In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt / an interview with poet Colleen McKee

In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt

By Colleen McKee

Every girl ought to walk a tightrope. It develops a rare set of muscles
and teaches one how to walk properly on the street.
+++++—Internationally acclaimed aerialist Bird Millman, 
+++++    in a 1913 interview with the Milwaukee News

But why would a girl want to walk
on the street, properly
or otherwise,
when she could promenade
across the sky?

In a pink velvet dress
twirling a crimson parasol,
Bird hops on the sides
of her ballet flats
along a string
between skyscrapers.
The brash Chicago wind
throws itself at her,
licks her hair
like a rowdy puppy.

Most women were hung up on clotheslines
as Miss Millman explored
the umbilical cord
joining
heaven
and earth.

She went through three husbands
before she was fifty. Did men
love her best from afar?—
The gasps, the terrified smiles
were mirrors flashing the sun
up at her, magnifying
its radiance, as the wind
flirted with her skirt and she kicked
her legs and shimmied
her fanny laughing
at death
and earthbound fools.

Photo in TGP (2)
photo by John Reskusich

Colleen McKee is the author of five collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction: The Kingdom of Roly-Polys (Pedestrian Press); Nine Kinds of Wrong (JKPublishing/The Saint Louis Projects); A Partial List of Things I Have Done for Money (JKPublishing/The Saint Louis Projects); Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (PenUltimate Press); and My Hot Little Tomato (Cherry Pie Press Midwestern Women Poets Series).

She and Bekah met while Colleen was living in St. Louis.  We wanted to know what she’s been up to lately. So, here is our interview with Colleen.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’re including. Is there a back story you want to share?   

A~“In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt” is the most recent poem I have written. It came out of research I have been doing for my novel in progress, tentatively titled Shlomo the Strongman and the Uninvited Guests. Bird Millman, who was a real-life aerialist, is the idol of Shlomo’s fictional aerialist girlfriend, Gitl.

I wouldn’t say this poem is representative of my work because most of my poetry is autobiographical. Somehow a few years ago, I got tired of writing about myself (with the exception of some funny writing about my early childhood among hippies in rural Missouri. You can read some of this in The Kingdom of Roly-Polys.)

I probably went through five-ten drafts of “In Her Famous Fur-Lined Dress.” That is normal for me. I don’t expect writing to be easy. I have patience when I write.

Q~Would you like to say a little more about your novel in progress, Shlomo the Strongman and the Uninvited Guests?

A~Shlomo Eisenberg is proud of his life: he’s the star of the Rosenbaum Circus, he loves his gorgeous aerialist girlfriend, and he’s pretty certain he’s the strongest man in Poland, if not the world. But then he has a problem–his body parts start turning into animals. Everyone has a theory about why this is happening, everyone has a suggestion, but answers are hard to find. Shlomo has no desire to be a freak. He wants to prove that Jews are strong, and these mutations test not only his strength but his faith. The tragicomic story follows Shlomo throughout Poland and Austria in the turbulent years following World War I. Along the way we meet Sarah Rosenbaum, circus founder and elegant bearded lady; Gitl the glamorous aerialist; Pietro, a convert to Judaism and devoted circus friend; Benyomin, a lovesick juggler; Borukh, Shlomo’s handsome gay brother; and Miriam, a girl who longs to run away with the circus, away from an arranged marriage. Of course, we also meet a variety of wondrous yet wildly inconvenient animals.

Q~How would you describe your poetry style?

A~When I was working on my MFA, I had to compile a poetry manuscript for my final thesis. I gave my thesis advisor (who was usually very supportive) about 100 pages of poetry. She read around 40 pages of it, gave it back to me, and said, rather miffed, “I can’t read this! Make it sound like one person wrote the whole manuscript.”

I remember thinking, why? (I should have asked her why but was too flummoxed to say anything.) Why is it necessary for a book of poems to be uniform in voice, or for a writer to have a consistency of style? Perhaps for marketability—though poetry is so nonlucrative, marketability seems like an absurd concern.

Eventually some of the poems in this thesis manuscript wound up in other collections that were published. I edited my other collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction based on theme and intuition; they were more consistent than the one I gave my advisor back in 2005. I do consistently want my work to be sensual and honest, and for there to be a sense of humility in the narrative voice.  Still, I don’t see the value in consistency, not in a poetry book. I like surprises when I read.

Q~Why do you prioritize going to readings and being involved in your local poetry scene?

A~Part of it is social, part of it is entertainment, and the need to get out of my studio apartment.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are multiple literary circles that overlap. There are so many readings here that I could choose from several almost any night of the week, and it would still take me years to meet all of these writers. So, partly I go out due to curiosity.

I also like to go to readings to be reassured that though I am a little crazy, I’m not any crazier than the rest of the writers in Oakland.

And, it’s not so rare that I hear something that floods me with wonder, that brings me a perspective that’s so rare and spiritually necessary, it makes me feel, if only for a day, that life actually does make sense.

Q~Any advice for other writers?

A~I would remind writers that if you want to be asked to read, you probably have to go to readings and show your face. Let editors and curators know you exist and remind them that you exist.

In St. Louis, when I was young and just starting out as a writer, there were, it seemed, two literary scenes in town: an academic scene and a spoken word/open mic/slam scene. These scenes did not overlap.  People were friendly enough in both milieus, but I had few publications to impress the high-art crowd, and my style of reading was insufficiently dramatic to interest people at the spoken word scene. Still I went to as many readings as I could and listened and introduced myself. And, I wound up organizing a bunch of variety shows with music, drag queens, paintings, photography, performance art, poetry… By the time I enrolled in an MFA program and the Get Born scene rolled into town, I felt very much a part of the live literary world in St Louis. But, it didn’t start that way for me.

