Love Can Be a Chokecherry / An interview with poet Juliet Cook

Love Can Be a Chokecherry

by Juliet Cook

It starts with a multi-colored glitter dress lifted up high
to show thighs wrapped with garter belts made out of garter snakes.

She knows they’re not poisonous, but
she finds out they’re not really big enough
for her own magnetized thighs, unless she sits still
in one place forever. It’s a cold place, especially at night.

She knows another nightmare is coming
when the bird sounds turn into dark moans.
Mounds of wings torn, ripped, pitched
until she wonders when did wings even exist?

None of this is real, so why give birth to more?
Somebody will sea the shells, but not the birds
tiny fetuses stuck on concrete, dripping beaks,
ants crawling in and out of the cracked necks.

Now they deserve to be hung from a tree
like rotten chokecherries.  Like broken ornaments
that will fall down hard, finally trash themselves
into oblivion, then be flung into the cesspool.

It starts with a kiss that turns into a rotten apple chokehold.
Being smothered into nothing. A bitten into, spit out core.

First published in diode 2014. Also appeared in Cook’s chapbook, Red Demolition (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014).

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Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in many literary magazines, including DIAGRAM, diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Menacing Hedge. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, an individual full-length poetry book, a collaborative full-length poetry book, and has another individual full-length poetry book forthcoming. She sometimes creates semi-abstract painting collage art hybrids.

She describes her style as, “emotional hailstorms (based on and derived from thoughts/feelings/memories) that are redirected and reshaped into poetry, sometimes more direct and other times more abstract. Often on the dark side.”

Juliet was one of the first poets with whom Bekah connected online via Twitter, and they both share an affinity for the number 13 (Bekah is honored to be counted among Juliet’s Thirteen Myna Birds flock). Juliet is a very interesting person who writes striking poetry, so, of course, we wanted to include her in this interview series. Here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’re including with your interview. Why did you choose it?

A~It was a bit difficult to choose one particular poem, since I’ve been writing poetry for more than twenty years, and it has explored various different directions, but the poem I chose is “Love Can Be a Chokecherry.”

I don’t remember exactly when I wrote it; maybe close to 5 years ago?

For well over 5 years (probably closer to 7), a lot of my poetry was focused on loss, mental turmoil and sadness, and brokenness, including broken (borderline abusive) relationships, and no longer believing in or trusting in love – and I think this poem represents all of those things. Body parts, insects, and dead birds have made their way into quite a few of my poems too.

So, have dolls and holes and blood.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~For  many years, poetry has felt like my brain’s preferred form of creative expression. When I was a kid, it felt creatively fun, even if other people thought it was nerdy. When I was a teen, it felt like a melodramatic, over-the-top angst fest, expressing itself from a shy and quiet girl’s brain, because I wasn’t shy and quiet on the inside.  As an adult, it has undergone various incarnations and creative phases, all of them individualistically expressive. Word choice, word usage, emotional expression, dream interpretation, and sharing parts of my own thoughts/feelings my own way.

Sharing parts of myself and allowing them to continue to exist even after they’ve begun to meld with other parts.

When I was younger, the process of writing a poem sometimes helped me figure out and interpret my true feelings.  That still happens occasionally, but in more recent years, it feels more like poetry is my preferred form of expressing myself in sudden onslaughts or crafted journal-like entities or repetitive coagulations instead of keeping it hidden inside.

For the most part, my poetry/art is a small scale personal interpretation – and even though I like a variety of different styles of poetry, small scale personal is my overall preference.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I like the poetry itself.  The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry.  Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.

I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.

I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.

Q~What are your poetry highs/lows of the last year?

A~A low point of the last few years involves me getting very excited about having poetry accepted, but then it never ends up being published. This has happened so much more than usual in the last few years that I’m worried it’s slightly toned down my excitement about poetry acceptance and my trust that poetry presses are fairly well organized and caring. Especially in regards to poetry chapbooks, I’ve had one solicited, accepted, then ignored and never published – and I had another chapbook manuscript accepted by a press that suddenly folded and then accepted by another press that suddenly folded.

In the middle ground are my concerns that my poetry of the last few years seems to have mostly remained in a similar plateau, and I wonder of that is too close to stagnation. I can help myself feel better about recurring repetitive content by thinking about the art of Louise Bourgeois, which I love.

A high point is writing more poetry, reading more poetry, and having more poetry chosen for publication. In addition to inside various literary magazines, one of the poetry chapbooks from the low point up there was recently accepted by another small press – so Another Set of Ripped Out Bloody Pig Tails is forthcoming from The Poet’s Haven. Also, my second individual full-length poetry book, Malformed Confetti, is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press.

 Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Be yourself but don’t be completely full of yourself.  Read other’s poetry, too, consider other writers’ points of view, reconsider some of your own thoughts and feelings, realize that you’re allowed to change your mind and your style, and that your poetic voice and choices and decisions and goals and aims should ultimately be your own, regardless of whether you do or don’t fit in anywhere in particular.

It can be positive to be connected with other poets, as long as you still have a focus on the real and true you – and try your best to allow yourself enough time and space to create your own poetry.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~I try to link to my most recently published poems (as well as other details related to me and my writing) via my Horrific Confection website. The online sources I use most are my personal Facebook page, My Blood Pudding Press Facebook page, my personal blog, my Blood Pudding Press blog, and Twitter.

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Sin É / An interview with poet Jayne Stanton

Sin É

by Jayne Stanton

We steam on barstools
read between slogans on a plastered ceiling
tune to the cuts and grace notes in banter
binge on ambience, high on E minor.

Coburg Street, past midnight, soaks
in sodium light.  Rain beats time
on bodhran umbrellas, my spine
a river of running quavers that stick
to the soles of my sensible shoes
so I high-step the home stretch.

