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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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death of an imaginary friend / an interview with poet Archita Mittra

death of an imaginary friend

by Archita Mittra

i.
you, a midnight sonata, a shadow dance, a shower of stars, an untethered black balloon drifting into empty space/ i, an island ghost, a green lake forgotten by the sky, a piano key never touched, a summer storm/ together you & i, a myth, the moon, the white between words, a basin of dark flowers, blooming, an ending-

ii.
you, a dream writing itself into my past, a fading cheshire grin, a name in my yellowed journal/ you, a washed out color, smelling like childhood, promising that some seasons never end, look at that enchanted sky, full dark, this is where the swans come with their melting songs/ you, eyes the smoky-yellow of street lamps stuttering a code i, i cannot remember(forgive me), a restless empty city i dream to life/ tell me to stay & i will, beneath this pegasus-shaped cloud, this whispered vow, this sunless hope-

iii.
i, a mistake you wrote over to correct, a tattooing of a scar, a melancholy love/ i, real here, unreal elsewhere, like you, like us/ we kissed once remember ( a misty mirror, icy-cold, electric like a favorite song played the first time)/ we lived & bled the only way there is to live & /we, imperfect & starlit, a medieval forest dappled with birdsong, a sliver of a gasoline rainbow/ we an echo of our own bleeding voices/ tell me to stay & i will, like a chant, like dusk, like a melody in your mind-

iv.
we , a black box, a dark drowning, that whirlwind age, that painted-over graffiti, dust/ we, a lighthouse with no light, a nightmare-black ocean, lonely as a dying star/ we, who were forever once, constellated & perfect, manic-eyed/ perhaps in this universe, there are worse ways to die/ faeries sing on the other side, you say (said)/ fade, leave (left) like a love letter unsent & crumpled, like autumn/ we, a song i loved once but love no more-

v.
you, who taught me to sing & i voiceless as a memory, a night sky.

First appeared in The Stray Branch 2018

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Archita Mittra is a writer and artist with a fondness for all things vintage and darkly fantastical.  A student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, she also has a Diploma in Multimedia and Animation from St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. She also loves tarot cards, Doctor Who, calligraphy, rabbits and blueberry milkshakes.

Archita says of her style, “I still feel that I haven’t developed a ‘style’ yet and that I have so much more to learn, but there are certain things I consciously try to do when I write something, be it poetry or fiction. I try to bring in that sense of strangeness and wonder that is characteristic of magic realism, I play a lot with run-on and free-flowing sentences and I prefer writing in lower case, because for me it signifies a sense of equality and softness. And yes, a lot of my poems end up being quite dark or melancholy, but I think that’s more of my temperament.”

Bekah and Archita’s work—including the above poem—both appeared in the The Stray Branch Fall/Winter 2018 issue. We wanted to know more about Archita and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~The poem, at least the way I imagined it, is a melancholy love letter to all the imaginary friends of my childhood, all of them who ultimately left, because I grew up and apart from them. Most of my childhood was pretty lonely in the sense I didn’t really have “kids” of my age I could play with or relate to, and school was another whole degree of unrealness, and like most lonely kids, I made up my own friends and adventures. Like characters in an Enid Blyton story, my imaginary friends, and I would go off exploring or do things I couldn’t or wasn’t allowed to in real life, and I remember going to sleep thinking about an adventure or two, and I would constantly talk to them in my head.

So, many of these moments–these adventures–weren’t real in the sense that they happened in reality, but happened in my head, and felt real nonetheless. And, this poem is about trying to remember all of it, to coalesce all those colors and emotions and songs and smells into a piece of text. And the thing is, the process of remembering or nostalgia is almost always sad, because you know certain things will never come again, no matter how hard you wish for it to be otherwise, and that you’re no longer the person you once thought yourself to be. You can’t just draw a pentagram and summon your imaginary friends anymore, because you’ve changed so much, and so have your ways of thinking/imagining. It’s almost like the whole thing of the kids being too old to return to Narnia.