If you want people to notice you and your writing, go out! If the kind of events you want to be part of aren’t happening in your town, organize them yourself. Involving other kinds of artists, like painters and musicians, will widen your audience and make your show more interesting. Going to shows or organizing them should not just a means to an end, a way to satisfy the goals of getting published, getting gigs. The writers communities I have belonged to in St Louis and in the Bay Area, and the writers communities in other cities where I’ve been so warmly welcomed—Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles, Florence, Italy; Chicago—have brought me some of my fondest friendships and wildest nights.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~As I say, a poet can have a very rewarding role in her literary community. But in our society as a whole—the United States—the poet doesn’t have a role in our society. Mostly, when nations have promoted poets, it is because they support their ideology. Our government has never, in a serious, consistent way, used poets to promote its ideology. This is bad for poets financially but good for their souls. The American poetry tradition is a bunch of impoverished, awkward underdogs saying things most people don’t want to hear and refuse to hear. But, as my teacher David Clewell said, “There are some poems we humanly need.”

I wish I could say I had some noble purpose in mind when I pick up a pen to write poetry. I write because something fascinates or vexes me, and in some instinctual way, I want to get inside it. If I understood why I was writing it, I couldn’t write it.

Perhaps the purpose of poetry is to remind people that they are alive in a living world.

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

A~I like the Lavender Review. Not only does it fill a need as a lesbian literary review, it is consistently filled with entertaining, luscious writing, often with a subtle sense of humor. It is also easy on the eyes, both in terms of layout and visual art. They publish giants as well as unknowns. (And yes, I will admit my work has been published here a few times.)

Q~You have the distinction of being one of the only poets in this interview series who has met Bekah in person. What’s your favorite Bekah story?

A~That’s hard to choose. I mostly associate Bekah with things you shouldn’t put in your mouth but want to. Like the time she encouraged me to drink too many Pussy Galores (these chocolate martinis at the old Absolootli Goosed in St Louis—they were rimmed with so much whipped cream I was doomed to wear it on my face). All these Pussy Galores led to me going home with a woman who wrote the names of heavy metal legends on my arm with Magic Marker…Or, take the times Bekah slayed me at Scrabble though she was drinking screwdrivers and I was sober (because I wanted to win)! It was years before I got to know the serious poet Bekah. First I knew the sweet yet slightly dangerous Bekah.

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

A~http://thesighpress.com/ (A Florentine literary magazine in English. Scroll down to the Autumn 2018, Issue 18 for poems and novel excerpts; and to the Ampersand Interview 10.)

http://colleenmckee.blogspot.com/ Mostly information on where to buy my books and on upcoming appearances. However, if you scroll back through older posts, there is also a guest column on editing and a few poems.

http://thepedestrianpress.weebly.com/ If you click on the “Poem of the Week” button and scroll down, you can read my poem “Solace is a Small Gray Stone”—but don’t scroll down too quickly, as the poems by Richard Loranger and Tim Xonnelly above are worth reading, too. If you click on “Store,” you can buy my latest chapbook, The Kingdom of Roly-Polys.

http://karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Writer%20on%20Writer (An interview by Sarah Shotland on Karen the Small Press Librarian)

To contact me: connect via Facebook or email.

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Ursula / an interview with poet Andrea Blythe

Ursula
Our Lady of Unrepentant Self Possession

by Andrea Blythe

You are power—
holding a draught to cure in one hand, poison
in the other. You have a talent
for practical magic, for drawing out
the latent capabilities of plants,
giving weight to whispered words.
You melt through the water, body
round and sleek, tentacles
stretching to claim
all the sea you can hold.

You never asked
to become a patron
for unfortunate souls,
those merfolk so full
of  desperation, covetous
for more love, more beauty,
more strength, more and more and more.
They beg for your gifts, then blame
you for the price they have to pay.
What can you do if they fail
to read the contract? Should you worry
for a princess so dumb
she can’t figure out
how to use ink
when she has no tongue?

In another story
a mermaid loves a prince
who has no interest in mute girls,
so she falls apart
into sea foam.

In another ending
you say fuck it
and take your seaweed slick curves
off to another tidepool.
You hang with jelly girls and laugh
with the manatee mamas.
You flirt with the walrus men, fingers stroking
the hardness of the tusk. Your tentacles
are full of caresses and you
have oceans of love to give.

First appeared in Yellow Chair Review 2016.

Andrea-Blythe-headshot-768x768

Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. She is the author of Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch (2018) and coauthor of Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press, 2018),  a collaborative chapbook written with Laura Madeline Wiseman. She is a cohost for the New Books in Poetry podcast and serves as an associate editor for Zoetic Press.

Andrea says of her style, “It’s not static. I tend toward free verse, but have worked with prose poems, erasures, and formal poetry (although that one’s rarely successful for me). I shift the style of a poem to suit the tone or voice I’m working with. The shape and voice need to reflect the content or the poem won’t feel right to me. I enjoy the variation, but it can make it hard to assemble them into any kind of cohesive collection at times.”

Andrea and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour and both had poems appear in the same issue of Yellow Chair Review, including the above poem. We wanted to know more about Andrea and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~A few years ago I participated in a 30-day poetry challenge hosted by ELJ Publications (now closed), and I used the opportunity to explore the idea of the sacred or spiritual through the framework of pop culture. I focused each poem on a female character from media I loved and addressed them as though speaking praise or prayer as though they were saints. Some of these poems honored these characters as figures of power, some as figures trapped by their iconic status, some as representations of my own personal struggles.

“Ursula” is one of the poems that came out of this challenge. I wanted to consider this woman and witch of the sea, who is considered the villain of the tale, from another angle — giving her space to be more than how she was drawn, a person enough to have desires beyond mere power.

Altogether, these poems make up a chapbook, called Pantheon, which I’m currently reworking in the hopes of sending it out and finding it a home.

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~I like the idea of liminal spaces, the place in between, when someone or something is not quite one thing or another — and that’s something that comes out in my work quite a bit. For example, I wrote a poem a while back about Annie Taylor (the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel), which focuses on the act of falling, existing in that place after jumping off and touching down. There’s something about the in between, the moment right before when anything can happen that fascinates me.

Another theme that I see coming through more often lately is an expression of underlying loneliness, expressions of longing for companionship and touch. That’s coming directly out of some deep down kernel within me. I enjoy and cultivate solitude sometimes, since it can be comforting, but I have to remember not to wrap myself so tightly within it as to feel disconnected from the world and the people around me.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~I’m a fan of the shitty first draft as proposed by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. I’ll ponder an idea for a while and then dump it onto the page, letting it be rough and haphazard and wrong. In the first draft stage, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m trying to say, and I won’t fully know the scope of the poem or story until I have words to play with and move around. The drafting process can happen by pen and ink or by computer, but for the revision process I almost always move to hard copy — something I can mark up, cross out, ramble out gibberish in the columns, or cut into strips. The tactile aspect of working with a physical page helps me to work through what’s not working and trace a path to figuring out what will work.