Framed in doorways on Wellington Road
crinoline ghosts wear mirrored skirts
that flirt with moonlight.
Guest house stairs are in rising fifths.
My top floor room’s a tall ship, exploring
the lilt in the Lee’s liquid fingers.

First appeared in Southword 2013. (Highly Commended in the 2013 Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition.)

Jayne Stanton

Jayne Stanton lives in Leicestershire, UK.  Her poems have appeared in various print and online magazines and anthologies including Best British & Irish Poets 2017 (Eyewear Publishing).  She has written commissions for a county museum, University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing and a city residency.  A pamphlet, Beyond the Tune, is published by Soundswrite Press (2014).

“Lyrical free verse best describes my style,” Jayne says. “ I’m also a musician, so I’m continually striving for musicality in my writing.  It’s what I instinctively tune into at poetry readings; my default, when reading silently, is to sub-vocalise.  I tend to favour brevity over narrative; my work often has a dark under-layer.”

Jayne and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour. We wanted to know more about her and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little aboutSin É.”  Is there a back story you want to share?

A~The inspiration for the poem was a traditional music session in a bar in Cork, Ireland (I was on a poetry exchange as part of O’Bheal’s Twin Cities project, at the time).  As a fiddle player in a ceilidh band I’m more accustomed to performing than being on the receiving end, so the experience was a change to my usual perspective.

Q~Did it come easily to you or was it hard to write?

 A~The first draft of this poem was written around five months later.  I think the time lapse was beneficial in that it allowed the experience to percolate until the rain, the city streets, and my accommodation overlooking the river also took on a musicality of their own.  There were fewer re-drafts than usual so, although the poem didn’t write itself, it wasn’t an arduous process. The poem was Highly Commended in the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Competition, 2013, and published online in Southword issue 23A.  The poem, together with the judge’s comment and my report on O’Bheal’s Twin Cities project can be found here.

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share on writing?

A~Writing is a solitary act, but it’s equally important to actively seek, and maintain, an outward focus in order to inspire and inform one’s writing.  Connect with other writers, both face-to-face and online (it’s never been easier); be an active participant in your local writing scene; attend writing workshops, poetry readings, literary events, festivals; support the work of others (it’s not a one-way street); live life (it’s the richest writing material I know).  And, read far more poetry than you can ever write.

Q~You mentioned on your blog having signed up for some writing workshops recently.  Why do you value this?

A~I look on writing workshops as part of my ongoing poetry education.  I value the learning to be gained from more experienced poets in order to explore, for example, the use of writing constraints, set forms and routes into writing that I tend to shy away from, ordinarily.  Writing outside of one’s comfort zone often produces surprising results.  For me, it’s the main benefit of joining a NaPoWriMo group, too; I’m prompted into writing what I’d never otherwise have written, in terms of subject, form, choice of language etc.  April becomes a break-out from my writing rut.

Q~Are you involved with your local poetry scene?  What’s it like?

A~There’s a lot happening on the poetry front in my local area.  Many local writing communities overlap and there are a growing number of regular open mic poetry and spoken word events, so there’s something for everyone, whatever their style or preference.  Leicester’s two universities also organise literary and independent small press events. I’m involved in running  a women’s poetry group, Soundswrite, which meets twice monthly to read and discuss published poetry by others and to workshop each others’ poem drafts.  I also attend the South Leicestershire Stanza, which is affiliated to The Poetry Society.  And I regularly read at poetry open mics across the UK Midlands as I think it’s healthy to step outside of one’s poetry locality.

Q~How does having a women’s only space like Soundswrite enable creativity for you and the group?

A~Soundswrite was set up in 2005, by Karin Coller and Pat Corina, as an open group for women in the UK East Midlands enthusiastic about all aspects of poetry.  In my experience there exists a difference in group dynamics between the women-only and mixed gender poetry groups I attend.  I think it’s fair to say that, while most of the active members of Soundswrite also attend other (mixed) groups, Soundswrite’s longevity is due, in part, to the need for a women-only space within the wider poetry community.  I continue to value our robust discuss of all forms of poetry, and insightful and impartial feedback on work-in-progress.  Soundswrite Press provides a showcase for our writing, having published, to date, several anthologies, and single-author pamphlets and short collections of poetry.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to themes or subjects in your work?  What are they and why do they resonate with you?

A~Many of my poems are slants on memories (or misrememberings), grains of truth or pure fiction.  In writing about the people who made me, I explore love in its various forms and guises, including the darker side; ageing and longevity are offshoots from the theme.  I’ve recently begun to explore superstition, old wives’ tales and folklore for a new writing project.

Q~Which poet first made you fall in love with poetry?

A~After years of studying the Classics and the English Romantic poets, it was Wilfred Owen’s WW1 poetry that leapt off the page and introduced me to a very different world: shocking images and vivid detail wrought from first-hand experience; poetry as protest and honest reportage.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’ve been reading Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds; it was an honour to hear his T S Eliot prize reading in London in January.  Helen Dunmore’s final (and Costa prize-winning) collection, Inside the Wave also had a profound effect on me, especially its end-of-life poems.  Next on my TBR pile is Wislawa Szymborska’s Here, translated from the Polish by Clare Kavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak.

Q~There are lots of publications out there.  What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention?  Why will we love them?

A~I consider Magma Poetry to be one of the best windows on the breadth of contemporary poetry; it publishes work by new or little-known writers to the more established, accepting international submissions.  With reviews of current publications and thought-provoking articles, it is as informative as it is inspirational.  With three themed issues annually and a rolling editorship, Magma maintains a fresh approach to the publishing of poetry and comment.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~More of my work can be found in London Grip New Poetry, Ink, Sweat & TearsAntiphon, and The Lampeter ReviewYou can also check out my blog and follow me on Twitter.

