Tag Archives: confessional

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 I know Rachel is unpublished (but likely not for long), so I thought this would be a great way to get her name out there.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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Anne Sexton Talks to God / an interview with poet Jen Rouse

Anne Sexton Talks to God

by Jen Rouse

Anne, frantically twisting
her sea-tossed hair through
her fingers: I’m telling you,
you see, I’ve been here
before. I remember
the way you held me
and then pushed me
back into the water.
I remember! Why won’t
you acknowledge
that I’ve been here?!

God, turned towards
the sunset, back to Anne:
I know. I’m certain,
for you, it felt like that.
For me, it was often you
there, not quite within reach
yet, a tiny bird throwing
herself against the pane
of a window. I wanted
so much for you. But you
wanted your misery
just a little bit more.

Anne rises from the beach,
throws sand at God — her usual
tantrum: That’s a horrible fucking
thing for God to say. You’re not
really God are you? This is
not where I was supposed
to have landed. Where is my
boat, goddamnit?! I’m going.

God, softly, like the voice,
of an ocean, like the arms
of a tide: For some of you, I feel
more maternal, and your struggles
cause me something that manifests
in you as a kind of hellish anguish.
I would’ve let you come sooner, but you
were so strong. You had to do
it yourself. Such a constant dervish.
The unsettled rattle of your brain.

Anne: You could’ve saved me.
God: You could’ve saved yourself.
Anne: Why am I here?
God: You decided to row.

First appeared in Glass Poetry 2018.

JenRouseHeadshot

Jen Rouse is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Gulf Stream, Mississippi Review, Lavender Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Acid and Tender, was published by Headmistress Press in 2016. Riding with Anne Sexton, Rouse’s second book was recently released from Bone & Ink Press in collaboration with dancing girl press. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter.

Jen’s work was brought to our attention by poet Risa Denenberg, whom we interviewed here. We offered Risa the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Jen. Risa says, “Headmistress Press published Jen Rouse’s first book of poetry, Acid and Tender, in 2016. It was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize; the contest judge for that year was Ellen Bass. I was delighted to learn that Jen’s second book of poetry was being published with the fabulous title Riding with Anne Sexton, and I was totally blown away by this poem (“Anne Sexton Talks to God”), which was published online at Glass: A Journal of Poetry. In looking for more of Jen’s work, I learned that she had two poems published in Poetry in 2002. I was jealous! But also intrigued. Why did it take so many years for such an obviously accomplished poet to publish a first book? And, so pleased that Headmistress Press was given that honor.”

So, here is Risa’s interview with Jen.

Risa Denenberg:   That is a very brilliant poem. When did you first read Sexton’s poem, “Rowing” from The Awful Rowing Toward God? Did a particular line catch you in the throat?

Jen Rouse: So much of Sexton’s “Rowing” is about not fitting in and how the gaze of everyone watching the ways we don’t fit can seem to be constant.  Her line “I wore rubies and bought tomatoes” speaks to me of the ridiculousness of living that she really sought to convey in her final work.  The writing in the entire posthumously published The Awful Rowing Toward God has this frenetic feeling—the desperation of trying to find some foothold anywhere. And nothing takes. In my poem, I get Sexton to that island, and she has her first conversation with God. I rarely spare anyone (including myself) in my poems, and this piece is no different. Anne wants to understand why God would make her suffer, and God basically tells her: These were your choices. Not mine.

Risa: The poem is from your new book, Riding with Anne Sexton. Mazel tov on its publication! I am very much looking forward to reading it. Can you describe it for us? How can people order it?

Jen: Riding with Anne Sexton is an unflinching portrait of my relationship with mental illness. I use the conceit of a journey with Anne Sexton—a poet who committed suicide at age 45—as a way to examine the darkest and, perhaps, most tragic voices in my head. In an absence of connection and care, the confessional voice of the pieces expresses the constant struggle I face in trying to end suffering, even in the face of great beauty and hope, while capturing what it’s like to remain trapped in a cycle of pain, longing, and loss.

Riding with Anne Sexton is collaboratively published by Bone and Ink Press and dancing girl press. Sending $10 for the book plus $2 for shipping to my PayPal address will get you a copy.

book

Risa: You are a poet and a visual artist and also a playwright. How do these arts interact in your life and your work? Do you work on them at the same time or do you work on art or poetry or playwriting at different times?

Jen: When I first start to conceptualize a poem or a play, I often think in images or images pop up while I’m doing research.  Sometimes I draw or paint those images as a way to connect with my subject. Sometimes I draw while I’m writing if I need to approach the poems in a new way.

Risa: How did it feel to have poems published in Poetry in 2002 and then to not have your book, Acid and Tender (which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize) published until 2016 (by Headmistress Press)? Were you submitting the manuscript and getting rejections during those years? Or, did you take a hiatus from writing poetry?