I keep a small notebook filled with phrases, words and sentences to use as “prompts” and I think the poem stemmed from me rifling through my notebook, and realizing that all of these half-formed phrases and images told a story, a story of magic found and of magic lost, a story of a lonely girl, desperate to believe in something. And, that was when I started to write it, and the images kept pouring in, and it was only a matter of stringing them together.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~I write and create in a variety of mediums, and I’d say each of them have their own specific flavor. I’ve been writing poetry since middle school. I was one of those emo kids who’d write poems about unrequited love, killing oneself and celebrity in the back of my notebooks or the margins of textbooks and doodle broken hearts or anime girls in the blank spaces as well. I could spiritually relate to the lyrics and music video of Linkin Park’s “Numb.” Later, I would write longer poems and ballads along the same themes, and experimented with a bunch of forms- villanelles, sestinas, sonnets, ghazals and the like.

And, though I’ve taken breaks to write short stories and games and fanfics and unfinished novels, I always keep coming back to poetry because it feels so organic and natural, the best way I can crystallize an emotion into words. Poetry doesn’t always make sense the way plot strands in a novel come together, but it has its own strange logic and can make you feel things with an image or turn of phrase, that you just can’t replicate in any other medium.  So yes, no matter what I write, I think poetry will always be a genre I’m emotionally close to.

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’ve always been drawn towards the gothic or the darkly fantastical, and I think there’s that streak in my works. In terms of subjects I guess I always keep coming back to themes of abandonment, betrayal, loneliness, failure, memory and magic. I think that when as kids, we go through traumatic, painful or even strange experiences, we often have no way to process them, and so we latch on to certain images or memories, and no matter how many good things happen, the sadness isn’t always cancelled out. The past is unchangeable, no matter how often you revisit it, and sometimes the only thing you can do is tell the same story but in different ways, in a different color, and spot something you hadn’t noticed before. As someone who was bullied in school and who (for a number of reasons I won’t get into), always had to deal with feelings of loneliness and being alienated, I guess it felt natural to gravitate towards dark and strange things because that’s where I could breathe and find something to relate to.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~I don’t really have a writing process, and every year I keep trying to get into a writing routine, but I fail. But yes, I usually jot down ideas and phrases on my phone or in a notebook, and most of my poems either begin with a word or an image, or a central idea. Sometimes I might be stuck in the subway and write a short poem on my phone to pass the time, or maybe I am studying for a test and I’m frustrated, so I’ll jot some lines down that may later become a poem. In short, there isn’t really planning involved. However if I’m writing a story, I’ll usually plan it out in terms of a chart or a timeline of events and then begin.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~My poetry tastes have been through many phases. There was a time, I’d almost exclusively read only Romantic and Victorian poets, and I went through a phase where I literally worshipped Sylvia Plath. In my high school, I went around quoting Eliot’s Prufrock and Marvell’s His Coy Mistress (only the bit at the end, “though we cannot make our sun /Stand still, yet we will make him run” because I found that incredibly daring and hopeful) the whole time. I’d also read a lot of Rilke, Neruda and Rumi in translation. Closer to my culture, I loved children’s rhymes in Bengali and the playful non-sense poems of Sukumar Ray. For a while, I followed a lot of insta poets like Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav, but I’ve grown out of it now. In college, as an English major, I had to read tons of poets, and in my fourth semester I took up this course called “Postcolonial Poetry,” and we read so many wonderful, beautiful contemporary poets, it’s hard to pick a favorite. I also love Carol Ann Duffy for how accessible she is, and I think accessibility is one of my personal preferences when it comes to reading poetry nowadays. Maybe the whole poem doesn’t have to be accessible, but there has to something or some part that I can understand or sparks a trail of emotions or something I find inexplicably beautiful.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I was a kid, my mother would read out from a poetry anthology, and I remember it had poems like Walter de la Mare’s “The Listeners” and Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” in it, and those are still my favorite poems. I loved “The Listeners” for the way it evoked that derelict abandoned house full of phantoms and a lonely traveler waiting at the doorstep for someone, something to answer and the whispering world of the forest and the night wind, and the Lady of Shalott will always be close to my heart, for the way it talks about a girl who is forever trapped, who is cursed for no reason, who dies because she dares to love, and it’s so tragic and Tennyson writes it in a way that is so musical, vivacious and full of color, but there’s that underlying melancholy and darkness attached to it.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Right now, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction and fantasy. I’m slowly working my way through the fantasy works of Brandon Sanderson, and I’ve just completed Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day which was a birthday present. I also recently met Markus Zusak at a literary event and was lucky enough to get a signed copy of The Book Thief, which I can’t wait to begin. On the poetry front, we’ve been discussing a lot of Charlotte Smith’s sonnets and her influence on the Romantic poets in class, and it’s so interesting to read her work. Oh, and because I love tabletop role-playing, I’ve been reading a lot of the rpg handbooks of Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer, simply because I’m a sucker for fantasy and detailed world building. I suppose in a way, they reconnect me to the imaginary worlds and the characters I made up as a kid, and they help me to relive some of the better things of childhood in an entertaining and enriching way. To quote one of my all-time favorite characters Luna Lovegood, “Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end. If not always in the ways we expect.”