 

 

Sirenia / An interview with poet Emily Holland

Sirenia

by Emily Holland

I fucked a girl with a mermaid
tattooed on her back and felt
something like an ocean move
under me, a falling tide just out

of reach. I melted an ice cube
down her stomach, said here,
I know you’re out of water, said
here, I know you miss the sea.

first appeared in Impossible Archetype 2018.

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Emily Holland is 23 years old and a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she received a BA in Creative Writing and English. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her girlfriend and her cat and is currently a manager at a coffee shop. She plans on beginning graduate school in the fall of 2019.

Emily describes her style as contemporary. She says,  “Lately, I’ve drawn inspiration from Loiuse Glück, Danez Smith, Meg Day, Aracelis Girmay, Terrance Hayes, Kay Ryan, and Richard Siken. I think we can see each of them as contemporary in their own way— some using their poems to draw attention to our most painful current events, others writing about identity in its many forms. My hope is that my writing also falls into a similar category. I don’t tend to follow traditional forms, and if I am writing in form, I always try to subvert it in some way. It feels almost like our job now to do anything we can to acknowledge the poetry of the past while transforming it into something very present.”

Bekah and Emily’s work—including the poem above—both recently appeared in Issue 3 of Impossible Archetype, a Dublin-based journal of LGBTQ+ poetry. We wanted to know more about Emily and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about your poem, “Sirenia.” Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~This poem originally appeared in my undergraduate thesis. At the time, I was newly “out” as a queer woman, and I was struggling to grapple with that newfound liberation/identity in my writing. This poem does have some truthfulness to it, in terms of subject matter—though I’ve always defined “truthfulness” in my writing as more of an honesty in theme rather than events. We all embellish and create for our poems, but without some essence of poetic truth behind those literary devices, the poem would read hollow. For now, I’ll leave the so-called truthfulness up for my readers’ interpretation.

Q~What themes or subjects do you find yourself returning to in your work?

A~I tend to write a lot of poems about queerness and the South, having grown up in North Carolina. I find that the two are so often in conflict with each other and that juxtaposition works well in poetic form. I dwell a lot on childhood, not necessarily my specific childhood, but I do draw from certain instances and then expand or elaborate to fit the poem’s needs. When thinking of poetry, it’s always been connected to identity—my personal identity can’t help but permeate everything I write, even if my writing isn’t outwardly “queer.”

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Sometimes, I just have a line or a few words pop into my head—I’ll add them to a Google doc of lines that will hopefully end up in a poem someday but maybe don’t fit anywhere yet. Other times, I have a concept/theme/idea in mind, something like a new interpretation of the pantoum (which I’m working on) or maybe just an image like catching fireflies in summer. Those poems tend to take form more quickly, but the workshop process is still quite long for me. I’m always hesitant to call something “finished.”

Q~What draws you to poetry?

A~I had always written poetry as a kid, albeit not very good poetry. Having a poem accepted to a small publication was encouraging in my last year of high school. Where it really resonated with me was my first year of college—I had signed up for a poetry class on a whim, though I always knew that I wanted to study English. My professor was Jane Shore, who would later become one of my closest mentors throughout my writing career. Her insight changed the way I looked at poems. We were studying Lowell’s “Imitations” and learning to craft our own poems by borrowing certain aspects of already published works (such as style, imagery, or tone). And, while many of my classmates were merely using the class as an elective course, I was fully invested. And, I’ve been fully invested ever since.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~ee cummings was the first poet whose work I committed to memory—I suppose his poetry “looks” the most like poetry (or what I thought poetry should look like) on the page, with its crazy line breaks and spacing. There’s something about the sparseness in his poems that really resonated with me, the way he seems to say more in what he’s leaving off the page than what he includes on it. I still remember each line of my favorite poem of his, a short one starting “no time ago” and ending with two simple, devastating lines: “made of nothing / except loneliness.”

Q~What do you feel is the poet’s role in society?

A~As poets, we are recorders of our time. Poetry gives us the ability to transform what we see or experience into something with a greater meaning, a universality. The history of poetry is one deeply ingrained in the social customs of our world. Spoken word poetry, which I admit is not my forte, is taking on social justice issues and greater social awareness as its larger project. Printed poetry can sometimes occupy a similar space, but it seems more timeless, more lasting, in a sense. Not all poetry on the page goes viral, but it does stand the test of time—our role as poets is to determine which space we want to occupy and what our larger project should be or will become.

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Write, always. If you can’t write, read read read! Sometimes the inspiration just isn’t there for me, bur reading always helps me get back into the poetry state of mind.

Q~Who are you reading now?

 A~I’m working through Saeed Jones’s “Prelude to Bruise” and Sharon Olds’ s“The Dead and the Living” right now. I’m also almost finished with Louise Glück’s “Proofs and Theories,” which isn’t necessarily poetry, but appeals to my interest in literary theory.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~Send me a message on Instagram if you want to workshop! I’m always looking for new sets of eyes, and Google docs make it so easy to workshop new poems with other writers. Also, if you’re in the D.C./DMV area, I’m trying to get a queer poetry night started to provide a safe space for poets to come read their work, so be on the lookout for that.

Half-Life / The W.I.S.H. Press interview with Bekah Steimel

Half-Life

by Bekah Steimel

I’ve had my fill of emptiness
and I’m starving for hunger
for an appetite of anything-but-this
this chemical buffet
all-you-can-eat elevation
that leaves me low and unsatisfied
My joy comes in doses
My joy has a half-life
As do I.

First appeared in W.I.S.H. Press 2016

In July 2016, Walking is Still Honest Press published this interview with Bekah to accompany her poem, “Half-Life.” The press has since closed.

Q~Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? At what age did you start writing? Have you always written poetry? Who/what first inspired you to start writing? Who are your favorite poets?

