We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger / an interview with poet Sarah Kain Gutowski

We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger

by Sarah Kain Gutowski

The woman doesn’t want to eat the bird, or the moth,
or swath her tongue in gnats or fruit flies.

Her tongue will not bend the way her mind dictates, in the way
her arm, sometimes late at night, abdicates the bed’s realm

and travels through the forest on its own. She feels a kind of static
where it used to lie, like a cloud of bees buzzing at her shoulder.

She dreams that her dismembered arm, a white branch stark
against the dark oak leaves, swings between the trees

and then crawls on its fingertips along the ground.
Her nail beds fill with black, wet earth. Her forearm glows

with the nighttime’s condensation: a slick, pale ember
in the moon’s occasional light. Beams push through the forest canopy,

highlight the crook of her elbow bent above a spider’s lattice,
or hooked around a clump of brush. Her arm, absent from sleep,

has great adventures. And then she wakes and shifts her weight,
only to discover something cold and clammy in the sheets beside her,

a lump of flesh she cannot call her own. Her other arm,
the one remaining in her bed, loyal until the end,

investigates by lifting the offending, foreign object
and then, in shock, dropping it.  It slaps against the mattress

and then the pain begins, the necessary hurt that comes
with reattachment. The cloud of bees lengthens and attacks,

a hundred stingers lodged inside her skin, and dissipates
like fog obscured by burning sun. And then she is aware

that her arm was always there, by her side,
and neither part, arm or mind, is happy when she awakes.

author photo

Sarah Kain Gutowski is the author of Fabulous Beast: The Sow (Hyacinth Girl Press) and a Professor of English at Suffolk County Community College, where she teaches writing and literature. Her writing has been published most recently in Phantom Drift: A Journal of New Fabulism and Painted Bride Quarterly.

She says it’s difficult to describe her style: “I’m certainly not experimental although I’m constantly trying new-for-me things in my work. I write a good deal of free verse, but I’m very interested in forms and what those restrictions can do for me in the act of creation, and how ultimately the form will support any kind of meaning.”

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

Q~Tell us a little about “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger.” How is it representative of your work?

A~This is from a fairy tale I wrote mostly with Spenserian stanzas but occasionally with these free verse poem “breaks” – kind of like the way a child interrupts a story with her questions as the parent reads to her. I like longer works, series of lyric poems that can tell a narrative. I’m a little in love with narrative.

Q~Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~This poem, the woman mentioned in it, is the protagonist of the fairy tale, a woman with a frog tongue who goes the way most (non-Disney) fairy tale heroines go – transformed through her trials, for better or for worse.

Currently, I’m making a poetry video out of this poem with one of my colleagues, Paul Turano, who’s a film editor and all around fantastic guy. He’s very patient with the fact that I have big ideas but little idea of how to execute them. The video **might** be ready by the end of April.

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

A~It came more easily than the rest of the fairy tale, partially because it was “triggered” by a question from my eldest daughter, to whom I was reading the fairy tale as I was creating it. She asked me, “Mama, couldn’t she eat a fly? Because she has a frog tongue.”

And, this was the weird answer that came out.

Q~What appeals to you about fairy tales?

A~Fairy tales — as a part of traditional literature like fable and myth, intended to explain our world while keeping us entertained by it —  pair the violently weird and inexplicable with attempts at constructing or exemplifying a moral code — and because fairy tales attempt these two things at the same time, they’re always going to fail in one way but succeed in another. I guess that’s what appeals to me — the mixture of failure and success, the way they demonstrate how human we are (while often employing inhuman, magical characters). The weird, violent side of fairy tales has always fascinated me and fascinates many writers. There are so many good fairy tales out there. Have you seen Del Toro’s The Shape of Water? It follows Vladmir Propp’s morphology of the fairy tale exactly — it’s so good. (Maybe not as good as Pan’s Labyrinth — that film is exquisite —  but it’s pretty damn good.)

