Yearly Archives: 2010

The cover of Jeff Mock’s new book is a stark photograph of barbed wire in extreme closeup, the focus on the sharp point of a rough barb – not exactly an image that makes a reader think of poetry. But writer Allison Joseph says Mock’s new book, “Ruthless,” is “just that—ruthless in its precise and incisive vision of our off-kilter world, cutting through the shams of language and thought to arrive at hard-won humor that makes his readers see his—and their—foibles all the more clearly.” The image of the barbed wire speaks to the collection’s toughness and incisiveness.

English professor Mock’s first published full-length poetry collection, “Ruthless” came out on Jan. 1, and he calls its publication “a relief.” He explains that the way poetry books get published is by winning competitions. His manuscript “bounced around for several years,” he says, as he sent it to different contests and publishers. It came close to being published on several occasions, sometimes a semifinalist and sometimes a finalist. At last, poet Deborah Keenan selected it as the winner of the Three Candles Open Book Competition.

Although “Ruthless” is Mock’s first full-length book, he has numerous other publications. His first book, “Evening Travelers,” a chapbook, was published in 1994 by a very small press, with handset type on handmade paper and a handsewn binding. It is no longer in print.

His second book, “You Can Write Poetry,” was a commission, designed for a specific audience. A poetry writing guidebook for writing groups and individuals, “You Can Write Poetry,” now also out of print, was aimed at beginning writers.

Mock has also published a number of poems in such prominent journals as The Atlantic Monthly, Cincinnati Review, Connecticut Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, The Georgia Review, The Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, New England Review, The North American Review, Poetry Northwest, Quarterly West, Shenandoah, The Sewanee Review, The Southern Review and others. He is now working on two other books: one is a book of longer poems of five to 12 pages each, and one is more thematic, a sequence of poems spoken by gods and goddesses that Mock is calling “American Pantheon.”

Although Mock remembers hating to write poems in second grade, he says he’s been a poet for most of his life. He explains, “writers have to write – it’s like an obsession. We don’t have a choice. That need to make something – we all have it, and we each find the outlet that serves us best. I think like a poet more than like a fiction writer.”

Thinking like a poet, Mock says, involves putting into words those images or moments that “strike us and stick around. Writers put words to those things and see what happens.

Seeing where it goes, finding out what happens, writing to find something out. Things can become clearer in the writing.”

He quotes a line from poet Robert Frost’s essay “The Figure A Poem Makes”: “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” That little surprise in a poem, Mock says, “is what brings a story alive.”

Mock, who has been at Southern since the fall of 1998, teaches undergraduate and graduate poetry courses. He came to Southern from The Gettysburg Review, where he spent seven years as assistant editor.

A co-director of the Creative Writing Program with English Professor Tim Parrish, Mock worked with Parrish to create the English Department’s new Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program. He credits his colleagues Robin Troy, assistant professor of English, and CSU Professor Vivian Shipley for their help in developing the program as well.

Mock gave a reading from his new book at the university on April 15, along with writer Steve Almond, best-selling author of the books “Candyfreak,” “My Life in Heavy Metal” and The Evil B.B. Chow,” among others.

 

 

Southern Connecticut State University’s writing program is in the spotlight, as several graduate students took first place in the 2010 CSUS writing contests in fiction, nonfiction essay and poetry. The competitions are open to students at the four CSUS universities and are sponsored by the Connecticut Review, a literary and arts journal published semi-annually by the Connecticut State University System. Jim Reese, editor of the journal Paddlefish, judged the contests.

Left to right: Pat Mottola, Jessica Forcier , Matthew Beacom, Benjamin Guerette, Lee Keylock, and Marlene Schade

Vivian Shipley, professor of English, CSU Professor, and a member of the Connecticut Review editorial board, says, “I am particularly proud that SCSU students won first prizes in each of the contest genres: poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. Their work is an example of the high level of talent that SCSU students have in all types of creative writing.”

