Two Poems on the Sun: The Kenyon Review & Lindenwood Review

Years ago, my friend and fellow poet, Alexa Forrester, offered up one of the coolest lines I’ve yet heard from a small child: “Mom, when the earth flies into the sun it will be morning every day.” The source was her son, Cameron. I couldn’t help but take that sentiment and spin it into a poem (or two).

The fruits of that labor appeared last year, when the Kenyon Review published my poem “‘When the Earth Flies into the Sun” in issue 39.4 (July/August 2017) and the Lindenwood Review published a brief, prequel poem: “The Sun” in their seventh issue.

My thanks to David Baker and David Lynn at the Kenyon Review and Beth Mead at Lindenwood. And an extra special nod to Beth Mead for nominating “The Sun” for a Pushcart Prize.

That Time I Wrote a 300-Line Seduction of a Desert Saint

It took a few years, but I eventually finished (and published!) “Colloquy with St. Mary of Egypt,” the longest single poem I’ve ever written. The poem draws a desert ascetic into open dialogue. The historical Mary of Egypt lived as a prostitute and (later) a penitent. Her two lives offer twin virtues that the poem’s speaker, a new parent, newly desires: erotic freedom and extended solitude. What follows is a bookish seduction. It’s also a saint’s life (rewritten), a civic portrait (of San Francisco), and a walk home.

My warm thanks to Blackbird: An Online Journal of Literature and the Arts for doing such a lovely job with the poem. It appears in their Spring 2017 issue (16.1). The piece will appear in The Identity Thief, forthcoming from Saturnalia Books later this year.

Writers Resist: Hoosier Writers Unite

My friend and fellow poet, Josh Brewer, did a wonderful thing recently: he put together Writers Resist: Hoosier Writers Unite (Chatter House Press, 2017), a post-inauguration anthology of resistance writing. I was honored have been a part of the initial reading–in Bloomington–that shape this book. I’m thrilled to have an essay (“An Open Letter from a Poet on the Professor Watch List”) and a poem (“The Journal of Glacial Archaeology”) published therein.

Grab a copy from Chatter House Press, Amazon, or a local bookseller like Indy Reads Books. You’ll find some stirring work by the likes of Ania Spyra, Christine Brandel, David Shumate, Emily Bobo, JL Kato, Joe Heithaus, Karen Kovacik, Kaveh Akbar, Keith S. Wilson, Kevin McKelvey, Kyle Hunter, Lydia Johnson, Ross Gay, Scott Russell Sanders, Shari Miller Wagner, Terry Kirts, Tony Brewer, and Tracy Mishkin.


Derek Mong and Anne Fisher Win the 2018 Cliff Becker Translation Prize

Annie and I are thrilled to announce that we’ve won the 2018 Cliff Becker Translation Prize from the American Literary Translator’s Association. On October 7, 2017, we read from what is now our forthcoming book at the annual ALTA conference in Minneapolis. Here is judges’ citation for The Joyous Science: Selected Poems of Maxim Amelin:

“Mong and Fisher have succeeded in finding a distinctive voice in English for Amelin, a poet steeped in the philosophical traditions and poetic culture of Russia.  There is poetry in Mong and Fisher’s translation, wrought in judicious and playful word choice, internal rhyme, and with a sensitive ear for song, sense, and soulfulness.  There are even places where these translations equal or, perhaps, surpass the original in their crispness and linguistic innovation, making this collection not only a remarkable accomplishment of poetic translation but truly a pleasure to read.”

The judges for the 2018 Becker Prize were Diana Thow,  Anthony Anemone, and Joanna Trzeciak Huss. The book will be published by White Pine Press in fall 2018 and launched at ALTA’s annual conference, ALTA41, which will be held in Bloomington, IN from October 31 – November 3, 2018.

After nearly a decade of work, Annie and I will soon see this project to an end. Thanks to ALTA, White Pine Press, and (of course) our poet: Maxim Amelin.


The Ego and the Empiricist Is Available for Purchase!

Last October, the good folks at Two Sylvias Press brought The Ego and the Empiricist into the world. The book is a 30-page poetry collection that draws on Silver Age, Medieval, Jesuit, and Neo-Latin poets to create—as Robert Lowell said of his experimental translations in Imitations (1960)—“one voice run[ning] through many personalities, contrasts, and repetitions.” It is a plaintive book of dramatic monologues that challenges our ideas about what qualifies as translation. (Here I prefer the term adaptations.) The poems tackle such topics as faith, flesh, wounds, and desire.

Thanks to Kelli Russell-Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convy for their tireless work and warm support. The Ego and the Empiricist was a finalist for their Two Sylvias Press Chapbook Prize, and can be purchased at the Two Sylvias Press online bookstore.

John Felstiner: Poet, Translator, and Scholar

I am late to this news, living so far now from Stanford, but I’m saddened to learn that John Felstiner, the great translator, died last February of aphasia. The condition “leads to a loss of ability to understand and express language.” Few deaths could be crueler. When I arrived in Palo Alto in 2010, Felstiner had just retired. This didn’t prevent him from contributing an essay to Mantis 12, reading Rilke at a release party, or entertaining the questions of a poet and translator who didn’t much like graduate school: me. He was kind, welcoming, and immensely talented. I recommend his Translating Neruda: The Way to Macchu Picchu (1980) to anyone interested in how languages move.

Reviewing New Poetry for the Gettysburg Review

Last weekend, during a Memorial Day trip to Chicago, I had the good fortune to hear Deborah Landau read from The Uses of the Body at the Poetry Foundation. She was accompanied on stage by Inna Faliks, a wonderful pianist. Landau would read a few poems, Falik would play Bach or Liszt, and together they made for an exquisite evening.

I’d first encountered Landau’s work while writing an essay-review for the Gettysburg Review, a piece that appear in the summer of 2016. I also looked at Daniel Albergotti’s Millennial TeethMatthea Harvey’s If the Tabloids Are True, What Are You? and Peter Balakian’s Ozone Journal, focusing on the relationship between poetry and the news. The title of the essay: “Headlines and Linebreaks.”  

I’m happy to report that I’ve finished another essay-review for Gettysburg, “We Wear the Mask,” which will appear in the coming months. The books under consideration? Maureen McLane’s Mz N: the serialShane McCrae’s The Animal Too Big to Kill, and Tyehimba Jess’s OlioAll make use of personas.

