Black Lawrence Press
November 9, 2018

Welcome back, Lisa Fay Coutley!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired during 2018. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Lisa Fay Coutley, author of the poetry collection Tether, which will be published in the spring of 2020. This will be Lisa’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

Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition, and In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. Her poems have been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a Rona Jaffe scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize, chosen by Dana Levin. Recent/forthcoming poetry publications include AGNI, Blackbird, The Los Angeles Review, Narrative, and Pleiades. Recent/forthcoming prose publications include The Cincinnati Review, The Hunger, Passages North, Prairie Schooner, Poets & Writers. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry & Creative Nonfiction in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

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On writing Tether

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My second full-length collection, tether, was my Ph.D. dissertation. I finished it, really, in a cabin in the woods during a Tupelo 30/30, but I wrote the bones of it during my time in Salt Lake City. At the University of Utah, I was challenged to think about silence in new ways, to reconceive of my line and use of punctuation, and once I became obsessed with astronauts, the book started writing itself. Let me back up. Toward the end of errata, my first book, I had been writing poems in the sky—self-portraits as fire clouds, a sonogram that looked like clouds, etc. That obsession led me to research weather, the sky, and space, and I started using those vehicles to explore relationships, loss, and self-discovery. Apollo astronauts said they believed going to the moon was their main mission until they saw Earth hanging so small and fragile in so much darkness. Through that distance they saw her new. I wanted to know how a person could get that sort of distance from themselves in order to gain understanding, so I started a dialogue between a spacebound self (the astronaut) and an earthbound self (the poet). These selves write back and forth in a variety of ways, often looking at each other from a distance and noting certain aspects that couldn’t be seen up close. I was also interested in how one identity (or the same language) could be different in a different context—the opposition and connection in that—so there’s a repetition among poems, creating the same identity in a new place but for the new place making it new: another kind of distance & proximity. In the end, in the course of writing the book, I realized those of us stuck on earth create such distance from ourselves, to varying extents and detriments, all the time—sex, Facebook, drugs—and sometimes we get lost.

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Excerpts

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To the Astronaut: On Impact 
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I understand. I do. I used to lie back
flat against asphalt & take our moon
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through binoculars—hands steady
as the dead’s. I understand a planet is
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its history of impact, what gets ripped
away & what gets left. The moon struck
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from here flickers one brilliant sigh, one
small mouth stunned in the night, saying
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nothing of two bodies about to collide.
Remember the way your legs dangled
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over volcanic rock, the sun pressing
so heavy against the water we were
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forced to bow? There’s no prayer now.
Just histories that can only be told
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given distance & time. You must see,
from where you are, how a target arches
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to meet the body cast into its moment
of shared light. I understand the evidence
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is the catastrophe. To be defined. You
chortled. You snored. You chewed this sky.
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published in Sugar House Review
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Total Solar Eclipse: A Prediction 
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Every shadow will sharpen
its blade against our strained
faces, plastic glasses & necks
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craning toward the Mother
who refuses to be seen
otherwise. Mystery is her
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bitch. Tight leash. Biting
tenor. Forgive me for how
wet I get just imagining
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the day drained of itself,
the way city lights are fires
burning endlessly from space.
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New perspective, same place.
They say Play-Doh in the palm
calms a child with autism.
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A paperclip over a fingernail
for a nervous speaker. What, then,
for the woman each of us tries
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to see, even in her hiding, woman
of untouchable temperature—all
that collapsed matter flattened
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& fierce & always made to stay
at the center of every mistake
her children make—what could
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soothe her? Does she remember?
Can she forget? Does she hope,
every time she cuts herself
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to crescents, that we will see her
new, so alone with her own gravity,
giving all of herself to the dark?
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published in 32 Poems