Time Travel II / an interview with poet Valentina Cano

Time Travel II

by Valentina Cano

Head out the way you came
and I promise to forget the last hour.
I will roll up the minutes
like a stretch of unbaked dough,
pulling the sticky remnants from between
my fingers.
I will wind your voice up
like a fishing line,
the bait, the hook
tucked safely in the coils
until I’ve forgotten them.
You can erase the footprints,
I’ll leave that to you,
pick them up one by one,
with a spatula, with a finger,
as you like.
And when all traces are gone,
when your presence has been carved
out like a jewel to leave a dark hole
where an eye should be,
only then will I throw you
a smile, a sigh of
relief to land like a bird
on the branch of your shoulder.

from Event Horizon (mgv2>publishing, 2013)

v

Valentina Cano is a classical singer and writer. Her works have appeared in numerous publications, and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. Her debut novel, The Rose Master, was called a “strong and satisfying effort” by Publishers Weekly.

When asked how she would describe her style, Valentina says,It’s a tough question, because I don’t think I have a particular style. What I try to do with my poetry is to drop the reader in a moment, it could be a sliver of time, or the aftershock of an entire day, and surround him or her with what I want them to feel, see, smell. I suppose I would call my poems vignettes, because there doesn’t tend to be a narrative arch of any sort.”

Bekah and Valentina’s work, including the above poem, recently appeared together in Issue 0 of Datura Literary Journal. Walter Ruhlmann created the inaugural issue to show future submitters what he is looking for: “”What I want from the work I read is that it traumatizes me, tortures me or makes me laugh, disturbs me in fact.” Bekah and Valentina have actually been published together quite a bit. You can also read them together in Issue 15 of TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, Issue 16 of Five:2:One Magazine, Issue 1 of Sanity Not Guaranteed, Issue 3 of Dirty Chaiand the Winter 2014 issue of Snapping Twig. We wanted to know more about Valentina and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~I love the use of figurative language in “Time Travel II.” Tell us a little about the poem. How is it representative of your work?

A~The poem submerges you (at least I hope it does!) into one of those moments I spoke about. You don’t necessarily know what the issue is or who is involved, but you know there is one between two people. I give you the emotion that brought me to write it, and I tell you that even as you read it, I wish I could un-write. It’s in the title. The wish to undo.

Q~Were you surprised that Walter Ruhlmann chose to reprint it in Issue 0 of Datura to guide future submitters on who they “should read and learn from if they want to contribute to this journal”?

A~Absolutely. I’m incredibly grateful to him because he was the one who published my very first chapbook, Event Horizon. He gave me the boost I needed to keep going.

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

A~It was an easy one, that one. The poems that have the most sting behind them are always the easiest. Suffering and artists, right?

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~It depends a little on what I’m working on. For poetry, I like to do a free-write, meaning I allow myself to write down everything that comes into my head, without stopping to correct mistakes or reorganize my thoughts. No inner or outer editing. The paragraphs I write will then be distilled and made into a poem.

For prose, narrative is the most important thing for me, so it takes a huge amount of planning. I keep an entire notebook for each novel I write, with carefully outlined scenes, dialogue, and exposition. The freedom that I allow myself in poetry is unsustainable in prose, so I’ve learned to do both.

Q~You are also a classical singer. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~The great thing about being a writer is that there is no real schedule to follow, so I can engage in any other activities I like. Every day, around one in the afternoon, I stop whatever I’m doing so that I can practice whatever arias or songs I’m working on. Music, I think, has also given me a sense of rhythm that transfers to my writing, as well. The way the words sound together is important to me.

Q~On your website, you said you first began writing poetry to combat severe depression and have continued on to push your own personal boundaries of comfort and truth. How has poetry helped you?

A~I always think of writing, and writing poetry especially, as a kind of medieval bleeding. Slit a vein and let it all pour out. It’s a daily ritual that I maintain. Anything that has bothered me, hurt me, affected me in any way, I let it drip onto the page.

Q~ What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~The only dislike I have is rhyming. I’m just not a fan. It’s strange, I know, when I just mentioned wanting musicality in writing, but I always feel as if rhymes take away from the meaning of the poem. Makes it less impactful, since it leads me to think that the words written were not necessarily the best ones, but just the ones that could rhyme.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Margaret Atwood. I’d never been a big reader of poetry until I started reading her work. She paints pictures with her words and that is something that I’ve tried to emulate.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I will read anything and everything, so the books I can be juggling at any one time can be an eclectic mix. Right now, I’m halfway through The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, and High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver.

Q~Are there any online resources you would like to recommend?

A~Duotrope is a great site to stay up to date on all of the literary magazines, blogs, and e-zines that take submissions. There is a monthly fee, but it is a truly minor expense for the wealth of information you will receive.