A~I’m 36 and last year I eloped in Las Vegas (thank you Supreme Court!!). I’m a poet and lover of all things animal, artistic and pharmaceutical. I’ve attempted poetry most of my life, and started sending out submissions five years ago. My Gramma always encouraged any creative endeavor. In her last letter before her death, she told me to keep writing poems. That’s all it took. My favorite poets are Adrienne Rich and Jim Morrison, for very different reasons.

Q~How do you first start writing a poem? Does it come to you out of the blue, or do you have a set time where you meet with your Muse each day and let the words just … come? Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began writing poetry?

A~My poems just kind of reveal themselves to me. When they are ready to rise, so am I. I can go for a month or two without writing. Poetic camel, I guess. My idea of poetry is constantly evolving, which definitely keeps me motivated to change with it.

Q~Are you on Facebook or Twitter or any other social media? Does that fit into your writing life, and if so, how? 

A~I am on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The first thing I like about connecting with other poets is the ‘rejection camaraderie’ we share. I see that rock star poets I admire and respect get the same form emails and ‘best wishes’ I get, too. Secondly, it’s a good place to find submission opportunities.

Q~What words of encouragement can you offer other poets who are trying to get their work noticed?

A~My advice to any struggling poet is just to remember we are all struggling poets. That’s it.

At the Landing / an interview with poet Jessica Goodfellow

At the Landing

by Jessica Goodfellow

atthelanding

First published by FIVE:2:ONE Magazine 2018.

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Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout, Mendeleev’s Mandala, and The Insomniac’s Weather Report. She was a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Her work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Awl, The Southern Review, Motionpoems, and Best New Poets, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2018.

Jessica says of her style, “My educational background is in analytical fields, and I think that shows in my poems—they tend toward the abstract, festooned with logic games and scientific and mathematical vocabulary. I’d like very much to write something with less of an obvious anchor, with more trust in the unconscious tether to the conscious mind. I try to do that—I think it’s important to try to write outside of your comfort zone—but so far, I haven’t succeeded.”

Bekah and Jessica’s work—including the visual poem above—both recently appeared in #thesideshow at FIVE:2:ONE Magazine. We wanted to know more about Jessica and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~ Tell us a little about “At the Landing.” What was the source material for this piece? What made you choose the stamps?

A~I call each erasure by the title of the short story it came from. I chose Eudora Welty’s short story collection, The Wide Net (Harcourt Brace, 1971), as my source material from the many books on my bookshelf because it has such an evocative vocabulary and also because there was a lot of space between the lines, making it easy to work with on a practical level. I have a box full of international stamps that I’ve been saving for some future project yet unconceived, and one of the erasures I worked on reminded me of a stamp I knew I had. After that I just tried putting them on different erasures, looking for stamps that were thematically relevant. I thought it was pretty unique, but I’ve since seen that Mary Ruefle has used this technique before.

Q~What appeals to you about erasure/visual poetry?

A~This is my first foray into erasure poetry. At the time I erased this piece, my mother-in-law was staying with us for end-of-life care, and I found that though I had vast swaths of free time while she slept, the need to be on-call at all times meant I couldn’t get into the writing space in my head. So, I decided to try erasure instead, and that worked really well for me, possibly because the act of erasing mimicked the experience I was having as I watched my mother-in-law dying, disappearing slowly.

Q~So sorry for your loss. Your new book, Whiteout, is also about loss. I am fascinated to hear more about the book and your experience as writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. How did that come about?

A~My most recent book is about my uncle who was a mountain climber. He died on Denali in what was, at the time, the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. I applied to be a writer-in-resident in the park in order to finish that book. I stayed in a one-room cabin out by the Toklat River, with only my sister. We were in the park (Denali National Park and Preserve) for 10 days. Being there gave me an understanding of why my uncle was compelled to do such a dangerous thing as climb Denali. Wandering around the vast park, feeling completely alone in the wild, going places we knew he had been, was profoundly moving. We were there 49 years and one week after he was lost—watching the sun wheel around the sky instead of set in the evening, I knew he had seen that, too. For the park I wrote a series of poems as an artistic donation. They say better than I am doing now what my experience was. Here is one:

The Wandered

My sister’s drawn to clean-edged kettle ponds,
learning how to tell which pools were formed in basins
left behind by glaciers, and which weren’t.

I’m captivated by erratics, empty-house-sized
boulders stranded in a strange land by ice
that melted out from underneath them.

Erratic comes from the Latin errare,
meaning to wander, to stray, to err. We are
not wrong, my sister and I, to feel kindred—

kin and dread—with what remains after
a mammoth force, no longer visible,
has carved out such a tattered landscape.

You can read the others here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/getinvolved/air-goodfellow.htm  Only “Nine Views of Denali” is in my book, because I wanted the park to have some original work not from the book. “The Wandered” is the one I most regret not putting in the book. Kettle ponds are formed by retreating glaciers carving out grooves in the landscape, and leaving meltwater. Erratics are giant boulders that were carried along by glaciers and deposited in a location where they seem out of place–they don’t match the surroundings because they didn’t come from there–many of them may have come from a mountain. Denali National Park and Preserve is dotted with both kettle ponds and glaciers.

Q~ Is there any online resource you would recommend for anyone thinking about a project book, like Whiteout?

A~The Cloudy House is a website of interviews with poets who’ve written project books, curated by poets Cynthia Marie Hoffman and Nick Lantz. If you are interested in project books, or want to know what one is; if you are curious about how having a project affects the writing process and later the marketing; if you wonder what kind of topics end up as project books, and whether a poet starts out with a project in mind or notices one is arising later—topics such as these—the interviews here are useful and fun to read.

Q~Your poetry has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share? 

