Posts By: Michael Mlekoday

The Next Big Thing: Corey Van Landingham


From all of us at IR, congratulations to past contributor Corey Van Landingham for winning The Ohio State University Press / The Journal award for her book, Antidote! Van Landingham won our 1/2 K Prize for her piece “When You Look Away, the World,” which appears in issue 34.1. (Speaking of contests, our annual poetry contest, judged by Nikky Finney, is open until April 1st!) Following is her installment of The Next Big Thing interview series.


First of all, thanks so much to Michael and all the other wonderful folks at Indiana Review who have been so kind to me over the past couple years, and for adopting us internet orphans sans website for this interview!

What is the working title of the book?



Where did the idea come from for the book?

I suppose there are a couple tiers for this answer. There are Events and there are Ideas, and while I will attempt to recall them, I fear it may be like retracing an episode of Lost, where some kind of logic is being imposed on utter chaos just to make you keep watching.

I. Events

The death of my father. Breaking up with my fiancé.

II. Ideas

That there is no antidote one can take for grief or heartbreak. That there are various forms of valediction and one may never get better at saying goodbye. That guilt can feel like a disease. That love can, at times, feel like violence. That love can be cruel. That I can be cruel. That there are multitudinous selves. That sometimes these selves may confront each other. That this may be in a dark forest. That one self may be burying or choking another self. That the moon sees this, and is a jerk. That no matter how many different combinations of words one puts together, it will never make anything whole.


What genre does your book fall under?



What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

All I can think of is that it would be one of those movies I’d feel like I’d have to watch for reasons artsy or hip but would have to pause every ten minutes to get another beer if I was going to finish the damn thing.

No, but really, I say this because of the lack of characters. Yes, there are various people being addressed, and yes, there are various speakers, but they all feel like they stem from a similar emotional space.

But I’ll be good and try to answer. It would be delivered in a series of monologues given in some eerie outdoor space with unidentifiable men constantly lurking in the shadows. The actresses delivering the monologues would be Jean Seberg, Michelle Williams, Felicia Day, Janeane Garofalo, and Natalie Portman’s character in Closer.


What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

In Antidote, love equates disease, demons are inverted gods, every animal wants something sinister, valediction is a contact sport, and someone is always watching.


How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Most of these poems were completed in fits of writing furiously during my thesis year in the fall of 2011.


Who or what inspired you to write this book?

X-rays, rafting trips with my father, holding séances in the ravine by my house in Oregon as a young girl, microscopes, animal documentaries, dreams of homesteading, Paul Celan, feeding my father’s ashes to small fish in the Rogue River, diving into that water, PBS’s Art 21, claustrophobia, Sappho, playing with Petri dishes in my mother’s lab, missing the mountains, word hoards, listening to Bill Callahan, being the daughter of a microbiologist, being the daughter of a photographer, being a girl who was never as happy as the other girls, big and lusty Midwestern storms, bourbon, Amy Hempel, cadavers, hunting for owl pellets in the forest with my mother, Isadora Duncan, epoché, always having cold feet, listening to Julianna Barwick, the moment at the Portland Zoo when my father was so thin he resembled the giraffes or the long-legged birds and I thought he might fly off, and then later that summer when he did.


What else about your book might pique the reader’s interests?

I quoted Yeats three times by accident. Also, some of these poems are actually supposed to be funny in a vitriolic sort of way, so it’s not all doom and gloom!


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

 To my utter delight and astonishment and for which I am forever grateful, Antidote was chosen by Kathy Fagan as the winner of The Ohio State University Press/The Journal award in poetry, and will be published by OSU Press in October.

The Next Big Thing: Sally Wen Mao

photo by Van Nguyen

photo by Van Nguyen


All of us at Indiana Review would like to congratulate contributor Sally Wen Mao on winning the 2012 Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books! Her poem, “The White-Haired Girl,” appears in issue 34.2. Here’s her installment in The Next Big Thing interview series which is currently sweeping the internet.


Thank you to Michael Mlekoday, author of the forthcoming book of poems The Dead Eat Everything, out from the Kent State University Press, for tagging me in this series called The Next Big Thing! Also a big thanks for publishing this on the Indiana Review blog, because I am an internet dummy.

What is the working title of the book?

Mad Honey Symposium.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

Poetry books usually come from entire constellations of ideas. Here are some of the most pervasive ones, for me:

1. When researching names for an angry third world feminist girl band in 2007, I stumbled upon the fact that honey badgers aim for the scrotums when attacking larger animals.

Read more…

The German Word for Migratory Restlessness, or, Beads: My Favorite Book Titles

Fiction Editor Joe Hiland recently reflected on how a story’s title can build intrigue and interest from readers and editors, and I’m contractually and spiritually obligated to agree with everything he says. Personally, though, I’m more interested in book titles.