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Anne Sexton. I still feel like no one writes weird the way Sexton does. I don’t return to her as much as I do my later loves (Bishop, James Wright, Glück, Walcott), but I love the strangeness of her metaphors and images and the way they also make a bodily – visceral – sense to me. The acknowledgment and value of physical sensation that’s present in Sexton’s work – the way it’s as important as emotions and intellect in our very makeup, our personhood – is probably something I’ve always gravitated toward in all poetry. It’s something I strive to include and address with my own writing . . . so I’d say she made a pretty big impression on me.

Q~I’d say you accomplished that visceral quality in “We Surrender Our Dreams to Hunger” with the dismembered arm. Who are you reading now?

A~Ashley M. Jone’s debut collection of poems, Magic City Gospel. She’s going to be the featured reader at a creative writing festival we hold at Suffolk in the spring, and her work is a fantastic deconstruction of personal history, the history of the South, and contemporary politics – laying bare the complex connections between all three. I’m also rereading Amy Leach’s book of funny, whimsical, super smart essays, Things That Are, because the collection brings me so much joy. Also also, I’m finishing up J. Marc Harding’s wonderful, dark novel, Drowning in Sand. Also also also, I’m 1/8 into about fifteen different books because I WANT TO READ ALL OF THE THINGS, AND I DON’T HAVE TIME. Ahem.

Q~You’ve been applying for writing residencies. What is the appeal? What do you think it will do for your writing?

A~The appeal is tenfold right now. I teach full-time, I run a couple of different projects at the college, and I have a husband and three children. I’ve built a very full and amazing life with the college and my family, but it often means that quiet time, reflective time – which is very important to me personally and essential to my writing – is scarce. I try to carve it out regularly, in mornings before kids wake up, occasionally at night after everyone’s in bed, but deep work — becoming totally and wholly immersed in creation – doesn’t happen often, and it’s something that’s also necessary (for me) for larger projects, like the play I’ve been working on for ** gulp ** almost seven years. So . . . the appeal is the solace, the quiet, the opportunity for thinking and working. In the end, I hope residencies will allow me to draft. I can revise like a champ with all of the other life-stuff happening around me. But drafting, for me, needs alone-ness. A lot of it.

Q~How has being a college instructor changed your own writing?

A~It’s kept me very engaged with the work of other writers and artists and thinking about craft and how and why I make the choices I make with my writing. I may not have as much time to put pen to paper as I’d like, but because of my teaching I’m constantly thinking about the purpose and function and effects of what we write, and how what we write is part of a larger conversation with the work of our contemporaries, the work of writers in the past, and the work of future writers. These are issues I bring to my students with each class, be it a writing or a literature class. And, then when I do have time to put pen to paper, all of these thoughts shape my writing, or are contained within the writing itself.

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

A~I’m still working on dealing with rejection myself, but a genuine focus on process over product helps. You really cannot help whether or not other people want to invest time and energy in your work. But, you can control the time and energy YOU invest in your work, to an extent; and if you’re putting time and energy into the work, you damn well better derive genuine joy and energy from the act of writing. If you don’t, you’re going to end up with a bitter, small inner life dominated by resentment. (I’ve been near that precipice before – I try to be conscious of staying as far from it as I can.)

Celebrating – again, genuinely – the work of other writers helps, too. It’s a good reminder that shared writing is part of a larger conversation, and that we can’t all speak at the same time, or nothing is heard.

Q~There are lots of publications out there. What are some literary gems you feel deserve more attention? Why will we love them?

A~BOMB magazine is amazing. A quick disclaimer – I am not always in love with their choices when they publish poetry or fiction. But, I absolutely adore their conversations between thinkers and creatives. I began reading BOMB in college, and it blew my little mind. You can be a poet and still find their interviews with architects and sculptors completely and wholly relevant and inspiring.

The Threepenny Review is also phenomenal. It may be “establishment” because it’s one of the oldest literary magazines in the states, and traditional/older lit mags may not print much work that challenges aesthetic norms (and, you know, sometimes that’s what you might be looking for), but it’s unsurpassed in its ability to make connections between ideas and various art forms, bringing together tremendous writers and thinkers and visual artists in each issue. The regular Symposium feature is one of my favorite things ever.