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

A~Keep writing even if you and everyone else think it is crap and to keep putting it out there, because you don’t know when someone will stumble on it and find something that they resonate with. Don’t hold yourself up to any standards, and remember that help usually comes from unexpected quarters–just be sincere to yourself about your writing, and you’ll get there, slowly but surely.

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

A~Nowadays, I usually post my poems on Tumblr and occasionally on Instagram. I also have a blog where I post reviews, interviews, stories and talk about pop culture and other literary stuff. I have a Facebook Page,which isn’t really that active, and nowadays, I do most of the interacting from my Profile. Feel free to follow or send a friend request (and assuming I don’t know you, it’s always best to drop a message first). I’m also on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr at @architamittra, and recently I’ve started an art page and a handmade jewelry line also on Instagram, so I’d really appreciate all the love and follows I can get.

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.

Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler

Belief

by Lesley Wheeler

Gift or delusion, I don’t have it. I see
the burnt petals of the dogwood tree,
sacred; breathe the spicy rot of last
year’s oak leaves after rain, sacred; taste
the dirty wild onion, heavenly. Not
one, but many. Not up there but
down with us, the broken sidewalks, the bugs.
The gods don’t give dictation. Ring-necked doves
devise their own flight plans. The lightning hurls
itself. Nobody tells the wind to cry.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen
and watch. Reception’s a religion when
everything whispers. Your hand to mine.
Starlings to branch. Signal and noise, ensnarled.

from Radioland (Barrow Street Press, 2015) Originally published in Unsplendid, 2013.

15headshot.jpgLesley Wheeler’s books include Radioland and Heterotopia, winner of the Barrow Street Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Propagation. Her poems and essays appear in Cold Mountain Review, Ecotone, Gettysburg Review, and elsewhere, and her next collection will be published by Tinderbox Editions early in 2020. Wheeler teaches at Washington and Lee University in Virginia.

Lesley says of her style, “My teenage obsession was with David Bowie. I’d like to keep pivoting, as he did, but I’m probably not so chameleonesque. I do know I’m a sound-driven writer who likes to play with imperfect rhyme and other aural textures.”

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

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included. Did it come easily to you or was it hard to write? Is it representative of your work?

A~“Belief” is a slant-rhymed, metrically rough sonnet, and that’s a go-to form for me, something I can write when nothing else is coming. Normally I labor over poems for months or years, but that one basically arrived in its present form—one of those gifts you occasionally receive if you write a lot. It’s also representative of my work because, maybe paradoxically, I’m a skeptic who is deeply attracted to spiritual questions.