 Q~Your two most recent works are a collaborative book and a collection of erasure poems. How does working with another poet or source material change your writing?

A~Working collaboratively with Laura Madeline Wiseman on our collection Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press) and other projects has strengthened my writing. During our collaboration sessions, I find there’s a tug and pull, in which I am simultaneously offering up space in a piece in order to allow Madeline’s voice into the poem while also claiming room for my own voice. Our poems are written together and then jointly edited, so that our voices become layered over each other to the point that in some completed poems, I can’t tell where her words begin and mine end. Throughout it all, I’m continually surprised by Madeline’s skill in choosing words and editing for clarity. It’s an intimate education in another person’s method of writing, which has provided me with new tools to approach my own writing.

In the act of creating erasure poetry presents an interesting restriction. Rather than the infinite possibilities of the blank page, I’m confronted with an existing text (in the case of my collection A Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, I was working with the product descriptions in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers). The puzzle of striking out words to find the poem left behind stretches me into new directions — Can I siphon out a new meaning from these words? Are there enough of them to complete a particular thought? Do I need to modify the direction of the poem because the available words are steering me another way? It’s resulted in some surprising, surreal turns that I might not have taken in a standard free verse poem. It’s a kind of freedom nested within the restrictions, which can in turn empower me to explore more playfully when I approach an empty page.

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

A~Advice I have to remind myself of over and over again — make space for yourself and your work. That includes time and energy for both the writing itself and the things that reinvigorate your writing, like reading, attending poetry events, walking, stretching, meditating, or anything that helps keep words alive for you. It’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day routine of work and chores and TV binge watching and on and on — to the extent that time passes, and the work you love has been forgotten. Often my moods are influenced by how much or how little I’m connecting with my own writing. It doesn’t have to be daily, but regularly creating that space to write, to read, to interact with words is so essential.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’m currently reading several poetry books at the moment. If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar is blowing my mind with its beauty and inventiveness regarding both lyric and form. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is so moving in how it approaches its exploration of race. And, I’m also enjoying Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar, a beautiful chapbook that explores female agency through horror tropes. 

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

A~The poetry scene in the Bay Area, California is amazing. There seems to be readings, slams, open mics, or other events going on just about every week, whether in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, or other towns. It’s fantastic to have this community so close at hand, and I value all the amazing creators around me, who inspire me with their words and generosity. They make me want to work harder and improve my craft.

I’ve gone through periods when I was participating or witnessing in many of these events on a minimum of a monthly basis, but lately I’ve been hermiting, tucked away in the quiet of my own home. I miss this community and camaraderie, and part of me wants to feel guilty about not being more active than I have in the past. But, I’m giving myself space to just be quiet in this way, providing support as much as I can from a distance, with the understanding that there’s no wrong way to poet, and sometimes you just need space for a while. I’ll jump back in when I’m ready.

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

A~A couple of my Pantheon poems have been published online, which can be read here: “Carrie White: Our Lady of Blood” and “Sarah Connor: Our Lady of Self Determination.” I’ve also been working on a series of found poems assembled from words in Stephen King’s The Plant, a number of which can be found at Quail Bell, including: “Morning, Wrapped in Maple and Pine,” “A Fallen Heaven,” “A Wake,” “I Have Tried to Explain,” “A Last Missive,” and “Student of More.”   Some examples of the collaborative poetry I write with Laura Madeline Wiseman can be found here. I can also be reached on Twitter and Instagram, through my email newsletter, or via my website.

Not This / an interview with poet Hyejung Kook

Not This

by Hyejung Kook

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notthis2.PNG

First appeared in The Ellis Review 2018.

kook

Hyejung Kook’s poetry has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Hyphen Magazine, and Pleiades. Hyejung was born in Seoul, Korea, grew up in Pennsylvania, and now lives in Kansas. She is a Fulbright grantee and a Kundiman fellow.

Hyejung 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 we’ve included. Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~I’m so grateful to The Ellis Review for publishing “Not This.” The poem grew out of two different pieces I wrote while participating in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project back in 2015, which involved writing thirty poems in thirty days. I usually write slowly, so the pressure cooker of having brand new drafts shared daily on the Tupelo 30/30 website was both terrifying and generative. The first piece was an erasure of a poem by Margaret Rhee—the gorgeous phrase “the precarity of the line” comes from her. The second piece was called “Not this but” and had “whatever is rising” as the first line, but the imagery was rather diaphanous, full of sleet and unpruned wisteria and birds and the moon.

Revisiting these drafts, I realized they had the feel of an exercise rather than necessary utterance. When I tried to dig deeper, I found myself grappling with personal loss alongside the many recent killings of people of color—the murder of indigenous women and black folx like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, as well as the shooting death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla at a Kansas bar just half an hour from my house. Nature imagery still permeates “Not This,” but with violence as well as beauty, tenderness matched with fury. In retrospect, I was also channeling some of George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous and his preoccupation with multitude, justice, and clarity. This was a challenging poem to write, but it also opened up spaces of possibility for me—this is my first poem to engage more directly with current events.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~Poetry happens in a moment of collision between myself and the world. On occasion, I strike sparks. If I’m lucky, I have words at hand for kindling, but still I’m scrabbling, reaching for anything that might sustain the flame, and anything goes, stylistically speaking. Some of my poems are strongly narrative; others revel in fragment and elliptical movement. I’ll go months avoiding first-person and then embrace it wholeheartedly. Poetry as distillation. Poetry as outpouring. I’m drawn to the freewheeling, associative mode of renga, each verse linking only to the previous, as much as I am drawn to the complex code of rules that dictate the appearance of motifs and seasonal references in a classical renga’s hundred verses. I struggle to describe my style since the formal aspects of my writing continually shift from poem to poem.