Jean Copeland won in the essay category, Benjamin Guerette took first place in fiction, Matthew Beacom won the Leo Connellan Poetry Prize and Marlene Schade won the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize. In addition, Jessica Forcier received honorable mention for fiction, and Lee Keylock and Pat Mottola obtained honorable mentions in the Leeds contest.

“The diversity of voices and styles that Beacom, Schade, Guerette and Copeland display is also a reflection of the differing teaching styles and creative voices of my three exceptional creative writing colleagues: Jeff Mock, Tim Parrish and Robin Troy,” Shipley says.

Beacom, a student in the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, won the Connellan Prize for his poem “The Catfish.” The Connellan Prize is named for the former poet laureate of Connecticut, who was also the CSUS poet-in-residence.

A resident of North Haven and a librarian at Yale University, Beacom is concentrating in poetry. He has been taking workshop and literature classes at Southern since the fall of 2007, even before the M.F.A. program was implemented. He wrote his winning poem in the fall of 2009 as part of his work in Shipley’s poetry workshop.

Beacom credits the creative writing program with giving him “the sustained challenges and opportunities I need to develop as a poet.” Without his professors and peers in the program, he says, “I wouldn’t have a chance.”

Schade won the Leeds Poetry Prize for her poem “Herfara Zecho.” A resident of Washington Depot, Schade is concentrating in fiction as a student in the M.F.A. program and has been taking classes at Southern since 2007. Like Beacom, she wrote her winning poem in a poetry workshop with Shipley, who encouraged Schade to enter this particular poem in the contest.

A high school English teacher in Waterbury, Schade says she loves writing poetry but gravitates toward fiction because she enjoys inventing characters, landscapes and scenes. “I was a terrible liar as a kid,” she says, “and fiction always seemed like a way to lie and get praised rather than punished.”

She appreciates the creative writing faculty, whom she calls “nurturing yet ruthless critics of my work.  Ruthless in a good way… like surgeons or exterminators.”

A resident of East Haven, Copeland describes her winning essay, “Learning Curves,” as “a humorous look at my struggle with my own gender identity as a young child, before I knew what it meant to be a lesbian.” One of the last M.S. candidates to go through the creative writing program, Copeland has been at Southern since 2003, when she transferred into the undergraduate English/education program.

She originally wrote the essay for a call for submissions for an anthology on gender identity. It was rejected, but Copeland gave it another try with the CSU contest. “There’s definitely a lesson in here about persistence!” she says.

She credits the creative writing program with helping her improve as a writer of fiction, her favorite genre, and poetry.

Guerette, winner of the prize in fiction, is a resident of Ansonia, and a full-time student in the M.A. in English program. He works as a part-time composition instructor in the English Department.

He wrote his winning story, “The Hammock,” in Parrish’s fiction writing class. Guerette says he writes fiction because that’s what he likes to read. As a writer, he says, he thinks “I’ve improved more in the six months I’ve been at Southern than in the four years of my undergrad program.”

Forcier was recognized for her story, “Enough.” She is in the M.F.A. program, studying fiction. Keylock and Mottola, both M.F.A. students and past winners of the Connellan Prize, each received an honorable mention in the Leeds competition, Keylock for his poem “The Didicoys” and Mottola for her poem “Men in Bars.”

The members of the creative writing faculty see the laurels garnered by their students as testament to the students’ talent and to the strength of the writing program. Troy, administrator of the M.F.A. program, says, “Our writers are the heart of our program, and both in the classroom and with awards like these, they are proving themselves to be a remarkable, diverse and publishable group.”

Parrish, a co-director of the M.F.A. program with Mock, concurs, pointing to “the hard work, determination and love for writing that are the hallmarks of our students.”

This spring, the winners will read at major literary events at the Mark Twain House, the Wallace Stevens Theater at The Hartford and the Hill-Stead Museum. The winners will also have their work published in the spring 2010 issue of Connecticut Review. The honorable mentions will be included on the Connecticut Review Web site: www.connecticutreview.com.