Tag Archives: feminism

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills

by Julie R. Enszer

babies on street corners
with the steel speculum
she has been carrying
since she was nineteen
and gazing at her cervix
with a group of women

now with the Kumbaya of
body exploration passed
abortion docs in demand
commanding high fees
for a simple D & C
so the pinko commie dyke
helps women dilate and
evacuate their own uteri
as women have for ages
with herbs or pebbles or poultices

a thin metal line
pierces the endometrium
like rupturing the yolk
of an egg menses slither
through the cervix
down the uterine wall
sloughing that baby
into the toilet
creating a vast empty space
in the womb where
the woman now child-free
can move in
kick back
have a cocktail
and enjoy herself

The pinko commie dyke takes one life
and gives another in return

First published by Impossible Archetype 2018.

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Photo Credit: Steffan Declue.

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ, and Frontiers. She is the author of four poetry collections, Avowed (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016), Lilith’s Demons (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2015), Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). She is editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker (Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2016), which won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. Enszer edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and is a regular book reviewer for The Rumpus and Calyx.

Of her style, Julie says, “I generally describe myself as a narrative, lyrical poet. My poetry explores the lyric moment with an important investment in narrative and storytelling. I admire formal poetry enormously and at some points in my work, I feel the influence of the sonnet keenly. Recently, for a new project, I have been reading more experimental work and admiring that work anew, particularly how poets invest in challenging language and breaking it to remake it.”

Julie gave Bekah her first poetry acceptance back in 2012 when she chose Bekah’s poem, “Stuck in a Web,” for issue 87 of Sinister Wisdom, a tribute to Adrienne Rich. Here is our interview with Julie.

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

A~I’ve selected a poem from a more recent collection of work that has obsessed me for the past year. The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

Q~You’ve published several books of poetry, but you seem to be focused more recently on your academic writing and have a book forthcoming about lesbian-feminist publishing, Can you tell us more about that project? Also, how do you think this work has or will influence your own poetry?

A~Great question. I finished my MFA in 2008 and from that work, I had a lot of poetry that took shape in Handmade Love, Sisterhood and Avowed, three of my full-length collections. Immediately after my MFA, I entered a PhD program in Women’s Studies, and the research and work into lesbian-feminist publishing came as a part of that degree, which I finished in 2013.

My work now is immersed in both poetry and the scholarly work. I am working very hard to finish the history of lesbian-feminist publishing (and am getting closer!). This book tells stories about lesbian-feminist publishing and how it both inspired and energized a variety of lesbian-feminist poets and what function that publishing work has in relationship to the broader formations of feminism. There are so many rich stories of women publishing amazing work and reaching readers with that work that I hope to do justice to them all!

Throughout my PhD research and writing, I have been writing poems. I am working on a new collection of poetry and have a chapbook coming out sometime this year with a new selection of poems about the “Pinko Commie Dyke.” Some of these poems have been published here and here.

While readers tend to think in terms of genre, as a writer and a thinker, I find that the scholarly work, the editing work, the essay writing work, and the poetry work all blend together and feed one another.

Q~It meant so much to Bekah to be included in the Adrienne Rich tribute issue of Sinister Wisdom. Can you tell us more about putting that issue together, and also feel free to speak more broadly on Rich’s influence?

A~I remember so clearly learning that Adrienne Rich had died and feeling an immense sense of loss as a reader and writer of her presence in the world—of loss in the future of the books that she might write and of loss of her persistent moral presence in our world. It took a few days of processing that loss to recognize that it was important for Sinister Wisdom to mark her life and her contributions to the journal in a meaningful way and the issue grew from that impulse.

It turned out to be a beautiful issue, that now has sadly sold out. Rich’s work and influence continues to be palpable for me in the daily work of Sinister Wisdom, which carries on some of her vision and commitments in the world. I’ve been reveling in the new volumes of her work coming out from W. W. Norton that allow us to revisit her work in new bindings and new arrangements with new people exploring how she inspired and influenced them.

