Spotlight on Two of Cups Press
From Leigh Anne Hornfeldt:
“The idea of Two of Cups Press was something I had been toying with for several months in 2012. I’m a poet too and I know trying to find a home for manuscripts can be frustrating. I really wanted to create a space that felt welcoming and inclusive. My dream was for the poet to have lots of input in the publishing process – I want my poets to be in love with their books from cover to cover! I also wanted a platform to work with other presses and artists. It felt like a press of my own was the best way to do that. The final push came in late 2012 when my best friend (and amazing poet) Teneice Durrant and I decided we wanted to publish an anthology of bourbon poetry. (A subject near and dear to both our hearts.) That was really the birth of the press. Ever since it has been an absolute joy and privilege to work with so many amazing poets and artists.”
“Magic on Paper”: Two of Cups Press
Reviewed by Nettie Farris
Two of Cups Press takes its name from the eponymous Tarot Card, which signals union, or reconciliation. The press was founded in 2013 when Leigh Ann Hornfeldt and Teneice Durrant partnered in publishing the anthology Small Batch: An Anthology of Bourbon Poetry. This anthology consists of 62 poems by 53 poets. Approximately half of the authors are from Kentucky and half are from outside of Kentucky. The most moving poem in the collection is “The Housesitter’s Note,” by Juliana Gray, a poem written in the form of a note from a house sitter who (in the process) has become part of the family. Upon hearing the news that the father of the owner of the house has died, the speaker of the poem responds:
I took the car, your good Kentucky bourbon
and drove out to the lake. I wept and drank
that warm bitterness, and when I smashed
the bottle on the rocks, the bits of glass
arced across the headlights’ yellow beam
like far-off shooting stars.
The Press is currently working on its second anthology, and plans to publish an anthology about every other year. Hornfeldt sees an anthology as “a sort of museum of poetry.” She appreciates a variety of “voices and approaches” and tries “to be a good curator of poetry when editing.”
Two of Cups holds an annual chapbook contest (between mid April and mid June). Hornfeldt, the press’s editor, likes the brevity of the chapbook form. She appreciates the way she can ”sit down and devour an entire collection and feel satiated yet also wanting more.” The Press has now held two annual chapbook contests. Things Hornfeldt looks for in a manuscript include: “fresh language, solid images, emotional honesty.” She also looks for “poems that take risks, poems that rattle around in [her] head long after reading them.” According to Gary Leising, finalist in the inaugural contest, Hornfeldt is “fantastic” to work with. She worked side-by-side throughout the entire publishing process with Leising, who concludes: “The press clearly cares deeply about its poets’ work.” This care shows in the product: beautiful flat-spine editions with exquisite cover art. Not only are these chapbooks aesthetically pleasing visually, they are quality collections of verbal art. Though diverse in theme and style, each chapbook promises a magical adventure through language.
This adventure is made possible through the partnership of poet and editor. Poet Christopher McCurry pronounces Leigh Anne Hornfeldt as committed to his book as he was. Leigh Ann Hornfeldt is herself a poet. She is the author of The Intimacy Archive and East Main Aviary and has received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. A Kentucky native, she (and her press) now resides in North Carolina. She confesses that she has recently let her own poetry go by the wayside, but she has not neglected promoting the voices of other poets. Her press is a small operation. She responds to all correspondence herself, and personally attends to every poem and manuscript submitted. In the words of Megan Hudgins, author of Crixa, she is “a true advocate of the word and the poet.”
Crixa, by Megan Hudgins, won the inaugural chapbook contest in 2014. It is a small collection of poems that addresses big subjects. These poems are about life and death. These poems are primal. How fitting that the collection centers on the image of rabbits, which we associate with fecundity. The collection’s title is borrowed from the novel Watership Down by Richard Adams. The word crixa, a lapine word from this novel, refers to “the center of the Efrafa warren” the warren from which females are recruited in order to ensure survival at the new warren Watership Down. In effect, the title refers to a sort of spring, or well, of fertility (or at least the possibility of fertility).
