Welcome back, Rob Carney!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired in the past six months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Rob Carney, author of the poetry collection Call and Response, which will be published in 2020. This will be Rob’s second title with Black Lawrence Press.

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our November Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies) and translations from German. Also, our Big Moose Prize for the novel is currently open to early bird submissions.

The Author

Rob Carney is originally from Washington state. He is the author of eight previous books, including The Book of Sharks (Black Lawrence Press 2018), which won the Artists of Utah Magazine Book Award for Poetry and was named a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, and Accidental Gardens (Stormbird Press 2020), a collection of 42 flash essays about the environment, politics, and poetics. His work has appeared in Cave Wall, The Dark Mountain Project, Sugar House Review, Terrain.org, and dozens of other journals, as well as the Norton anthology Flash Fiction Forward (2006). In 2014 he received the Robinson Jeffers/Tor House Foundation Award for Poetry. He is a Professor of English and Literature at Utah Valley University and lives in Salt Lake City.

On Writing Call and Response

I’ve written about this collection before (see also here), but the short version goes like this: 

I had a poem called “Poetic Justice.” It was long, an epic revenge story. But one is just one, it’s not a whole book, and I wasn’t sure where to go next. Then something interesting happened. I’ll tell you about it in a minute, but first I want to tell you about a squirrel. 

Right now, as I’m typing this, he’s outside building a nest. He’s turning one of the trees in my yard into the capital of his own squirrel continent. For days he’s been taking the fallen twigs and branches right back up the trunk to do his thing. I just live beside the spot he’s chosen.

And the poems in Call and Response are sort of the same. I wasn’t deciding on subjects and being deliberative. It’s more like I noticed these nests appearing on the page. Well, on envelopes actually—business-sized envelopes—since I had a full box left over from the time before everything switched to submittable. 

What got these nests started was reading four Icelandic poems at Terrain.org. It’s an online journal, the oldest (and I think best) one. Because it’s online, I had to scroll down to see the translation. Only I didn’t scroll down. I decided not to. Instead, I grabbed an envelope and tried writing my own translation—a fun sort of craziness because I don’t speak a word of Icelandic. 

Afterward, when I did scroll down, I hadn’t gotten anything right, but that wasn’t the point. The point was just to see what happened, and I liked the result (“Art Is Such a Good Journey,” the opening poem in my “9 Journeys” section). More importantly, I liked the process, so I did it again. The second poem, “Vatnaskil,” became my own poem “What Are Your Skills.” And suddenly, without planning it in advance, I had three things working together: a left foot (the subject of journeying), a right foot (the subject of school and education), and the call-and-response form as a kind of map since the poems were written as answers to the title’s opening statement or question. 

I had a fourth thing also: Magnús Siggurðsson’s mysterious language as material to build with. 

So over and over—left foot and right foot—I did.


“Art Is Such a Good Journey”

Kari’s grandmother used to tell us, 
“Put some scribbles there—

a million begonias. 
And now it’s spring again, blooming. Yes.”

Not scuba,
not yoga,

not for her,
but she could make you young-eyed 

when teaching you to paint.
“Orange pinwheels, try it, 

that’s sunlight, 
that’s Mama Eggs.” And my favorite, 

what I’ll never forget:
“Don’t ever put your vision on

like shoes, my darlings. We’re traveling,
not making doormats.”


“What Are Your Skills?”

Every year at Sea School
we were taught that glaciers purr

and ice floes, huge 
below the surface, were sunning cats.

Call ours a failed education.
If it makes you feel better, 

call our hymns under night skies

But for thirteen years
we sailed on bluer water.

And all of us know well
how to arch our backs.


“For Your Essay, Define Intelligence”

Kari’s grandmother knew 
the right words to explain.

She said, “Their ears can’t listen.
They’ve traded their hearing

for a bigger make-believe mirror.”
Deaf now, fixed 

in four corners—that was her point. 
Her heart first, mind second,

but almost a tie. 
An absolute wisdom.

One time she took my hand 
and said, “The day knows 

many ways to tell you—
that blue jay,

a drop in the temperature—
and none are with a gun.”


“Tell Us a Secret”

When night’s aloft and the sky’s
torn up,

someone’s brother 
has to journey.

Half to, half from, half
until doesn’t matter

as long as the myths aren’t skipped:
the gold cup, the hovering 

firebird, the path 
to the lake. 

This is lightning, 
and it wants a story.

This is summer, and it wants
more wine.

One time, I was the brother they sent;
that part isn’t secret. 

The storm took the shape of a woman. 
That’s the part that is.