My thanks to Mark Drew, the editor at Gettysburg, for this fine opportunity.  


Why I No Longer Subscribe to the Indianapolis Star

To the Editorial Board of the Indianapolis Star:

Because you failed to denounce the appointment of an avowed white supremacist to the President-elect’s inner circle (Steve Bannon); and because you, unlike your parent paper (USA Today), did not renounce Donald Trump as “unfit” for the office from the start; and because you normalize autocracy (flag burners should spend “a year in jail,” Muslims may be registered) by not standing against it; and because you soft pedaled a campaign that preyed upon the most vulnerable among us (xenophobia, racism, and misogyny should be called exactly that); and because silence in the face of hate speech is its own form of hate; I have cancelled my subscription to the Indianapolis Star. Would you reconsider your coverage? I’ll reconsider how I support the fourth estate.

-Derek Mong

The NEH Supports Indiana Poetry, National Poetry Month, and My Poem About Eating Hot Dogs

I once wrote a poem about a hot dog eating contest. Yesterday, it was beamed out to all of Indiana for National Poetry Month. These are your NEH dollars at work people.

(With thanks for Shari Wagner and the Indiana Humanities for this opportunity.)

“Glaciers” in Crab Creek Review 29.1 (winter 2016)

In last year’s winter issue of Crab Creek Review, I wrote a poem in the voice of a glacier. Pick up a copy of this fantastic journal if you have a chance, or subscribe. My thanks to Jenifer Lawrence and my old friend and press-mate, Martha Silano.

What follows is a brief note that accompanies the poem.

On “Glaciers”: To live today is to experience the occasional bout of species self-hatred. We make movies in which apes are the heroes. We live with climatological changes for which we’ve only ourselves to blame. “Glaciers” is a tongue-lashing that attempts to exorcise this particular loathing.

It is also a dramatic monologue and a bit of a dodge. The poem comes from my forthcoming book, The Identity Thief, where I’m often keen to become someone else.

“Letter in a Bottle for When the Seas Rise” in Poetry Northwest 11.2

I am delighted to return to Poetry Northwest with a poem about–in order of appearance–early snowstorms, a bouquet of microphones, and a garbage flotilla. It’s called “Letter in a Bottle for When the Seas Rise.”

“Exhausted, Renegade Elephant” in New England Review 37.2 (2016)

My thanks to Rick Barot at the New England Review for publishing my poem “Exhausted, Renegade Elephant” last year. The title comes from a fantastic Joel Sternfeld photo of the same name, which I saw at the Portland Art Museum.

Two New Poems Online: Hawai’i Pacific Review & concīs

It has been a few months since I posted links to my new poetry available on the web. (These things happen when you start a new academic position, as I recently have at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana.)

That said, here is “Old Tyme with a y, a brief meditation on time, with thanks to the editors at Hawai’i Pacific Review who published it.

Also: a pair of short poems in Chris Lott’s lovely little journal, concīs, an online venue for brevity. They are “The Book of Sex” and “We Live Our Lives through Other People’s Bodies.” The former had previously appeared in the Potomac Review, the latter in the Laurel Review.

Thanks too to Chris for the Pushcart Prize nomination! Stay tuned for more new poetry, to be posted later today.

Join Me in Supporting the NEA and NEH

Please consider writing your members of Congress to voice your support for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both organization have been–as John Ashbery writes in his monstiche “The Cathedral”–”slated for destruction.” My wife, Anne Fisher, and I would not be where we are today were it not for a NEA Translation grant that we received in 2010.

For a defense of these vital organizations–which disproportionately help rural and underserved are (like mine, Montgomery County)–see our letters to the editor in The Indianapolis Star and The Journal Review (Crawfordsville, Indiana).

An Open Letter from the Only Poet on the Professor’s Watchlist*

When my name appeared on the noxious Professor’s Watchlist–a McCarthyist attempt to shame professors who speak out about social justice–I set aside some precious break time to write a reply. Not only is my entry on the list factually inaccurate, it is intimidation masquerading as public service.

Many thanks to the Kenyon Review for giving me the platform to respond to the Watchlist and to Poetry‘s Harriet blog for reposting it last month.

Also: my apologies to Ken McClane, the other poet on the Watchlist, whom I only recognized as a poet when Sandra McPherson brought him to my attention in a comment to my essay. For more on this see the comments section.

I retain my original blog post title above, with an asterisk to mark the correction.

A Letter to the Indianapolis Star about the Myth of Voter Fraud

(NB: The following letter was sent to the Indianapolis Star on September 24, 2016. The Star never responded to my request to print the letter, whether online or in print.)

September 24, 2016

To the Editorial Board of the Indianapolis Star:

Although I appreciative the investigative rigor that Tony Cook applies to the voter fraud “controversy” in Marion and Hendricks counties, ten registration forms that lack social security numbers—either through haste, negligence, or forgery—hardly qualifies as front page news. At the very least, Mr. Cook fails to provide context to the actual threat that voter fraud poses to our elections.

Study after study has shown that voter fraud does not exist in any meaningful way in the U.S. The New York Times came to this conclusion in 2007. Lorraine Minnite did as well in The Myth of Voter Fraud (2010). Jane Mayer’s investigative piece for the New Yorker, “The Voter-Fraud Myth,” aggregates these and many other studies, including a Bush administration study that found just 86 cases in a nation of 300 million. She too concurs: voter fraud is almost nonexistent.

What then is happening in Marion and Hendricks counties? As Mayer notes, nearly all states suffer from “administrative incompetence, sloppy registration rolls, [and] unreliable machinery.” The second is the likelier explanation for what’s going on in Indiana, and Patriot Majority USA is probably at fault. Some of their workers—in an effort to meet a quota or end a long day—cut some corners.

Still, this is a far cry from voter fraud, which would require those same workers to impersonate the ten voters listed on the ten applications in question. As Robert Brandon, the president of the Fair Elections Legal Network, and a longtime advocate for reform notes, this scenario is “silly” because “you cannot steal an election one vote at a time.” It also never happens.