Writing poetry for me is a mode of exploration, of reaching out and often struggling to find out even what it is I’m grasping for. I’m often guided by the physicality of language when I get lost–the sound of the words, the cadence of the line, how the text exists on the page as a visual field. I know I value openness. I want the reader to have a place to enter into the work. I once heard a poem described as a full and laden table except for a single empty seat–that’s the space for the reader to sit down. I love that image, the idea of the reader sitting down and partaking, of us somehow going from strangers to friends at the table of poetry.

I suppose my style is mutable, musical, and open-ended.

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

A~I moved to Kansas City about seven years ago and had my children soon after, so I am not as involved in the local scene as I’d like. But, I discovered a wonderful community of KC-area poets thanks to Jenny Molberg, who teaches at University of Central Missouri, where she also directs Pleiades Press. Last winter, I met Jenny when she read at The Writers Place, and she generously invited me to join a monthly gathering of women-identifying/non-binary poets for brunch. The group keeps growing and currently includes Jenny Molberg, Marianne Kunkel, Micah Ruelle, Bridget Lowe, Ruth Williams, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Traci Brimhall, Luisa Muradyan, Elizabeth Barnett, Erin Adair-Hodges, Maryfrances Wagner, Melissa Fite Johnson, and me. It’s been such a gift to get to know these poets and their poetry and have regular, engrossing conversations about poetry, publishing, motherhood, and more.

What I know of the KC literary scene, which is quite lively, comes from the New Letters literary events calendar and the collective knowledge and activity of the brunch group. I’ve learned about local venues and literary magazines and reading series and even a poetry festival just trying to keep up with what everyone is doing. And next year, I hope to do a joint poetry reading with Marianne Kunkel we’re calling “Writing the Woman’s Body.”

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first poetry love was Edgar Allan Poe. I was in seventh grade, and I had picked up a collected Poe while waiting for my sister to finish her piano lesson. I was mesmerized by the compelling music and meter of his poems, especially lines like “And the silken, sad, uncertain, rustling of each purple curtain,/Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before” from “The Raven” and many passages from “The Bells,” including “What a world of merriment their melody foretells!/How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle/In the icy air of night!/While the stars that oversprinkle/All the heavens, seem to twinkle/With a crystalline delight.” I had enjoyed learning and reciting poems for three years in grade school, but Poe was the first poet I memorized for the sheer joy of having his words in my mouth and ear any time I wanted.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’ve been reading poetry by Jennifer Chang, Danez Smith, Ada Limón, Fatimah Asghar, jos charles, and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I just started Alexander Chee’s collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. Before bed, I re-read a little fantasy or science fiction to unwind—lately it’s been Ilona Andrews, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Robin McKinley. And, since I have two toddlers, I’m always reading children’s books. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson are two in heavy rotation I’ve been enjoying. I used to love devouring whole books in one sitting, but I no longer have that kind of time. I miss the marathon reading sessions, but there’s also pleasure in reading  multiple books at once, which lets me more easily make connections between writers.

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

A~Submit your work often and thoughtfully. I used to think that writing poetry and submitting poetry were two entirely different animals, but I realize now that they’re more of a two-headed beast. Last year, I tried for a hundred rejections, and while I came up short (the actual tally of poems submitted was around sixty), I received more acceptances than I had the previous five years combined, largely because I started to treat submitting work as part of creative writing rather than separate from it.

What does that look like for me? I resubmit to journals, especially if I received an encouraging rejection. I find new places to send by looking to writers I love, learning where they’ve published and what journals they support. I follow the oft-stated advice to read the publication, which introduces me to new, exciting writers I can learn from as well. Thinking about whether/which of my poems fit with a given journal gives me a better understanding of the aesthetic and thematic concerns of my work. (See above difficulty in describing my style.) Even perusing the submission guidelines, while not exciting, serves as practice in close and attentive reading. And, always taking the time to reconsider a poem before submitting has led to fine tweaks as well as wholesale revision. This way, the time spent preparing a submission—reading the journal, choosing poems, reexamining them—never feels wasted, even when a poem is rejected over and over.

Submitting poems went from, “Ugh, I’d rather be writing” to “Wow, look at this amazing poet I’ve never read before,” and “Hey, I just made this poem of mine so much stronger.” Each rejection still stings, but instead of taking it as a definitive assessment of my work, I try to embrace it as part of the process of becoming a better poet.

Q~Is there any online resource you would like to recommend?

A~Keeping with the theme of submitting work, I’ve found  ENTROPY’s Where to Submit feature to be a great resource. Every couple of months, they collate an updated list of places to submit: presses; chapbooks; journals + anthologies; residencies, fellowships + other opportunities.

For a model in how to keep track of submissions, I recommend looking at Todd Dillard’s detailed, illustrated explanation of how he stays organized using an Excel spreadsheet  here. I use Excel, but his method is far superior because of the way he organizes the data allows you to unleash the power of filters—be still, my Virgo heart.

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 love Glass Poetry Press. Editor-in-chief Anthony Frame runs the Glass Chapbook Series as well as Glass: A Journal of Poetry, a monthly online publication. Anthony is deeply committed to nurturing an inclusive poetry community and publishing underrepresented voices and a diversity of aesthetic styles. Both the series and the journal are fee-free submissions. One dollar of each chapbook purchase goes to social justice organizations; this fall, donations are going to the Trans Women of Color Collective. And the poetry he publishes is stunning. You can really feel how each poet has gone through the crucible of their experience to bring something essential and beautifully crafted into the world. The journal also includes reviews, interviews, special features, and Poets Resist, a current events poetry series curated by guest editors. I’m so thrilled that my newest poem, “The Day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I Teach My Daughter the Names of the Parts of Female Anatomy,” appears in the Poets Resist 2018 Midterm Elections Special Feature, which came out on election day and includes Yanyi, Luther Hughes, Sage, Sumita Chakraborty, and Lynn Melnick, among others. You can read the issue here.

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

A~You can find a full list of my publications at my website which includes links to poems in Memorious, Verse Daily, wildness, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Indianapolis Review, among others, and an essay on motherhood and poetry in The Critical Flame. You can also connect with me via social media. I’m most active on Twitter. While I have an Instagram account, I haven’t been using it much yet.