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

A~My web site has links to projects I’m involved with, like an online New Hive collaboration, as well to the journals I’ve been printed in. I’m also on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Readers might also check out the link to my chapbook publisher, Hyacinth Girl Press. I’d love it if they bought copies of Fabulous Beast: The Sow, of course, but there are so many other good authors whose chapbooks have homes there. The press is worth checking out and supporting.



Cloud / An interview with poet Ally Malinenko


by Ally Malinenko

I’m staring at that word
printed on an ad on the subway.
I’m not even sure what the rest of the ad
says or what it’s trying to sell just the word
the way it has loud in it

you’re a fucking bitch
you hear me you little bitch

I want to turn the volume up
in my headphones but everything
is locked. I will not move my arms
or my lips or my eyes.
I will not turn up the volume in my headphones
even though I don’t want to hear him.

I love telling bitches to suck my dick

He’s close enough that I think I can feel his breath
on my cheek
feel his hatred against my skin
I think
if he touches me
make a fist
thumb out
knuckles tilted down.
Go for the throat
and then run

like loud
I sound it out in my head

Punch and then run
to the other end of the subway car
but what if he catches me?
Keep punching.
Punch once and keep punching.

Suck my dick bitch
You fucking bitch

The train is nearly empty
though I make eye contact with the woman seated
in front of me
for a brief moment
her eyes say

I’m sorry,
I’m so sorry
but I can’t help you

before they flit away

You fucking bitch.

He hisses and I am frozen
like a deer in headlights
like a small useless thing
my teeth locked together
biting down hard
waiting for the doors to open

punch and run

cloud like loud.

He is not big
scrawny even
and my height

Out of the corner of my eye
I see his hands curl into fists
and I look back quickly at the ad
like loud
punch and run
he and I are thinking the same thing

First published in Paper and Ink Zine 2018.

ally malinenko photo

Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collections, The Wanting Bone, How to Be An American, Better Luck Next Year and Fitting the Ocean in Your Mouth as well as the novel, This Is Sarah. She lives in Brooklyn and tweets a lot about David Bowie and Doctor Who.

She describes her style as “narrative, usually first person and as straight forward as I can manage.” She says, “I don’t usually go for flowery descriptions. I try to cut to the chase though I’m sure I fail at that.”

Ally and Bekah’s work–including the above poem–appeared together recently in Paper and Ink Zine’s all-female issue, “Girls to the Front.” We wanted to know more about Ally and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us about your poem, “Cloud.” It’s really evocative. Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~Everything in this poem actually happened. It was on the 2 train on my way home from work. There was a super aggressive guy on the train saying all the things he says in the poem. The MTA in NYC had this initiative where they published poems with accompanying artwork in train cars. The poem that I was staring at when he was saying all of this was called “Cloud.” I don’t remember who wrote it or anything else about it. I don’t know why I changed it to an advertisement in the poem. For some reason that seemed easier. All I remember is that word and this man’s aggression and my own fear. There was another older woman there who I did briefly make eye contact with. I was only on the train with him for two stops, but it felt like a lifetime. When the doors opened at my stop I practically ran through the station.

Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~In the sense that it is a narrative, yes, it is pretty representative of my poetry. Because I am also a novelist most of my writing is an account of events, some real, some not. I write a lot about moving through the world as a woman from a feminist standpoint both to honor the good work that feminism has done and also to hold up a mirror to where it has failed women.

Q~What can you tell us about your current project for Women’s History Month?

A~John Grochalski has been running a resistance blog since Trump’s election. Every day he posts a piece of artwork–a poem, a story, a picture, what have you–as a means to combat the darkness. At the end of each week he includes a wrap up of what went down that week politically. In March he’s handing the reigns over to me so consider this my sincere plea for art. Creative women and women-identifying persons everywhere should send their work to winedrunksidewalk@gmail.com with the word “MARCH” in the subject heading, so I can feature them on the blog. There are no limitations to what you can talk about, but it would be amazing if for the month of March it was focused on elevating women’s voices and experiences. So, it doesn’t have to be about politics but anything about what it is like to navigate this world as a self-identified woman. Submission information is here. In times of uncertainty art can be both a sword and a shield. Art has the power to wake people up, alter their path, shake them into awareness. Pieces can be previously published, too; just give me a heads up as to where so I can credit them. John has kept this thing running for over a year, and I’m honored that he trusts me not to screw it up in March. In order to do that I need everyone reading this to please, please, please submit!