I encourage Mr. Cook and the Indy Star to reconsider how they frame this issue in future articles. Indiana has one of the most restrictive Voter ID laws in the country. These laws, which disproportionately affect the elderly, poor, and minorities—25% of citizens over 65 and 18% of African Americans lack state-issued IDs—are the greater scourge.

Such laws have been struck down in Wisconsin and North Carolina for the undue burden they place on the already burdened. Indiana, as with so many civil liberties issues, still lags behind.


Dr. Derek Mong

Byron K. Trippet Professor of English

Wabash College

Mantis 14 Now Available!

My final issue as Mantis‘s Poetry Editor is now available! You can pick up your copies at AWP in Los Angeles (March 30th – April 2nd) or through our new website. Below you’ll find my introduction to this issue’s New Poetry.


“Everything that I thought would be gone is still here,” Natalie Garyet writes in “The Boys School.” It’s a line that I’ve returned to often as I reread this 14th issue of Mantis, my last as the journal’s Poetry Editor. For four years I’ve delighted in publishing new and established poets in these pages, and this issue’s work makes me proud. Sharon Black meditates “On Inability”; Andrew Field investigates the “untidy” self. Like the poets assembled here, it is “jostling inside like silverware during an earthquake.” If we’re lucky, we’ll “remember / every word of the song / that the wind rips apart” (Zilka Joseph).

Which is all to say that this year’s poetry contains equal parts elegy and ecstasy. Jonathan Greenhause finds self-pleasure in a legislative proclamation “[w]hereby we rediscover our hands / & resolve to masturbate / ‘til our wrists click & pop.” His take on legal language makes our election year feel a little less grim. Derick Mattern revisits the monastery at Mar Saba, following in the footsteps of Melville’s Clarel. David Wojahn—one of our most astute poets and critics—writes admiringly to two women: Lorine Niedecker and his wife. His “Anniversary Poem” reminds me that 2016 is a leap year. We’ve an extra day to see—as Valerie Wernet does in “MORNING*GREEN”—the world’s color anew. Let us all resolve at some point to join her in “v y i n g / f o r d a y ’ s y e l l o w / hand.”

For those readers interested in longer poems or sequences, Mantis’s traditional strength, there’s Arkaye Kierulf, Jonathan Lowther, and Clayton Eshleman. Lowther writes his “555” sonnets by crunching Shakespeare’s own love poems through “text analytic software.” The result is a comic romp in which “[n]othing really mattress.” Kierulf, a wonderful Filipino poet still unknown in the U.S., tracks a “Great Traveling Hunger” as it “tiptoe[s] on the swaying tips / Of sleeping grass.” Eshleman mourns a friend. Loss, I’m coming to learn, is something that “radiates, / its liquid shadow falls / across the earth” (Hadara Bar-Nadav). I’m very pleased to have these poets send me on my way.


New Maxim Amelin Translations in Waxwing (8) and Two Lines (24)

The current issue of Two Lines (Spring 2016, #24) is a great one for Russian literature. Sibelan Forrester translates I. Grekova, James Kates translates Aigerm Tazhi, and Anne Fisher and I translate two more poems by Maxim Amelin. We’re particularly proud of our “Classical Ode to V. V. Mayakovsky,” where Amelin tells Mayakovsky to become “the man you never were: / grow old, but stay tradition’s scourge, / the crossroads where all streets converge, / the stallion mounting every mare!” Words to live by, for all of us! Thanks to C.J. Evans at Two Lines and all the good folks at the Center for the Art of Translation in San Francisco. Pick up your copy today!

Also available is our translation of “The Scribe’s Confession” at Waxwing Literary Journal (online). You’ll have to read this one yourself to learn the Scribe’s secret. Thanks for Sarah Valentine at Waxwing for accepting the poem, Curtis Bauer for soliciting the Translators’ Note, and Todd Kaneko–whom I met, years ago, at Kenyon College–for making such a beautiful journal. We’re proud to be a part of it. See also Katherine Young’s translations of the Russian poems of Xenia Emelyanova in the same issue.

The Byron K. Trippet Assistant Professor of English at Wabash College

I am delighted to announce that in the fall of 2016 I will become the Byron K. Trippet Assistant Professor of English at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana. My course load will consist of American Literature and Creative Writing. This is something of a dream appointment for a poet-scholar, and I look forward to classes on 19th century American Literature, Poetry Writing, and College Composition. In the meantime, if you think you’ll be in Indiana next year, drop me a line!

Derek Talks Children’s Poetry at the Kenyon Review Blog

In the final days before the end of the 2015 Christmas shopping season, I posted a pair of reviews for Kenyon Review Online. The topic? Children’s poetry, that wonderfully underrated genre enjoying a bit of a renaissance of late. There are some fantastic children’s poets–Jon Scieszka, Brian Lies–worth checking out if you’ve got small ones to read to or enjoy light verse and literary parodies.

The article comes in two parts: “A Last Minute Shopper’s Guide to Children’s Poetry” and “Children’s Poetry: Four Short Takes.” I cover a total of seven books, spend a good bit of time discussing ballad meter, and recommend a fine poetic rendition of Moby-Dick

A New Poem Now Available in Boxcar Poetry Review 36 (winter 2015)

My thanks to Neil Aitken for including “Preamble” in the current issue of Boxcar Poetry Review. The poem, which is about making babies in Moscow, finds good company in the work of Kai Carlson-Wee and Kazumi Chin.   

Boxcar also published an interview that Dean Rader and I did after our first books came out, way back in 2011.

“Colloquy with St. Mary of Egypt,” a finalist for the Wells College Press Chapbook Contest, will appear in Blackbird

Congratulations to the J.R. Tappenden, whose chapbook Independent City, won the 2016 Wells Press Chapbook Contest. My own manuscript, Colloquy with St. Mary of Egypt, was a finalist, and I was delighted to read the following from Wells Press:

“Judges’ comments about the manuscript included praise for it as ‘a wonderfully complex and suggestive meditation’ combining elements of the poet’s personal life and study with ‘multi-layered historical story-telling and unusual muse-worship.’ It was also described as both ‘very original’ and ‘fascinating,’ a tour-de-force that the poet ‘pulls off masterfully.’”

In the meantime, Blackbird has picked up the entire poem, a 320 seduction of dessert saint, for a publication in 2016! My thanks to both Wells College Press and Blackbird for believing in the central poem for my forthcoming collection, The Identity Thief. 