“Cumbersome” is the poem in which the title of the collection appears. It begins: “I press the tiny rabbit against my ear / to listen for its bean-sized heart.” It continues: This is the heart-thump / I hear, the rhythm of fear.” Yes. The tension between life and death expresses itself as anxiety: “I peek / into my cupped hands and see only an eye, / all pupil, an obsidian bead like pure glass panic.” The poem ends:
It fits in just one hand,
but I use two. Create a crixa of fingers
and think what a poor human equivalent
this is—I could never be a burrow.
The most interesting poems of the collection are the Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption poems. There are three of them. This is an actual biological process, which occurs when conditions are not optimal for birth, as indicated in the Notes at the end the collection. “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (1)” ends: “a baby doesn’t break like a tear; this womb sips it slowly. / Slowly, the resemblance of a paw, the curve of a spine, the Y of a nose.” “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (2)” ends a bit more comfortingly:
What has happened, what is wrong? he moves
close to her and rests his head against hers,
feeling her shiver in their warm room.
The antidote to this anxiety is compassion. However, “Rabbit Fetus Reabsorption (3)” seems not comforting at all (with its film like directions of zooming in, zooming out, and cutting to) but theatrical: “Inside BUNNY’S womb, BABY opens its bulging eyes. It sits still, head cocked to the side as if listening . . . BABY curls itself into a ball, smaller and smaller. Then—POP—BABY is replaced by a sprig of glitter.”
Human loss is suggested obliquely, in titles and images, as in “Colposcopy”: “If you stare at something long enough—a cloud of smoke, / a knot in the wood grain, a carpet stain—you will find a human face.”
My favorite poem is “Why I’d Live in a Terrarium”:
This “enormous” “speck of love” is the antidote to “our pure glass panic.”
The Girl with the Jake Tattoo, by Gary Leising (2015), is a collection of loose narrative poems (you never know how they will end, or how they will turn in getting there). These poems, set against a backdrop of figures from history and popular culture play with the looseness of identity. These poems are about transformation. These poems are about fluidity. As we hear in “Pentimenti”: “If it wasn’t / for the frames, I wouldn’t know where art / ends and where life begins.”
Largely constructed of long lines within long blocks of text, one poem of this collection gently flows into the next because of fluidity both within and across poems. A poem about a tattoo is followed by a poem about cosmetic surgery. A poem about the death of a wife is followed by a poem about the death of a marriage. A poem about an illuminated manuscript is followed by a poem about typeface. Although about is an inadequate word, as these concrete nouns: tattoo, surgery, illuminated manuscript, are really merely points of departure.
The title poem, “The Girl with the JAKE Tattoo,” ironically, is one of the tightest poems in the collection. Though the poem identifies two possibilities about the story of this tattooed girl, it really only explores one: that the Jake of said tattoo is now gone, but the girl is now happy with some other guy, with some other name, who’ll want her to “change her body / for him the way . . . she did for Jake.”
The speaker (“just a man tired of seeing his own face in every mirror”) of the prose poem, “A Face Like Kate Winslet’s,” has his face surgically transformed into the face of—yes, you guessed it—Kate Winslet. His surgeon saves the nose for last; because, he says, Winslet has already had her nose done and might again. In an unexpected turn, the speaker, surgery complete, laments to his own (Kate’s) face in the mirror: “No one sees the real me. I hear their whispers. Finding Neverland. Revolutionary Road. They don’t know which you I’m with!”
All these metamorphoses makes one wonder why we bother to express ourselves (which are constantly in flux) in any permanent sort of way. Though it does make interesting reading.
Winner of the 2015 chapbook contest, An Animal I Can’t Name, by Raegen Pietrucha, is, a collection that explores naming. In contrast to feminist theorists, who have historically argued about the power of naming (and the subject who names), these poems suggest its difficulty as well as its futility. The collection’s title comes from “The Ranch in California,” which appears toward the end of the book. The speaker of this poem lies beneath a man, while “clouds above unravel / sky like hides ripped, revealing red / tissue of an animal I can’t name.” This is a poem (this is a collection) about secrets.
The secrets in this collection are domestic. They are secrets about events that occur within the home. We learn in “Neighborhood Watch”: it’s not the neighborhood that is feared, but the household: “unless it’s what I feared, / which was inside this house.” In “5,” we hear about the unfortunate situation:
in an RV . . .
he pulls me
over a bench seat
where the glass is shady
& no one can see
& puts his slimy
tongue in my
Next, in “Collector,” we learn about the speaker’s “stained underwear” hidden, and then found by her mother. She claims to “[get] smarter” about hiding secrets:
I scribbled his name
on a notebook cover, then taped
magazine clippings over it,
decorated like other girls did.