Q~What is the time frame for sending you submissions for the resistance blog?

A~There really isn’t. It’s an ongoing thing. Basically send something, and it will show up on the blog at some point. For March the sooner, the better because I’ve got to fill 31 days, and I really don’t want those 31 days to be the “Ally Show,” so I’ll take whatever people have got when they send it. And, I should stress that John is always taking submissions so even if they don’t get something in by March for Women’s History, he’s always looking for more women and POC and non-binary folks to fill the blog. He’s posting something every day for as long as that idiot is in the White House so….

Q~How does this relate to the poet’s role in society?

A~That’s an interesting question, considering the times we are living in. I think in general it’s the same as any writer–-to document our time. To hold a mirror up to humanity. To remind us who we were, who we are and who we have the potential to become. I think art has power, and writing has power, and the great thing about poetry is that simplicity of it. There’s a whole novel there in each and every one. Good poetry is a knife point that cuts right through the nonsense. And, right now there is a lot of nonsense. And, on the flipside, I think the amazing thing about art is that it is transformative. It can take us away from the nonsense, transport us, if only temporarily somewhere else–somewhere beautiful and peaceful. It works both ways. I think every poet should know that she carries those two possibilities every time she sits down to put words to paper.

Q~Why do you personally choose to write poetry?

A~I feel like even though I write prose and speculative fiction my inner voice sounds the most like my poetry voice. And, I started writing it as a teenager as I’m sure many poets did, so it’s just been something that I have been doing for a long time. Because so much of what I write is confessional and based on my life I find poetry really cathartic. I was diagnosed with cancer back in 2014, and unable to manage this huge crack in my life I turned to writing. I wrote poems about the whole experience, and that eventually turned into my book, Better Luck Next Year. In all honesty, being able to write about what was happening through poetry helped to keep me sane. Writing has always been there for me like that.

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

A~I write a lot of about death, or more so, the incredible luck it is that you are even alive to begin with, how everything had to go perfectly right since the very beginning of time. Sort of like Mary Oliver’s “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” I use writing as a means of connection. I throw something out in the world and see if it resonates with anyone else. I’m basically saying, “Hey I feel this. Do you feel it, too?” Whenever that happens I feel like this human web gets a little bit tighter, a little bit stronger. Against all obvious signs I still believe in the goodness of people.

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene?

A~Honestly, I’m not. I’ve done some readings in Brooklyn–a whole lot more in Pittsburgh where I went to college and maintain some close friendships–but scenes in general always made me uncomfortable. I don’t particularly like reading. I don’t like being on stage and being looked at. No matter how many readings I do, my hands still shake like it’s the first time. Sometimes I wonder if it’s because the stuff that I usually write poetry about is so personal that I just feel like a fool up there. I might as well be reading out of my journal! When I do readings in Pittsburgh and see my friends, who are also all writers, it doesn’t feel so much like a scene as it does a bunch of people hanging out, drinking, listening to records and talking about books and movies and music. Maybe that is a scene, I don’t know.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Anne Sexton. Definitely. I jokingly refer to her as my mother. The confessional style that she used to cut right down to the heart of everything I had wanted to say. I read her as a teenager, and she legitimized what I had been scribbling down in secret. She made it okay to say it out loud. She became a gateway drug to Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds and down to my current obsession, Marie Howe. Howe is my hero and everything I aspire to be.

Q~What is it about Marie Howe and her work that you love and want to emulate?