Three New Poems in The American Literary Review (online, fall 2015)

I’m delighted to have three poems in the current issue of American Literary Review: “In the Land Between Sex and Conception,” “The Second Year,” and “The Undecided Voter.” Check out some new translations from Jesse Lee Kercheval too, and lovely poems by Dan Beachy-Quick and Gary Fincke. My thanks to Bruce Bond and Corey Mark for the opportunity to appear in ALR once more.

“The Book of Sex” and “The Book of Sex 2″ (poems) in Potomac Review 57 (fall 2015)

The newly redesigned Potomac Review is a sight to behold. I’m honored to have two short poems, eight lines each, in the current issue, number 57: “The Book of Sex” and “The Book of Sex 2.” You’ll have to order this one online, as Potomac is print only… but it’s worth it! My thanks to Potomac‘s editor, Julie Wakeman-Linn for the acceptance and for suggesting I revise the titles. The poems began as “Sex Libris” and “Sex Libris 2.”

Letter to the Editor in The Oregonian, Friday October 16, 2015

When the Oregonian/OregonLive published an editorial asserting that we “lack defensible information” connecting gun ownership and gun deaths, I could not let it pass. And so I did the most old-fashioned and civic-minded thing that came to mind: I wrote a letter to the editor telling them why they’re wrong. Below is the full letter, unedited. A somewhat sorter and hyper-linked version appears online. Beware the online comments section!

Dear Oregonian/OregonLive:

The Oregonian is wrong to assert in its October 11th editorial that we lack “defensible information” connecting gun ownership with gun violence. As both Politico and Slate have reported, gun owners are far more likely to die from gun violence than non-gun owners and almost never use their guns in self-defense. This matters because “personal safety” is the number one reason (63%) that Americans buy guns (Gallup). But this belief is based on anecdote and misinformation, not fact.

As the non-partisan Gun Violence Archive has shown, Americans recorded fewer than 1,600 verifiable instances of DGU (defensible gun use) in 2014. Even if that number were doubled to account for unverifiable instances, it pales beside the 30,000 gun deaths that Americans annually record, 20 times more than any comparable country. The American Journal of Medicine (Oct 2013) agrees: “[t]he number of guns per capita per country was a strong and independent predictor of firearm-related death in a given country.”

The NRA will, of course, cite a now 23-year old study that estimates 1.5 million DGUs per year (Kleck and Getz). But this study’s findings have since been proved “mathematically impossible” (Politico). It concludes, for instance, that 845,000 burglaries resulted in DGUs, but we know that only 1.3 million burglaries were committed during their study’s stated window, and of those only a third of the victims (429,000) were awake at the time. Even if every burglarized home contained a gun, the NRA’s numbers just don’t add up.

The Oregonian then misleads its readers when it states that “deep irrefutable data” on gun violence is lacking. Both “The Myth Behind the Defensive Gun Ownership” (Politico) and “The Myth of the Good Guy with the Gun” (Slate) cite multiple, peer-reviewed studies that prove that we Americans do not lack the data to tackle our gun problem, we lack the political will. I would invite the Oregonian to reconsider their position, and perhaps join me in supporting Australian style gun control measures, as that country instituted in 1996 and 2003. Unless, of course, they missed that story too. It was covered in The Washington Post on June 23, 2015.

Derek Mong

Southeast Portland


Saturnalia Books to Publish The Identity Thief in 2018

I’m delighted to announce that my second poetry collection, The Identity Thief, will be published by Saturnalia Books in 2018! My thanks to Henry Israeli, Sarah Blake, and Saturnalia for being so exceptionally supportive. My first collection, Other Romes, appeared with Saturnalia in 2011, and I’m delighted to stay with a publisher that continues to support its authors. Swing on over to their brand new website to find some fantastic books by Martha Silano, Jay Nebel, Kendra DeColo, and many others.

Dr. Derek Mong’s Dissertation Acknowledgments

Last Thursday I defended my doctoral dissertation on Whitman and Dickinson at Stanford University, but–as anyone who has ever written anything knows–I didn’t exactly accomplish that feat alone. Below are my acknowledgments, just as they appear in the dissertation. One shouldn’t have to navigate ProQuest to be thanked.



I am grateful to my dissertation committee for the helpful and supportive comments made during the writing of these chapters: Gavin Jones, Kenneth Fields, and Roland Greene, my advisor. Roland had the generosity and grace to support me when I chose to work on this project from afar. Though begun in a carol in the basement of Stanford University’s Green Library, this dissertation was completed in and around Portland, Oregon, the bulk of the writing done between January of 2014 and August of 2015. Roland’s Skype and phone conversation let me know that the dark tunnel of dissertation writing would only be dark for so long.

Thank you to those members of my Orals Committee (Phoebe Putnam and Sianne Ngai) not included above. There would be no Emily Dickinson in this dissertation were it not for Phoebe’s seminar on Dickinson in the winter of 2012. Thank you to Paul Kiparsky for moderating my Orals exam and for teaching a course on Metrics in the fall of 2011.

Two other faculty members deserve special mention. I would not have finished this dissertation, let alone my coursework, were it not for Christopher Rovee, now at Louisiana State University. Academic writing is not my first language. Chris assured me, with patience and understanding, that I could find music in my second tongue. My third chapter began as a seminar paper for his course on Victorian Literature and Photography (fall 2010). I dedicate it to him. I’m also indebted to Alex Woloch, who shepherded me through my Qualifying Exam and this doctorate, my second (and far harder) graduate degree. His time as the Director of Graduate Studies produced a series of excellent Orals and Dissertation Workshops. His door was never closed.

I was privileged, in the fall of 2010, to be admitted into Stanford’s English Department alongside a smart, collegial, and blessedly uncompetitive cohort. Thank you Dalglish Chew, J.D. Porter, Erik Johnson, Vanessa Seals, Hannah Walser, and Morgan Frank for your friendship and the comments provided on an early draft of the first chapter. Thank you Judy Candell for running a tight departmental ship.