She arrives at a conclusion: “The best place for anything to hide, / of course is in plain sight,” for the speaker has “put the shiny rock he gave me, / a gift for keeping his secret, / on top of the dresser by my bed, / Mom and Dad haven’t asked where / it came from.” Why not pronounce his name? Perhaps the speaker feels it useless. As proclaimed in “Sex Ed”: “naming things / commands nothing.” “Seeing Stars” cautions against the danger in speaking: “I couldn’t speak what I feared most” “believed speaking made real.” She sees strength in the stars and resolves to be one: “stars are always quiet.” Similarly, in “Pray,” she resolves to “trust no one now or at any hour” and, in “Cheer,” she relies on ritual: “certain the right, / words paired with the right actions will someday / help me become too mighty to be vincible.” These are her tactics for survival.
The artistry of this collection goes well beyond theme. The control of the voice of these poems about childhood recollected in adulthood is remarkable. Most remarkable is Pietrucha’s gift for repetition, which is showcased in the villanelle “Mumfish.”
Christopher McCurry’s Nearly Perfect Photograph: Marriage Sonnets is a collection unified in both form and theme. It consists of 18 contemporary non rhyming sonnets, a sequence of unsentimental realist lyrics. These are no Sonnets from the Portuguese. Their tone might be described as hard-boiled. Imagine Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, married, and with children. However, the crimes he investigates occur in his own home. The settings in these poems are most often bedroom, bathroom, kitchen. Dominant images are of sex and domesticity. The speaker clearly prioritizes sex rather than domesticity.
Sonnet # 1 sets the tone for the sequence. The poem begins: “With every wet towel left to soak into / the depths of my pillow, I love you / less.” Domesticity is taking its toll: “Gone is the romance shaving with a razor / dulled from the daily grind of your legs. / Get your own.” The speaker ends the poem by reinventing household life into a vision more tolerable:
If I ask you to bring home something
tasty, just once, come through the door
breathless, naked, flushed red with haste.
Traditionally, the sonnet is a form that hinges on counting, and the title poem, Sonnet # 4, a poem about the counting of grievances, is one of the strongest in the collection. Interestingly, the grievances being counted are against the speaker. This is a poem about math: “ I don’t care if you / subtract the loads of laundry I’ve done / from your vindictive abacus of dusty / shelves.” And the math is against the speaker until the end of the poem, when he plays a rather dirty emotional trick:
Yet the speaker of these poems remains slightly, though quietly, vulnerable. Sonnet # 2 promotes the speaker as “a floundering coward by the end.” And, At least on occasion, the speaker considers himself “a gigantic / asshole of a husband.”
The marriage these sonnets explore appears much more solid when it comes to a shared daughter. In # 11, The couple act perfectly in sync at an “excruciating” “dinner” with a seemingly opposite couple who are “disturbingly / perfect together”: “we smile and eat while / we smile.” They remain in sync when the topic of discussion shifts:
But when the conversation
turns and they say, We’re not ready for kids,
we still want to live a little, we both reach for the knife.
These are poems best read as a collection rather than individually. Their power, as well as their beauty, is cumulative.
Two of Cups Press regularly attends the AWP (Associated Writing Program) Conference & Bookfair (“the nation’s largest marketplace for independent literary presses”). It’s established a presence on Facebook and Twitter. The aesthetics of its website persuaded Nandini Dhar, author of Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations (Two of Cups Press, 2014) to publish with Two of Cups, despite an offer from a more experienced press. The adjective Dhar uses to describe her experience with the press is patient. “Everything turned out for the best,” says Dhar. As the website of Two of Cups professes: “We want to partner with poets, artists, other small presses. We want to capture magic on paper.”
Reviewed by Nettie Farris who is the author of Communion (Accents Publishing, 2013) and Fat Crayons (Finishing Line Press, 2015). Her chapbook The Wendy Bird Poems is forthcoming from dancing girl press. She has received the Kudzu Poetry Prize and a Distinguished Teaching Award from the College of Arts and Sciences University of Louisville. She lives in Floyds Knobs, Indiana.