Category Archives: Reviews

Review of Naropa’s 4×4 Reading, March 10, 2015

By Cait Turner

The final installation of the 2015 4×4 reading series brought together members of Colorado’s collegiate community of creative writers. Readers from Colorado State University, CU Boulder, University of Denver, and Naropa University performed their poetry and fiction at the Performing Arts Center on Naropa’s Arapahoe campus.

The evening’s first reader was Katie Naughton, an MFA student at Colorado State University. Naughton performed a series of unnamed, interrelated poems drawing upon environmental, political, pastoral, and erotic themes. Naughton’s tightly coiled language transformed domestic/pastoral images of boiling water, burning trash, and sprouting sunflowers into percussive anaphoras meant to situate the listener into the space between rural poverty and poetic intimacy. In one piece, Naughton compared the passage of time to a “small money restaurant”; in another, she asserted that “the disaster comes in sunflowers, in hunting rust.” The musicality of Naughton’s language did not distract from the power of her imagery. Her pieces described poems environmental and emotional spaces where landscapes and faces are “flat and made of lakes, making water where everyone knows there’s none.” Katie Naughton’s poetry deconstructed the pastoral myth and re-introduced the face of America’s rural enclaves back to itself, “warning ending what it may persist.”

The work of Brandi Homan, a doctoral student and adjunct faculty member at Denver University, also drew inspiration from familial enclaves of the rural Midwest. Homan’s short story, “Green Green Corn”, examined the “dangerous and dumb” teenage fascination with the “other side of town.” Homan’s use of second person narration allowed listeners to connect and identify with the voice of her adolescent narrator, who just began a summer job “de-flowering” female corn plants—a summer rite of passage in the American Midwest. The sexual awakening of the narrator coincides with her introduction to the world of physical labor; the end of the day finds her sprawled across her bed, sweating, repeating “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus” in a state of both physical exhaustion and sensual ecstasy. The subtext of “Green Green Corn” involves class and gender imbalances; the middle class narrator feels superior to the working class boys with whom she shares the fields, but her emergent femininity renders her simultaneously in awe of and in thrall to her handsome, college-age foreman. Homan’s narrative lovingly mocked her characters at times—they tease their hair and wear layers of makeup and foundation to perform back-breaking labor in sweltering summer heat—but ultimately, Homan presented a realistic and moving picture of a young woman’s coming of age.

Mac Goad, the third reader of the evening, performed a series of short poems exploring the relationship between music, witchcraft, romantic love, addiction, and the act of writing. Her first poem “One Part Harmony” described the “muscle memory” involved in practicing the guitar as an “act” similar to that of lovemaking. Alone, the speaker strikes the “clearest chords.” Goad’s second piece, “Amateur Spellcraft” re-imagines love and friendship as the magical consequences of a “teenage witchcraft come true”—the poems ends with a dedication to an unnamed other, conjured up through images and Goad’s uniquely rhythmic delivery. Her third and final piece of the evening re-views addiction as a practical craft, like musicianship or writing. Indeed, all of our human practices, from writing to lovemaking to songcraft and spellcasting can be seen as a sort of repetitive action. Humans, Goad implies through her poetry, are addicted to creation, and “recovery is death.”

The final reader of the evening was Ella Longpre, an MFA candidate at Naropa University.  Longpre’s poems are “hallways lit with memory”; language itself is simply “a dream collapsed into another dream.” Her poems kept returning to the “I in question” suggesting a sort of rupture and conflation between poetic objects, poetic subjects, poetic speakers, and poets themselves. “We all have apocryphal texts”, she claims, “I am an icon.” Longpre’s poetic language is gorgeous; her delivery was melodic without overt musicality, which leant her language a soporific edge wherein the listener eases in to her collage of images and memories as though into a warm bath of ether. Longpre’s poetry suggests that memory is a form of ruin—it is always already decaying. “The voice carries the weight of the body”, Longpre states, “through blue dusks and wet forests.”

The final 4×4 reading of 2015 at Naropa University  was a collage of different geographic and psychological landscapes, where common language can be found in the interstitial space between image and memory, self and other, speech and silence.

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Cait Turner is a first year MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University.  Her research interests include jazz poetry, activist writing, and critical pedagogy.  Cait’s poetry has been published in the online ‘zine “The Potomac” and the print journal “Lungfull!” When not working or studying, Cait enjoys playing music, especially drums and piano.