There are those outside the Stanford orbit—scholars, poets, and those who (like me) identity as both—whose comments helped shape this project. Some are associated with my alma mater, Denison University: Sandy Runzo, Dennis Read, Ann Townsend, John Miller, and David Baker. David continues to teach me about Whitman some 17 years since we first met. I am grateful to count him and his colleagues as my friends. John Whittier-Ferguson, Linda Gregerson, and Laurence Goldstein—all from the University of Michigan—remain my scholastic models. My publisher at Saturnalia Books, Henry Israeli, provided a timely note of encouragement when I would rather have given up. Thanks to Tom Byers and Alan Golding, my former colleagues at the University of Louisville, for their kind words and for writing about American poetry. My work on Edward Weston’s Leaves of Grass, presented at The Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture since 1900 in February of 2014, was inadequate recompense.

Most scholars, if they’re lucky, work from large and well-stocked academic libraries. My own home base has changed daily, and my research was conducted in a variety of stacks. I am thankful then for the following institutions, none of which objected to my rattling cart of books or my propensity to take up space: the Cascade Park Branch of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library (Vancouver, Washington), the Reed College Library (Portland, Oregon), the Woodstock branch of the Multnomah County Public Library (Portland, Oregon), and the library at Clark College (Vancouver, Washington). I’m thankful for the collections at these institutions, particularly Multnomah County Public Library, and for the librarians who aided me in my academic pursuits. There is one patron at Cascade Park in Vancouver who will be happy to see that I’ve finally left for good. Thank you Coffee Revolution in Vancouver. Thank you Papaccino’s in Portland. Thank you Powells Books. Thank you Rebecca Wingfield, Curator for American and British Literature at Stanford University’s Green Library, for providing online access to All Things Dickinson: An Encyclopedia of Emily Dickinson’s World. And thanks to Rose Harrington, also at Green, who still remembers me when I pass by the Information Desk. 

A number of friends provided beds during my travels, though it was their company that was, in the end, most restorative: Kyle Coma-Thompson and his wife Marie in Louisville, Kentucky; Lev Osherovich, his wife Molli, along with their children Ezra and Auri in San Francisco; Nancy Ganner in our old neighborhood of Bernal Heights (San Francisco). Thanks as well to Nathan Boyer, Sarah Johnson, and their daughter, Ingrid Kesswood.Together you made our Sunday nights sing. Thanks to Eric Parrish for listening to my complaints.

And then there’s family. My parents, Robert and Jean, offered their home for mid-day writing. This was only the smallest of the many gestures that helped me complete this work. My brother Ryan encouraged me to find a use for my body other than holding up my head. (I’m not sure I’ve succeeded.) My wife, Anne Fisher, understood from the beginning just how hard this would be and offered the time and space to help me finish. Her advice has been inestimable, her editorial eye exact. She will always be the Good Doctor in our family of three. Thank you once again. As for our son, Whitman Avery Mong, born one week after I entered Stanford, now five as this degree comes to a close—tonight we read in bed.

One final note: this dissertation is dedicated to my aunt and uncle, Susan and Leslie Mitchell of Berkeley, California, who have repeatedly opened their home so that I could continue my academic pursuits. I’ve spent one summer, one fall, and countless evenings as their live-in guest. I’ve lost count of the nights I’ve spent drinking wine at their kitchen table or the times that Leslie has ferried me to and from North Berkeley BART. I’ll never forget how much you both did to help me see this degree to its end. I love you both.


“The Daniel Swiftboating of Helen Vendler”

The knives are out again for Helen Vendler. In the following essay I posted for KROnline, I tell you why.


Neo-Latin Adaptation in Drunken Boat 22 (with audio!)

Check out Drunken Boat 22 for my adaptation of Jacob Balde’s “Melancholia.” Balde has my favorite conversion story of all the Jesuit poets I know… admittedly a small number. He was serenading a woman from beneath her window when he heard a psalm sung from a nearby church. The psalm, he thought, was better. Shortly thereafter, he joined the faith. Thanks for Drunken Boat for inviting me write a small translator’s note and posting an audio recording of the poem.

“The Poet’s Salter: An Appreciation of James Salter”

I love James Salter (1925 – 2015) and his fiction. I am a poet. Are these two facts in any way related? Or, to put it another way, “Is a writer’s writer’s writer really just a poet’s writer all along?”

This is the question I explore in the “The Poet’s Salter: An Appreciation of James Salter” an essay you can read now at Kenyon Review Online. My deep thanks to David Lynn for inviting me to blog for KR.

Brief Interview Up Now at Kenyon Review Online

“Writing advice is like that collection of microbes growing in your stomach. Everybody’s got some, but do you really want to share?”

“Translation is a marvelous thing: it removes the problem of invention, heightens our relationship with other literatures, and makes us less dependent on the self.”

These and other bits of writerly reflection are up now at The Kenyon Review Online, where I was recently interviewed as part of the KR Conversations series. The interview is super short, but cover lots of issues I care passionately about: reader-friendly criticism, translation, and how one mixes parenting and poetry. As always, it’s an honor to be a part of KR!

Maxim Amelin in Atlanta Review’s Russia Issue (spring/summer 2015)

Alex Cigale, one of America’s leading editors of Russian poetry, has included a new Amelin poem in his special “Russia” issue of the Atlanta Review (22.2). Alex guest-edited the issue, and Annie and I are thankful to him and Daniel Veach, the editor and publisher of Atlanta Review

Also included are two reprints of earlier translations. “In a Temple with an Arcade” first appeared at Jacket2 alongside our interview with Amelin. “In August the Stars Shoot through the Night Air” first appeared in Reunion: The Dallas Review 4 (2014). Due to an editing error, the final four stanzas were left off the reprint of “In August.” Below you’ll find the poem in full.

In August the Stars Shoot through the Night Air”

“Hide and Seek” and the International Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski Society

Matthias Sarbiewski (1595 – 1640), a Neo-Latin poet often referred to as the Polish Horace, has joined social media! Thanks to Krzysztof Fordonski and the International Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski Society, new trends in Sarbiewski scholarship and translation can now be followed on Facebook. Fordonski is himself a Sarbiewski scholar and his wonderful Casimir Brittannicus (2010) collects the long tradition of emulating, adapting, and translating Sabiewski’s poems into English. That tradition begins in 1646 with George Hills and runs through Robert Burns, Samuel Coleridge and, well, me. I’ve one Sarbiewski adaptation in Other Romesit’s part of the “Songs of Sickness” series–and another arriving in The Identity Thief: “Hide and Seek.”