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

A~I actually spent most of the year sending work out and getting a nice share of magazine acceptances but feeling low about the arc of my poetry writing career overall. I was shopping around a poetry ms I’ve alternately been calling She Will Not Scare and Turning Fifty in the Confederacy, and while I know it’s my best work yet, it wasn’t obvious to me where it would land. (The overlap between those potential titles probably gives you a pretty good sense of its scope!). Just this month, I received the kindest fan letter from Molly Sutton Kiefer at Tinderbox Editions. I’m thrilled to pieces she wants to publish my book, whatever it ends up being called. I’ve reviewed a couple of their titles, and they’re beautiful inside and out. So, 2018 is ending on a high for me.

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

A~I’m fairly new to editorial work, having just become poetry editor of Shenandoah this fall. It’s a revelation, working this end of Submittable, and I recommend the experience. One reassuring thought from a newbie: plenty of impersonally rejected work may have actually been read carefully and appreciatively, even if the editor doesn’t have time to send personalized notes; also, sending towards the beginning of a submission period can be worthwhile, because editors may be less tired and more game (who knew?). A perhaps less reassuring observation: while some of the work I reject is just not professional—I’ve been startled by the level of overt sexism in a small but memorable proportion of the poems I receive—most of it is pretty good. The poet just needs to rethink an unsatisfying ending, say, or cut the weaker lines (from my point of view, although somebody else might think the pieces are perfect!). My advice would be: wait a while, bring in your tough-minded friends for feedback, and revise with utter ruthlessness before you hit send. Poetry keeps. Of course, I don’t always take my own advice, either. Handling a hot new draft is just so exciting, you want to share it.

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’m fond a lot of little magazines (Sweet and Flock have been good to me this year), but I’ll focus on a print magazine, Cherry Tree. It’s full of strong, risky work (where else can you send a broken rondeau named “Perimenopause”?) and I love their “Literary Shade” feature. Plus they’re really kind to their authors. We need that love and support so much.

Q~Your partner is also a writer. What’s that like?

A~Mostly, it’s good! Chris is a scholar of comics who has started working in visual modes, so he and I started collaborating this year. Our first poetry comic was just accepted by Split Lip Magazine, and that’s giving me delusions of hipsterism. It’s called “Made for Each Other,” which sounds romantic, but it’s about ambivalent, aging, gender-ambiguous robots, so it addresses marriage from a pretty strange slant. He’s also my first reader and a very helpful one. One tougher aspect of two writers making a life together: it was hard for two desperate writers to negotiate time when the kids were little. And now that our youngest is about to fly the coop, I’m worried that he and I will have to work hard NOT to work hard all the time, just out of sadness and confusion. We were so time-starved for so long.

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

A~I live in a really, really small town (maybe 7000), and all my students are undergraduates, so while I organize a lot of events, from marquee writers to student Haiku Death Matches, it’s hard work to draw in audiences. I helped run a local monthly reading series for a few years, but it was exhausting. I live in a beautiful place, and I have talented students and colleagues, but I do wish I had more local poetry company. The web mitigates that—so thank you for being one of those long-distance connections!

Q~What’s a Haiku Death Match? Sounds like fun.

A~A Haiku Death Match is a competitive poetry event; I first saw one while attending the National Poetry Slam in Albuquerque in 2005. Poets play in rounds, and from each pair, the person who wins the best two out of three moves up in the brackets until there’s a single champion. As in slam, the judges are amateurs, so you’re not aiming to please anyone who has serious expertise in a venerable art form—you’re just trying to delight ordinary listeners. I stage these periodically when I’m teaching contemporary poetry to English majors. Spoken word is an important scene in U.S. verse, and I want my students to experience it live, but we don’t have a venue anywhere near here. My solution is to make my students do it, and haiku are not too intimidating for people who don’t consider themselves poets. The results are always high-energy and hilarious. I make the prize more miniscule every time—this year just 1 point of extra credit—but that just seems to egg them on.