Review of Allen Ginsberg Visiting Fellow Kevin Killian’s Lecture, The Colors in Darkness, February 9, 2015

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Kevin Killian’s performance/photographic series entitled Tagged, where male models pose with a male genitalia drawing while nude, was the subject of his lecture Colors in Darkness. The drawing models held in front of their own genitalia was called, cock and balls on a mannequin by Raymond Pettibon, a New York based artist famous for the band Black Flag’s logo.

Killian also taught a class over the weekend which focused on the Bay Area poet Jack Spicer. Killian noted in his lecture that Spicer himself conducted a similar photographic experiment with nude male models. Unfortunately, the poet died indigent, but was buried in a mausoleum a few yards from the newspaper mogul Willian Randolph Hearst, a setting Killian used in this series—young poets offering their bodies to the dead poet. He was also inspired by Allen Ginsberg, visual artist David Wojnarowicz, famous for his series Rimbaud in New York, and other both distant, but subtle sources such as Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge or William Holden’s body in Sunset Boulevard.

Models range from artists to novelists to young poets. The series questions not only what the phallus has become but allows models and viewers to explore the mask of the drawing, whether placing it over their own genitalia or gazing upon it. David Brazile says, “Photos can act as mere signifiers of masculinity.” Thus, the viewer is seeing a signified version of masculinity through the drawing, which is, in itself for the subject, a signifier of masculinity. Killian himself admitted a drawing of a phallus is a perfect example of Freud’s over-determinism.

He had a ritual with his subjects to place their clothing on a table, and photograph, or record, what they came in with and what they would walk out of the studio or residence wearing. Killian, trying to explore “the gaze in [him]self,” opens up authorial agency creating a temporary but safe dominant/submissive relationship where models can experience the mask without commitment. One can choose to see the subject performing masculinity, or rather condensing it into what society believes differentiates gender. The intention of the act is to draw attention to different points of cultural reference for a viewer say, in an art gallery, to be taken by surprise at the oddity, and also surreal poses, of the men’s stares and different contraposto poses. It is both multi-layered and characteristic of a camp style consciously, although wary of revealing itself as such.

Tableau vivant translates from French to mean “living picture,” and was mentioned by Killian in his talk. This was another goal of his artistic practice, which dates back to American frontier towns in the 19th century, where paintings and royal coronations were recreated, but also were a form of erotic entertainment. Photography has long been used to capture people living in a present moment of history, from Julia Margaret Cameron’s portraits, to Ansel Adam’s landscapes, to Robert Franks The Americans. Killian hopes to eventually recreate a collection of nude photographs of men which originally appeared in Koff Magazine curated by Maggie Dubris and Elinor Nauen in the late 70s.

The lecture was followed by a reading and reception. Killian is the author of Poet Be Like God: Jack Spicer and the San Francisco Rennisance (Wesleyan University Press, 1998), editor of My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) and The Kenning Anthology of Poet’s Theater: 1945-1985 (Kenning Editions, 2010), as well as several books of poetry.

We hope you join us at the Naropa 4×4 Reading on March 10th at 7:30pm in the Performing Arts Center (PAC) on the Arapahoe campus. Please click here for a listing of 2014-2015 Jack Kerouac School Events.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, “Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection”, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Review of Allen Ginsberg Visiting Fellow Kevin Killian’s Reading, February 9, 2015

By Heather Sweeney

Prior to Kevin Killian’s reading, the room was already charged. The lecture preceding the reading, in which he unveiled a series of photographs, created an atmosphere of heightened interest, among those of us who stayed. The images depicted nude, or nearly nude, men holding a drawing of a penis over, or near, their own penises. Some audience members loudly stomped out, leaving their energetic residue. A few were uptight. Many delighted and lightly laughed at times. Regardless, this work called attention to ourselves, our own desires and sexualities. Whether we were ready or not. Called attention to our own humanity, the sense of a collective we.

Killian is funny and charming with a touch of brashness. Some of his poems were balloon like, others dark smudgy. He zig zagged across the terrain that is our cultural landscape. The landscape that we cannot escape. Topics covered: Valentine’s Day, crystal meth, Walt Disney, hydrogen, Sean Penn, the war in Iraq. The field of the open, human page.

He began, appropriately, reading a Valentine’s Day centric poem from his book, Action Kylie, in which he invoked pop goddess, Kylie Minogue, singing, “She had a fever, a fever of love…” The poem was a resurrection of candy hearts: “love me, text me.” A formula of updated nostalgia.