 

Grit & Decolonisation / an interview with poet Moylin Yuan

Grit

by Moylin Yuan

washing down igneous rock
Spattered in bird waste
All speckled and sun coloured
Remember the climbs and twisted ankles
++++++your fingers onto fissures, crags stacked with oysters, their tongues
Waiting for the tides
We ran after the shells
hiding under waves
++++++the new elders soaking toes under
foaming sands
++++++when being, vanishing, was a phasing Sexuality

Decolonisation

by Moylin Yuan

Softly we un-borrow the ivory shells,
learn to lean towards ourselves
Identity shifting in sand
Now it’s daily weather, with dunes
drifting at different levels
Every morning if the sun burns my skin
Would you call my name?

Both poems first appeared in Peach Velvet Magazine 2018

me

Moylin Yuan is a self-taught designer, illustrator, and occasional art director, born and raised in Dubai, UAE. She enjoys working with paper in all formats (print publications, modular origami, turning dollars into koi…) and reading as many abstract concepts as possible.

Moylin says of her style, “I try to keep the flow loose and abstract, and often imbibe visual symbols in my work and play with their possible meanings, questioning the language I use to portray scenes. I strongly think my poetry style is still developing itself. I’m not sure what it is yet, but for me words hold a kind of vibration, and if they kind of echo constantly I try to jot them down as quickly as possible. Once that’s done I’ll pull apart the concepts and experiment to see how the flow changes.”

Bekah and Moylin’s work—including the poems above—appeared together in the “Seconds to Consume” issue of Peach Velvet Magazine. We wanted to know more about Moylin and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about these poems. Is there a backstory you want to share? 

A~The poem, “Grit,” was actually my first attempt at concrete (shape?) poetry Indented poetry can look like waves seeping back and forth, and I wanted to go all out indenting without feeling embarrassed by it. I also wanted to address sexuality and the freedom to sit with not knowing your preferences.

There’s also a sexual beauty branded to the beach which I was attempting to pull at. We’re young! We’re old! I wanted to say there’s a beauty to being, and allowing for contemplation to experiment or refrain as you wish, to not know, to not be certain. Like how we are within life. To be a child again playing with waves, which can be deadly.

The poem, “Decolonisation,” was initially a series of separate lines, written at different times over four years – as thoughts from conversations with different people then and now. I placed them together to see how they felt. The result left me feeling satisfyingly unresolved. Like when you finish reading a good book or run a mile thinking by yourself. I’m addressing many themes in this poem – decolonisation, obviously, but also what it means to live and work in Dubai, the tropes people associate with this place and my tropes within it.

These two poems were written at different points in time. Possibly a year apart. I write on the Notes app and transfer after to my laptop after a gestation period. This affords some distance to the words and reduces the chances of decimating the energy of the language, for me. I mostly write verses when on moving transport. The flow seems to work better. Sitting and focusing on writing is quite difficult – I don’t do well in libraries or offices!

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~Sand or earth in various forms, water and/or its bodies, and a lot of references to actual sounds, (such as spoken sentences), are what tend to surface in the poems I’ve written. Not so much smell. Maybe because I associate language and the world with what I actually hear. I’m not sure! But, those tropes tend to end up in the verses, they vibrate my brain.

Q~How has your experience as a poetry reader at Longleaf Review influenced your own writing?

A~It’s a gratifying process, to be able to read people’s submissions from around the world. I think it has made me more aware of the rules in poetry and what can be broken (maybe everything). I am less hesitant in experimenting as well. Seeing others imbuing confidence in their own voices encourages me to raise my own.

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

A~Honestly, I haven’t applied much yet, and therefore haven’t had many rejections. It takes work to apply well. By that I mean applying to publications or zines etc.,that I enjoy reading or that would feel aligned to the theme of the work. I encourage applying to the places you read and love, because what you like and whom you work with becomes a reflection of who (or what) you identify with or try to be.

And, if it doesn’t work out there’s always somewhere else. And, if there isn’t somewhere else, start your own zine or publication or blog etc. Self-publication is a great way to learn the process of publishing – the editorial work of copy editing, grammatical and ethical debates of editing someone else’s work and so on.

Also, it’s important to submit and support your local presses and publication houses. They need your good content! And reviews! And if you can, your sentiments in monetary value… 🙂

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene? If so, what’s it like?

A~I’m barely involved, honestly… Partly because spoken word or slam poetry is very popular here, and that’s beyond my comfort level right now! I’m usually the audience. Some of the all-stars within the local scene include Afra Atiq and Rewa Zeinati.

Q~Is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~I’d like to highlight two publications currently being produced by friends – Locale and LIFTA. Both promote inclusivity and positivity for communities that have often been narrated to, and I’d love for more people to dig and complicate their lives with these multiple narratives. Life isn’t black and white, and it’s important (even more so, these days) to bring in different stories and listen to multiple points of view:

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~This question had me thinking for awhile! Having been exposed to poets from early on (a lot of Rabindranath Tagore…) I can’t say who was the first, but it might have been a triple threat combo of Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou’s poems and Virginia Woolf’s letter to Vita Sackville-West, when I was in university.

After graduation, I fell into reading poetry from Rumi, quickly moving to Mahmoud Darwish, and Etel Adnan –  in longing for belonging to a land, for being, and loving what was always around. Now though, if not reading contemporary poets, I’m digging Sufi poets like Amir Khusrow, and catching up on the gaps of my education of poets in Asia, geographically.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I am still reading the Goddess of Democracy by Henry Wei Leung. It is my movable feast.

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

A~I’m working on this, but for now my poetry is tagged within my personal blog. You can also connect with me on Instagram and Twitter.

Jeopardy / An interview with poet Chella Courington

Jeopardy

by Chella Courington

My father built biceps working for US Steel
smelting iron in heat that humbled men.

Now I could break his arm
over my knee, brittle as kindling.

My father used to let me walk up his body
balancing my hands on his fingertips

till I flew from his shoulders. They began to sag
after my mother passed. Rising at night, no moon out,

she collapsed in the dark and never woke
as once my father fell when a clot in his head

tossed him down. He speaks of my mother
rubbing his back with eucalyptus oil and saves hair

from her brush, strands he wraps in Kleenex.
At night with his whiskey, facing Jeopardy, my father

drifts off to Kargasok.
In the Russian mountains women live to be 105.