The other resource that I would like to recommend is one I do with a caveat. Absolute Write Water Cooler has lots of information on agents, editors, and the publishing process in general. My suggestion is to use it as a database, to find contact information for agents and others, but try not to engage with the forums. I’ve had nasty experiences with people who post on it. It is probably the only time that I will suggest lurking at a site, but in this case, it is the best way to keep your blood pressure at a reasonable level while still getting the information you want.

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

A~I have lots of poetry scattered around the web. If you type my name into Google, you’ll get some options of literary magazines where my work has appeared. The chapbooks I have out are also available: Winter Myths and Event Horizon And, if you prefer prose, my two Gothic novels are The Rose Master and Of Bells and Thorns.You can also connect with me via social media on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

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Far From Home / An interview with poet Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

Far from Home

by Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

It’s a long drive to the art museum. An hour, minus rush hour, to be exact. So, I pass the time repeating some mantras that, according to all of these popular self-help books I read, will greatly benefit my mental health:

I am beautiful.

I am worthy.

I am safe.

Honestly, I am still waiting to see if they work, but in the meantime, I guess they can’t hurt.

self-love
I tell myself
what they don’t

First appeared in Scryptic 2018.

10444790_10204325484277516_7252903396581532594_nTiffany Shaw-Diaz is an award-winning poet who has been featured in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Acorn, Presence, and dozens of other publications. She is the founder and director of The Co-op Poetry Lab and a professional artist.

Tiffany says her style is always changing: “I love shifting my energy around from haiku to tanka to haibun to experimental forms. I go where the muse takes me, and I enjoy that sense of discovery. In terms of theme, I have tackled some very difficult subjects, but I have also written about many humorous and light subjects, too. Quite frankly, I’m all over the place, but I always try to approach whatever style or theme I’m working on in a way that’s raw and relatable.”

Bekah and Tiffany’s work, including the poem above, recently appeared together in Issue 2.1 of Scryptic Magazine of Alternative Art. We wanted to know more about her and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us about “Far From Home.” The poem seems to say more by what it leaves out. Is that part of the appeal of short-form poetry for you?

A~That one, in particular, was very inspired. I remember writing it on a Saturday morning, and the words flowed out of me. It’s a work that is quite personal; however, I tried to not impose my own experience on it too much. I wanted to leave it a little open-ended. There is a time and place for in-your-face candor, and there is also a time and a place where I prefer to come alongside the reader and simply say, “I understand.” The haiku at the end is very vague (self-love/I tell myself/what they don’t). Who is “they”? I know who “they” is for me. But I want the reader to figure out who “they” is for themselves. Perhaps it’s an abusive family member or a toxic job environment. The point is that we all have someone or someplace that doesn’t love or support us in the way we deserve, and it is important to recognize that for our personal healing journeys.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I tend to be very spontaneous. I tried to adopt a schedule at one point, and that didn’t work well. Additionally, if I am low on creative energy or I haven’t created in a while, I try to not judge that. An important part of creating is not creating. In the absence of creation, you are preparing yourself for the next wave of artistic energy, and that behind-the-scenes work is so critical. Honor those dry spells. If you don’t take breaks for reflection and growth, you run the risk of becoming stagnant in your work.

Q~What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention?

A~One new publication of note is #FemkuMag, which publishes haiku written by women. It is edited by the awesome Lori A Minor, and you can learn more about it here: https://femkumag.wixsite.com/femkumag

Q~Is there any other online resource you’d like to recommend?

A~Absolutely. If you are a short-form poet, Facebook is a good resource. There are so many groups on there that alert you to contests, new publications, and deadlines, and they also provide a great opportunity for workshopping and connection. Some of my favorite FB groups are Virtual Haiku, The Haibun Hut, and Buds of Haiku. At this point, the majority of my FB friends are poets, and I love seeing their work in my News Feed. It’s inspiring! Even though I am on Facebook very little these days, I enjoy checking in with the aforementioned groups when I can.

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

A~Last year, I was quite blessed to win the 21st Indian Kukai, be short-listed for the 2nd Annual H. Gene Murtha Memorial Senryu Contest, and make appearances in several major publications and media outlets. I never thought I would have such a successful first year. On the flip side, however, I am still painfully aware of the many awful poems I’ve made and continue to make! I seriously hope I’m not alone in cringing at old work sent to editors. I know rejections are a sore subject for poets, but I’m thankful for them. They keep me balanced and motivated.

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

A~Short-form poetry is addictive, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. There are an endless number of publications to submit to. There are an endless number of contests to enter. And it is very, very easy to get caught up in the fray of accumulating accolades and credits and comparing. I know I did. If you begin to compare your creative trajectory to someone else’s, you will run the risk of extinguishing your own unique fire.

Q~You are also a visual artist. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~At this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can be successful at all of my ventures all the time, which has been a freeing and humbling revelation. There are times when I want to write poetry and only poetry, and then there are times when I feel compelled to exclusively create in a visual manner. I try to follow my inspiration and not force anything. Because I am both a poet and visual artist, people frequently ask if I’ve tried haiga (a combination of art and haiku). Believe me, I’ve tried it. I’m terrible at it, and the irony of that isn’t lost on me. But, I am OK with that. I enjoy poetry for what it is in my life, and the same goes for my visual art. In many ways, I like that they exist in separate spheres.