Jen: Ha! It was the thrill of my life to have a poem next to Maxine Kumin’s in that issue of Poetry. What a trip. And,  it was an even bigger thrill when I got the Headmistress email, saying my first book was accepted.  Such a full heart for Headmistress! I was doing something I hate—clothes shopping—that afternoon, when I checked my phone and the message about my book was there. My sister was with me, and we totally flipped out in the store. The person helping us even gave me an extra discount on my purchase that day.

As for the years in between, I was still writing. I never stop writing. But, I had to do a lot of relationship work during that time. I moved to Iowa with my partner. I finally came out to my mom—because we would be near her in Iowa. I landed my job at Cornell College—where I have been for 15 years now and will go up for full professor this year. I gave birth to my now 13-year- old daughter, Madeline.

Risa: Did you feel that your identity as a poet was marginalized during those years?

Jen: My major mentor, the one who guest edited that issue of Poetry, rejected me when I had our child, basically treating me as though that decision was the one that would end my career as a writer. I’m a very devoted and loyal friend, and the sting of that still lingers. It wasn’t until one of my amazing poet friends—Paulette Beete—from my MFA program at American University asked me to participate in an online writing group that I really started thinking about the trajectory of my writing career, of getting better, of publishing again. A wonderful writing group. I am deeply indebted.

Risa: Who were your gateway poets? Ones who made you feel passionate about reading and writing poetry.

Jen: I only ever wanted boxes filled with poetry books for holidays. When I started struggling with mental illness at 14, I found Plath and Sexton captivating.  Later in high school, I had the biggest aha moment of my life. I only got to see Rich once in person, but on the day of her death I felt like something in me went with her. Later there would be Maureen Seaton, Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Li-Young Lee, Mark Doty, Louise Glück, and so many more.

Risa:  How do you feel being a lesbian affects your poetry?

Jen: There’s a kind of crazy wonderful courage I’ve developed over the last few years in my writing, especially in publishing poetry, that is very lesbian-centered. I love queering fairytales. I love having heartbreaking muses.  I want everyone to know what a fabulous press Headmistress Press is and how you and Mary Meriam made me excited to be a poet again, excited to have a community. The attention you pay to your authors and their works is truly remarkable.

Risa: Thank you! Is there any advice you want to share with other poets on writing, submitting, dealing with rejection, doing public readings, etc.

Jen: God, I really love every bit of the writing life. I’m too old to think too long about rejection—though when they come with thoughtful criticism I sincerely listen. I am old enough to lift up poets who need a boost in the mix. That’s important to me. I’ve always been a teacher and a learner. As a writer I want to be learning, constantly. When I do readings, I like to think of them as teaching moments. Of connecting with audiences in ways so that we really grapple with the material together.

Risa: How do you balance work life with your writing life? Also with your family/personal life?

Jen: I’m very fortunate to have a stellar community of colleagues at Cornell College. They celebrate my writing successes and promote my work. My last sabbatical really contributed to getting more of my work out into the world. Even though I’m constantly on the run, I believe it’s important to show my daughter that the life of the mind is important. She’s been in the audience for all of my plays. And she even asked if she could give my book, Acid and Tender (Headmistress Press), to two of her favorite teachers. Not that there is anything even close to balance, but I also don’t believe in bemoaning my choices. I live a life of privilege—with rewarding work and healthcare, a brilliant daughter, and supportive friends and family. Even when I struggle with my internal demons, I refuse to take these things for granted.

Risa:  On  lighter note, what are you reading this summer?

Jen: Your magnificent Slight Faith is on my bed, along with Maureen Seaton’s Fisher. I’m also reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

risa (2)Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, publisher of LBT poetry. She has published three chapbooks and three full length collections of poetry, including Whirlwind @ Lesbos (Headmistress Press, 2016) and slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Maybe / an interview with poet Kay Bell

Maybe

by Kay Bell

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

First appeared in Free Library of the Internet Void 2018.

kaybell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Q~How has your family reacted to your poetry?

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

 Q~Why do you write poetry?

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

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

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

 Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

origin story / An interview with poet Caseyrenée Lopez

origin story

by Caseyrenée Lopez

once upon a time
i wanted to die

be reborn a god

i stopped short,
killed myself

watched as i
became a christ

became my own
salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

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

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

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

Q~What drew you to poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the_new_gods_front_cover_1_large

 

Cloud / An interview with poet Ally Malinenko

Cloud

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
cloud
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

Cloud
like loud
I sound it out in my head

Run
Run
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
thinking

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
cloud
like loud
punch and run
suddenly
knowing
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

 

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.

Oilfields,
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;
toilets;
space heaters;
hot tea;
pillows.

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:
maples.

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.