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

A~I blog about poetry and sometimes post new publications here. You can buy my collections directly from the publisher or from that problematic but incredibly handy online book-superstore—or contact me directly if you crave a signed copy (sometimes I draw pictures). You can also connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Resurrection Party / an interview with poet Trish Hopkinson

Resurrection Party

by Trish Hopkinson

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

since your consciousness went
missing—stunned out of you

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~How would you describe your style?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What is your local poetry scene like?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What online resources would you like to recommend?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt / an interview with poet Colleen McKee

In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt

By Colleen McKee

Every girl ought to walk a tightrope. It develops a rare set of muscles
and teaches one how to walk properly on the street.
+++++—Internationally acclaimed aerialist Bird Millman, 
+++++    in a 1913 interview with the Milwaukee News

But why would a girl want to walk
on the street, properly
or otherwise,
when she could promenade
across the sky?

In a pink velvet dress
twirling a crimson parasol,
Bird hops on the sides
of her ballet flats
along a string
between skyscrapers.
The brash Chicago wind
throws itself at her,
licks her hair
like a rowdy puppy.

Most women were hung up on clotheslines
as Miss Millman explored
the umbilical cord
joining
heaven
and earth.

She went through three husbands
before she was fifty. Did men
love her best from afar?—
The gasps, the terrified smiles
were mirrors flashing the sun
up at her, magnifying
its radiance, as the wind
flirted with her skirt and she kicked
her legs and shimmied
her fanny laughing
at death
and earthbound fools.

Photo in TGP (2)
photo by John Reskusich

Colleen McKee is the author of five collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction: The Kingdom of Roly-Polys (Pedestrian Press); Nine Kinds of Wrong (JKPublishing/The Saint Louis Projects); A Partial List of Things I Have Done for Money (JKPublishing/The Saint Louis Projects); Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (PenUltimate Press); and My Hot Little Tomato (Cherry Pie Press Midwestern Women Poets Series).

She and Bekah met while Colleen was living in St. Louis.  We wanted to know what she’s been up to lately. So, here is our interview with Colleen.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’re including. Is there a back story you want to share?   

A~“In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt” is the most recent poem I have written. It came out of research I have been doing for my novel in progress, tentatively titled Shlomo the Strongman and the Uninvited Guests. Bird Millman, who was a real-life aerialist, is the idol of Shlomo’s fictional aerialist girlfriend, Gitl.

I wouldn’t say this poem is representative of my work because most of my poetry is autobiographical. Somehow a few years ago, I got tired of writing about myself (with the exception of some funny writing about my early childhood among hippies in rural Missouri. You can read some of this in The Kingdom of Roly-Polys.)

I probably went through five-ten drafts of “In Her Famous Fur-Lined Dress.” That is normal for me. I don’t expect writing to be easy. I have patience when I write.

Q~Would you like to say a little more about your novel in progress, Shlomo the Strongman and the Uninvited Guests?

A~Shlomo Eisenberg is proud of his life: he’s the star of the Rosenbaum Circus, he loves his gorgeous aerialist girlfriend, and he’s pretty certain he’s the strongest man in Poland, if not the world. But then he has a problem–his body parts start turning into animals. Everyone has a theory about why this is happening, everyone has a suggestion, but answers are hard to find. Shlomo has no desire to be a freak. He wants to prove that Jews are strong, and these mutations test not only his strength but his faith. The tragicomic story follows Shlomo throughout Poland and Austria in the turbulent years following World War I. Along the way we meet Sarah Rosenbaum, circus founder and elegant bearded lady; Gitl the glamorous aerialist; Pietro, a convert to Judaism and devoted circus friend; Benyomin, a lovesick juggler; Borukh, Shlomo’s handsome gay brother; and Miriam, a girl who longs to run away with the circus, away from an arranged marriage. Of course, we also meet a variety of wondrous yet wildly inconvenient animals.

Q~How would you describe your poetry style?