A~I don’t know. I struggle a lot with poets. It’s strange because I love it, and I love to write it but often I have trouble finding people that I love to read which is terrible when it comes to looking for inspiration. When my husband gave me Marie’s first book, I couldn’t stop reading it. I walked through the subway at Atlantic Station reading it, and honestly if you know how awful Atlantic Station is and how much I hate people who meander in the subway, you’d understand how huge that is. Every line just seemed to cut right through me. Her book What the Living Do is powerful as hell. She’s got this poem in it about how if she could go back in time and see herself as a little girl she knows that girl would never come into her arms, would never trust her enough. As if even as a little girl she was still a woman with a woman’s sense of caution, fearing even herself. I just really related to that. And, her poems about her brother dying of AIDS would gut anyone. I’m just saying, very few poets have made me cry. Go read the poem “The Last Time” about her brother confronting her about death and her insistence that she understood that he was going to die. It’s short–maybe 10 lines–but the end is an absolute punch in the stomach. I won’t ruin it because it’s that good. I read that poem and thought about that poem and realized that is the kind of poetry I had been trying to write my whole life. Something that opens you up, makes you feel comfortable or familiar and then by the end, flips it on its head. And, then even the mundane, the way she writes about a cheese and mustard sandwich, the messy parts of living, of what it means to pass through one day after another, how we balance that mundane with the knowledge that all of this is going to end forever. She does it like no one else. I just wish she would write a book more than once a decade, but that’s just cause I’m greedy.

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

A~I don’t know if this is really advice as much as what I practice. I’m a big believer in my schedule. I get up every weekday morning at 4:45 am, and I write until I need to start getting ready for work around 7:15. I’ve been doing this for over ten years–my husband who is also a writer, started this plan–and I really feel like it works. There is no way I could have produced four books of poetry and three novels without it. I guess something has to be sacrificed to the muse, right? I chose sleep.

Q~What’s it like being married to another writer?

A~Oddly enough other than complaining about being short on ideas, we don’t really talk about it that much. We’re very different writers even though we’re both poets and novelists. There was a small period of time where I wanted us to share notes and give feedback on each other’s work. I wanted to blend this part of our lives together, and it was an absolute disaster. I tortured the poor boy. We’ve both got really strong personalities and really strong writing voices, so it turned into this thing where I would be like, “Well if I wrote it….” and it was a mess. Because I didn’t write it. He did. And I needed to respect that. I think most creatives who are in long relationships with other creatives discover that you need to keep the relationship and the work separate sometimes. I don’t think it’s a terribly good idea for your writer-partner to be critiquing your work. I think you need less involved sources. On the flip side, it’s really fantastic to have someone to bitch with. To complain about magazines going under or who rejected your work. I mean writers can be petty as hell, so it’s nice to have someone on your side in the trenches. I respect what he does, and he respects what I do, and we support each other. But, we’re not a writing circle. Hell, no.

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

A~Pretty much everything is on my website. I also tweet (probably too much) at @allymalinenko, and I’m on Instagram and FB and all the other social media things. And, at the end of the day a Google search will pull up a pretty fair idea of what I do. You can also purchase my latest poetry book, Fitting the Ocean in Your Mouth, here.

Fitting the Ocean in Your Mouth cover


Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa


by M.J. Iuppa

Overhead, clouds billow
in wind that can’t seem
to settle on one direction.
They hesitate in the way
we hesitate in the skip
of thought–a pause

that sinks like a small
stone finding its place
in this pond’s pocket.

The search for the right
word seems hopeless
like a small explosion,

like panic–we look
around, feeling

First published in Third Wednesday 2017.


M.J. Iuppa, Director of the Visual & Performing Arts Minor Program and Lecturer in Creative Writing at St. John Fisher College and a part-time lecturer in Creative Writing at The College at Brockport, was awarded the New York State Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Adjunct Teaching, 2017.

She says her poetry is “steeped in the traditions of imagism, followed by deep imagism, drawing its lyrical strength from Japanese poetry forms, in particular haiku.”  She’s interested in “the many ways image can convey idea, and how in its cumulative effect can make a deeper meaning.”

M.J. and Bekah’s work–including the above poem–appeared together recently in Third Wednesday. Both poets are also a part of the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour.  We wanted to know more about M.J. and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Restless.” What inspired it?