Q~Where can readers go to see more of your work?

A~My poetry blog is afterpinkhaiku.blogspot.com and my art website is www.tiffanyshawdiaz.com. On social media I have Facebook and Instagram accounts for my art. I also have an option for people to follow me on Facebook, and all of my posts are public.

Some of Tiffany’s Visual Art:

Awake
Awake
Our-Warmth
Our Warmth
Textured-Anemone
Textured Anemone

 

Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson

Barista

by Caroline Johnson

Henry says the Lakota called it black medicine.
I can imagine Black Elk drinking from a gourd,
huddling around a teepee with a peace pipe
sometime in July when the cherries are ripe.

Henry looks at each customer with green eyes
full of gourmet hot chocolate and caramel mochas.
He moves his arms across the espresso machine,
steaming milk, whirling words with a smile.

His eyes sail through you like a windjammer,
as if you’ve been caught by a cool island breeze.
He hums as he scrubs stubborn stains off of soup
kettles, stocks the pantry, or pours steamed milk.

He shakes his head and his braids rustle round him.
I work the register, exchanging money for drinks.
The smell of French Roast perfumes the air.
You can hear the crackle of beans as they grind.

The line is long:  a mother with a stroller, a boy
in a wheelchair, two ladies with Gucci bags.
Two wealthy ladies talk of sconces in their new
living rooms, a young couple orders hot chocolate,

and a lone man with dark black hair stands at the back
of the café wearing a T-shirt, his arms exposed to reveal
a green tattoo:  “I-R-A-Q” neatly printed across his skin.
Henry talks to them all as they huddle around, waiting

for their black medicine. Henry makes everything look easy.
He can do three things at once. Yet Henry’s not easy.
He’s just trying to figure life out before it passes him by.

First appeared as the winner of the February 2015 Poetry Challenge on Wilda Morris’s Poetry Blog.

caroline2 (588x748)

Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork, and more than 100 poems in print.  Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her first full-length poetry book, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018), was inspired by years of family caregiving.

Caroline says of her style, “I was told I write mostly narrative poems, but I think of myself as a work in progress. I have written lyrical and form poems (sestinas, the occasional sonnet or villanelle), but I do think I like to tell some kind of story.”

Bekah and Caroline’s work, including the poem above, recently appeared together in Highland Park Poetry’s Summer 2018 Muses Gallery: Coffee, Tea and Other Beverages. We wanted to know more about Caroline and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Barista.” The poem won Wilda Morris’s blog challenge. Did you write to the prompt or did it just happen to fit what she was looking for?

A~I did not write to the prompt. In general, I do not like prompts. I did, however, revise the poem to make it better before submitting it. Barista” is a narrative poem that gives a portrait of someone I really worked with when I was a barista at Borders. I was motivated to write the poem because of Henry, who worked so hard and had such a good attitude. Working as a barista is hard work, and you need to be cheerful as well as you constantly work with customers. I wrote the poem 15 years ago, and I actually gave him the poem at that time as a sort of gift when I was leaving. I significantly rewrote the poem two years ago and added the bit about Black Elk as I was reading Black Elk Speaks.

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

A~The first draft came fairly easily as I just thought of Henry…however, when I rewrote it two years later and inserted the part about Black Elk, that was more difficult. I find significantly revising a piece is sometimes more difficult than writing the first draft of the poem, but it is a very important part of the poetic process.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I sit down with an idea. I generally don’t do as well with prompts. Luckily, I usually have no problem coming up with ideas. I write the ideas down when I get them, and return to them when I have the time to write the poem. Luckily, I really have no problem hashing out a first draft. More often than not, I need to revise the poem. Sometimes I do it immediately; sometimes as I type up the poem I edit it; and sometimes when I’m getting ready to send it out I work on seriously revising it.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~LIKES: Fresh imagery; occasionally, unique rhymes; any poem that makes you think profoundly, or feel compassionately; an unexpected turn in a poem. DISLIKES: Trite rhyming or meter; abstract poetry that is unapproachable; poetry written just for shock effect.

Q~A poem from your latest collection was the inspiration for the June blog challenge on caregiving at Wilda Morris’s blog. How did that come about? Also, please tell us more about your collection. 

A~Wilda is a colleague of mine and a terrific poet. I’ve learned a lot through her about how to take my work seriously, how to revise, and how to critique other’s work. She was one of the earlier reviewers of my manuscript, The Caregiver, before it got published. The collection was written over a 15-year span of time when I served as family caregiver to both of my parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Encephalitis. The poems are narrative and tell their story, but I believe they speak to anyone who has seen their loved ones age, or suffer from debilitating illnesses.