A~When I was working on my MFA, I had to compile a poetry manuscript for my final thesis. I gave my thesis advisor (who was usually very supportive) about 100 pages of poetry. She read around 40 pages of it, gave it back to me, and said, rather miffed, “I can’t read this! Make it sound like one person wrote the whole manuscript.”

I remember thinking, why? (I should have asked her why but was too flummoxed to say anything.) Why is it necessary for a book of poems to be uniform in voice, or for a writer to have a consistency of style? Perhaps for marketability—though poetry is so nonlucrative, marketability seems like an absurd concern.

Eventually some of the poems in this thesis manuscript wound up in other collections that were published. I edited my other collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction based on theme and intuition; they were more consistent than the one I gave my advisor back in 2005. I do consistently want my work to be sensual and honest, and for there to be a sense of humility in the narrative voice.  Still, I don’t see the value in consistency, not in a poetry book. I like surprises when I read.

Q~Why do you prioritize going to readings and being involved in your local poetry scene?

A~Part of it is social, part of it is entertainment, and the need to get out of my studio apartment.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are multiple literary circles that overlap. There are so many readings here that I could choose from several almost any night of the week, and it would still take me years to meet all of these writers. So, partly I go out due to curiosity.

I also like to go to readings to be reassured that though I am a little crazy, I’m not any crazier than the rest of the writers in Oakland.

And, it’s not so rare that I hear something that floods me with wonder, that brings me a perspective that’s so rare and spiritually necessary, it makes me feel, if only for a day, that life actually does make sense.

Q~Any advice for other writers?

A~I would remind writers that if you want to be asked to read, you probably have to go to readings and show your face. Let editors and curators know you exist and remind them that you exist.

In St. Louis, when I was young and just starting out as a writer, there were, it seemed, two literary scenes in town: an academic scene and a spoken word/open mic/slam scene. These scenes did not overlap.  People were friendly enough in both milieus, but I had few publications to impress the high-art crowd, and my style of reading was insufficiently dramatic to interest people at the spoken word scene. Still I went to as many readings as I could and listened and introduced myself. And, I wound up organizing a bunch of variety shows with music, drag queens, paintings, photography, performance art, poetry… By the time I enrolled in an MFA program and the Get Born scene rolled into town, I felt very much a part of the live literary world in St Louis. But, it didn’t start that way for me.

If you want people to notice you and your writing, go out! If the kind of events you want to be part of aren’t happening in your town, organize them yourself. Involving other kinds of artists, like painters and musicians, will widen your audience and make your show more interesting. Going to shows or organizing them should not just a means to an end, a way to satisfy the goals of getting published, getting gigs. The writers communities I have belonged to in St Louis and in the Bay Area, and the writers communities in other cities where I’ve been so warmly welcomed—Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles, Florence, Italy; Chicago—have brought me some of my fondest friendships and wildest nights.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~As I say, a poet can have a very rewarding role in her literary community. But in our society as a whole—the United States—the poet doesn’t have a role in our society. Mostly, when nations have promoted poets, it is because they support their ideology. Our government has never, in a serious, consistent way, used poets to promote its ideology. This is bad for poets financially but good for their souls. The American poetry tradition is a bunch of impoverished, awkward underdogs saying things most people don’t want to hear and refuse to hear. But, as my teacher David Clewell said, “There are some poems we humanly need.”

I wish I could say I had some noble purpose in mind when I pick up a pen to write poetry. I write because something fascinates or vexes me, and in some instinctual way, I want to get inside it. If I understood why I was writing it, I couldn’t write it.

Perhaps the purpose of poetry is to remind people that they are alive in a living world.

Q~What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention?  

A~I like the Lavender Review. Not only does it fill a need as a lesbian literary review, it is consistently filled with entertaining, luscious writing, often with a subtle sense of humor. It is also easy on the eyes, both in terms of layout and visual art. They publish giants as well as unknowns. (And yes, I will admit my work has been published here a few times.)

Q~You have the distinction of being one of the only poets in this interview series who has met Bekah in person. What’s your favorite Bekah story?