Rich demanded an intellectual rigor and a moral rigor in her work, at least in my reading of it. I am interested in holding to her demands of herself and of others around her in my own work.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~There were many first loves. As a youngster and even today, I read voraciously. When I was a teenager, I loved the journals and the poems of May Sarton. As a young reader in college I discovered Rich, Mary Oliver (this was many years before she came out, acknowledging her long-term relationship with Molly Malone Cook), Audre Lorde, Marilyn Hacker, Pat Parker, Elizabeth Bishop, and Muriel Rukeyser. All of these poets loom large in my mind and in my early reading years.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I still wait eagerly for new collections from Marilyn Hacker, Maureen McLane, Alicia Ostriker, among others. Recently, I’ve been reading the new collection by Eileen Myles, first collections by Jenny Johnson, Alicia Mountain, and Jenny George. Nickole Brown’s new chapbook, To Those Who Were Our First Gods, made me weep with joy and empathy and pain and all of the feelings that poetry raises. I’ve also been reading new work by Dawn Martin Lundy and Duriel Harris and appreciating the work they do in the world.

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

 A~I try to update my personal website regularly. For information about the journal I edit, visit www.SinisterWisdom.org. My critical writing appears in a variety of places, particularly The Rumpus and Lambda Literary. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

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To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him

by Courtney LeBlanc

I wish you happiness, but the kind that makes you think of me
after your wife has fallen asleep. I wish you 2% raises and average
performance evals. I wish you casseroles and Bud Light. I wish you
vacations to Disney World in July. I wish you khakis and plaid
button-ups. I wish you sex but only missionary position and only
with the lights out. I wish you calendar reminders and capped
teeth. I wish you individually wrapped low-fat cheese
slices and turkey bacon which insults two animals. I wish you
mayonnaise and store-bought white bread. I wish you decaf
coffee. I wish you “sleeping in” till 7am on Sundays. I wish you
instant oatmeal microwaved each morning for your heart
health. I wish you a tie each Father’s Day and a birthday card
received a week late. I wish you a daughter who writes poetry filled
with metaphors about a complicated family relationship. I wish
you a football team that never makes the play-offs and a son
who’s an average soccer player. I wish you this poem popping
up first the next time you Google me.

First appeared in The Cabinet of Heed Literary Journal 2018.

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Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She has her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and loves nail polish, wine, and tattoos.

Courtney says of her style, “I mostly write free verse poetry; only occasionally do I try to any sort of form poetry – I’m honestly a little scared of form poetry!”

Courtney and Bekah connected via The Poetry Blogging Network. We wanted to know more about Courtney and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included. How is it representative of your work?

A~I think of this as a feminist poem – it features a strong female voice who speaks her mind, even if that’s wishing her ex a mediocre life. =)

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

A~It came pretty easily once I started it; for me the first draft of each poem usually comes pretty quickly/easily.

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

A~I tend to go through phases in my writing where I will write extensively about one topic until I’ve beaten it to death…and then I usually write a few more poems about it. 😉 Eventually, another topic takes root, and I move on.

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

A~Everyone gets rejected; it’s part of the process. But, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep getting your words out there. Also, remember that editing is a necessary part of the process. Few of us write the perfect poem on the first try, so remember to come back to a poem with fresh eyes and be willing to play with it – sometimes it’s only a word or two that need tweaking, sometimes it’s whole lines. But, that’s okay, everyone has shitty first drafts.

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

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

A~I really love Hypertrophic Press.They publish gorgeous poetry and pair it with gorgeous artwork. I also love Whurk magazine, which is a local Virginia magazine and of course, Glass: A Journal of Poetry – Anthony Frame who operates the journal is a true gem in the poetry community.

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

A~Honestly, I love Twitter for poetry – I’ve learned of so many new poets this way and been able to read their poems and share them with my followers. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several “Twitter friends” in person, and we’ve become real life friends who support one another and share each other’s work. Twitter can be toxic, but it can also be a great place to share poems.

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

A~The best place to look is my blog, where they’re all listed. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

In Which I Declare My Resistance / an interview with poet Jeannine Hall Gailey

In Which I Declare My Resistance

By Jeannine Hall Gailey

I will resist the moon. The sun will not exert its solar pressures
on me. I will resist the wind; it will not carry me away.