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

A~YES. I am currently president of Poets and Patrons of Chicago, and have been involved with the organization for more than 10 years. We provide critiquing workshops, writing workshops, and two annual international contests. See our website at www.poetsandpatrons.net for more information. In addition, I am a facilitator for a bi-monthly critiquing group as part of the Illinois State Poetry Society. Both of these groups provide wonderful stimulation and motivation to write and submit. I also have my own private weekly poetry writing group that I value immensely. It is very important to find a group that you trust. I think something that has really expanded my work a lot in the last 5 years is staying loyal to a small committed writing group, and reading a vast number of poets who interest me. I also have challenged myself to write in the style of some of these famous poets, and thus their writing rubs off on me. 

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I love Philip Levine, James Wright, William Stafford, Amy Clampitt. I have a book of sonnets written by Terrence Hayes and another book by Tracy Smith on hold at the local library right now. Every week I check out different poetry books. All the librarians know me, lol.

Q~Who was your poetry first love? 

A~I don’t necessarily have a “first poetry love,” except that I will say I fell in love with John Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn” in high school, and when I read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” for the first time in the 1990s, I felt transformed. I felt the power of poetry. I tried to emulate that feeling in the last poem of my book, The Caregiver, which is dedicated to Ginsberg and written in the style of “Howl.”

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

 A~I believe in Carolyn Forche’s philosophy to be a “poet of witness.” You have to write about what you see, what you witness. We have to be voices for those who can’t speak. It is a vital role, and I am still working on it.

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

A~My new website, www.caroline-johnson.com, has a page with many links to poems I have published online. It also has information about how to order my first full-length poetry book, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018). You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

book_cover_caregiver.jpg

 

Maybe / an interview with poet Kay Bell

Maybe

by Kay Bell

Maybe, we all got on the flight to America;
our sister and I shared the window seat;
you sat on mummy’s lap
and then she left us.
Maybe, you will have your first birthday in Apt 5A.
Cake, ice cream and our sister’s cries
balanced on the rooftop of grandma’s bad temper.
Then, we grow up sitting stone faced on top of the blue velvet sofa,
silent talking, believing: “mum’s coming back.”
We brave the brown leather straps; eat Dinty Moore beef stew,
and read stories about siblings who were abandoned
but still humane enough to leave bread for the birds.
I can see us all now; checks stamped to our foreheads,
overweight and voiceless;
Maybe we will love each other?
Subsequently, mum will return with war stories
by courtesy of her husband who proudly smashes her face against the seasons.
But then again, you can always pretend it never happened;
slip out of mummy’s lap,
cry on the white beach of Barbados, pick up your packages from the Mail service,
eat Avocados out of your backyard
and write Christmas cards to the 17-year-old that birthed you…

First appeared in Free Library of the Internet Void 2018.

kaybell

Kay Bell has been published in the book Brown Molasses Sunday: An Anthology of Black Women Writers, Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters, The Write Launch, as well as other venues. She considers herself a bibliophile and lives in the Bronx with her sons, Zaire and Morocco, and their tabby cat, Chad.

Kay says, “My style of writing is autobiographical but also very confessional. It’s like, ‘I may have never said this to your face, but here it is.’ Sometimes I’m just confessing to myself, truths I refuse to say aloud. I tend to have a hard time verbally expressing myself, but poetry helps me to articulate my feelings.”

Bekah and Kay’s work—including the poem above—both recently appeared together in Collection II of Free Library of the Internet Void. We wanted to know more about Kay and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about “Maybe.” Is there a backstory you want to share? How is the poem representative of your work?

A~The poem “Maybe” is a good example of what I mean by writing autobiographical confessionals. This poem is a conversation I wanted to have with my brother about my life coming to America. My siblings and I were born in the Caribbean. However, my mother made the decision to bring my sister and me to America and leave my brother back home with family. My brother resented my sister and me because he often thought we had a better life here in America. I never told him how I felt about what he felt, but “Maybe” is my response to his feelings. I think this poem is not only representative of my work because it’s declares something I never said aloud, but also because my poetry tends to always become a narrative. It’s also important to me that people have questions after reading my work.

Q~In your bio at Internet Void you said, “If it makes me cry, sweat or bleed, then it is worth writing about.” Can you tell us why you feel this way?

A~Nothing is off limits. If it is something I have experienced, it is worth writing about.

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

A~Absolutely. I think I’m constantly returning to family life in my work. I have always been intrigued with the family life and how it functions and the personalities and identities of all the people that work together to make it a unit. I am equally fascinated by how fragile it can be, and I often find myself examining its dysfunctionality.

 Q~How has your family reacted to your poetry?

 A~They are not familiar with my work. I have tried to read to them but it kind of goes over their heads. They don’t understand it or maybe choose not to.

 Q~Why do you write poetry?