I imagine that in a past life, Kevin Killian was one of the golden age Hollywood actors from the 1930s. It is the way he can pick apart a phrase, pause and sneer within the same breath. He appeared, at times, vulnerable, but he also brought an intensity to his readings with his sharp hand gestures that accompanied a constellation of famous voices. We witnessed the channeling of Kate Bush in her orangey red dress (“Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy. I’m so cold”) and Ethel Waters singing, “Am I Blue.”

Killian also shared some new work from Tweaky Village, an homage to San Francisco in the height of the speed and crystal meth craze of the 1990s. He described the “hollowed eyed men” on billboards and medications that “make you smile.” The gentrification of the city, the hyper-development. Can’t we all see this in our own towns and cities? Our bodies? As a mirror. The death of the flesh.

He often leaned in toward us while reading, as if he were talking with us at a cocktail party, and extended his hands as if to say, “Do you remember this too? Are we still experiencing this together?”

In 2013, Rex Ray asked Kevin to write a poem for the Gay Pride month mural. A poem had to be written and erected, and one that did not offend. But, Ray said, “Make sure they know…that it’s a gay poem, from line one.” Killian’s first magical line: “Before we knew we were gay, the plants knew…” Rex Ray recently died. Can this be a form of dedication to him? There we were, witnessing.

There were knowing plants, autumns and sestinas to experience. There were emerald isles and robots colliding. We had fun. We remembered disasters, deaths, epidemics. It was an exhibition. Of ourselves and each other. We kept our eyes on the prize. Thank you, Kevin Killian.

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Heather Sweeney is an MFA candidate and Allen Ginsberg Fellow at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Her poetry and book reviews have been published in Dusie, Cutbank, Shampoo and canwehaveourballback?. When she is not in Boulder, she lives in San Diego with her husband and beloved dog, Dexter.

Review of What Where Series: Maureen Owen, Stephen Graham Jones, and TC Tolbert, October 28, 2014

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Andrea Rexilius introduced our fourth and final What Where Series Reading of 2014. Maureen Owen is the author of nine books of poetry, including Edges of Water (Chax Press, 2013) Erosion’s Pull (Coffee House Press, 2006). American Rush: Selected Poems was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize. Owens’ language created a juxtaposition of concrete language and imagist depictions of the body creating very intentional choices for soundwork. I particularly enjoyed her long titles, such as “Weren’t We Also Written in that Order or Saturated So?” We are always pleased to have Owen, former JKS faculty and a longtime friend of the University, return.

Stephen Graham Jones is the author of 16 novels and six story collections, most recently, Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly (ChiZine Publications, 2013) and After the People Lights Have Gone Off (Dark House Press, 2014). At the start of his reading, Jones said, “Every time you get a new favorite poem, your head changes. It ripples.” Words have the power to change us. Jones read from a piece called “How to Know You’re A Killer” which included number seven:

“Another way you know you’re killer through and through is that you can’t stop with the lists, they’re everywhere, and they’re all so necessary, they’re all so perfect, so elegant, so right, they each take so many drafts to get them that right, but the main way you know you’re a killer is that you’re not on a single one of these lists.”

This was followed by a short piece on final girls in horror movies. “This,” he said, “is a baptism in blood.” Jones teaches in the English department at the University of Colorado – Boulder.

TC Tolbert is the author of Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press, 2014), Conditions/Conditioning (New Lights Press, 2014) I: Not He: Not I(Pity Milk, 2014), spirare (Belladonna, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press, 2011), He is also co-editor of Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (Nightboat, 2013) with Trace Peterson, who presented at the Jack Kerouac School’s Queer Poetics Symposium in Spring 2014. Tolbert’s reading was a bit unconventional in the best possible way. He invited the audience to form a triangle with the stage and read with three audience members, each at a corner of the triangle. Tolbert tore down the wall between audience and performer, echoing his poem: “to break a singular thing that is also plural.” Polyphony filled Naropa’s Performing Arts Center as Tolbert’s colloquial but exact language allowed for a shared moment. Tolbert gave a talk in the 2014 Writer’s in Community Class and can be found here for Naropa students, faculty, and staff.

Thank you to our guests for providing a wonderful ending to our 2014 What Where Series. For a listing of our other JKS 40th Anniversary Events, please click here.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, “Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection”, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

Review of the What Where Series: Teresa Carmody, HR Hegnauer, and CAConrad, October 21, 2014

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Andrea Rexilius introduced the third reading of the semester, on the day of Reed Bye’s birthday. After the audience sang, Teresa Carmody took the stage.