So do their men, eating dried cod with mushroom tea,
making love last forever.

Originally appeared in Avatar Review, Spring 2010

IMG_4572 (1)

Chella Courington is a writer and teacher. With a Ph.D. in American and British Literature and an MFA in Poetry, she is the author of six poetry and three flash fiction chapbooks. Her poetry appears in numerous anthologies and journals. Originally from the Appalachian South, Courington lives in California.

Chella says of her style, “I’m not much of a formalist. I’d describe most of my poetry as free verse with a tendency toward couplets. Why couplets? I write a lot about relationships, often the interaction of two people, and couplets seem to fit the content.”

Bekah and Chella’s work appeared together in July in Chantarelle’s Notebook. We wanted to know more about her and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~I write often about the past–friends, lovers, family. I grew up in Appalachian Alabama in the 60s and had a love/hate relationship with both my parents. They reflected many of the social and political views of the rural South then (and unfortunately now). On the other hand, my dad, who grew up poor in a mining town during the Depression, encouraged me in unconventional behavior. He wanted me to be educated and self-sufficient–intellectually and financially. My dad lived to be ninety-three so I had time to know him as one adult to another and time to talk about and mend the rips between us. Looking back I’m more forgiving.

“Jeopardy” is an homage to his loving nature that survived his early years of abuse by a mean stepfather and found safety in the home of his high school coach. Some of the poem’s details like saving my mother’s hair and being felled by a clot are imagined. Other details like working for US Steel and letting me fly from his shoulders are lived. The first draft came easily as Dad still mourned the loss of my mother. But it took about a year for the poem to reach its current form. Thinking about “Jeopardy,” I’m reminded of Theodore Roethke’s “My Papa’s Waltz”: “At every step you missed/ My right ear scraped a buckle” (11-12).

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~Largely an interior writer, I love the process of writing and really don’t think too much about audience until late revision. I write in the bed, surrounded by my furry boys and books. After putting on earphones, I enter another world. In the morning after waking, I write though late night to about 2 a.m. is my optimum time. I’ve always loved the night and the feeling of isolating myself.

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~I feel as if poetry and short flash fiction (less than 500 words) reflects the way my imagination works. I think and feel in terms of words, phrases, and images. I gravitate toward stream-of-consciousness and like to create out of that unedited writing.

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

A~Write from the gut. Go to that dark place you want to avoid. Explore those issues that make you sick to your stomach. That’s where the poem is. I give myself this advice every day.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work?

A~I’m a white, privileged, bisexual woman from rural Alabama. As a child I was sexually abused by the Baptist minister’s foster son and have been sexually harassed for much of my professional life. My poetry is largely female-centered about issues that girls and women struggle with. The personal is political. Recently, I’ve worked with Greek myth, looking at those women whose stories weren’t told because women weren’t telling the stories. For instance, I imagine different poetic truths out of the mouths of Medusa, Medea, Leda, Eurydice et al. Much of the #MeToo Movement echoes the silenced history of these Greek archetypes.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

 A~Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” when I was sixteen. My eleventh-grade English teacher handed the class section one and asked us to respond. Like many teenagers, I was a disconsolate kid, always feeling alone and seeking something more. I felt like a lost soul and poetry became my refuge. A couple of years later I read Plath’s “Daddy” and felt confirmed. As Audre Lorde says, “For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence.”

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~If Not, Winter Fragments of Sappho translated by Anne Carson; The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald; Tropicalia by Emma Trelles; and Averno by Louise Gluck

Q~Is there any online resource you would like to recommend?

A~No Fee Calls for Poems Hosted by Trish Hopkinson

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

A~Check out “In My Story,” “Eurydice,” and “The Pond Heron.” Also, “Passage,” “Taking It Home,” and “Snake Skin” in Still. More poetry (& flash fiction) can be found by googling my name. You can also connect with me on my website, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Spinster’s Shroud / an interview with poet Ren Powell

Spinster’s Shroud

by Ren Powell

She has fashioned for herself
a gown
++++++of hollowed egg shells
and white thread.

She has taken from the clasp and string
her great-grandmother’s pearls
and arranged the four hundred sixty-eight
++++++fawn moonscapes
to hang in their stead.

An undergarment of ivy
++++++woven to lift the dry shells
from her naked collarbones
is interwoven with the wild orchids
that adorn the bodice.

The crinoline is formed of dried bundles
of bugleweed, saved from midsummer picking –
++++++eight times in youth
and twenty-seven times
++++++since.

She has trimmed the hem with holly.
A train of evergreen.

She saves for the last
++++++to tie the knot.

Breaking the thread with her teeth
sliding the needle into the cushion
leaving open the door
++++++to the coop.

(Mercy Island. Phoenicia Publishing: Montreal.  2011)

Ren Powell web 2018 copy (1)Ren Powell was born in California but has settled in Norway. She has six full-length collections of poetry, and more than two dozen books of translations. Her sixth collection The Elephants Have Been Singing All Along was published in 2017. Her poems have been translated and published in six languages.

Ren 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 about “Spinster’s Shroud.” How is it representative of your work?

A~Yeah, so here is a strange woman doing strange things. But more than that, I can see my tendency to focus on whatever little facts fascinate me. This poem was inspired by an article I read about a Swedish midsummer ritual where unmarried women put bugleweed under their pillows, so they will dream of the man they’re going to marry. If I were to write this poem today, I would work harder to add all that information to the poem, rather than play hit and miss that anyone gets the allusion. But that’s a good thing, I think: to know how I want to improve as a writer.

I like numbers. I like precision – it grounds things for me. I also like irony and shadow narratives. In this case: the shroud being a wedding dress, “tie the knot” her marriage with a man at this late stage of her life – or with death itself. There the sexual imagery of the needle and cushion, and the freedom of abandonment – either sexual or spiritual.