 A~I have always loved all types of music, and that has helped my passion for poetry develop. Growing up in my house there was always music playing. Mostly reggae. My uncle was a disc jockey, and he helped raised me. My mother loved playing reggae tunes while cooking, cleaning and just to lighten the vibe at home. I took my love for music and started writing poems. I hear music when I write, poetry is my music.

 Q~What song is on repeat on your MP3 player right now?

 A~It’s actually a tie between Tori Kelly’s “It Should have Been Us” and a song named “Texting” by Wstrn featuring Alkaline.

 Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first poetry love was Nikki Giovanni. Her work is so practical, honest and revolutionary. When I tumbled across her poetry in a college library during my first years of undergrad, I had never heard a black woman so self-assured and intelligent. Her poetry not only showed me how to better use my words, but it helped me mature as a black woman and writer. Ms. Giovanni’s work taught me confidence, sincerity, and how to be relatable.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I just picked up Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds and cannot put it down. I was also just reading Charles Simic’s Scribbled in the Dark.  I like contemporary poetry, but I really appreciate classics, too. I am also looking forward to reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Americanah before summer ends.

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

A~The poem will never be perfect. I often hear people say that they have never submitted a piece of work to a publisher because they have been editing it for a year. I’m like, “let go and give it to someone who needs it.” We write not only for ourselves but because there is someone who needs to hear it. I think as writers we tend to get obsessed with our work. If you can take a deep breath, close your eyes, and feel calm after editing your work a few times, let it go.

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

A~My website is www.iamkaybell.com. There are published and unpublished poems there, as well as a tab that will connect you to a list of places where I am published. You can also find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

my allergy pills / an interview with poet Marisa Crane

my allergy pills

by Marisa Crane

 

come with a warning label: may

cause depression or severe

mood swings   my head throbs like the grinch’s

holiday heart   there’s snot on the sleeve of my hoodie

i am sick you are sick we are all sick

we practice building artificial hearts with

fumbling hands

we are palm trees stealing the sunlight

from other plants

our roots are tangled by interminable

insecurities      crooked halos sit on our modern skulls

i was once an island staring

at my reflection

in the water

the original Narcissus but with less beauty

i know there’s a riddle in there somewhere

but i’m too lazy to search for it

 

my lineage began                    with a question mark

my uncle tells me we have native american blood

that my great   great    great

grandmother died of fire-

breathed fury

a snake turned stake in her heart

 

several of my ancestors were named

thankful           i’d like to sit down to dinner

with each one of them            wipe the drool from their mouths

find out

where it all went wrong

First appeared in Free Library of the Internet Void 2018.

mcranewebsite

Marisa Crane is a fiction writer, poet, and editor. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pigeon Pages, Drunk Monkeys, Pidgeonholes, X-R-A-Y Magazine, Riggwelter Press, among others. She is the co-founder and editor of Collective Unrest, an underground resistance magazine featuring poetry, prose, art, photography, and music intended to promote feelings of political unrest, social unity, human rights, and social justice. You can read more of her work at www.marisacrane.org. She currently lives in San Diego with her fiancée.

Marisa says of her style, “As of now, I write all of my poems in free verse. It’s typically hard for me to adhere to any rules within my writing, whether it be poetry or fiction. That being said, I’m also still learning, so maybe in time my style will change. Actually, I hope my style changes. That will mean that I’m growing and experimenting.”

Bekah and Marisa’s work—including the poem above—both recently appeared together in Collection II of Free Library of the Internet Void. We wanted to know more about Marisa and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about “my allergy pills.” How is it representative of your work?

A~The poem is confessional and earnest, yet a little playful at the same time. It is also somewhat self-deprecating, which is a bad/good habit of mine.

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

A~This poem was born because I was examining a bottle of allergy pills I had been prescribed after having had bronchitis for three months. I had every intention of taking them until I read the warning label, which listed possible side effects. They were far worse than having allergies. Mood swings, severe depression, suicidal thoughts. I thought, nah, I think I’ll stick with red eyes and a stuffy nose. I wanted to use the poem to explore the side effects of trying to fix ourselves.

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

A~Absolutely. I think I continue to explore certain themes, because there’s always more to discover and excavate. The subjects I find myself consistently writing about include depression, anxiety, my experience as a lesbian, passivity, and human connection. They all resonate with me because they are all very personal topics.

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~It is the human heart on fire.

 Q~Tell us more about Collective Unrest. Why did you found it? What do you hope to accomplish?

A~My friend, Mat, and I had this idea for a magazine that is solely focused on social justice, humanity, and unity. We are both anti-Trump and everything that he and his administration stand for, as are hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. But Trump is just one piece of the puzzle. As much as we despise him, there has been injustice in the world ever since human beings came to be. We want to highlight the human experience in the face of discrimination, cruelty, abuse, oppression, or otherwise. We want to humanize the victims of injustice through their art and expression. Our goal is to create a safe space for people who are feeling unsettled, terrified, angry, and powerless.

Q~You have a very large Instagram following. How did you cultivate such a following? What do you enjoy about the medium?

