Tag Archives: imagism

Spinster’s Shroud / an interview with poet Ren Powell

Spinster’s Shroud

by Ren Powell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Mercy Island. Phoenicia Publishing: Montreal.  2011)

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

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

Q~ Tell us about “Spinster’s Shroud.” How is it representative of your work?

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

Q~How would you describe your style?

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

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

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

Q~Why do you write poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

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

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

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

Just write.

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

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

A~I think I write about outsiders and secrets.

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

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

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

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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Fall Poem / an interview with poet Rachel Warren

Fall Poem

by Rachel Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, here is Crystal’s interview with Rachel.

Q~How would you describe your style?

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

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

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

Q~Why do you write poetry?

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

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

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

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

Restless

by M.J. Iuppa

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

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

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

like panic–we look
around, feeling
homeless.

First published in Third Wednesday 2017.

mjiuppa

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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