I will resist the entire earth, a cloak of darkness around me
and a cave to protect. A protest of oceans rising, of clouds descending,

dust in the air and fire in the sky. I will resist
with plagues of locusts, with the withering of crops

and when you cry out, don’t be surprised if you hear
my laughter in the scraping of tree branches together,

in the movement of air through the empty windows.
You had your chance. I will resist in a barrage of rooks

and rocks and wild horses. The fish will glint in the light but you
will never catch them. The birds will claw at your eyes.

If this world burns, so be it.
I am the feathers of a thousand poisoned snow geese,

the cesium in the snow and clover in the mouths of children.
I am the embers of the dresses of charred women.

First published in The Rise Up Review.

 

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Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating WorldUnexplained FeversThe Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. Her work appeared in journals such as American Poetry ReviewNotre Dame Review and Prairie Schooner.

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

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “In Which I Declare My Resistance.” How is it representative of your work?

A~This poem was a difficult one to write. I was feeling hopeless, feeling what, as a writer, I could possibly do against the many injustices, evils, and hurts in the world right now. And, this poem just came out.

A lot of my poems are written in the first or second person, I think because I’m often thinking of talking directly to a person, to an audience, and I love persona poems, because they kind of allow poets to play with being a fiction writer. I love stories, but mine just come out in poem form.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~Conversational surreal? There’s an art gallery here that describes itself as “goth surrealist pop,” and that might be a good description of most of my own work, too…with a mythological twist.

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~Yes! Fairy tales, mythology, and science inform almost all of my poems. Feminism is definitely a recurring theme, as is what might be called “body horror” poetry. I studied biology for my first degree, and my husband’s a chemical engineering major, so we regularly have discussions about the latest in medical research or environmental news, so of course it comes out in my poetry. I was (and remain) a huge fan of mythology from all kinds of cultures and love to read fairy tales in translation.

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

A~I wrote a whole book of advice called PR for Poets all about how poets can get the word out about their poetry books, how to do readings and book parties, and all that stuff. I also write a lot of how-to articles for Poet’s Market and talk casually about rejection, submitting, and the business of writing on my blog. If I just had one sentence, it would be: read widely – and have fun with your writing. If you don’t have fun with it, who will?

Q~What did you learn from writing PR for Poets?

A~I just wanted to give poets what I didn’t have when my first book of poetry came out. I had published a technical book, previously, and worked in technical publishing before publishing my poetry book, so I knew some things about advertising, contracts and distribution, but poetry books are a totally different thing – especially in the realm of things like reviews, awards, and book launches – poetry books are in their own little universe. I wish poets that “made it” talked more openly about how they got to where they are, because I often feel like people act like it’s magic or some kind of secret code. There’s nothing mysterious about it – and a lot of is based on hard, discouraging things, that poets can’t control, like the amount of money the press will spend or the press’s prestige level, which will impact reviews and distribution. And, there are new avenues that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago – like Instagram Poetry! Anyway, I hope the book is helpful to the many poets who bring out books every year and aren’t sure about what exactly will happen and what will be expected of them.

Q~What was it like to be Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington? 

A~It was quite an honor to serve the community there. It’s famous as the home of Microsoft and other tech companies. I got to meet with the mayor to talk poetry, read poetry with the city council, and talk with teenagers and librarians about poetry and technology. I got to write poetry in connection with local visual artists, which was a real pleasure. The whole idea of being involved in the civics of our community is still very moving to me. I wish more cities had a Poet Laureate Program – it doesn’t usually involve a ton of money, but it helps people interact more actively with literature in ways they don’t, normally.

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

A~My website has some links to my work, including some recordings, as well as links to my books of poetry. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram.

The month after the cruelest month / An interview with poet Anne Barngrover

The month after the cruelest month

by Anne Barngrover

is silk and velvet, redbuds and forsythia,
lace-white pear trees backlit

in a streetlamp’s planetary glow.
A grinning dog chases cars in tall grass’s

gold tassels, and some fool
burns wet green wood in the near

distance, the rising smoke in the trees
with a bad smell that creates no heat,

no clear purpose. How I no longer feel
out-of-love but simply not-loving.