Carmody is the author of Requiem (Les Figues. 2005), and chapbooks Eye Hole Adore (PS Books. 2008), and Your Spiritual Suit of Armor by Katherine Anne (Woodland Editions, 2009). She read from a new project, Maison Femme, which coming out from Bonair Projects, a micropress out of Buffalo. It is a collaboration between Carmody and poet Vanessa Place, who did the images for the project. “Maison Femme, or housewife, is a roman à clef about two lesbians who run a small press out of their basement. You should also know that the manuscript is structured that it has a section for each room or area of the house and each section has as many sentences as my feet across one way and then the other,” Carmody said. Her humor shone through as she read a section of Maison Femme called “Back Upstairs Porch,” in which she mentioned the thinly veiled Jack Kerouac School’s Summer Writing Program. The laughter didn’t stop throughout the reading which was filled with rich detail and language.

HR Hegnauer is a book designer, JKS alumna, and author of Sir (Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs 2013). After thanking the audience for missing the first game of the World Series for the reading, she read from her manuscript, When the Bird is Not Human. It is during such a reading that one recognizing the need for poetry to be heard sometimes, not just read; Hegnauer’s pitch and tone changed like the sparrow she spoke of in a way that could not be voiced on the page. Our own Anne Waldman says, “HR Hegnauer has created an epistolary identity of engaged and hybridized increments from her own youthful living and details of others and their entwined poetries and presences. It is a highly performative text of depth, mind grammar, and beautiful gesture, inhabited by vivid characters and voices that change and charge the room.” That beautiful gesture was apparent in her reading.

Our final reader of the evening was CAConrad. Conrad is the author of ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness (Wave Books, 2014), Philip Seymour Hoffman (were you high when you said this?) (Worms Press, 2014), and five others. Conrad’s somatic exercises are familiar to those who have attended his lectures and panels (most recently at the JKS [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference in October), this past Summer Writing Program, or his discussion with the 2014 Writers in Community class. In “Reading Starlight with One Eye Like Creeley,” Conrad says, “we were all once young and/ beautiful squandering everything/ it’s what we came here to do.” Conrad speaks what many would not, bringing us into a space of “Sharking into the Birdcage,” which he provided free broadsides of to the audience.

For a listing of our other JKS 40th Anniversary Events, please click here.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently an Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Collaborative Being: Gender, Race, and Sexuality

By Cait Turner

Can poetry erase racism by erasing erasure? To disembody language, must we dis-gender it? How can we collaboratively address problems of race, class, and gender in the abstract space of poetics? Is poetic space truly abstract, or is it concretized? If it is concretized, who benefits from this? These were some of the questions implicitly and explicitly examined at the “Collaborative Being: Race, a Gender, and Sexuality” panel at Naropa University’s inaugural Disembodied Poetics Conference.

The first panelist, Aimee Herman, explored ways of gendering and de-gendering poetic language. She invited us to “examine how words feel in your mouth and under your tongue. Taste them. ” As a queer poet, Herman described the many assumptions brought to her work by allies and critics alike.   A bound chest, she explained, was a form of poetic experimentation rather than a sort of gendered orthodoxy. Breast binding remains a dangerous cultural praxis—bodies, Herman argued, are themselves experimental texts vulnerable to criticism. A gendered poetics, she continued, is a false poetics. Words exist in the liminal space between the body and the mind—they don’t simply hang there and disappear; they are absorbed like any nutrient. Herman asked us to consider what it might mean for language, for poetry, to be un-gendered? When we are writing, we are not necessarily writing-as-men or writing-as-women—we are producing language that takes a non-gendered shape. This non-gendered shape, Herman maintained, is the shape of poetics to come.

One way that poetry might take this non-gendered shape involves collaboration between genders so that the masculine/feminine language binary blurs into a cacophony of thought-sounds. This was the goal of the second panel presentation by Amaranth Borsuk and Andy Fitch, a male/female duo interested in the poetics of erasure. They began with a brief description of erasure poetics, wherein a poet re-presents a pre-existing piece of work through redacting and re-shaping lines, phrases, and form. If, as Herman stated in an earlier panel, form is the “gender” of poetry, then re-shaping form is a radically un-gendered poetic act. Borsuk received transcriptions of Fitch’s audio diaries and redacted certain lines while re-shaping and re-ordering their syntax and grammar. Fitch did the same, and they both “communicated” these pieces to each other in tandem, dramatically “shushing” each other during the redacted lines. This performance was spontaneous. The result was a verbal collage of quotidian desires, private musings, banal observations, and censorious breaths. The “shushing” almost seemed percussive, which illuminated the rhythmic “re-production” of interruption and erasure within actual conversation. This performance piece suggested that conversation is indeed poetic.