In honor of the International Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski Society, I’ll post the latter below. I adapted this poem from ”Ad Iesum Opt. Max.” (Liber IV, Ode XIX), a text found in Jesuit Latin Poets of the 17th and 18th Century (eds. James J. Mertz and John P. Murphy). An equally good source for Sarbiewski in Latin is Fred Nichols’s An Anthology of Neo-Latin Poetry (1979).

This poem originally appeared in The Laurel Review 47.2 (spring 2014). Enjoy!

Hide and Seek” by Derek Mong 



Three New Poems at Printer’s Devil Review 5.1 (spring 2015)

Printer’s Devil Review, which graciously allows you to download a full PDF of their current issue, has published three of my poems in their spring 2015 issue: “The Rented House,” “Blason Wherein My Head Becomes a Mountain,” and “On the Flooding of Prague.” The latter two are adapted from the Latin of Joachim Du Bellay (1522 – 1560) and Elizabeth Jane Weston (1581 – 1612), respectively. Take a peak! They’ve got sheep on their cover, sheep wearing clothes and lugging suitcases.

“An Ordinary Evening in San Francisco” in Blue Lyra Review 4.2 (2015)

I’ve a new poem up now at Blue Lyra Review: ”An Ordinary Evening in San Francisco.” Spoiler notice: I fall out of love with the city. Thanks to my old friend Jason Koo, who guest-edited the poetry for this issue.

“Ten New Ways to Read Ronald Johnson’s Radi os” is the Poetry Daily Prose Feature of the Week

My essay “Ten New Ways to Read Ronald Johnson’s Radi os was up all last week at Poetry Daily, a wonderful bit of exposure for the piece, Johnson’s poem, and the Kenyon Review, where it’s been published in this month’s new issue: number 37.4 (July/August 2015). Give it a read (for free!) to hear new takes on erasure, speed reading, cookbooks, and the theory of literary relativity await you. Or subscribe to the Kenyon Review and get good stuff all year. With thanks to David BakerDavid Lynn, and GC Waldrep over at KR.

And extra thanks for Natalie Shapero, fellow Saturnalia author, for her lovely read on the essay in the KROnline feature: “Why We Chose It.” She makes a nice point about the use of erasure for poets interested in redactions and the police state: Phil Metres, Solmaz Sharif, for instance. Interesting stuff!


Five New Poems (and My Thoughts on the Unknown) in Chariton Review 38.1 (Spring 2015)

Pick up a copy of the new Chariton Review–brought to you by the good folks at Truman State University Press–to find five new poem by yours truly, written over the course of, well, five or six years? So by “new” I mean “old,” in a way. The oldest among them, appropriately enough, is titled ”A Time Machine in 60 Years of Less or Your Money Back” and dates back to June of 2007 when I was the Peter Taylor Fellow at The Kenyon Review Summer Writers’ Workshop. It’s an exercise in syllabic attrition. “Fool’s Literature” is similarly dated, riffing on the aptness of a forgotten literary genre for the Bush-era, though it’s rhetorical points still hold for today. “Convinced My Speech is Unreliable” muses on syntax, linguistics, and cotton. I’m thankful to Nathan Sanders, a bona fide linguist, for the poem’s inspiration and opening sentence.

Two other poems–”Theory of the Afterlife” and  ”An Invitation to Mr. Eric Parrish”–are a little more recent. The latter was written to my college roommate and friend: the inestimable Eric Parrish. My thanks to James D’Agostino and Jen Creer for accepting the work and for doing such a beautiful job with its tricky lineations. In issue 38.1 you’ll also poems by Daniel Bourne and Andrew Kozma, and an essay by Jo de Waal.

One final note: Chariton Review asks all their contributors to write a paragraph or two on a particular topic of writerly interest. In this case, they chose the “unknown.” It’s a lovely way to poll a diverse pool of individuals and then share their views with readers at large. My contribution follows below.


END TABLE NOTE for Chariton Review:

Form is a known in a minefield of unknowns. To find a poem’s form—whether structural (syllabics) or rhetorical (the aubade)—is to free one’s self to face the other unknowns that make writing hard: what’s this about, who does it speak to, does this or that metaphor work? This, of course, is the paradox that formalists speak of with pride: their restrictions give them the freedom to feel around in the dark. In my poems printed in this issue, form plays something of that role. The syllabic attrition in “A Time Machine in 60 Years or Less” was its raison d’etre. “Fool’s Literature” riffs on a literary definition (its rhetorical form) in rhyming couplets (its sonic form). “An Invitation to Mr. Eric Parrish” imitates Bishop’s famous epistle to Moore.

And yet even the most formal poets must admit to the role that the unpredictable plays. Figurative language, I’ve found, is almost always an excursion into the aleatory and the unknown. I’ll stop mid-sentence, my tenor on the page, then wait for whatever vehicle comes skidding down the road. Will the image be sufficiently unlike the tenor to make the comparison startle? Will the process take a moment or a year? If Yeats’s lines about revision come to mind at such moments—“A line will take us hours maybe, / Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught”—so too does the following from Ronald Johnson’s Radi os: “Chance governs all.”


Mantis 13, Now Available! (Introduction to New Poems Below)

We here at Mantis: A Journal of Poetry, Criticism, and Translation has recently released out 13th issue. I’m as proud as ever to be Mantis‘s Poetry Editor and invite you to pick up a copy wherever you can. Our website is, as always, in need of a little TLC, but our journal itself is handsomely designed (thank you Josh Edwards) and expertly curated (than you, Virginia Ramos). Feel free to submit poems or purchase a copy at Below you’ll find my introduction to our New Poems.


Introduction to New Poems

Derek Mong

If 2014 was the hottest year on record, then the 20 poets in Mantis’s lucky, thirteenth issue took note. “Apples fall in the apple kingdom” writes Will Harris, a by-product perhaps of the “heat, like red paint thrown on me / in protest” (Natalie Shapero), and “the last fires” making “their way across an ochre expanse” (Doug Ramspeck). Harris splits his time between the U.S. and the United Arab Emirates; Shapero and Ramspeck both live in Ohio. Whether seen from the Middle East or the Midwest, this simmering world gives us pause. Or it compels us—as it does C.W. Emerson—to pray. He hopes that some shred of our species will “find its way into time’s pleats and waves.”