I established this pattern years ago.
For one month I believe

I’m someone’s dream girl. I fall
for someone’s charm like a migrating bird—

the bright flicker of feathers, the rare
trill threading the dogwoods—then gone.

I’m down on my luck again, pissing off
every man around. I’m no one’s

dream; therefore I am everyone’s
foe. Call me jaded—it fits

me like a dress that’s so tight
I can’t properly sit down. Every woman

must come to a crossroads. Oh, charmer,
I have learned your bright alphabet

of night-blooming flowers.
There will always be dirt in your nails

and smoke on your breath.
There will always be smoke in the trees.

First appeared in The Adroit Journal 2015.

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Anne Barngrover is the author of two books of poetry, Brazen Creature (University of Akron Press, 2018) and Yell Hound Blues (Shipwreckt Books, 2013) and co-author with Avni Vyas of the chapbook Candy in Our Brains (CutBank, 2014). She is an assistant professor of English at Saint Leo University and lives in Tampa, Florida.

Anne’s work was brought to our attention by poet Jennifer Maritza McCauley, whom we interviewed here. We offered Jennifer the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Anne. Jennifer says, “I met Anne Barngrover several years ago when she was Contest Editor at the Missouri Review. As I got to know Anne personally, I was blown away by her lovely and fierce spirit and soul-stirring poetry. Her newest collection Brazen Creature (University of Akron Press) is elegant, searing, and beautifully rendered. A must read!”

So, here is Jennifer’s interview with Anne.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~My highest style aspiration is to sound like a Southern/Midwestern Amy Winehouse. I’ve only ever lived in the South or Midwest, or usually a place that’s a blend of both regions like Cincinnati or Missouri, and so I can’t escape the linguistic flair of the South nor the frank “them’s the breaks” attitude of the Midwest. I particularly enjoy using line breaks to hit harder, double-back, or surprise the reader with an unexpected turn of phrase.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “The month after the cruelest month.” How is it representative of your work? 

A~Like a lot of my poems, it is snarky as hell. I am both nodding to and poking fun of T.S. Elliot by positing the question: if April truly is the “cruelest month” and the harbinger of apocalypse for him (read: for men), then what comes after that, for women?

Poems like this one often begin with me feeling angry, hurt, or confused at a very raw, base level. But, then I take a step back and try to examine my feelings and reactions in a logical, almost detached manner. For this poem specifically, I thought about how to be desired as a woman often means playing a role and acting out a script that ultimately does nothing (aka burning the wood that never makes a real fire). And, so I wonder—here is the hardest part—how do I fall prey to these patriarchal notions, how am I complicit in them, and how do I enact them myself?

I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.

Q~Brazen Creature feels alive. It blends the tender and the fearsome, the wild and sweet, the ghostly and the carnal. The speaker seamlessly weaves through heartache, longing and self-assurance, in backwood bars and classrooms, on country roads and Midwestern fields. How did this collection come together? Were there any poems that were harder or easier to write than others?

A~It’s really interesting that you picked up on the physical movement of the poems because that’s how most of them came into being. I “wrote” most of them (in my head, with my muscles and breath) either while running on the MKT Trail or while driving on backcountry roads to teach as an adjunct in the small town of Fayette, Missouri. The images that emerge in my poems, therefore, were not usually ones that I saw once but repeatedly over days, weeks, months, even years. The ironic thing is that I am terrible with directions, but without question I always knew on my drive where I’d see the guy selling pumpkins out of his pickup truck, the herd of goats, the four white horses, the biker bar called The Hog Pen, the weak smoke above the lavender trees. And it became like ritual on my trail runs where I’d find the fencepost with the red-tailed hawk, the Catalpa trees with flowers big as dinner plates, the art installation of a bicycle strung up in branches, the rotting deer ribcage in the creek bed. People sometimes ask me if I need to write these things down, but I often don’t because these images couldn’t shake from me even if I tried.

