, watch it rearrange the light.


National Poetry Month Wrap-Up

Whew! April madness felt extra mad this year.

Thanks to everyone who came out to my readings in Philadelphia and New York, and all who followed along with the daily poems at the Bloof Books blog.

This is coming up Sunday, May 4, at 4:00 pm:

RSVP at Facebook
During the month of April, we agreed to write (or record) new work each day, posting it to our blog and Twitter feed, creating a sort of collective public notebook. On Sunday, May 4 at 4PM we're coming together IRL to celebrate & explore the results of this group experiment. We'll read/screen 1-2 poems representing each day and talk about what did (or didn't) work. 
Natalie EilbertFarrah FieldKirsten Kaschock (via video), Becca Klaver (IRL + video), Pattie McCarthyAmanda Montei (via video), Catie Rosemurgy (via video), Dawn Akemi Sueoka (via video), Jared WhiteShanna Compton & special guest Maureen Thorson (via video) 
Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop 126A Front Street DUMBO, Brooklyn  
Bloof Books

And then in a few weeks, I'll be in DC:

Sunday, May 18 at 3:00 PM in Washington DC 
In Your Ear Reading Series  
DC Arts Center
2438 18th Street NW, Adams Morgan
Reading with Anselm Berrican & Maureen Thorson
Details here.

WGLT Poetry Radio also aired a new poem last week, from that same recording session we did in November. You can listen to the poem via podcast here:

"Planets Are Pretty Big" (mp3)

Under Construction

Hmm, things look a little different around here, don't they?

My website is getting a complete overhaul.

Thanks for your patience as I implement the new design.


I'm on the radio

When I was in Bloomington-Normal, IL in November, I stopped by their local NPR affiliate WGLT to record some more poems for their show Poetry Radio.

Yesterday my poem "Panoramic View" from Brink was the poem of the week.

Panoramic View (mp3)
Publish Date: 03/20/2014 03:37 PM
Run Time: 2:22
written and read by Shanna Compton; music by Harpeth Rising (Eris from Tales From Jackson Bridge)

Here's another poem from the same session:

Back in Seaside (mp3)
Publish Date: 02/06/2014 01:30 AM
Run Time: 2:36
written and read by Shanna Compton; music by Patrick Williams, played by Quartet San Francisco (The Bay is Deep Blue from Pacific Premieres)

I don't know how many more they will run, but I think I did ten this time.

There are a few older poems from the first time I recorded for the show (in 2006) in the archives too. (They recently played "Fusion Lingo" again, from Down Spooky.)


Next month: CUNY Chapbook Festival & the Buffalo Small Press Bookfair!

APRIL 1–3: NYC/CUNY Chapbook Festival

I'll be at the Bloof Books table during the book fair on April 3, and also participating on this panel:

Nuts, Bolts, & Beyond: How to Get Your Work into Print 1:30 PM, The Graduate Center, CUNY (C-Level), 365 Fifth Avenue, New York NY (map
Four independent publishers discuss both traditional and innovative forms of chapbook publishing, including digital and PDF formats, alternative and mixed media, and expanding the idea of the chapbook to include fiction, nonfiction, and cross-genre work. Publishers will also offer advice on how to prepare and submit your work for print, resources for publication, and how to do it yourself. Featuring MC HylandShanna ComptonAdam Robinsonand Bianca Stone with Melissa Faliveno as moderator.

The panel has an event page on Facebook. The full festival schedule is here.

APRIL 5–6: Buffalo Small Press Book Fair

I'm excited to be going back for this great book fair in Buffalo too, which I really enjoyed last year. You'll find me at the Bloof Books table Saturday and Sunday, of course, but also participating in this reading on Saturday night.

This reading has an event page at Facebook.

Read more about the BSPBF (and find a full schedule of events) here. The book fair is Saturday and Sunday, but there are other events on Thursday and Friday. This book fair is much less intense (in a good way) than something like AWP, and also includes a few short book arts workshops. I picked up a few hand-printed tee shirts, letterpress stationery, and other DIY goodies last year, in addition to the books and chapbooks I bought and swapped for. The BSPBF is free to attend, so I highly recommend making the trip if you can!

We'll have new books, chapbooks, and broadsides for both of these too. Can't wait.

More Upcoming Readings & Events

Jubilant Thicket Reading Series

60 Morning Talks w/ Andy Fitch
Reading & Live Interview
The Kitchen, New York NY
Details to come.

SUNDAY MAY 18, 3:00 PM
In Your Ear Reading Series
Details to come.


Friday night during AWP: Bloof + Saturnalia

I'm pleased to be co-hosting this one, with Saturnalia Books publisher Henry Israeli. We asked Rebecca Loudon to join us, so she's bringing her violin and some poems too. The Jewelbox Theater is a gorgeously restored 1927 screening room attached to an underground speakeasy, in Belltown. (Read about its history—from Jimmy Stewart to contemporary burlesque—here.) It's an easy walk from the conference. Hope to see you there (or somewhere).

FB event page

*Please note: Rendezvous is a multispace venue. We are in the Jewelbox Theater, not the Grotto, not the Red Velvet Lounge. All share the same address, and other events are happening simultaneously.*


Saturday night, March 1, at AWP in Seattle

Poetry performances by Tyler Brewington, Jackie Clark, Shanna Compton, Mel Coyle, Bruce Covey, Ben Fama, Hailey Higdon, Megan Kaminski, Jiyoon Lee, Joseph Mains, Pattie McCarthy, Amanda Montei, Amber Nelson, Jenn Marie Nunes, Alexis Pope, Dawn Sueoka, Jennifer Tamayo, Ellen Welcker, Joseph P Wood, and Wendy Xu + Nick Sturm. Hosted by Shanna Compton, Bruce Covey & Amber Nelson. 

The Pine Box is a lofty, renovated former funeral parlor, with an incredible beer selection on 33 taps, making it one of Seattle's top bars. Dinner menu also available. 


Meet the Press: Nin Andrews interviewed me for the Best American Poetry blog

Nin Andrews conducts an ongoing series of small press publisher/editor interviews for the Best American Poetry blog and she kindly invited me to participate.

She and I talked about how I came to be an editor and poet, how Bloof Books came to be, and what I really love about working with poets, making books together. I also chose a couple of poems from Bloof poets Jennifer L. Knox and Elisabeth Workman.

Read the interview here.

Check the archives here, for other interviews in the series, including Matthew Zapruder of Wave, Janet Holmes of Ahsahta, Gabriel Fried of Persea, Ed Ochester of the Pitt Poetry Series, and others. (I'm not through reading them all yet.)

On her blog (where she often posts great single-panel comix!), Nin also posted this drawing of me. I like it better than the photo.


Women Poets Wearing Sweatpants

Oh, and there was this, the other day. (Peek at the archive, too. My favorite poetry meme, with so many new-to-me women poets. All fierce!)


Broadside from the Center for Book Arts reading

I did a reading at the Center for Book Arts with Harmony Holiday on December 6. This gorgeous broadside was designed and printed by Ana Paula Cordeira. Hand-set Grotesque type, monoprint on Bertini paper. Signed in metallic gold. Edition of 100. I have gifted my copies, but I think they will eventually be for sale here.