Tag Archives: family

Resurrection Party / an interview with poet Trish Hopkinson

Resurrection Party

by Trish Hopkinson

You ask me to take the Christ costume
out of the closet. It’s been a year

since your consciousness went
missing—stunned out of you

into the road: collision of machine & boy,
no pulse in your wrists, your ghost

gasping. Crash doesn’t capture it: your halo
ringing as it bounced from gutter

to sidewalk, singing down concrete
end over end. I wonder, did you throw

your shoulder against your eyelids, wanting
to burst through those last slits

of light? Your recollection of this
is dead, as is the seven days

after. Yes, the neuro-surgeons were pleased
when you answered: your name, the year, but didn’t

know your whereabouts. You told us in nature, lying
hazily in chirping forest, or at a tattoo parlor

getting ink on your abdomen: the half-arch
of a rainbow. Sometimes, you’d remember

you’re in the neuro ICU & we’d
celebrate. Funny—the detachment of body

and brain. I smile when I see the party photos
you post online: you, dressed as Christ,

thorny crown, death metal makeup,
bottle of Hennessey in your hand.

First appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal 2017 (To hear Trish read this poem click here.)

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Trish Hopkinson is author of three chapbooks and has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Tinderbox, Pretty Owl Poetry, and The Penn Review. You can follow Trish on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.

It was from Trish that we first learned of The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, and she was part of the inspiration for this interview series. Trish and Bekah were published together in Shabda Press’s Nuclear Impact: Broken Atoms in Our Hands in 2017, and Bekah was honored when Trish chose to read one of Bekah’s poems along with her own in a reading for the anthology. We wanted to know more about Trish and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~My approach to writing poetry is to quickly write a first draft and then revise it a million times. I love workshopping and missed it so much after I graduated end of 2013 with my undergrad in English/Creative Writing I co-founded a poetry group called Rock Canyon Poets. We meet monthly to workshop each other’s poems, and we also have a private web site where we can do more of the same.

My poems vary in form, but are most often free verse. I’m a sucker for a great internal rhyme, a little alliteration, and how the words are spaced on the page. I like to play around with stanza length, caesuras, white space, etc.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included with your interview. Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~“Resurrection Party” is one of several poems in my latest manuscript about my son’s recovery from a life threatening accident that occurred in 2015—he was hit by a speeding pickup truck in an intersection in downtown Salt Lake City while riding his bicycle to meet friends. The poem is a true story, and I love the way it shows his personality and creative spirit. Fortunately, he recovered almost completely, except for the loss of his sense of smell. The experience was the most difficult thing I’ve had to face as a parent. It took me a couple of years to start writing the poems and even then, these were the most emotionally exhausting poems I’ve written. I thought about what to write, how to write it, took notes, and considered whether to write them at all for months before drafting the first poem. Then, it took me months to determine whether a chapbook length manuscript on this topic would be the best fit. I’ve sent it out to several presses and contests, so we will see what happens next. So far, only two of the poems from the collection have been published. But, my son has read them all, shares them with his close friends, and heard me read several of them at multiple events. I love that he’s so proud of them and that he has an appreciation for my work and poetry in general.

Q~Your contributions helping other poets through your blog and social media were part of the inspiration for this interview series. What made you decide to do this work?

A~I’m so thrilled to hear that my blog helped to inspire your interview series! My blog really has been a happy accident. I originally created the site just as a place to post poems for others to read when asked about my work. As I started submitting and looking for writing resources online, I found that my blog was a good place to save them. Then I shared one of my posts in a Facebook group and received such positive response, I decided to keep sharing. I also noticed that in the writing community some writers are competitive—they don’t want to share opportunities for fear that someone else will be published or win the contest instead. It seems to me that poetry just does not get enough attention in general, and the more I can share, the numbers of poetry readers might just grow, which means a larger market for my work while supporting other poets along the way. I kept trying new things based on my own research, like lit mag submission calls, then interviews with editors, guest blog posts, etc. and continued to get more followers and great feedback. I’ve learned so much along the way and I’m still learning every day.

Q~How do you balance your time between your own writing, the work you do to help other writers and your life outside of writing?