A~I didn’t necessarily mean to cultivate such a large Instagram following. It all happened pretty organically, and I think it helps that I began posting my work right before the boom of Instagram poetry (which is going downhill now, and fast). I can remember sitting on my couch in 2012 reading a poem by Tyler Knott Gregson, which had been typed on a typewriter. He had thousands of likes on a piece that was, in my opinion, pretty basic. Not to say that it wasn’t intriguing or good, but it was short and easily digestible, which made it perfect for people scrolling quickly. I figured I’d take a stab at it, so I began posting some of my shorter poems on my Instagram, which had about 300 followers at the time. I even forgot to put my name under a few of them. For a while, nothing happened, and I didn’t care. I wasn’t posting to become Instagram famous. Then, I think sometime in 2014 some bigger poetry accounts, like Christopher Poindexter, began reposting my work, and it snowballed from there. I don’t particularly enjoy the medium anymore, as I feel that it’s on its way out. Instagram changed their algorithm, and it hurt engagement for a lot of people. I’m basically just riding it out until it becomes null and void.

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

A~I’d like to offer some advice about submitting. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the cycle of writing a piece, loving it, submitting it, then experiencing the come-down if you get rejected or the temporary high if you get accepted. Every rejection is like a demon punching me in the gut then whispering, “You aren’t cut out for this.” Every acceptance is a greedy angel patting me on the back then saying, “But you aren’t there yet. There’s so much more you need to accomplish.”

For me personally, this cycle has bordered on an addiction at times, and it’s unhealthy. I found myself losing sight of why I began to write in the first place. I had to take a step back, stop submitting, and simply write for the enchantment. For the act of creation, rather than the judgment of it. Ultimately, you write because it enriches your life. No matter what your goals are, don’t let someone steal the magic. A rejection letter doesn’t define you.

Q~How can others connect with you and read more of your work?

A~ My website is www.marisacrane.org. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin / an interview with poet Crystal Ignatowski

Learning To Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin

by Crystal Ignatowski

It was August. Heat rose off the cement in
deep breaths, thick and heavy waves.
We had the windows cranked

down and I could see the skinny
road behind us in the side view mirror.
I couldn’t seem to keep the car straight

and you kept cracking jokes,
saying we sure were lucky Pulaski
only had a population of 45. I gritted

my teeth, ready to make you proud.
Your arm hung out the window,
but all of me was inside: sweating,

trying not to blink, holding my breath
inside my 16-year-old rib cage. I didn’t
know you well. But then,

when we rolled to the only stop sign in town,
I experienced your patience: long, unrestless,
true, and I saw something crack open inside you

like an egg, and all the yellow poured out.
You pulled your arm inside and let the window
frame the landscape: all the wheat, all

the overgrown pasture trying to be
a painting, all the cows with their beady
eyes. You had lived here all your life, fallen

in love, said goodbyes, shot your first deer,
grown your first garden, watched her die,

and for me this was just a stopping-
through, a half-home, a place
to learn to drive.

crystal headshot

Crystal Ignatowski’s poetry has been featured or is forthcoming in Contemporary Haibun Online, One Sentence Poems, Tuck Magazine, Right Hand Pointing, and more. She lives and writes in Oregon.

Crystal describes her style as “free verse, narrative, autobiographical.” She says, “I mostly write about normal, everyday things in my life: my family, driving through town, going to the beach, watching a TV show, etc. I try to write what I know and create a story from it. I draw inspiration from poets like Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, and Ada Limon. Sometimes I challenge myself by writing a poem in traditional verse (this year I had a poem published in Contemporary Haibun Online, which was exciting) or about an abstract idea, but it isn’t usually what I usually gravitate to. I gravitate towards what I know, what I lived that day.”

Crystal 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 about the poem, “Learning To Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin.” How is it representative of your work? What’s the backstory?

A~If you opened my poetry journal, this is the type of poem you would regularly see: it is drawn from an experience in my life, a very simple experience (learning how to drive), but the poem itself goes deep. This poem is exactly as the title sounds: learning to drive in Pulaski, Wisconsin. My dad’s side of my family lives there, and this poem is about my uncle. We live on the opposite ends of the country, so I don’t feel like I know him as well as I know my family who lives close to me. But, there are times when I visit when I see into him, into a little opening or a crevice, and he makes sense to me, and I feel like I know him better than anyone I’ve ever known. Leaving Wisconsin always makes me sad and that is what this poem is ultimately about.

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

A~This poem came very easy for me to write. I workshopped it in my writing group, as well as with another wonderful poet, and the critiques also came easy. When people critique a poem that has come naturally for me, I feel less defensive about it. I feel like the poem just came to me, and therefore, I have to honor what came.

Q~How has workshopping helped your writing? What advice can you share?

A~Two pieces of advice that I have been reminded of lately: “Write for yourself, and you will reach the most people,” and “It really isn’t about the publications.”