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

A~This one flowed. But having said that, it flowed in a series of edits over a couple of months. It began as a four-line poem and grew. Most of the time my editing process is about adding and filling out, not cutting. But the song – the melody – was there from the beginning.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~Slow. I try to listen to the dragons. Catch the melody first and then let it grow. I sit down at the desk. Light a candle. Set the chimes to mark a beginning and end, and I listen. I write a lot of crap. I repeat myself a lot. I obsess about how everything in the world is round. I forgive myself for all the crap. I start again.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~In grad school, my mentor once called me a post-modern modernist. I’m not exactly sure that that means, but I do think that I have been more influenced by the Imagists than I would like at this point. I think that sometimes I make the reader work too hard. I grew up thinking that great poetry was academic and necessarily intertextual. I was later hugely influenced by Robert Bly’s book Leaping Poetry, and maybe that combination made some of my writing too inaccessible, for even my own taste these days. It is a fine line to walk, isn’t it: accessible poetry vs. pedestrian verse?

I think my “style” is continually evolving, and I am proud of that. I am often influenced by the music of writers I have translated. I like experimentation: free verse, nonce verse, respectful rip-offs of forms that aren’t directly translatable from other languages. I have a penchant for scientific facts used as metaphors for our internal/emotional lives. I would say that I tend to stick more to themes than styles. I am fascinated by the unreliability of memory, and as another poet once said of my work, I write “poems about strange women doing strange things.”

In contrast with a lot of contemporary poetry, my writing is still primarily for the page (which is odd, since I work in the theater). I like to play with line breaks, indentations and white space. Often, I invite the reader to read both left to right, and down columns, or grouped with indentations to indicate correlations.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~Honestly, because I don’t sing very well. When I write poetry, and it flows, I feel a kind of catharsis similar to singing drunk in the bathtub: it’s an emotional and physical release. It’s like orgasm. It’s like running. I wonder if any scientist will ever hook up with a poet and measure their serotonin and oxytocin and all that, just as she finishes the line that pulls it all together. I would volunteer.

Q~On Twitter, you mention that your two passions are writing and running. Do you see a connection between the two?

A~I think running clears the space for me to write. I run in the mornings and then come home and write for fifteen minutes to an hour and a half, depending on the workday. Running is about breathing and taking in the smells and sounds of the world. It’s about listening. I had a project a few years ago called Running Metaphors that I’m excited to be starting up again from my blog and on Instagram.

Q~You said you have an “ambivalence and confusion regarding social media and what being part of a poetry ‘community’ means.” Can you explain what you mean?

A~Norway doesn’t have a tradition of academic writing programs in the Universities. My whole goal of getting a PhD and becoming “a poet” (i.e. teaching poetry at a university) and finding a tribe (as they say) went *poof* when I decided to stay here in Norway. I live here, and I write in English. That makes me an outsider. I am lucky to have an amazing translator, but I’ll always be considered an American poet by my colleagues here.

And yet, having been here so long, I no longer write to the American experience, and especially these days, that makes me an outsider in virtual poetry communities.

I don’t go to conferences or residencies. I see Instagram posts with hashtags like #poetshavingfun and get as jealous as a teenager. I guess I still crave the validation and community I’d planned for and imagined.

But then, I get eyes off the computer and go for a run, handwrite a poem in my journal and remember it was all a consumer package that I wanted. This is what I’ve got, and I make it work.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~I honestly believe that a poet’s job is to be the antidote to the incorrect belief that we are unique as individuals, as a particular generation, or as specific cultures. I believe that art in general is about communicating the human experience: to alleviate both isolation and narcissism.

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

A~Will I sound like a jerk if I say don’t fetishize “being a poet”? I’ve slipped into that a few times. It made rejection much more painful than it needed to be. The fact that I don’t really belong to poetry community question whether or not I’m really “a poet”. I think it’s especially difficult these days with social media, and with the neo-liberal demand for us all to brand and sell ourselves. I’m not good at that part, not good at networking, and if I focus too much on those aspects of poetry, I stop writing. It’s ridiculous, I know, but I doubt I am the only person who has struggled with this desire for approval, and this need to find a persona of sorts to market. You know that song from Gypsy? “You Gotta Get a Gimmick”. When I start getting stressed about publishing and selling books, I hum that song and remind myself not to take any of it too seriously.

Just write.

I am also really terrible at tackling criticism. I read a critique and start cursing and telling my partner what an idiot the person is… then I put everything in a drawer and forget about it for a week. Then I read it again and can actually take it in and learn from it. And even be grateful for it.

Q~Do you find yourself returning to certain themes or subjects in your work?

A~I think I write about outsiders and secrets.

They say that we can work through our personal traumas by working with narratives – changing them, creating perspectives. I think I do that. I am also drawn to other people’s deep experiences, I am curious about them. About the humanness of it all – the good, the bad. The way we hand over our narratives, intentionally or not. I think we all have secrets from ourselves, too. What is stashed in our mitochondria? I am fascinated by the secrets of the non-human world: how we have only recently learned that elephants talk to each other all the time, and we just can’t hear it because it’s subsonic: a secret language – the entire human species as outsider.

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

A~Oh, this year has been extremely difficult for me. Last July, a congenital defect in my pelvis revealed itself (after all these years) by causing life-threatening blood clots. I was rushed to the hospital with blue lights and siren blaring, and I’ve had a difficult time processing it all. I pulled away from poetry (as a genre) and wrote a couple of plays instead. I have only started writing poetry again this summer.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I think I have eclectic tastes. I don’t like poetry that sounds like platitudes. Or poetry that uses only abstract worlds like love and spirit. I’m drawn to poetry that shows me what I believe is concrete in the world and then dissolves it for me. I’m amazed by poetry that can make me connect a whisker on the muzzle of horse to the memory of a (and my own) first kiss.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Cliché as it sounds, the St. James version of the Bible. Prayers. Then Dr. Seuss. Seriously? Elisabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room.”

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Actually, I have just picked up Edna St. Vincent Millay again. “Renascence” fascinated me when I was 14.  Reading that poem now, I understand it differently, while carrying with me that 14-year-old’s intuitive response. Being 52, I am excited to read much more of her work in the context of her life – and the context of mine.

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 would say Poetry Internal Web is a great resource for finding new voices. I know that a lot is lost in translation, but a lot is still there – sometimes the translation process opens a poem even wider. I hope it’s okay if I mention Poemeleon? It’s Cati Porter’s baby, and I have been so proud to be associated with it. There will be a new call for poems very soon!