A~This is a great question. I do have a lot of poetry projects going on, locally with my poetry group Rock Canyon Poets, Provo Poetry poemball machines, Poetry Happens (a monthly radio feature of poetry events in Utah), an annual community writing workshop, two annual anthologies, festivals, readings, open mics, the list goes on and on. And, of course, a full-time career in software product management, my blog, and my own writing. It’s a delicate balance to be sure. Ultimately, all the work I do for poetry feeds and supports my own writing practice as well. I’m continually learning, finding inspiration, and growing as a writer. Timewise, I focus a lot on efficiency, large blocks of time to work on specific projects or to write, so I’m not stopping and starting too often. And, I have a very patient husband and family, who let me spend hours in my office uninterrupted. They know how important poetry is to me and have been an amazing support system. I often combine poetry activities with other things—like weekend trips, family time, dinner before or after an event, etc.

Q~What is your local poetry scene like?

A~It’s growing! There are several open mics, lit mags and journals, bookstores, organizations, and events. I’m doing all I can to spread the word about poetry happenings and to involve the general public. That’s really what the Provo Poetry project is all about. It too, started on accident; my friend and co-founder Marianne Hales Harding had a couple of gumball machines and we thought, why not fill them with poems? We applied for a mini grant from Utah Humanities and now have four machines—one in a café, one in a bookstore, one in a radio station, and one we take to events. The machines have been successful enough to fund supplies, new machines, and even for an annual cash prize poetry contest. The coolest part is that the machines include poems from Utah poets—bringing new readers to poetry and supporting local, living poets. You can learn more about Provo Poetry on our web site here: https://provopoetry.org/about/

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Q~There are lots of publications out there–many of which you have featured on your blog. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~Sundress Publications is doing so much incredible work in the writing community. They have multiple programs/projects with opportunities for poets and writers, including Sundress Academy for the Arts, SaftaCast, Poets in Pajamas, and several literary publications: Best of the Net, Stirring, Rogue Agent, Pretty Owl Poetry, Agape Editions, cahoodaloodaling and more. Their staff are generous and wonderful to work with, and they don’t charge submission fees for regular submissions.

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

A~Most importantly, when submitting to literary markets, I encourage poets and writers to send to several (simultaneously if possible) and to not take rejection as a reflection of the quality of their work. There are many reasons why a piece may not be a good fit—maybe the topic has recently been covered in a previous issue, maybe similar work has already been accepted, maybe the piece doesn’t fit well within the aesthetic of the issue or collection, maybe they’ve simply ran out of room. If I believe in my work, I’ll keep sending it. One of my poems was rejected 31 times before being published. I’m sure that record will be broken in the future.

Q~What online resources would you like to recommend?

A~I have a list of my favorite “Writing Resources” links on my blog. You can find it by scrolling down past the Twitter feed on the right sidebar. Specifically, I love Entropy, The Review Review, Winning Writers, Authors Publish, Erika Dreifus, and Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Most recently I’ve been reading Tommy Pico, Tracey K. Smith, Paisley Rekdal, and Lance Larsen. And, I’ve been completely addicted to the Commonplace podcast. It’s so fantastic.

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

A~I post all my publications on my blog here: https://trishhopkinson.com/poetry/. I also sell signed copies of my third chapbook Footnote in my store here: http://trishhopkinson.storenvy.com/products. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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Jeopardy / An interview with poet Chella Courington

Jeopardy

by Chella Courington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally appeared in Avatar Review, Spring 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

A~No Fee Calls for Poems Hosted by Trish Hopkinson

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

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

Of Some Mothers / an interview with poet Naomie Jean-Pierre

Of Some Mothers

by Naomie Jean-Pierre

I have heard it said that / as a bear defends her cubs / so may she maim them / in the process/

how I got here / is no mystery / that I am part miracle and part ecosystem / is truth / wild and sacred / are we / in our natural state / and we are doing life scared / or scarred with seven generations of survival / beneath their / our / my nails

IMG_20180713_182227-01-01-01-01Naomie Jean-Pierre is a MA literature candidate at City College of New York. She hails from Haiti by way of Atlanta. By day, she tutors high schoolers at Countee Cullen library of Central Harlem. By night, she versifies the raw material of daily life.

Naomie’s work was brought to our attention by poet Kay Bell, whom we interviewed here. We offered Kay the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Naomie. Kay says, “I chose Naomie because through her work we connect with themes that are often complex yet relevant. The way she articulates aching is so lovely that we see the thin line between pain and beauty and question if we can even experience one without the other.”