The final panelist, Ailish Hopper, also scrutinized the role played by erasure in poetic praxis. Her paper, “Getting Under Being Over It, Getting Over Being Under It: Poetry That’s Awake Inside of Race,” examined how race is increasingly erased from poetic space, particularly by liberal “post-racial” poets. Hopper read excerpts from pieces by Claudia Rankine, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and other poets of color alongside white voices, and determined—correctly, in my opinion—that white writers are all too often willing to ignore racial complexities in favor of a hegemonic poetics where any mention of race inside a work becomes a poetic “agenda” undermining aesthetic credibility. Hopper wondered what might happen if more white writers acknowledged their whiteness, and wrote from “inside that awareness.” What does it mean, she wondered, to write whiteness? What might it look like for poets of color to “write white” or for white writers to “write from a space acknowledging power?” White privilege is a hot topic, but Hopper’s inquiry goes much further than the simple, overused, “check your privilege” screed. In order for poetics to transcend racism—and, Hopper stated, we must understand that as a country, America may never transcend racism—we must confront racial complexities and concerns poetically. Poetry cannot exist above racism, classism, or sexism—therefore it must claim poetic space as political space. Poetry can and must oppose the hegemonic constructs currently constricting and restricting its discourse in order to truly re-present those for whom it claims to speak to, for, from, and about.

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Cait Turner is a first year MFA student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. She is interested in the intersectionality between politics, poetics, and pedagogy.  Other research areas include democracy and pedagogy, activist writing, and proletarian literature. When not writing or studying, Cait enjoys arguing about geopolitics with strangers on the internet, preferably while listening to a really good record.

[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Ecoskeletons of Language, Sound, and Impossibility: [Dis] Embodied Lineages

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Matthew Pincus, a 2nd year MFA candidate at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School, presented on “Stein’s Exoskeletal Language: Embodied Desire in Disembodied Sociality,” which focused in Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, and more specifically the section on Melanctha. In “The Rejection of Closure,” Lyn Hejinian writes, “The desire that is stirred by language is located most interestingly in the language itself – as a desire to say, a desire to create the subject by saying.” Pincus argues that in Three Lives, “social realist relationships and urban spaces are disembodied desires of the text whereas language are embodied elements of desire,” the social realist relationships being Melanctha Herbert/Joseph Campbell and Lena Mainz/Herman Kreder, and the two, “subtle, possibly sexual relationships” are Anna Federner/Mrs. Lehntman. By examining Stein’s language, Pincus is able to present us with hidden desires in the text and semantic connection with particular use of Marjorie Perloff’s The Poetics of Indeterminancy: Rimbaud to Cage (Princeton University Press 1981, Northwestern University Press 1991). “Melanctha Herbert is a recording of atoms falling upon consciousness,” Pincus says, “veering away from conventional, Dickensian social realism to ulterior modes of arrangement and components of narrative.” Pincus is a regular book reviewer for Pank, Raintaxi, Bookslut, and Necessary Fiction, and has essays forthcoming in Coldfront Magazine and Manor House Quarterly.

Connor Fisher has an MA in Literature from the University of Denver and is currently a 3rd year MFA candidate at Colorado University-Boulder. His paper, “Text, Absent Image, and the Impossibility of Co-Being: Holocaust Museum and its Affect,” focused on Robert Fitterman’s book, Holocaust Museum (Counterpath, 2013) which is a listing of hundreds of captions taken from Holocaust Museum photographs presented as a text-only translation of medium. What does the text mean without the image? Fisher argued that because of the gap between text and image, readers experience “a muted, flat affect” and a gap of signification which “parallels the lack of phenomenological similarity between a contemporary, English-reading public and the Jews, Gypsies, and others who experienced the events captioned in the book.” Interlocution in Levinas’s work, for Fisher, is seen as a way to experience the “Other’s” consciousness, or those who were victimized by the Holocaust as exemplified in Fitterman’s text. The Holocaust Museum though only provides a narrative and visuals, which distance the viewer from grief and suffering by making them empathize rather phenomenologically forcing one to experientially investigate. Fitterman’s latest book, No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself is available from Ugly Duckling Presse (2014). Fisher is a regular book reviewer and has poetry published on Squawk Back.

Unfortunately, third panelist Julie Joosten, whose paper entitled “On Modulation and Meaning: Tracie Morris’s Sound Poetry,” was unable to attend the conference. I was disappointed not to hear about Tracie Morris, 2014 Summer Writing Program faculty, but we hope to see Joosten at the next [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference in 2016.

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Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.