Here's the scoop on this fall's Red Mountain Reading series. All readings start at 7:00 p.m. and will take place in the Lecture Hall of the Alabama School of Fine Arts in lovely downtown Birmingham.

Sep 26
"My Favorite Poem" Community Reading

Fiction Writer Wendy Rawlings

Dec 5
Poets Frank X. Walker and 2008 RMR Chapbook Contest winner Mark Smith-Soto

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We're pleased to announce that the Alabama State Council on the Arts has awarded RMR an organizational grant for 2009. ASCA was instrumental to the RMR's successful launch with a seed grant back in 2004. We're glad they think we've done something right for these last four years.

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2008 Red Mountain Chapbook Contest Winner

Our judge, Frank X. Walker, has selected Mark Smith-Soto's "Waiting Room" as this year's chapbook contest winner! Mark's fine chapbook will be published later this fall by Greencup Books, and Mark will join Frank to give a public reading in Birmingham on Dec 5 at 7 p.m. in the Lecture Hall of the Alabama School of Fine Arts.

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Could very well be. In fact, that's probably damning him with faint praise. We had him down (over?) to the Magic City last night to speak and read to an audience of high school literary arts award winners. He read from his latest book, A Murmuration of Starlings. Powerful, affecting stuff chronicling the martyrs of the Civil Rights movement. Couple that with his unpretentious but unmistakable intellect and his all-around menschiness, and a whole bunch of young Alabama writers now have oodles of legitimacy when they say, "Mom, dad...I want to be a poet." Okay, not oodles. Tough for any aspiring poet to have oodles of anything, with the possible exception of noodles. But now they can say it's possible and it's important and there are, in fact, cool people who've taken that path. Check out Jake's blog while you're at it....

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The deadline for our chapbook contest has come and gone, and we're in the process of, well, processing all the fine work you and yours sent our way. We'll get those entries to our preliminary judges next week. By mid-June we expect to ship off ten finalists to our final judge -- whose identity we know, but we need to dot a few i's and cross a few t's before we announce the name. Our goal is to announce the winner of the contest by August 1.

Thanks, as always, for submitting your work to us. We'll keep you posted as we have news.

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Michelle Burke's Horse Loquela is the winner of the third Red Mountain Review Chapbook Series contest. She just finished her MFA in poetry from The Ohio State University in June. Drawing on her extensive experience working on farms in Ohio and upstate New York, Michelle currently serves as outreach coordinator for GreenThumb, New York City’s community gardening program. Working with the more than 600 community gardens in Gotham, she teaches gardeners to grow organically, to compost, to can, and to cook healthy meals with the food they’ve grown.

Now that is the day job for a poet.

Click the link below to check out what she had to say about Helen Keller, chapbooks, and...Amtrak in this 500 Words (More) Or Less!

1. Talk a little bit about the chapbook as a form. Horse Loquela is part of a larger project, yes? So was the process of paring it down to 24 pages more or less useful? Nerve-racking? What were your governing principles for compiling a successful chapbook-length manuscript?

The chapbook came from my master's thesis, which was a book-length manuscript. Paring it down to 24 pages wasn't hard--I was so tired of my thesis at that point that I enjoyed cutting poems from it. Really, I've never had a hard time getting rid of poems. What's harder is deciding to keep a poem, to bring myself to that point where I feel like I can say, yes, this is a finished poem, and I'm ready to send it out. That's hard.

I did find the ordering to be difficult. I liked beginning and ending with a Helen Keller poem--that seemed right. The middle was tricky. I didn't want to put a horse poem next to a horse poem, and I wanted to vary the form from page to page. The more that I shuffled poems around, however, the more I saw the ways in which they built upon each other. This was an important realization for me as a writer. I knew I was writing a lot of love poems, and I knew I was writing a lot of poems about horses and other domesticated, ill-used animals, but it wasn't until I put everything together that I realized how much the poems about the horses spoke to the poems about human relations. I became very interested in the lover's desire to be both free and tethered. In romantic love, there’s an almost unbearable need to lash oneself to the beloved, but even as we embrace such tethers, we resist them. I think it's related to Milan Kundera's idea of lightness and heaviness--I just finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being. We want to be light and float above the world, but it is our very heaviness that brings us to the earth, makes our lives real. Working the poems against each other in a concise format helped me to see these connections.

2. The title poem has an epigraph from Barthes that describes the term loquela as "language through which the subject tirelessly rehashes the effects of a wound." What drew you to Barthes, to that particular word, in helping you get your head around this project?