So, here is Kay’s interview with Naomie.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~I think my style is a collection of streams, flowing into one major stream. Sometimes that flow is expressed smoothly like calm waters. Other times, that style is harsh, dangerous waters. The waters of trauma and anger rise, waters of survival and confrontation. My style also speaks from streams like Atlanta (pronounced Ah-lanna), a Haitian-refugee household, Pentecostal pews, and political and social dialectics. So sometimes, my style will be intellectual and other times, it will bleed with the streets that I have walked.

Q~Tell us a little about “Of Some Mothers.” How is it representative of your work?

A~I love to write about generations, about women and about nature. The form of this poem is free and eclipsed at moments by dashes that either disrupt or rush the flow. This is quintessential of my writing in that it attempts to capture something as nuanced as motherhood without casting blame, simply observation. It is like watching a stream flow and noticing the different currents that push the water in this or that direction.

Q~Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~My mother is the bear, and cubs trail not too far behind.

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

A~Most of my poems just come out. If I am writing right, not from a place of intellect, but of dreams and focused feelings, then the poem will write itself. Later, I return with small tweaks here and there to make sense of the raw feeling that is hidden within.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I hate that almost nobody ever really knows what I am saying. When I write, I have to chip at the raw material of my senses for a long time. I have been guilty of over-doing it and worst, writing to be understood.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

 A~The poet is a prophet, I think. And, some prophets prophesy through intercession, through weeping. Others, by hurling stones or travelling through wildernesses. Some wait on walls and watch for a word. Some prophets sit in wells and feed on very little. They eat from the mouth of ravens. I think overall, though that no matter what kind of prophet, a poet’s role is to be a mouthpiece, an instrument for society to hear again. Poetry is the song of the soul. It’s pain, comfort, lessons, love–all of these aspects of our flesh made word. Those moments that are deeply impossible to articulate, those songs that are muted, resonate and sound on a poet’s tongue. Once they land, we share something that reminds us all that we are more than flesh, even something more than what can even be worded. We can be reconciled to one another. As such, poets remind society and the individual that it is possible to author new agreements between one another.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

 A~The youngin’ in me wants to say Langston Hughes. It was because of him that I traveled to South Africa, that I came to Harlem. I would stare at a photograph of him in his youth. In his hands, he held a book but I could not take my eyes off his knuckles. I could sense the struggle despite the smoothness of his skin. The strain between his fingers made his knuckles protrude, an image that reminds me of that iconic photograph image of the enslaved man’s back. You know the one. It look like someone carved a tree onto his back. Well, that is what Langston’s poems did for me, and I would be lying if I said it ended with me at 14 or 21 or 27.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Nowadays I am revisiting Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, and Rita Dove.

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

A~I would say to not war with time. Let every rejection and confirmation of your words secure you into something that is unshakable. For me, that unshakable security is in the fact that I write for an audience of one. That one is not even myself, because there have been dozens of times where I wanted to throw my children away. But, no. That one for me is God, who I feel sometimes over my shoulder saying ‘Keep that. That’s good.’ In time, what I keep becomes something that keeps me.

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

 A~A short story and a collection of short essays can be found in Fiction Magazine.  A website is coming soon.

kaybellKay 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. Her website is www.iamkaybell.com

Hunger / an interview with #poetblogrevival cofounder Kelli Russell Agodon

Hunger

by Kelli Russell Agodon

If we never have enough love, we have more than most.
We have lost dogs in our neighborhood and wild coyotes,
and sometimes we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes
we don’t want to. Once I brought home a coyote and told
my lover we had a new pet. Until it ate our chickens.
Until it ate our chickens, our ducks, and our cat. Sometimes
we make mistakes and call them coincidences. We hold open
the door then wonder how the stranger ended up in our home.
There is a woman on our block who thinks she is feeding bunnies,
but they are large rats without tails. Remember the farmer’s wife?
Remember the carving knife? We are all trying to change
what we fear into something beautiful. But even rats need to eat.
Even rats and coyotes and the bones on the trail could be the bones
on our plates. I ordered Cornish hen. I ordered duck. Sometimes
love hurts. Sometimes the lost dog doesn’t want to be found.

Previously published on the Academy of American Poets website:
Poets.org Poem-a-Day 2017.

Kelli Agodon full photoKelli Russell Agodon’s most recent book, Hourglass Museum was a Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards. Her other books include The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice and Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, Winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Prize for poetry. Kelli is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press.

Kelli describes her writing this way: “If someone walked into a fancy party in flip-flops, hugged a few guests, drank some champagne, opened the windows so wild birds could fly in and perch on the chandelier then took every one on a field trip to the cemetery, that would be my style.”