A~That’s hard to choose. I mostly associate Bekah with things you shouldn’t put in your mouth but want to. Like the time she encouraged me to drink too many Pussy Galores (these chocolate martinis at the old Absolootli Goosed in St Louis—they were rimmed with so much whipped cream I was doomed to wear it on my face). All these Pussy Galores led to me going home with a woman who wrote the names of heavy metal legends on my arm with Magic Marker…Or, take the times Bekah slayed me at Scrabble though she was drinking screwdrivers and I was sober (because I wanted to win)! It was years before I got to know the serious poet Bekah. First I knew the sweet yet slightly dangerous Bekah.

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

A~http://thesighpress.com/ (A Florentine literary magazine in English. Scroll down to the Autumn 2018, Issue 18 for poems and novel excerpts; and to the Ampersand Interview 10.)

http://colleenmckee.blogspot.com/ Mostly information on where to buy my books and on upcoming appearances. However, if you scroll back through older posts, there is also a guest column on editing and a few poems.

http://thepedestrianpress.weebly.com/ If you click on the “Poem of the Week” button and scroll down, you can read my poem “Solace is a Small Gray Stone”—but don’t scroll down too quickly, as the poems by Richard Loranger and Tim Xonnelly above are worth reading, too. If you click on “Store,” you can buy my latest chapbook, The Kingdom of Roly-Polys.

http://karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Writer%20on%20Writer (An interview by Sarah Shotland on Karen the Small Press Librarian)

To contact me: connect via Facebook or email.

Ursula / an interview with poet Andrea Blythe

Ursula
Our Lady of Unrepentant Self Possession

by Andrea Blythe

You are power—
holding a draught to cure in one hand, poison
in the other. You have a talent
for practical magic, for drawing out
the latent capabilities of plants,
giving weight to whispered words.
You melt through the water, body
round and sleek, tentacles
stretching to claim
all the sea you can hold.

You never asked
to become a patron
for unfortunate souls,
those merfolk so full
of  desperation, covetous
for more love, more beauty,
more strength, more and more and more.
They beg for your gifts, then blame
you for the price they have to pay.
What can you do if they fail
to read the contract? Should you worry
for a princess so dumb
she can’t figure out
how to use ink
when she has no tongue?

In another story
a mermaid loves a prince
who has no interest in mute girls,
so she falls apart
into sea foam.

In another ending
you say fuck it
and take your seaweed slick curves
off to another tidepool.
You hang with jelly girls and laugh
with the manatee mamas.
You flirt with the walrus men, fingers stroking
the hardness of the tusk. Your tentacles
are full of caresses and you
have oceans of love to give.

First appeared in Yellow Chair Review 2016.

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Andrea Blythe bides her time waiting for the apocalypse by writing speculative poetry and fiction. She is the author of Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch (2018) and coauthor of Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press, 2018),  a collaborative chapbook written with Laura Madeline Wiseman. She is a cohost for the New Books in Poetry podcast and serves as an associate editor for Zoetic Press.

Andrea says of her style, “It’s not static. I tend toward free verse, but have worked with prose poems, erasures, and formal poetry (although that one’s rarely successful for me). I shift the style of a poem to suit the tone or voice I’m working with. The shape and voice need to reflect the content or the poem won’t feel right to me. I enjoy the variation, but it can make it hard to assemble them into any kind of cohesive collection at times.”

Andrea and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour and both had poems appear in the same issue of Yellow Chair Review, including the above poem. We wanted to know more about Andrea and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Ursula.” Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~A few years ago I participated in a 30-day poetry challenge hosted by ELJ Publications (now closed), and I used the opportunity to explore the idea of the sacred or spiritual through the framework of pop culture. I focused each poem on a female character from media I loved and addressed them as though speaking praise or prayer as though they were saints. Some of these poems honored these characters as figures of power, some as figures trapped by their iconic status, some as representations of my own personal struggles.