A~Your poetry should surprise you, but it won’t much of the time. That’s okay. Just keep sitting with it until it does. It takes a long, long time to write the words that are the right words. A short poem can take months. Don’t give up, and don’t get impatient and publish something before it is truly surprising to you. Read everything aloud—the part that you want to rush through is the part that you need to keep working on. 

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

 A~Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety is a quirky journal featuring smart, unusual poetry. Even the format of the journal is quirky (see their website for examples http://www.forkliftohio.com/ ), and with a print copy comes random pieces of ephemera, such as an envelope of seeds for planting or an old key fob from a hotel. Fresh writing, a little bit askew—there is nothing like it. This journal knows what it likes and doesn’t apologize for its slightly off-kilter aesthetic. From their guidelines (known as their logistics page) come these two pieces of info (plucked from among many others): 1) “[we] Fetishize the aesthetics of early industrialized society in a distinctly post-industrial fashion;” and 2) “[we] Include, besides poetry, such diversions as recipes, agricultural wisdom, home economics lessons, and other bits of nonsense.” How are you not going to love this journal? 

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Right now, I’m rereading Natasha Sajé’s Vivarium. I love this book—it’s the right amount of cerebral for me. The poems are built around the alphabet and as with all good constraints, the alphabet fetishization inspires a certain meandering that is unexpected and mesmerizing. I’m also reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s dark and disturbing novel, The Sympathizer, for my book club.

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene?

A~I live in Kobe, Japan, and there isn’t much of a poetry scene in English here (I don’t write poetry in Japanese). A couple of times a year there is a reading series event, but it’s any kind of writing in English, and more often than not it isn’t poetry. But, I attend and have been invited to read several times. I also belong to a group of poets around Japan writing in English who do a linked poem project. We each write a single stanza with given parameters and constraints, and pass it to the next poet who uses our stanza for inspiration, and that’s a lot of fun. It tends to be seasonal, in the Japanese tradition. There’s also the annual Japan Writers Conference that I attend about half the time. Mostly though, I’m on my own as a poet here.

Q~How has living abroad changed you as a writer?

A~I get asked this question often, and I have to say that I don’t particularly write about Japanese themes. Local imagery and the occasional Japanese word or phrase will show up in my poems, but I don’t specifically seek to dwell in the experience of living here—I leave that to other writers, while I tend to be interior in my work, and so only the part of Japan that penetrates my interior identity appears in my work. However, living here means a certain amount of isolation—from the poetry scene back home, from native speakers who comprehend my words without effort, from society at large here in this place where my foreignness is the most important aspect of me to nearly everyone I interact with—and that gives me more time and space to write than I imagine I would otherwise have. Also, my sense of being an outsider is heightened and continual, which I think is good for any kind of art even while it may not always be good for the private life of the individual artist.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work? 

A~I’ve linked to most of my online publications on my website. My erasures aren’t listed there, but here are journals where you can see more erasures: Star 82 Review, Thrush Poetry, Calamus, and decomP. On Facebook, I’m Jessica Goodfellow Ueno, and my Twitter handle is @jessdragonfly.

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origin story / An interview with poet Caseyrenée Lopez

origin story

by Caseyrenée Lopez

once upon a time
i wanted to die

be reborn a god

i stopped short,
killed myself

watched as i
became a christ

became my own
salvation

First published in the new gods (Bottlecap Press, 2018).

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Originally from Georgia, Caseyrenée Lopez relocated with their family to Virginia in the summer of 2017. They work as a professor of English at John Tyler Community College and have two full-length collections of poetry, the new gods (Bottlecap Press) and i was born dead (About Editions), as well as a chapbook, heretic bastard (Clare Songbirds Publishing House) forthcoming in 2018. In addition to teaching and writing, Caseyrenée also edits Crab Fat Magazine and publishes poetry and experimental work by queer and trans people at Damaged Goods Press.

Caseyrenée says their style of writing is “similar to Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and other contemporary feminist writers.” They say, “One time I was compared to William Faulkner, and I still don’t know how I feel about that. I know my work is largely confessional in nature, but isn’t all writing confessional in some sense?”

Bekah and Caseyrenée first connected online when their work appeared together in the Yellow Chair Review 2015 Anthology. With Caseyrenée’s full-length collection, the new gods, being released this week, we thought this was a great time for an interview. So, here is our interview with them.

Q~How is “origin story” representative of your new collection?

A~“origin story” seems to me, the best representation, thematically, of the new gods. It provides a summary of the collection by illustrating the repetition of death, rebirth, shedding skin, or morphing into a new form or self and observing the changes—there is a lot of “watching” in this collection, and “origin story” also provides the eyes through which readers will encounter many of the poems.

Q~Do you find yourself returning often to these themes in your work?

A~I sometimes feel that I am writing the same poem over and over again. I write about queerness, orientation, non-binary gender, infertility, and trans love because these are the things that I know and experience. I’ve never written a persona poem because the thought of trying to inhabit someone outside of myself on such an intimate level turns me off—why would I write about things I haven’t experienced when there are so many people who have the lived experience to write about it? Imagery-wise, I find myself using birds, teeth, bones, and flora in my work repeatedly. I used to have dreams all the time where my teeth would crumble and fall out of my mouth, and it really freaked me out, or that I would break my arm or leg, and those images gave me a lot to work with, emotionally.

Q~Did the poem, “origin story,” come easily to you or was it hard to write?

A~Just as with 95% of this collection, this poem came every easy—in that it flowed out of me with little effort. the new gods is a project that sort of materialized over the course of three months or so; it’s something that I can’t believe I completed so quickly.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~It’s pretty chaotic—I don’t keep a writing schedule, and often go through long stretches of not writing for weeks or months, then it’s like I get random bursts of energy and creativity that allow me to write again. I also read a lot of different stuff when I’m not writing—it helps inspire and guide my formation as a writer.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Emily Corwin, Lisa Marie Basile, George Abraham, torrin a. greathouse, and Anne Carson immediately come to mind, but I’m always reading, so this is an exceptionally hard question to pin down.