I don’t know if any of the poems were harder or easier to write than others, but there were definitely times while writing the book when I felt like a fraud, when I didn’t follow my own advice, or when I didn’t write a single poetic word for months, even, at a time. Writing a book while doing a PhD is really hard because you’re working all parts of your brain—teacher, scholar, literary journal editor, reading series co-host, academic job market seeker, etc. etc. etc. So, there were stretches when I simply didn’t have the mental energy to work on my own poems and when I had to carve out the time, like doing two residencies one summer, to get it all out. I fretted about it a lot, but now I realize it’s ok to sometimes go a long time without writing, and I need to be gentler with myself. The poems will always be waiting for me again when I’m ready to return.

Q~I enjoyed the feminist overtones in this collection. In the poem “You apologize to me in passive voice,” the speaker and an unnamed lover switch between active and passive roles, and in poems like “He Hates What I Do,” “The one drag show in town is closing” and “Your Name in My Boot” the speaker’s affirmations of self, awareness of inequality in her immediate world and relationships, and tug of war with the past are portrayed with such empowered complexity.  When writing these poems and/or compiling this collection, were you thinking about how to present feminist concerns? Why or why not? 

A~Thank you for saying all that. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we damage women and perpetuate sexism and misogyny at the word level. Again, I say “we” because I am villainous; I am guilty of doing this, too. We all are. It’s impossible to truly separate ourselves from what our society imprints on us that we’re supposed to want, appear, say, or do. One day I counted and saw that I refer to myself as a “fool” in this book over a dozen times. That’s because I know what and why I’m perpetuating these narratives, yet I still do them because that’s how ingrained they are in our lives.

The passive voice kills me. We receive messages from pop songs, dialogue in movies and TV shows, Hallmark cards, jewelry and makeup ads, biology textbooks, Bible verses, catalogues, sermons, doctors’ offices, investigative journalism, Sex Ed pamphlets, and daily conversations that men act and women are acted upon. This is the story we hear about how sex works, even how reproduction works. It’s all crafted this way for a reason. And, we’ve invented words for women who choose to act on their own volition—slut, bitch, prude, femme fatale, witch, crazy, hysterical, bitter, angry, cynical, frigid, nasty, clingy, desperate. Those last two—“clingy” and “desperate”—I think are having their heyday right now and create an even worse stigma than “slut” or “bitch” (just think of the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme). It’s preferable right now to be “the cool girl,” to go with the flow, to not care, not overthink or pause, to never question. Hmm, wonder why that is?

All that is to say, I don’t set out to write “feminist poems” necessarily, but because I’m always preoccupied and obsessed with these questions, they can’t help but work their way into my poetry, especially the more I read and the more I find I don’t know.

Q~The line “sometimes a ghost is not a ghost” and the imagery of ghosts and hauntings appear more than once in this book. Would you talk a bit about why you included ghost imagery in the collection?

A~Although I’m a scaredy-cat and can’t even handle the previews for horror movies, much less the movies themselves, ghosts still fascinate me because of the stories they tell and the cultural fears and shame that they represent. It’s the second, deeper story underneath the ghost story that’s compelling to me.

In my mind, patriarchy is a ghost. Racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression are ghosts, too. The shame and fear that they carry may have originated in the past, but they still haunt us to this day and have present, real-world consequences. These ghosts have become systems. In ghost stories, the person who’s always like “I don’t believe in that” or “That isn’t real” is always the first who’s toast. I think there’s a reason behind that. We might claim not to see or believe in something, but that doesn’t mean shit because it still harms us no matter what. We must first acknowledge the ghost and give it a name, but that can sometimes be the scariest part. In Brazen Creature, I force myself to ask, what if the ghost also lives inside myself? (It does.)

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

A~They can visit my website. I just go by my name on Facebook and Instagram, and my Twitter handle is @Anne_Barngrover.

Brazen Creature cover

image2 (3)Jennifer Maritza McCauley teaches at the University of Missouri, where she is pursuing a PhD in creative writing. She is also Contest Editor at The Missouri Review and poetry editor at Origins Literary Journal. She has received fellowships from the NEA, CantoMundo, and Kimbilio. Her work appears in Pleiades, Columbia Journal, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. Her collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF is available from Stalking Horse Press.

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.