A~“Restless,” the poem you have selected to feature in this interview, was written in Late September, 2017, and published in Third Wednesday, Vol. XI, No. 1. On that particular day in late September, I had decided to take a walk in the woods across the street from our farm.  Inside this pocket of woods in Hamlin State Park, there is a secluded fishing spot called Howden Pond. That day, as every day, I was thinking hard about our current politics. The clouds in this poem capture the unrest, the chaos of our daily life, and the thrown stone, finding its spot in the pond, is a marker of being here, being present. Being wordless isn’t the lack of words, but how do “We” let the right words out in this constant affront to our civil rights. The realization of being  “homeless” came quickly in that held moment when I was alone at that pond’s edge.  This poem has struck a chord with many who have read this issue of 3rd Wednesday. I am grateful for their effort to find me via social media, to begin conversations that will buoy me in these times of uncertainty.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~Whenever I have been steeped in the reading and writing of prose, and have a yearning to spend time on poetry which, at that moment, I fear will be totally lost, I spend a day in observation (plein air) and haiku.  This practice allows me to focus on the precision of language. Much of my writing is inspired by the natural world, and since I live on a small farm in Western, NY, near the shores of Lake Ontario, I have let this landscape be my teacher and muse. Consequently, through nature, I have found a way to expose human nature.

Q~How has being a teacher of creative writing changed you as a poet?

A~I have been teaching for 27 years.  First, I am teaching artist, working in the schools (K-12) in and around (100 mile radius) Rochester. I love my work. So many of the children I have met have shown up as adults in my creative writing, literature, and Arts classes offered at St. John Fisher and The College at Brockport. I have had the great pleasure of seeing many of these young poets and writers realize their literary dreams, and I’m still cheering them on.

Teaching hasn’t changed me as a poet, but I think the good discussion of poetry has changed me. In Spring 2017, I had the opportunity to teach a 400 level advanced poetry class at The College at Brockport. Besides a selection of contemporary full length poetry collections and chapbooks, I used a remarkable anthology, Love Rise Up: Poems of Social Justice edited by Steve Fellner and Phil Young, for the first time. The discussions based on student presentations of the poems in this anthology stayed with us, long after the presentations.  In some cases, when I happen to see the students who were in that class, we resume the conversation.

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

A~Over the years, I have heard many poets and writers complain about writer’s block, and my suggestion for those who are staring at a blank page is to do something else, like go for a walk, organize a drawer, do the dishes, exercise, go for a drive in the country, take a break from your busyness.  Depending on the activity, your creative consciousness can be subtly working on whatever you want to write. It’s quite remarkable how this works. For example, before I wrote my MFA thesis for Rainer Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University, I knitted it.  Weeding our three vegetable gardens gave me Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016) and This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). This method works, and you accomplish two things.  

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

A~Yes, I have been very active in Rochester’s local poetry scene.  I am one of the founding members of Writers & Books, Rochester’s Community Literary Center, which has served the Rochester and surrounding communities for 36 years. I was the curator of The Genesee Reading Series at Writers & Books from 1991-2006. The Genesee Reading Series showcases local poets and writers, at various stages of their careers.  It’s a warm and generous venue that celebrates good writing.

At the state level, I have served as the Poetry Advisor for the New York State Foundation for the Arts (2005-2012), and most recently (2015 & 2016), I was the poetry judge for the New York State Fair, which was in the spirit of celebrating New York in its facts and folklore.

Q~When I hear “state fair,” I think country music performances and prize-winning pigs. I LOVE that the New York State Fair includes a poetry contest. Can you tell me a little more about it?

A~This poetry competition began in 2015 under the supervision of Rochester poet, Gerald Schwartz. The poems were submitted in categories, Youth to Adult.  Prizes and ribbons were awarded in a special ceremony. Family, friends and fair visitors sat in the cool of the auditorium and listened to the winning poems.

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

A~I have a web page and blog; and a presence on Facebook and LinkedInYou can also order Small Worlds Floating (Cherry Grove Collections, 2016)  and my new book, This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017) at Amazon.

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

A~Lastly, I think it takes a whole life to be a poet. I don’t think people “become” poets.  I think they “are” poets, and having a whole life gives them the means to perfect their craft.

The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

The High Road

by Allyson Whipple

I. Highway
To know if you love
someone, drive
at least 500 miles with them.

Make the night owl get up early,
and the early bird wait.

I stare too hard at how
industry has cracked
open landscape.

We cross into New Mexico.

fracking rigs,
behind us.