Q~How do you balance spending time on your own writing career with your work as an editor/publisher?

A~Umm, it takes organization. I have to plan things out, sometimes months ahead, to meet deadlines and goals. Without my calendar and email, I’d be flailing big time. As a writer I never spread myself too thin with projects and the same applies to my editor side as well. I only commit to the work I know I can complete in the time frame I give myself. I also work as an English professor, so I have to make sure that I maintain a good balance of work life and home life.

Q~How has being an editor, publisher, and professor of English changed you as writer?

A~I’m able to see writing in all forms, in all stages, and all skill levels, and that is a lot to take in. However, these things have greatly informed the types of writing I love, like, and dislike. My editorial tastes aren’t a good match to my writing. In fact, I often think that the two sides are at odds with one another because they are so different.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I’m really turned off by double-spaced poetry and centered poetry—I just can’t get passed the form. But, I do love other experimental stuff. I think Crab Fat Magazine illustrates my tastes.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~It’s a tie between Fatimah Asghar and Lisa Marie Basile. I love this poetry because it gave me the courage to write what I wanted to write and not what I thought I should be writing. Asghar and Basile’s work are unapologetic, and before discovering them I didn’t really have a strong grasp on what poetry could be or do. It was liberating to see myself in someone else’s words, to find peace in them–that’s why I think of their works as my first loves of poetry. It’s about visibility and making your space in the world, to know that other people share your ideas is an amazing feeling. It was also mind-blowing for me to know that these poets are living, writing today, and around my same age–I love being able to relate on that level, it’s like all poets are interconnected in some way, and in their writings I finally saw those connections in myself.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~To help people remember to be empathetic to others; we are always writing the hard stuff, people look to our words for inspiration, hope, love, to be seen. Poets help non-poets put language to the abstract of living—it’s an important, often underappreciated, role.

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~A few of my favorite journals are BOAAT, Thrush, and Adroitthey’re all publishing amazing work that pushes boundaries and constantly challenges my ideas of what makes a poem, what can a poem do, or how I look at and receive poems.

Q~What drew you to poetry?

A~Honestly, I tried my hand at writing fiction and that was a flop, then I tried nonfiction, and I’m actually not too bad at it, but my attention span and energy isn’t suited for the long form right now, so I turned to poetry. It’s my way of using techniques of fiction and nonfiction and blending them together with poetic techniques. I use poetry as a frame for my work, but really, I’ve always thought of my writing as lyrical and genre bending—for me, genre is really arbitrary and can be stifling, so I just write what feels good to me, sometimes that happens in stanzas, sometimes it’s prose fragments, and sometimes I can muster the energy to form complete sentences and work through an essay.

Q~What are your poetry highs/lows of the last year?

A~Last year BOTH of my full-length collections, the new gods and i was born dead, the “sister books,” that I wrote back-to-back were picked up for publication, and earlier this year, my second chapbook, heretic bastard, was picked up as well. On the low side of things, I’ve gotten more rejections over the last year than I’ve ever received, but I typically let it go pretty easily. The last year has been one of my most successful, creative, productive times of my life—it’s been wild.

Q~ Wow! Three poetry books coming out in one year. That sounds like quite a whirlwind! Can you tell us a little bit about each of these books?

A~My first two collections, the new gods and i was born dead, are sisters, they were written in the same year, and cover the same themes; however, i was born dead was written first and includes revised versions of some of the poems from my first chapbook, QueerSexWords. It often feels to me that these collections sort of wrote themselves because it was so easy to let the words just flow out of me. I read so often about the struggle to write and revise, and I’ve been there in the past, but I didn’t struggle at all with these poems. I think of them as a second coming-out, a revelation of my queerness and gender identity as a non-binary person.  the new gods came out on March 20th from Bottlecap Press, and i was born dead is out on October 12th from About Editions. My second chapbook, heretic bastard, is the product of a month long found poetry writing project, The Poeming, that takes place in October. In 2017 the project was based around the novels of Anne Rice, and I was assigned The Vampire Armand. It was a really fun project, and the poems that came from the text was both so alike and different from my completely original work. heretic bastard is forthcoming from Clare’s Songbirds Publishing House (date TBD).

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~I oftentimes feel like a total impostor, I mean can we name a writer that doesn’t, so when it comes to writing, I tell young/new writers to just get their ideas and thoughts down on paper. Don’t let the impostor syndrome scare you out of writing or submitting that work. When it comes to submitting and rejection you have to come to terms with the fact that rejection is a large part of this business, but that it’s never a personal thing. Learning how to accept rejection as a part of not only writing, but life, can get a person a long way. Really, when it comes to questions like this I tend to feel overwhelmed by all the “what-if’s?”, but truthfully, writing comes down to making a commitment to seeing your thoughts through to the end—it’s more so about holding yourself accountable and not letting the fear of the unknown deter you from raising your voice.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work?

A~My website is a good place to start, and it includes most, if not all, of my writing, both online and in print. It is also a good place to learn about where to find my books. I also Tweet @caseyreneelopez.  Here is the link to order the new gods.

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Audi Alteram Partem (Hear the Other Side) / An Interview with poet Amanda Rachelle Warren

Audi Alteram Partem (Hear the Other Side)

by Amanda Rachelle Warren

I shut my eyes; a dead man sings in my head.

And I can pick the tune, well enough to
know it is a hymn for banjos and fiddles,
but he is a capella. I can pick the tune,
but not the words.

Drunk at sixteen, you sung church songs
to them few saints we believed in:
Our Lady of Lost my Last Dollar,
St. Speeditup,
Dear Done-it-now,
and all the Demi-Gods of Beech and Blossom.