I happened upon A Lover's Discourse by chance, but I was immediately impressed by the book. It's an insane book really. Barthes sets out to unravel the very language of love--not the language with we which we woo one another--but the unuttered words we say to ourselves over and over, that endless litany of self-castigation and longing.

I also think that writing itself is a type of loquela. That's what writers do--we rehash the past and try to craft the stuff of raw experience into something finer. And all good writing comes from pain. As writers, we force ourselves to revisit wounds again and again, until something meaningful emerges. And writing is like being in love--there are moments of triumph, and that's what hooks us, but mostly it's disappointing or monotonous.

3. List three cool little-known facts about Helen Keller.

1. She performed vaudeville and acted in Hollywood.
2. She was secretly engaged, but never married.
3. Doctors replaced her real eyes with glass eyes tinted blue.

Iowa or New Hampshire? Obama
Garden or Farm? Farm
Black Beauty or the Black Stallion? A horse named 20\20
Manhattan or Brooklyn? Brooklyn
LaGuardia or JFK? Amtrak
Yankees or Mets? Neither
Shiitake or Portobello? Morels and parmesan in risotto
Sonnets or Ghazals? Free verse or blank verse
Emily or Walt? Both
Dressage or Show-Jumping? Western

5. You are Poet-Dictator for a day. You may be either benevolent or despotic. Make a to-do list.
1. Give books by Lisa Olstein, Carl Phillips, Hayden Carruth, and Marianne Boruch to everyone.
2. Make tea, draw a bath, and read the stories in Knockemstiff by Donald Ray Pollock.

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From the Department of Better Late Than Never: we can now officially say that any work submitted to us prior to the current reading period (that is, anything submitted before Oct 1, 2007) has been considered, decided upon, and SASEs are on their way.

Apologies to those of you who waited so patiently. As a general rule, here is how it works around here. We don't read from May through September, though we do hold submissions we receive during that period for consideration in the next reading period. We start to field submissions in October, but we really don't start reading and processing in earnest until the first of the year. Our last decision -- typically the chapbook winner -- is made by August 1. We say all that just to give you a sense that it can sometimes take a while to hear from us.

Here's another general rule: if you submit sometime during the reading period (and, really, why would you do anything else?) and you haven't heard from us by August 1, it's a safe bet we've taken a pass on your work. We will, of course, process the SASEs and you will get official notice. This just gives you a sense of the timing so you can manage your submission process accordingly.

And if you submit when we're not reading, it will likely take a VERY long time to hear from us. But even then, you'll hear from us.

There's always some guilt associated with the processing -- takes way longer than it should and rejection notices don't always go out in a timely fashion. We assuage our guilt a little bit by not only accepting but ENCOURAGING simultaneous submissions. And, of course, we never charge reading fees. Still, we understand any enmity this causes. Perhaps you can take some solace in all the bad kharma we're making for ourselves in our own writing lives.

Thanks for your patience and understanding -- and, as always, thanks for your interest in RMR.

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Just so's you know, we're cranking up the machine that is RMR once more. We're fielding chapbook contest entries -- again at no cost to you! -- and the best fiction, nonfiction, and poetry you can send our way. Please note...we're abandoning (at least for now) our experiment with e-submissions. Snail-mail only please. As usual, send to 1800 8th Ave N, Birmingham, AL 35203. Thanks for your interest. And hey -- how about buying something we're selling?!

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Michelle Burke's "Horse Loquela"! Thanks to all those who submitted. Michelle's chapbook will appear in its entirety in RMR3 as well as in a stand-alone limited edition. She will also join contest judge Katie Ford for a reading on the campus of the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham in early December, when both the limited edition and RMR3 will be released. More info on all of that in the near future...

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You guys are funny -- several e-mails asking us "You said you'd announce by Aug 1 -- what's wrong?" Uh, it's like, July 31 -- right? All kidding aside, we're glad you're paying attention. Here's the scoop: Katie Ford has, indeed, selected a winner. We have, indeed, notified said winner. We are, however, still waiting for a reply from our winner. Until we hear back from...her...we'll wait to make the official announcement. Thanks to everyone for your patience. We still hope/expect to make good on our Aug 1 promise. On a related note, RMR3 is also now officially full, though we're sorry to say that not everyone who submitted during our last reading period has been notified of the final status of their submission. Our next project will be to do just that. We hope to have that accomplished by Sep 1. Again, thanks for your patience...

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