I recently tried writing a poem about race. I workshopped it with two women of color and it was a very intense, powerful, yet intimate conversation. One of the women reminded me that I should stick with what I know and write for myself. She could tell I was struggling with this poem, and we talked about how sometimes it is okay to not write about the things that seem big and worldly right now. I have a desire to write about politics, race, gun violence, all these things, but deep down, I just want to write about my everyday life. I just want to write about driving in Pulaski with my uncle. She reminded me to stick with what I want to write because those things are going to resonate with the most people. Write smaller, reach wider.

This year I made a goal to get 100 rejection letters. What I learned is that submitting your work is a full time job! Just the habit of researching publications, workshopping poems, and sending them out into the world has been a wonderful experience. I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. And, with so many rejections, they don’t hurt or sting as bad! But, what I learned most is that it isn’t about the publications. It isn’t about the rejections or the acceptances. It is about the writing. I recently have been giving out a lot of poems to family members for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc, and seeing a family member cry from receiving a poem about them, wow, that is bigger than any publication.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I don’t set a schedule for my writing. The only “set” part of my writing is that I write every Tuesday and Thursday at Dragonfly Coffee House in Portland before I intern at Tin House. Other days, I just let the writing come. This might get me in trouble some day, but my best writing comes while I am driving. I have a notebook in my car, and I literally write in the car as I’m driving. (So bad, I know!) The writing is all messy and goes all over the page, but sometimes I just have to get the sentences down! Before they leave me!

Q~Oh my. What has interning at Tin House taught you?

This could amount to a novel if I truly answered the question, but since I am a poet, I will try to keep my answer concise. Tin House has taught me how to engage with other like-minded people. Over the last 5 years I have kind of been hermitting with my writing, with my passion of books and literature, and with my excitement to get back into the publishing industry. Interning at Tin House has provided me a platform to break out of my shell. I am eternally grateful for all the feedback I have received, the skills I have learned, and the support I have been given from every person at Tin House. They are the dream team.

Q~You also joined the Poet Bloggers Revival this year, which Dave Bonta digests weekly on Via Negativa. How has this impacted you?

A~I’ve been blogging since 2011. I mostly just blog poems I have been working on and don’t intend to send out to publications. Joining the Poet Bloggers Revival has allowed me to see how diverse poets are (and think) when given something to work toward. I have continued to simply post my “work in progress” poems. Each week, though, I see poets who are doing new things: perhaps it is an interview or maybe it is a deep rumination about their craft or something they have been needing to get off their chest, or maybe they comment on a worldly issue that has recently happened. I’m really impressed to see so many different takes on the week from every individual.

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~Poetry is razor sharp; it has the power to engage, inspire, and change someone’s perspective in just a few moments. There are few things in this world that can do that today.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Hands down, Sharon Olds. I will forever be a fan. I also have a big soft spot in my heart for Andrea Gibson because they taught me it is okay to push the envelope with my writing. They also taught me repetition can be the ending to a poem…even if your partner doesn’t think so! I think I’ve seen Andrea live six times, and I love them more and more each time.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Books beside my bed right now include: Matthew Dickman’s Mayakovsky’s Revolver (re-reading this because it is so incredible), Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, and Oliva Gatwood’s New American Best Friend.

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

A~I regularly post to my poetry blog on Tumblr. You can also find me on Twitter .

Broken Vision / an interview with poet Susan “Spit-Fire” Lively

Broken Vision

by Susan “Spit-Fire” Lively

War is genocide.
++++++++++++++++ Life is murder…

Rwanda, Vietnam, Cambodia, Korea, the Holocaust, Uganda, Darfur,
Congo, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Kenya, Afghanistan.
When will the world learn?
How can we change these?
When we cannot even stop the wars in our homes,
the wars in our neighborhood,
the war within.

In this and every election,
they say it is the economy.
But in this and nearly every election,
money’s all the same you see.
We’ll cut aid to the poor.
Kick people from their homes,
kick the mentally ill from shelters,
kick the teachers from the classroom,
kick the homeless off the sidewalk,
before we’ll give up our wars.
The national addiction,
the economic infrastructure,
the empire building.
We admired the wrong selected memories of the victors’ histories,
recruited Nazi master scientists,
modeled ourselves after the great fallen Rome;
embracing racism, classism, sexism, and the destruction of the pro-labor system.
Is this our destiny, our unified syndrome?
How can we fix;
how can we conquer in this
broken vision?

susan

Susan “Spit-Fire” Lively is a poet, spoken word artist, model, producer, photographer, visual artist, educator, and activist from Belleville, IL. Co-organizer of 100,000 Poets & Musicians for Change – St. Louis since its inception in 2011; Susan also produces the series First Bloom (celebrating women’s history month) and Women For Peace (promoting gender violence awareness), and co-produces the Dia de los Muertos Fiesta with Maria Guadalupe Massey. In 2016 she became an Officer of Urb Arts’ Executive Board. In January of 2017 Susan produced the St. Louis leg of the international event Poets & Musicians Against Trump (with co-producer John Blair). Lively’s been featured on Literature For The Halibut, The Arts with Nancy Kranzberg, WESLTV -24 and PBS’ Living St. Louis. She has taught spoken word and creative writing at Confluence Academy, Foster and Adoptive Care Coalition, and for the Nine Network and St. Louis Fringe.