Lying back in the mown grass, gathering dew,
you: mouth sticky, pink drink sweet and sweeter.
Revelation and damnation all soft-serve swirled like the Dairy King.
Every note dead set, but half the words cold, dead wrong.

I trace, on the map,
the path that led/took us to us.
Wet grass to pound cake.
Tender to foreign.
Touch to Touch-me-nots.

I ask the dead man to speak up.
What he’s singing seems important
only because I can’t make it out.

Sometimes there is a choir.
Sometimes the quick bright chatter of many voices.
Sometimes, with startling clarity, a woman, loud in my ear, distinct,
telling me about the nemesis sun, armed pirouetting galaxies,
and the smell of carded wool before it is spun.

And then asking me, over and over,
Don’t you understand? Don’t you? Don’t you?
I do not understand.

I ask the dead to speak up.
I tell them in my real loud voice,
Ifin ya’want something, ya haveta says so I can hear.

The dead man sings me to sleep,
and there’s nothing to fear.

First published by Causeway Lit 2017. (Winner of Causeway Lit Spring 2017 Poetry Contest.)

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Amanda Rachelle Warren’s work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, The Pinch, Roar, South 85, Anderbo, and Beloit Poetry Journal as well as other journals. Her chapbook, Ritual no.3: For the Exorcism of Ghosts, was published by Stepping Stone Press in 2011. She is the 2017 recipient of the Nickens Poetry Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors and currently works as a freelance writer, part-time teacher, and full-time poetry pusher.

Amanda’s work was brought to our attention by poet Allyson Whipple, whom we interviewed here. We offered Allyson the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Amanda. Allyson says, “Amanda Rachelle Warren is one of the people I think exemplifies a true poetry citizen. No matter how busy she is with teaching or her own (fantastic) writing, she’ll always make time to support other poets. I have such deep admiration for not only her art, but for her service to other writers.”

So, here is Allyson’s interview with Amanda.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~I would say that my style is very voice driven and concerned with place and inheritance and identity. I think the self is something we all struggle with, and I had a particularly difficult time finding my place in the world. I always feel like a bundle of contradictions, and my poetry reflects the voices of those competing selves. Place, self, and voice are interconnected for me. I am an Appalachian who grew up part-time in the city. I am an English professor and word-nerd with a non-standard dialect which I was shamed for early on in my education. That leaves a mark, particularly for poets. I had to relearn my own voice in some ways, and that’s made me concerned with dialect, speech patterns, the lexicon of our individual voices, and the ability/inability of language to capture the ineffable contradictions of our experiences. That sounded hoity-toity. I like words. Words haunt me.

Q~Tell me a little about the poem “Audi Alteram Partem.” How is it representative of your work?

A~I jokingly say that 90% of my poems are about dead boys. Although that’s not entirely true, this poem “Audi Alteram Partem” which is Latin for “Hear the Other Side” is definitely about a dead boy. I think I write poems about the things that haunt me, and one of the things that haunts me most deeply is the loss of those other potential selves and their experiences…ones I did not have because my path led elsewhere. For me, part of that loss of potential selves is a reflection of the death of loved ones who helped form the self that carries on without them.

Q~Is there a backstory to the poem that you want to share?

The Latin title is a thing I’m doing. I have a lot of interconnected poems about Appalachia with Latin titles. The choice is inspired by my great uncle who died extremely young during WWII in an airplane crash in Brazil. He was this hillbilly kid who loved machines, and oddly knew Latin, which surprised me. He ended up in the Air Force where he traveled around the world. I have a box of his letters home, and they’re fascinating. He would write his younger brother in Latin so the censors during the war didn’t know what he was sharing. He was clever and charming, and he inspired me to learn Latin, too. At the very least I wanted to understand what he had written. Sadly, his younger brother also died in an airplane crash. Gravity does not love my family.

Another inspiration for this poem is not something I normally talk about directly except to family really, but there are many women in my family who hear voices. It’s not a frightening or a troublesome thing, but a fact. Are they real? Who knows. Is it psychic ability or mental illness? Probably both. Centuries ago they’d be saints or witches, right? The fact remains that we hear voices, and those who do hear them love them. They’re a comfort of sorts. So, when I wrote this I was thinking about my extended family and the voices (literal and not quite literal) of those family members we lose during our lifetimes. Those people live on in the stories we tell and those things we’ve learned or come to understand by growing up in a space shaped by their presence: place and voice and sorrow and joy and love and struggle going back generations.

I was also thinking about the border between what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is holy and profane, which is a topic I’m always interested in. I’m not a religious person, or really a spiritual one in any standard sense of the word spiritual. But, I am fascinated by what does and does not feel like “church” for lack of a better word, and the ecstasy of that feeling–those moments of overwhelming oneness and belonging, those little moments of awe, in the strictest sense with a little touch of terror, that we hold on to that become touchstones or emblems of joy. I was also thinking of how religion often offers joy in one hand while slapping us with the other and telling us “no.” That’s not fair. Life does it, too. I want the awe. Many people seem to become less aware of awe as they get older and more concerned with what’s acceptable. Well, some of us do. I seem to get less concerned with what others think as I get older, or I just never grew up. I don’t want to be so “grown” that I can’t lay in the yard and stare at the sky and feel awe.

Q~Did it come easily to you or was it hard to write?