There is a strain of Eliotic desolation then running through these poems, though other, countervailing impulses as well. Stephen Massimilla, Randall Brown, and MJ Bender remind us—in rich, sonically acute language—why landscape matters. Joe Betz opens our selection with a “touchdown pass” tribute to marital love. Aaron Anstett asks us “how wet / earth smells where [we] live.” Keith Taylor responds by following the wind. The possible balms are as numerous as these poets’ professions. We’ve writers who are baristas, soldiers, psychologists, painters, librarians, philosophers, and profs.

For those interested in the poetic sequence—Mantis’s traditional strength—I would direct you to H. L. Hix, Benjamin Grossberg, and Monica Berlin. Hix is among the most prolific, formally inventive, and accomplished poets writing today, and in this excerpt from “Frequently Asked Questions” he tests Blanchot’s belief that “[e]very true question opens onto the whole of questions.” His touchstones? Two African writers and a French political scientist. His form? Distorted sonnets. Grossberg’s Elegies remain tragically, unremittingly closer to home. Monica Berlin practices apologizing in four rangy and remarkable poems. Her sin goes unspoken, but she is—like all the poets assembled here—stunned into “mouthing all the harshness of every damned & beautiful day.”


“Walt Whitman’s iPad” (essay) at Poetry Northwest

My thanks to Aaron Barrell at Poetry Northwest for publishing my new essay, “Walt Whitman’s iPad,” this past weekend. The piece takes a recent advertisement for Apple’s iPad Air—and one where the audio consists primarily of Robin Williams’s reciting Whitman’s “O Me! O Life!” (1867)—as an opportunity to answer the following questions: would Whitman mind hawking cellular doo-dads? Would he celebrate or scorn social media? And how do we negotiate between recorded minutiae (often, the stuff of poetry) and the images that come Tumblring or Tweeting through our feed (often, the stuff of distraction). It also surveys Whitman’s other “endorsements” (Starbucks coffee, “Blades O’Grass” cigars), identifies the “real” Jack Keating (from Dead Poets Society), and close reads “O Me! O Life!”—all before imagining just what Whitman would do if someone put an iPad in his hand.





It’s Not Every Day You Get to See Your Poems in Mandarin

A couple of months ago I received the seventh issue of Enclave (Winter 2014), a handsomely designed Chinese literary journal supported by the Shenzhen Cultural Production Fund. Included were a number of my poems, translated into Mandarin by Qin Sunshu, and featured in a larger “Horizons” portfolio alongside work by Peter Campion, Wang Ao, and Wang Xiaoni. I’m honored to know my poetry has crossed the Pacific and remain fascinated by the sight of it in Mandarin, which I very much cannot read. I hope soon to find someone who can read them back to me in Chinese.

Many of the Enclave poems are from Other Romes“Flying is Everything I Imagine Now and More,” “Coccyx,” and “To My Older Sibling, Miscarried”–while others will appear in my unpublished follow-up, The Identity Thief. My thanks to the wonderful Eleanor Goodman for this opportunity; her own translators from Mandarin appear in Enclave 7, as well as Mantis 13, out now! (And check out her full-length translation of Wang Xiaoni’s Something Crosses My Mind, released by Zephyr Press last year.) 

Four Poems from The Identity Thief in the Laurel Review (Winter 2014, 47.2)

Take a look at the current issue of The Laurel Review for four new poems from my completed manuscript, The Identity Thief. There’s a pair of meta-lyrical meditations on writing and translating–”To Assemble This Poems Properly” and “To Translate This Poem Properly”–as well as a short piece about a bedside vigil and the keen of small airplanes carrying donor organs that “rise, piece by piece, on cloaks // of dry ice.” And then, of course, a Latin adaption from my favorite Neo-Latin poet and 17th century Pole: Maciej Kazimierz Sarbiewski (1595 – 1640). In “Hide and Seek” I borrow his plaintive voice once again to ask if “a gap [that] breaks / in a bank of clouds” is in fact “your big toe testing the water?”

Amelin Translations Receive a Finalist Nod for the Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation

Anne Fisher and I were recently named Finalists for the Gabo Prize For Literature in Translation, named after Gabriel García Márquez, “whose work” the editors write, “has been translated into over a hundred languages, influencing authors far and wide.” Mosey on over to Lunch Ticket to read the five new translations of Maxim Amelin, whose birthday–I’m told–coincides with their January publication. Poems include “In Memory of East Prussia,” a multi-part meditation on the Curonian Spit; “Aesop’s Language”; “You Take Root in Earth”; “A Many-Throated, Many-Mawed, Many-Tongued Rumble”; and “Every Day,” a tribute to Amelin’s friend Borya Geliebter, killed in the 2004 Moscow Metro bombing. We’re thankful to the editors at Lunch Ticket who kindly included the Russian texts as well.



“The Air” is a Poem-of-the-Week Selection at The Missouri Review

The first journal to accept my original poetry was the Missouri Review, way back in 2006, when they awarded me their Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize. The poetry editor then was a fine fellow (and fellow poet) by the name of Jason Koo. I’m thankful to Ye Chun, their current poetry editor, for this recent acceptance.

The poem is about children before they become children. It’s accompanied by a short note on its composition, influences, and contexts.

“Since the Advent of the Fisher King” in Cooper Street

Check out the second issue of Cooper Street Journal for a decidedly odd poem of mine wherein Cleveland in the 1990s kinda resembles England in the 60s, at least so far as haircuts go. Fans of Rocky movies, syllabics, Arthurian legends, and The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (the 1962 film more than the 1959 novella) may also be amused. This one dates back to the 2008 or so, and has found a belated home. My thanks to the editors at Cooper Street.

“Colloquy with St. Mary of Egypt” Is a Semi-Finalist in the Black River Chapbook Competition

“Colloquy with St. Mary of Egypt” endeavors, over the course of 46 octets, to draw a desert ascetic into open dialogue. That ascetic is Mary of Egypt, whose twin lives as a prostitute and penitent offer twin virtues which the speaker, a new parent, newly desires: erotic freedom and extended solitude. The poem, which constitutes the bulk of my second book–tentatively titled The Identity Thief–is an overtly bookish seduction that muses on the relative heaven of embodied books. Berryman’s Homage to Mistress Bradstreet is an acknowledged forerunner. The poem’s a saint’s life (rewritten), a civic portrait (of San Francisco), and a walk home.