Susan says of her style, “People often say that my spoken word delivery or style is very unusual and lyrical; I’m often asked if I’m a singer. Some of my spoken word poetry has bits of song, and I even rap in a few pieces. I also like to cover a wide variety of topics, so I’d say my style is unique.”

Bekah and Susan connected via social media. Susan is active in the poetry community in St. Louis, where Bekah lives. We wanted to know more about Susan, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Can you tell us a little about your poem, “Broken Vision”?

A~The back story for this particular poem is simply that I am anti-war. I think that we should reconsider our priorities as a country far ahead of the next election. The world in general should spend a lot less time wasting money and lives on weapons, war, death and hate, and a lot more time should be spent promoting self-worth, growth, connectivity, equality, justice, and love for all human beings.

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

A~This piece came easily to me, but some pieces prove more difficult than others. Some pieces require a lot of research and editing, and others don’t. Sometimes if I get stuck on a piece, it’s best to leave it lie and come back to it later with a fresh perspective.

Q~You are active as a spoken word artist and in publishing poetry. Why does spoken word appeal to you?

A~Spoken word appeals to me as an art form because it’s passionate, intelligent, and vibrant. Spoken word has many different faces and styles and is an art form that’s been around for a while but is continually evolving.

Q~Who were your poetry and slam first loves?

A~My first loves in poetry were a lot of the known greats like Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, and Dylan Thomas. I instantly fell in love with spoken word and slam poetry when I discovered Saul Williams and Sonia Sanchez. I actually heard Williams first in one of my college literature classes. I found his style, content, and presentation electrifying and was instantly hooked. I discovered more of Sonia Sanchez’s work through my time with the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club of East St. Louis (to learn more about club meetings/events, contact Dr. Redmond at ebr@siue.edu). I found her work to be gripping, energetic, and deep. I loved how thought-provoking her poems were and her spoken word style is so fiery and unique.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~I believe that the poet’s role in society is the same as every artist’s role: to speak truth to power. But, I also believe that art has many purposes, from the deeply political and social aspects to just the simple enjoyment of a great work of beauty. The artist role is to inspire and to move others in as many ways as possible simply by being the best version of themselves and letting art be the medium for their expression.

Q~Tell us more about the causes you champion with your poetry?

A~I am involved in several different causes in the arts community. Two of the shows I produce are Women for Peace and 100 Thousand Poets and Musicians for Change – St. Louis. Women for Peace was created by my friend Katerina Canyon and I in 2013 to promote Gender Violence Awareness. The show has featured a remarkable group of gifted local women artists who are all leaders in our community. These women and all the artists I work with are a constant inspiration to me. This year we are thrilled to be working with Urb Arts again and will be having our Five Year Anniversary show there on June 4th at 7:00 p.m.100% of the donations from the show will benefit the wonderful and enriching artistic programs and events at Urb Arts

100 Thousand Poets & Musicians for Change – St. Louis is actually an official offshoot of two international umbrella shows created by Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion (100 Thousand Poets for Change and 100 Thousand Musicians for Change). The St. Louis show (Saturday, Sept. 29th) is now in its eighth year and features over fifty local artists. Local NPO’s will also be present to pass out information and accept donations. In the past we’ve had the honor of working with Amnesty International, the Peace Economy Project, and many other great nonprofits. Each year the show is live streamed and recorded for placement in Stanford University’s LOCKSS Historic Preservation System as part of the largest poetry event in history.

Q~How would you describe the St. Louis poetry scene?

A~The St. Louis poetry scene is very dynamic. The entire art scene in the greater STL/Metro East region is ablaze with talent! As a spoken word artist and event producer, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and become friends with some amazing, intelligent, creative people. The range of styles here is also incredible. Someday the outside world will see us as we see ourselves: St. Louis is a growing Mecca for the arts.

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

A~Here is a video performance link. This is “The Key” at Women for Peace at Urb Arts in STL (Previously published in the St. Louis social justice anthology, Crossing the Divide.)  My work has been published in Static Movement, Postcard Shorts, Head To Hand, The East St. Louis Monitor, The PEN, Chance Operations, Drumvoices Revue 20th Anniversary Edition, SIUE News, Big Bridge, No Vacancy, the She Chronicles, and Some ‘N Unique Magazine. My art exhibits have been featured at Urb Arts, Mokabe’s, Seven, Yeyo Arts, and more and can now be purchased at fineartamerica.com.  You can also connect with me on Facebook and Instagram, or for booking info., you can email me at lostnation2009@gmail.com.

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