For 100 miles,
I sighed at dead
earth, sites
where trash outnumbered
cacti, where groundwater
was full of poison.

We cross from oil country
into no country.

II. Atmosphere
To know if you love
someone, spend
a week in close quarters.

West wind careens
against our tent at 35 miles
per hour. The sides buckle.

I am about to suffocate
in my shelter.

Wind brings the tent
to its knees.

The roof pulls down
toward our faces,
hair flying skyward
with static electricity.

The car our only refuge,
I watch sun
rise across a crack
in the windshield.

III. Cavern
An 800-foot descent
into the cavern.
In darkness, all my body
craves is sleep.

My knees have never known
such pressure.
My body thinks it is about to break.

I am deep in the heart
of New Mexico.
Some stalactites
still pulsing.
Some stalagmites
still reaching up
toward a ceiling
they will never penetrate.

An 800-foot ascent
out of the cavern.
My thighs burn
in cool cave air.

Upon emergence
I believe I am weightless.

IV. Bluff
On the night of no wind,
my body cannot adjust
to the cold, even with three
shirts, two pairs
of paints, gloves,
socks, hat, three cups
of coffee, two warm
bowls of beans.

The tent befriends
the air, welcomes
the chill in.

Things I took
for granted:
brushing my teeth;
space heaters;
hot tea;

My body believes
if I sleep, I die.

V. Water
When I am in the desert
all I think about is water.
Each drop I drink,
use to wash dishes,
my face, to brush my teeth.

On the night of rain,
we stay dry.

The tent stands
firm against the whims
of weather.

On the night of rain,
I sleep.

VI. Trail
We cross back into Texas.
Road signs only speak
of superficial distance.

At our best
we move two miles
an hour.
At our worst, half.

Two miles
into the Chihuahuan desert:

For a moment, I can believe
we are borderless.

I did not understand
how much dust
the desert contained.

Two more miles:
pine trees and firs
run up and down the mountain.

I did not understand
how quickly a landscape
could change on me.

VII. Peak
You warned me
about the weight of water.
I only half-listened.

Anyone who makes a metaphor
out of climbing a mountain
has never summited anything.

My body believes
if I stop,
I will never walk again.

There is no metaphor
for having to carry the remnants
of your own excrement
in order to leave no trace.

On top
of the mountain,
I am too tired
to sit.

We can look down,
see clouds beneath us.

I cry,
but I am not sure why
I need to.

To know if someone loves
you, cry
in front of them.

I am almost too tired
to stay awake
for the stars.
The Milky Way
a white ribbon
for my naked eyes.

For a moment, I believe
we are bodiless.

To know if you love
someone, climb
a mountain with them.

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

She describes herself as “an environmentalist and a feminist struggling with how to be political on the page. A confessional poet struggling with the ethics of turning real people into art. A poet in love with Texas, and angered every day by Texas politics.” She says she writes “from the intersection of deep love and deep conflict. A study of tension, always tension.”

Allyson and Bekah’s work has appeared together in TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism’s “Animal Instincts” Issue (2013) and When Women Waken’s “Knowing: Issue (2014). We wanted to know more about Allyson and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~In the workshop I was enrolled in last spring, we were asked to write a poem that was a minimum of 6 pages long, without individual sections. I’d never attempted to write a poem that long before, but I was set to take a week-long camping and backpacking trip in the Guadalupe Mountains. I decided to draft the poem throughout the trip as a travelogue. On revision, I shortened things slightly and did add relevant sections, but the essence of the trip is still there.

Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.

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

A~The first draft was grueling, because up to that point I hadn’t written a poem longer than a page. I had to really stretch myself here. I was grateful to be able to revise and trim it down and shape it into a poem that felt more my own.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~My process is always changing. I find I need more mental/creative composting time than I used to. My poems require more research, because my works has become more concerned with the world beyond my limited vision and experience. These days I go through bursts of writing and revising, and then I spend several weeks doing anything but writing. Those fallow periods used to scare me. I used to think they were dry spells and worry if I’d ever write again. But I’ve come to realize they’re an essential part of my process now. I do have daily habits (yoga, meditation, walking). I feel I get stronger poems now that I’m not trying to push creativity every single day.