And now it’s been named a semi-finalist for the Black River Chapbook Competition from Black Lawrence Press. Many thanks to the editors at BLP and congratulations to Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney, co-winners of the chapbook competition.

Four New Amelin Poems in Reunion: The Dallas Review (Vol. 4)

Get your hands on the current issue of Reunion: The Dallas Review for four new translations of Maxim Amelin’s poetry from Annie and myself. These include some our favorite of his poems, and are also among the very first we translated. I remember workshopping “Teach Me to Beseech You”–our very first collaborative translation–at an AATSEEL conference in early 2010. And then Nicole Monnier brought us out to Mizzou where we discussed it at the Translatio Conference in April of that year.

The other poems are “The Hulking Carcass of a Dead Orca,” “I Wished I Owned My Own Home,” and “In August the Stars Shoot through the Night Air,” a poem where “the flies go buzzerk” and Maxim declares himself “the author of incorrigible poems, / [and] some muddled epics.”

And for those of you looking for a holiday tie-in, one poem reminds us that Amelin’s “birthday’s on Christmas; / I hope to reach thirty.” Rest assured folks, he does, and we can all wish him a happy 44th next week.

“Cyclopean Language Consists of Consonants” in New Gobshite Quarterly

The only literary journal you’ll likely find that prints postage stamps alongside an author’s country of origin, Gobshite Quarterly is among Portland’s collection of fine small press journals. We’re happy to have one of our Amelin translations, “Cyclopean Language Consists of Consonants,” included in their current double issue (Summer/Fall 2014). Fellow Russian translator Alex Cigale is also represented, as is an “exquisite corpse” poem written, in part, by my old Michigan MFA colleague, Britta Ameel. My thanks to R.V. Branham, who’ll happily sell you a a copy of the new Gobshite here.

The Would-Be Book of Marriage: Edward Weston and Charis Wilson Remake Leaves of Grass (1942)

Last February I flew back to my old stomping grounds at The University of Louisville for the Louisville Conference on Literature and Culture Since 1900. The reason? To convince a surprisingly robust audience that the American photographer Edward Weston (1886 – 1958) and his wife, the aspiring poet Charis Wilson (1914 – 2009), produced the most strikingly marital edition of Leaves of Grass to date… doing so just as their own marriage fell apart. I’m thinking of the little known, Limited Editions Club Leaves of Grass from 1942, reissued by Paddington Press in 1976. Here’s my argument, in a nutshell, about a book I’m spent more than a few hours absorbed in over the last few years. If you’re ever in a rare books library, stumble upon the reissue, or find yourself in a Weston exhibit, check it out:

The Limited Edition Club’s 1942 release of Leaves of Grass—with accompanying photographs by Edward Weston—did not produce many admirers among those associated with its production. The book’s publisher, George Macy, certainly thought that “the green ‘matt’ [of the text pages] makes each photograph sing out for very joy,” though Weston himself, noting the glossy plates’ green hue, the book’s green cover, and his own signature in (you guessed it) green pen in the colophon, remarked simply that “it stinks.” When Paddington Press reissued the book in 1976, they redesigned the volume into a funereal (and modernist) black tome. They also stripped the book of its most redeeming feature: 46 captions that Charis Wilson-Weston, against her husband’s wishes, selected from Leaves of Grass to accompany his prints. This artistic breach foreshadows a marital one to follow. By 1946 Weston and Wilson will be divorced.

In this paper I return to the suppressed, secretly collaborative edition of this book to argue that—in the light of Charis’s captions—the Weston/Wilson Leaves of Grass captures a series of marriages just before they dissolve. There is the 53-year-old photographer (and womanizer) with his 25 year-old model and bride; there are photographs “designedly dropped” among Leaves of Grass, wedding picture and poem; and there is marriage, in this act and others, of eros and elegy. Undergirding this framework is metaphor—what Aristotle defined as the “similarity of dissimilars”—and I take, by no means uniquely, as a kind of marriage too. My reading then promotes Charis Wilson from “model wife”—the name of one recent exhibit—to rival artist. Her captions express a desire not simply touch Weston’s body, but to touch (via Whitman’s poems) Weston’s body of work.

The Best Russian Zombie Poem You’ve Never Read

Paul Richardson, the wonderful editor at Chetnia (“readings” in Russian), recently added our translation of Maxim Amelin’s “There’s No Peace on Earth or in Heaven” to the intranets. Paul published the poem back in Chetnia 18 (Spring 2012)–back issues available here!–but went the extra mile to make the content accessible to anyone and everyone with a web browser. For that we thank him. The link to the poem made it just a touch easier to discuss Nikolay Fedorov’s “Philosophy of the Common Task” in our Amelin interview on Jacket2.

According to Amelin, Fedorov is probably the only thinker to develop “a unified philosophical system […] on Russian soil.” For details on that system, see our interview. Much of it is over my head, though I’ve never forgotten the best part: the dead will be resurrected in their decaying human forms. In short, there’s a native Russian zombie culture… and you can read about it in this poem.

New Poem in The Cincinnati Review (11.1) Summer 2014

The expertly edited (and designed!) Cincinnati Review recently published my poem “The First Heartbeat” in their summer 2014 issue. (They also carried a piece in summer of 2009, issue 6.1.) A short, syllabic lyric on how the heart first starts (and is first heard), this poem took more than a little tinkering to make its syllabic stanza stand on its own two legs, a 4-4-5-3 contraption that resembles one I used in “Morning Noon, and Night.” (That one was 4-3-3-5.) There’s probably an unacknowledged tetrameter stowed away in both forms.

More excitingly, though, is the good company I’m proud to keep on this table of contents. There’s a few Saturnalia pressmates (Hadara Bar-Nadav, Martha Silano), and friends from San Francisco (Keith Ekiss), Ohio (Holly Goddard Jones), and Wisconsin (Jesse Lee Kercheval). Jesse Lee writes about her work in Spanish (which we published in Mantis 11); Doug Ramspeck (who’ll appear in Mantis 13) has a lovely poem too, as does Carl Phillips, who helped bring Other Romes into the world.