A~This one was easy but it also developed slowly. It started with a bunch of notes, the title, and the italicized line in dialect. It sort of pieced itself together and then went through a few drafts. I remember being excited to write it, particularly the part about the map and my indecision about whether the line should be “the path that led us to us” or “the path that took us to us.” Both the active “led” and the passive “took” seemed genuine to the poem, so I decided to include both. The list that follows moves the speaker and audience from innocence and acceptance to something less secure, more distant, impersonal, fragmented.  I want to weep for the two boys in the poem and what they hold on to…like the comfort of their voices and memories.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~Scraps and lists. Lists everywhere. Notes. A bit of a line. A snippet of an image. Something I overheard. Something I saw. A list of names for cats I hate. A list trying to describe a smell. A list of attempts at spelling out birdcalls. A list of the interesting names on gravestones in the old corner of the cemetery on top of the hill between this town and the next. A list of astronomical terms. A list of meteorological terms a storm-chaser might use. A list of places where someone might experience a first kiss. A list of street signs or town names that make me imagine the people who live there.

Eventually these things will spark a poem. I live up the road from a street called Withering Heights. Withering. On that road are three mobile homes. One day as I drove by I noticed that near the second trailer there was a dog standing on the roof of a red pickup truck and howling. That’s a beautiful image…old joyous dog sounding his heroic AOOUUU on top of a truck on Withering Heights!  That’s going in a poem eventually. And, that poem will go through a lot of weird little revisions and a few major ones. Hopefully, it will turn into something, but if not…that’s a learning experience for me. It might take decades to write that poem, or it might take a half day. I don’t know. I’ll keep working at it.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~I’m not really sure. I love words. I love language. I love the power it has to create ideas. I started out writing stories and reading nursery rhymes. I learned to read by writing actually. It was some 1970s method of teaching children to read and my Aunt wanted to try it out so I was her guinea pig. My first story was a poem/story about my new swing set. It was written in a “book” of kindergarten lined paper bound in wallpaper scraps. My mom still has it. I love writing prose, too, but poetry is my main focus. Ideas and images and lines and voices get stuck in my head, and it’s how they get out. It started out pretty cathartic, and I guess it still is, but it became more than that once I started reading the work of other poets. I was the 15 year old with three books of contemporary poetry in her bag, I guess.

When I started attending poetry workshops and learning more about what could be done with language I was hooked, but it still wasn’t a thing I thought about as more than a hobby…it was just a thing I did. I wrote poems. I got serious when I applied for my MA in creative writing at Ohio University, but I still didn’t know what I was doing or what I was getting into. I will admit that the reason I didn’t apply for an MFA is that I didn’t know that was an option. I had no clue about college and definitely no clue about graduate school. If I hadn’t gotten in I still would have written poetry, but I have no idea what I’d be doing with my life or where. Sometimes I like to think about that other self.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work? Why do they resonate with you?

A~I return to place. I write about rivers and mountains and light and fractured people who are haunted by things. I write a lot about roads as well. I love roads. I love driving. I love seeing what’s out there. And, I’m super social, which is not very “poety” of me. I love talking to people and learning about their lives…what makes us human and tragic and bizarre and lovely. Also like I said, 90% of my poems are about dead boys. Again, I my poems return to those things that haunt me. I think that’s true of most writers though.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first love was Homer. We had an old, dusty collection of bound books, which now live on my shelves. I read The Illiad and The Odyssey. It’s all action and adventure which I loved at age 10, but it was the quiet moments that got to me. The wine dark seas. The hair curling like hyacinths. The pleas with the gods. The descriptions. Then I found other poets. Yeats, Tennyson, Rilke, then e.e. cummings for some reason, and he exploded my expectations of poetry.  I’d borrow poetry anthologies from the library and I ate up all the modernists and the Romantics and sonnets and psalms. I devoured them. Still, I hadn’t heard a voice like mine though. I had that odd expectation that we sometimes get as novice poets that poetry is this grand formal thing that belongs to  only certain kinds of poets, and certain kinds of people. I felt like it didn’t really belong to people like me because I hadn’t read poets like me yet. It took me a while to find the voices and poets connected more intimately to my experience. So, when I found Lucille Clifton, C.D. Wright, and Maggie Anderson and I read their work, I felt like the world had exploded. It was awe.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Currently on my desk: Lucille Clifton’s good woman, Terrance Hayes’s How to be Drawn, Martin Rock’s Residuum, Eugene Savitzkaya’s Rules of Solitude, and Donika Kelley’s Bestiary.

Q~What are your poetry highs/lows of the last year?

A~I’ve had a lot of publications in the last year due to some major “carpet bombing” of literary journals. It’s been great actually. The high point is that I had a manuscript accepted for publication through Urban Farmhouse Press for their Crossroads Poetry Series.

Q~What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Take risks with your work. I mean that in several ways. The first way I think we should take risks is when writing. We should be unafraid to go to uncomfortable or difficult places in our writing. We should be brave about complicated things, expose hard truths, risk discomfort, and be honest about what we want to share with others.  Remember, poets can always claim poetic license if someone should question us…so don’t hold back. Those poems we take risks with sometimes turn into our best pieces. The second risk we should be willing to take is in sending our work out for publication. I know many very good poets who are afraid to share their work or submit it for publication. I am not sure if it is a fear of exposure, rejection, or something else, but I always think “what’s the worst that could happen?” I mean, if you send your work out and it is rejected, that’s not a big deal. And, if it’s published? Well, that’s awesome! Rejection of a piece of writing isn’t a condemnation of the work or a writer’s ability. Keep writing. Keep sending. Keep sharing. It’s okay.

Q~Where can readers go if they are interested in reading more of your work)?

A~I have no idea. My work is scattered all over the place. I should probably have a website. Just Google me, but be sure to include the middle name or you’ll get the myriad other Amanda Warrens. I can also be found on Google Plus.

Q~Is there anything else you’d like me to know?

A~Not all of my poems are about dead boys.

blue_house_photAllyson Whipple is a poet, amateur naturalist, and perpetual student living in Austin, Texas. She is the author of two chapbooks, most recently, Come Into the World Like That (Five Oaks Press, 2016). Allyson teaches business and technical communication at Austin Community College, and enjoys hiking and camping.

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