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

A~Most of my books have been published in hardback in Norway. Several are still available from my publisher – or people can email me to help arrange shipping. My selected poems Mercy Island is available in North America from Phoenicia Publishing. I haven’t been good about submitting work these last two years, but I have several poems I am proud of in the online journal Escape into LifeI also have some translations here: https://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/26851 I am currently overhauling my website. I am on Instagram and Facebook. I also had a project called This Choice Podcast. It was a way for me to reach out and talk to poets in the states.   I miss it very much.

Fall Poem / an interview with poet Rachel Warren

Fall Poem

by Rachel Warren

In August I pray to lesser gods,
gods drier and without Douglas Fir
gods wafting burnt laminate
gods shriveling before the crunch
church of pinecones

thunderless gods
sniffing, boneless gods with dry-needle teeth
and sweet-sugar nature—

August is a pre-natal November,
distracted sticky in its elbows
lickless on cast-iron sidewalks
oppressed under single panes

simpering against sunburnt Impalas
yearning for my turquoise windbreaker
wrapped in lifeless hair and
dreams of gourds and rain.

Rachel Warren Headshot.jpg
Rachel Warren is a Portland, Oregon-based poet and editor. She is a bookseller at the independent book store Wallace Books, an editorial intern at Tin House Books, and a lover of bears and vegetable gardens.

Rachel’ s work was brought to our attention by poet Crystal Ignatowski, whom we interviewed here. We offered Crystal the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Rachel. Crystal says, “I met Rachel at Tin House Books. Right away I knew that she was special. She has a passion and eye for this industry that will take her far. She has edited my own work and provides exceptional feedback. I know Rachel is unpublished (but likely not for long), so I thought this would be a great way to get her name out there. I’m excited for what is yet to come for Rachel. I know she will do big things.”

So, here is Crystal’s interview with Rachel.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~When I was younger, I wrote what I called “flash poetry,” which was essentially a compilation of sensory “flashes” all surrounding a specific concept or event. I think that I still find a lot of that “flash” feel in my poetry as I get older, but it’s more confessional than it used to be.

Q~Tell us a little about “Fall Poem.”  How is it representative of your work? 

A~I think this poem is really representative of my work because in it I’m doing my best to glue together a group of specific and tiny images that, when you step back and look at it from afar, will give you an all-angles view of the concept I’m thinking of. Honestly, kind of like a photomosaic. I want to give you flashes of smaller images that, sewn together, create some kind of Frankenstein vision of the emotion at hand, which in this poem is that longing I feel for autumn every time we land in late-August/early-September.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~Poetry is my favorite form of storytelling because it just goes straight for the bones of the story. It lives in that meaty area of raw emotion and highly personal wordplay that really glitters under the light—that gives you everything you need to embody a character or a speaker or a moment without even necessarily needing a narrative or a setting or any other literary conventions. Also, poetry is also such a medium of play, even when it’s doing serious work. Writing poetry is a way of finding joy in the language, pairing words that don’t naturally partner and waking up the senses through unlikely combinations.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~I think, as with any storytellers, poets are here to infuse the world with truth. Emotional truth, narrative truth, hard truth, political truth. Poets are here to take red hot truth right out of our guts and remind the world around us what it means to be so blessedly human.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~My process changes radically and constantly. Right now, I’m submitting a pair of poems to a few magazines that were written in complete opposite ways. One of them was a concept that I labored over and struggled with and had to pull reluctantly out from under my bed for weeks. And, then the other one just fell into my lap, fully formed and cooing, all in one sitting. But, the one thing that never changes is that I’m always writing. I have a notebook and pen that are never further than 10 feet from me at any given time, and I make a concerted effort to put something, anything, down on the page every single day. And, some of it is abysmal! But, then if there’s even a strong line I can work with, that’s when the playing really starts and I draft a few times, then reach out to a few really reliable reader-friends for critiques.

Q~How is editing another writer’s work different than editing your own? How is it the same?

A~For me at least, editing someone else’s work is a lot easier than editing my own. I think a lot of people are their own harshest critics, and I am definitely no exception. When I’m editing someone else’s work, I’m able to just look at it for what it is and find where it’s succeeding and where it could use a little more polish to make it shine. There is a great Shannon Hale quote I used to give my students when I taught creative writing summer camps that says, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.” When I’m editing someone else’s work, that concept of the work as raw material is so much easier to remember than when I’m editing my own. But, I’m learning to apply that to my own work, too. I find myself making an effort to be kind and meet other writers where they are when I edit for them, and it’s a good reminder to give my own work that same amount of respect.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~William Carlos Williams. At the Oregon Writer’s Project Young Author’s Camp I first attended as a nine-year-old, we read The Red Wheelbarrow, and it was like in the movies when a character’s pupil’s dilate to the size of the moon, and they see the future. I was mindblown. Who knew you could make anything important just by spending time with it, giving it attention, treating it like a gift?! What a magic poem.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Right now I’m reading Sandra Cisneros’s collection My Wicked, Wicked Ways, which is a compilation of all of the poetry she wrote in her 20’s. In the introduction, she talks about what a messy decade her 20’s were and how these poems, for better or worse, helped her sort through it and become the poet she is today. As a messy 20-something, that really resonated with me, and it’s a gift to have the young works of an author I love and trust; to watch her grow and hope that I can do it, too.

Also, I’ve got a copy of Ada Limón’s new collection The Carrying coming to me soon, and I am so excited for it!

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

A~My best piece of writing advice is something I’m still grappling with and working on, which is that I think the most impactful poetry is honest. Even if the honesty is ugly. The best poetry comes from a place of truth. The moment you start hiding things from your poem (or, more broadly, from yourself) is the moment the poem loses its footing in your gut that’s gonna give it a place in your reader’s gut later. Plus, if we’re writing what we know, what better place to start than our own truths?

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

A~As of yet, I am unpublished! But I’m slowly putting my toes in the water of submitting. It’s tricky. I’ve never really known where to start, but I’m learning. So, keep your eyes peeled!  If you’re interested in poetry retweets, tabletop RPG rants, and far too much personal info, feel free to follow me on Twitter!

crystal headshotCrystal 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.

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