A friend of mine wanted to name his second book Migratory Restlessness. Actually, there was some fancy German word for “migratory restlessness” that he originally thought sounded cool, but he obviously couldn’t name his book after the German word for “migratory restlessness”–so one of his friends suggested he name it The German Word for Migratory Restlessness. He ultimately picked a shorter, saner title, but the whole thing got me thinking about conventions in book-titling.

Read more…

What We Look for in Poems: Sizzle & Steak

Dana Johnson, the Final Judge for our 2012 Fiction Contest  (which closes on October 31st, fictioners!), told us in an interview that she has no patience for “stories that are clever but have no heart.” She went on to explain that, though linguistic fireworks are important to a piece, what’s most important (to her) is whether or not the piece is trying to initiate a larger conversation with the reader and the world. In poetry, I think about this as a distinction between sizzle and steak.

You know how, when you go to Applebee’s, somebody always orders that dish that comes out sizzling and smoking, and it smells great (by Applebee’s standards), and everyone thinks, man, I should’ve ordered that? I’ve always been intrigued by that dish, but I suspect that the steak leaves much to be desired. In the same way, while I love sizzle in poems—dynamic use of language, surprising lines, dope images, lovely music—I’m also concerned about the steak. The ideal poem has both, I think—sizzle and steak, dazzle and stakes—and that’s one of the main things I look for when reading for Indiana Review.

(Read more after the jump!) Read more…

Five Marks of Oft-Rejected Poems

There’s a bug going around the IR office. We’re drinking plenty of fluids, popping lots of pills, but everyone’s on edge. Just yesterday, I shook hands with Fiction Editor Joe Hiland, and I think I caught it: I caught the grouchy bug. So, I think it’s time for a poetry take on Joe’s post about what we often reject:


Write a few words about yourself. What’s called “intro” – a couple of sentences in the questionnaire, which, along with your photos, will let people know what kind of person you are. Here we remember our goals and write according to them. Keep in mind: “I want to get married and have eight children” is better sniffles hookup replaced by “serious relationship only”. Decided to just find a friend in another city or by correspondence, so let them know, so as not to waste time on endless: “Pretty Woman, I’m at your feet!” Do not: add banal quotes from public “Facebook”, put a fence of emoticons and emoji, list an endless list of requirements for a potential candidate. You can: write your weight/height, if this is important to you (although it is actually better to choose photos that already show everything).

1. Boring first lines. I get that the first line often needs to set up the scene or narrative or conceit of the poem, and so there’s a desire to use it as a kind of exposition, but if I, while getting paid to do this, don’t want to read past your first line, potential readers probably won’t, either. Don’t just tell me you met Janine when you were twelve, or that the moon was overhead, or that May became June. Hook me, flatten me, fuck me out of my senses with your first line. It should be one of the best lines of the poem.

2. Over-associating. I’m not a minimalist by any means, but I do believe in earning your fireworks. Your winter breath is not a constellation of fireflies axeing their way through the winter like little lumberjacks. There’s not a hot air balloon filled with jackrabbits in your chest every time she looks at you like a prison guard bleeding sugar. I don’t care that it’s Tuesday. A poem ought to be, I think, more than just a collection of assorted images. What is your poem doing? What does it add up to? How is it governed?

3. Abstractions, clichés, stale language. This one should be obvious, but, apparently it isn’t. Fire licks, smoke curls, sunlight dances and dapples. Clouds of grief. I receive so many poems that are generally interesting and well-crafted and then drop a big fat cliché in the middle. Regardless of how honest, genuine, or deeply felt these phrases are, I’ve read them many times already. Be fresh.

4. Refusal to transcend. Whether a poem originates in a painting or myth or fairy tale or memory of the poet’s first boyfriend or phrase in another language, it ought to transcend its originating material. How is the poem, the poet, the speaker, or the reader changed by the end of the poem? Where have we gone? I want to be MOVED, in any and all of the wild and various ways a poem can do that to a person.

5. Weak endings.  I think the phrase “but the ending…” is probably the most-said phrase in the IR office. Across all the genres, we get so many pieces that are killed by their own endings: pieces that sputter out or say too much or don’t say quite enough, pieces that end on a confusing phrase or an abstraction after so much crisp imagery, endings that go in a whole new direction and leave that direction undeveloped, endings that repeat what the whole piece has already said, endings that aren’t emotionally resonant and endings that are manipulative. Anything less than a great ending is probably going to kill the poem, for me. Endings are hard, man. Like drawing hands.

I don’t mean to suggest that these are all-important rules for making a good poem, that there is never a reason to do one or more of these things. But a great number of the poems I reject from the slush pile, or that don’t make it out of our editorial meetings, are turned down largely for one of these five reasons. Hopefully, this gives you a better idea, via negativa, of what kinds of poetry we like.