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

A~The Austin scene is amazing. The Austin Poetry Society hosts monthly meetings, talks, open mics, and critique groups. We’re home to some amazing slam organizations, including Austin Poetry Slam and NeoSoul. The Austin International Poetry Festival is a mainstay of our city. And of course, the University of Texas, Austin Community College, St. Edwards University, and Huston-Tillotson University all contribute through journals, readings, classes, and events. We have some of the best local bookstores around, including BookWoman, which is one of just a dozen feminist bookstores left in the country. And, we have open mic events in Austin or surrounding towns nearly every night of the week. My all-time favorite is I Scream Social, a showcase that features women-identified poets (and free ice cream!) every month. I’m there regularly and hate the months when I have to miss out.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I love poetry that plays with form, such as the abecedarian sonnets in Barbara Hamby’s All Night Lingo Tango. I simultaneously love the expansive poems of Rachel Zucker, and the compression of haiku. As for dislikes, I’ve never really enjoyed a poem in which the word “fart” appears.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, and it feels like every poet is reading this book right now, but also I think everyone should be reading this book right now, so that’s a good thing.

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

A~Your process is going to change. Your creative interests are going to change. Your projects are going to change wildly between when you get that first idea and when you actually finish them (or let them go). Sometimes that change can make us uncomfortable. However, it’s inevitable, and it’s worth learning to accept that all or most aspects of your writing are going to evolve over time.

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

A~My high has been finding a long-distance haiku partner. Each week, we send each other a new haiku by midnight in our respective time zones. No critique, no judgment, just sharing poetry. Not necessarily writing for publication, or worrying about whether the poem will go anywhere. Just writing and sending it. And, sometimes we miss our deadline, but we pick back up again. At the end of the year, my friend surprised me by telling me what his five favorites were. That’s the only feedback, and it was a delight to know which pieces had resonated with him the most. We’re all our own worst critic, so I loved knowing that two pieces I thought were inadequate actually were his favorites. This very simple writing practice brings me incredible joy.

Here’s one of my haiku partner’s favorite pieces of mine:

the breath from my sun
salutations in time
with your snoring

My poetry low, I hate to admit, has been my MFA program. Although I will graduate in the spring with a manuscript, my program has isolated me more than fostered community. I now understand why some people never write again or don’t write for many years, after completing an MFA. It has been difficult for me to speak about this, and I would never say that nobody should do an MFA program, but it was definitely a mistake for me.

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

A~In the spirit of not ending this interview on a low note… In addition to my thesis, I’m working on a long-term project in which I’m creating blackout poems of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. I post updates on Instagram, my blog, and my Medium account, so if you’re interested in those, check out my social media and enjoy!

Q~What drew you to Ezra Pound’s Cantos?

A~I was drawn to it for a few reasons: 1. Ezra Pound, for all he contributed to poetry, was a fascist. There’s apparently been a resurgence of blackout poetry since our current president took office. I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to write over the words of politicians and artists with gross moral failings and make our own texts out of them. 2. The Cantos seems largely antithetical to Pound’s earlier poetics. Of course, poets and their creative interests change over time. But the Cantos are bloated, stuffed with allusions you need a degree in classics to understand, and the imagistic impulse Pound once prized is buried in a convoluted narrative. Once while on a hike, my boyfriend off-handedly suggested it might be fun to try to turn each canto into a haiku. I didn’t take his actual idea, but I am interested in finding the actual images in each poem.  3. Pound said “Make it new.” Well, Ezra, I’m taking your advice literally!

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

A~I’m participating in the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, and you can find work there:  http://allysonmwhipple.com/. I also have recent work in the Summer/Fall issue of WORDPEACE. Finally, I have haiku forthcoming in Under the Basho.

Poet Interviews

In order to promote the work of fellow female-identified and non-binary poets and engage in interesting conversations regarding poetry, we have begun featuring poet interviews on Sundays and Wednesdays. Each poet interviewed also has the opportunity to “pay it forward” by selecting a poet to interview for the series.

Interviews are promoted via the hashtag #poetblogrevival, as part of the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour started by Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer.

If you have questions about this interview series, please reach out via the Contact page.


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