Kelli and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, which Kelli started with Donna Vorreyer. We wanted to know more about her, her writing and the origins of #poetblogrevival, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~I think this is one of the poems I am most known for, and I feel it’s a good representation of my work because it’s both dark and funny (well, I think it’s funny). Usually when I read it to an audience, they laugh when the narrator brings home the coyote and tells her lover she has a new pet, and then I hear gasps when we come to the part about that cat. As someone who grew up being told weird stories of deaths in my family, I was brought up with the idea that’s what life is—we’re all having a good time then someone dies. But, there is also love and humor. There are also people trying to be helpful and also making mistakes. Maybe my entire philosophy for life is in this poem—we want to be loved, we screw up, bad things sometimes happen, we do our best to go on, and we hope to have dinner together in the end.

Q~Why poetry?

A~Why love, why sex, why desire, why nature, why curiosity, why find art when the world is falling apart?

Our reality is where we look, so why not look to words, why not create? No one apologizes for watching sitcoms or organizing the shed, we shouldn’t even have to question poetry. Why poetry? Why not.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Imagine the sky on a foggy day, then imagine the sun coming through the darkness, or the sun not coming through and an entire day of shade—that’s my writing process.

The majority of my poems are never submitted or published. I just enjoy writing and creating. When I wake up and the first thing I do is to write a poem, that is when I’m living my best life (as Oprah would say).

Q~What are your poetry likes and dislikes?

A~Likes: I love poets who write about relationships, desire, weird stuff, death, personal struggles, their own lives/issues, and who bring vulnerability to their work in whatever form or way they are dealing with it. I like inclusively, realizing we’re all at different parts of a journey and to respect and honor that. I like kind and helpful poets who help raise other poets up than to bring other poets down. I love poets who share poems, who interact with a large group of people and find ways to make the world a better place. I love to be surprised by poems and to see language used in interesting ways. I like visual poems and when poems appear in unexpected places. I like long walks on the beach with poetry and getting caught in the rain…

Dislikes: Ego. Author nametags. Poets who read over their time limit. Poets who only connect or support/like/retweet/respond to other poets because they feel they can help their career. I dislike exclusively in poetry and looking down at someone because they don’t have a degree or book, or looking up to someone because they do. I am not a fan of placing anyone on a pedestal and/or then knocking them off it. So, I guess I’m not a fan of pedestals. Though I do love trophies and honestly, most of the poets I’ve met have been sweet and kind, so my dislikes are probably limited to a small group (I hope they are limited to a small group…)

I think there is always more to love when it comes to poetry, both in our community and in learning about each other and ourselves through words and images. Honestly, I am just thankful every day that people keep falling in love with poetry and trying to write poems themselves. I always say the world would be a better place if everyone woke up and wrote a poem. Just imagine. I think it would be divine.

Q~Why did you and Donna decide to start the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour?

A~It was cold and dreary November . . . I believe it was Steven Schroeder and Charlie Jensen who first mentioned blogging on Twitter, and I got nostalgic. Blogging was my first poetry community with poets like C. Dale Young, Victoria Chang, January Gill O’Neil, Paul Guest, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Eduardo Corral, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Mary Biddinger, Sandra Beasley, Oliver de la Paz, and so many others. I realized with Twitter and Facebook my community has grown large, but it’s different because so much of it is in short-form content (a tweet, a post, an update), but back then, we wrote these long paragraphs of our poetry lives, thoughts, fears, joys, to share with each other what was going on. It was sort of like sending poetry letters to each other.

You would read someone’s blog post and maybe continue the conversation on your blog. We’d link back and forth. It felt smaller and more intimate. I felt close to my blogger friends, even now when I share tweets or like Facebook posts, I tend to gravitate to my old blogger buddies because they feel like poets I know so much more.

I think we wanted to try to recreate that intimacy and connection by blogging once a week this year.

Q~Has it accomplished what you hoped? 

A~Yes and no.

Yes, in that I feel reconnected with a lot of poets (and have “met” a lot of new poets) plus I am getting a new glimpse into their lives again.

No, in that I was planning on blogging once-a-week, and I haven’t kept that up just due to a very busy personal life this year. I’ve deactivated Facebook on and off all year and only use Twitter (and occasionally photos on Instagram), but my personal life has had me scrambling, so I realize how I once woke up and wrote a blog post, now I wake up and manage emails or am running out the door to work.

Bu,t the people who are blogging, are accomplishing what I hope—a deeper glimpse back into the lives of poets.

Q~Have there been any unexpected outcomes?

A~Guilt on my part for not keeping up. 😉

Q~In April, you mentioned that blogging was frustrating you a bit because of worrying that what you wrote wouldn’t be “good enough.” It reminded me of the article you wrote, “Submit Like A Man: How Women Writers Can Become More Successful.”  Why do you think so many women struggle with this feeling of not being “good enough” and being afraid to put ourselves out there?

A~I can’t speak for all women, but as someone who grew up in the 70s & 80s, I know some of us saw our job as a girl was making people feel comfortable. If something happened or if someone was mad at us, the first question was “What did you do?” We worried about upsetting people. Sometimes we carried shame even for things that weren’t our fault.

I think there are many generations of women who grew up this way, always believing that they were the ones who did something wrong or that they could have been “better.” It was easy to internalize this voice and believe it. For a long time, I did. Even sharing this right now is uncomfortable because as I’m typing this I’m thinking, Am I explaining this well? Am I answering this correctly? Am I saying too much, not enough? There’s a perfectionism that can steer our lives, a worry, an anxiety.

It’s tough to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. The world, the internet can be a challenging place if you are a sensitive person, it can feel like too much. This is when it may feel easier not to risk—you can avoid judgment by not sharing, writing, participating, etc. etc. But I don’t think that’s the best way around the feelings…

As a young woman, I remember never feeling good enough. As an adult woman, I still find myself feeling that way sometimes, but I’ve become easier on myself. I allow myself to try my best, knowing that my best won’t please some, and that’s okay. The goal is to finish; it doesn’t always have to be pretty, it just needs to be done.

The other quote I tell myself is “You only fail if you don’t try.” This takes away the outcome portion of whatever I’m afraid of doing, and it allows me to feel good about what I can control—the action. We cannot control the outcome of anything we strive for when other people are involved. I can send my best poems to a journal, but I cannot control if the editor will 1) Like them  2) Publish them.  So, I’ve learned to stop worrying about it and focus on what I can control.

I also keep myself surrounded by people who support me. I cut ties with those who don’t. I’ve become much more aware when I’m feeling not “good enough,” and remind myself that the people I love and admire are not perfect. We are human, we will screw up—we just need to be easier on each other and ourselves.

Q~Any other advice do you want to share?

A~Trust your intuition. Put your own work before chores and email. Remember, in the big picture, none of this really matters. Have fun. Make love. Work hard. Choose joy. Prioritize your writing.

Q~How do you balance your time between your own writing and the work you do as an editor?

A~To be truthful, I don’t try to find balance or even believe that’s something we should strive for in life (especially women). Balance is one of those words that can make you feel not good enough. But maybe if we look at a life from beginning to end, we’d see balance, like Chaos theory, how small bits don’t make any sense on their own (and in fact seem well, chaotic, but if you look down from above you see a pattern. Maybe this is also our lives. But, I don’t strive for balance in daily life; I strive for being kind, helpful, and finishing tasks.

There are times of overload in one part of my life, then I meet with a friend to write poems, then I’m overwhelmed at work and only editing others’ work, then I have downtime, then I’m writing poems again, then there’s some sort of family issue, then I need to buy a new rug because my cats have completely clawed the heck out of mine, then I take a nap or stay up late, wash, rinse, repeat.

So, I guess my answer is that I don’t balance myself. I make time for what’s important which is my writing, my editorial work, and my family/friends—though not necessarily in that order. But I’m highly aware of my priorities, and I say yes to them and no to the things that do not add or fulfill me in life.

I do know if I start to feel resentment towards something—then I have had too much of I,t and I readjust. Maybe that is the “balance” you ask about, but it’s not really balancing, just readjusting my time so I don’t feel bitter. Maybe what people call balance is just creating a life where you don’t feel bitter or resentful, whatever that means to you.

But, I do make time for my own writing along with the tasks I have as an editor. Sometimes I like to be overwhelmed with my own work; it can really create some interesting poems!

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

A~Check out Hunter’s Moon and How Damage Can Lead To Poetry on WaxwingShadowboxing Andy Warhol on VerseDailyBraided Between the Broken in New England Review, and How Killer Blue Irises Spread in The Atlantic. You can also visit my homepage and connect with me on Facebook,  Twitter,  and Instagram.

Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson

Barista

by Caroline Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love? 

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

Learning To Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin

by Crystal Ignatowski

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Learning To Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin.” How is it representative of your work? What’s the backstory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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