“Ursula” is one of the poems that came out of this challenge. I wanted to consider this woman and witch of the sea, who is considered the villain of the tale, from another angle — giving her space to be more than how she was drawn, a person enough to have desires beyond mere power.

Altogether, these poems make up a chapbook, called Pantheon, which I’m currently reworking in the hopes of sending it out and finding it a home.

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 like the idea of liminal spaces, the place in between, when someone or something is not quite one thing or another — and that’s something that comes out in my work quite a bit. For example, I wrote a poem a while back about Annie Taylor (the first person to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel), which focuses on the act of falling, existing in that place after jumping off and touching down. There’s something about the in between, the moment right before when anything can happen that fascinates me.

Another theme that I see coming through more often lately is an expression of underlying loneliness, expressions of longing for companionship and touch. That’s coming directly out of some deep down kernel within me. I enjoy and cultivate solitude sometimes, since it can be comforting, but I have to remember not to wrap myself so tightly within it as to feel disconnected from the world and the people around me.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~I’m a fan of the shitty first draft as proposed by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. I’ll ponder an idea for a while and then dump it onto the page, letting it be rough and haphazard and wrong. In the first draft stage, I’m still trying to figure out what I’m trying to say, and I won’t fully know the scope of the poem or story until I have words to play with and move around. The drafting process can happen by pen and ink or by computer, but for the revision process I almost always move to hard copy — something I can mark up, cross out, ramble out gibberish in the columns, or cut into strips. The tactile aspect of working with a physical page helps me to work through what’s not working and trace a path to figuring out what will work.

 Q~Your two most recent works are a collaborative book and a collection of erasure poems. How does working with another poet or source material change your writing?

A~Working collaboratively with Laura Madeline Wiseman on our collection Every Girl Becomes the Wolf (Finishing Line Press) and other projects has strengthened my writing. During our collaboration sessions, I find there’s a tug and pull, in which I am simultaneously offering up space in a piece in order to allow Madeline’s voice into the poem while also claiming room for my own voice. Our poems are written together and then jointly edited, so that our voices become layered over each other to the point that in some completed poems, I can’t tell where her words begin and mine end. Throughout it all, I’m continually surprised by Madeline’s skill in choosing words and editing for clarity. It’s an intimate education in another person’s method of writing, which has provided me with new tools to approach my own writing.

In the act of creating erasure poetry presents an interesting restriction. Rather than the infinite possibilities of the blank page, I’m confronted with an existing text (in the case of my collection A Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, I was working with the product descriptions in Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers). The puzzle of striking out words to find the poem left behind stretches me into new directions — Can I siphon out a new meaning from these words? Are there enough of them to complete a particular thought? Do I need to modify the direction of the poem because the available words are steering me another way? It’s resulted in some surprising, surreal turns that I might not have taken in a standard free verse poem. It’s a kind of freedom nested within the restrictions, which can in turn empower me to explore more playfully when I approach an empty page.

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

A~Advice I have to remind myself of over and over again — make space for yourself and your work. That includes time and energy for both the writing itself and the things that reinvigorate your writing, like reading, attending poetry events, walking, stretching, meditating, or anything that helps keep words alive for you. It’s so easy to get lost in the day-to-day routine of work and chores and TV binge watching and on and on — to the extent that time passes, and the work you love has been forgotten. Often my moods are influenced by how much or how little I’m connecting with my own writing. It doesn’t have to be daily, but regularly creating that space to write, to read, to interact with words is so essential.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’m currently reading several poetry books at the moment. If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar is blowing my mind with its beauty and inventiveness regarding both lyric and form. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is so moving in how it approaches its exploration of race. And, I’m also enjoying Basement Gemini by Chelsea Margaret Bodnar, a beautiful chapbook that explores female agency through horror tropes. 

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

A~The poetry scene in the Bay Area, California is amazing. There seems to be readings, slams, open mics, or other events going on just about every week, whether in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, San Jose, or other towns. It’s fantastic to have this community so close at hand, and I value all the amazing creators around me, who inspire me with their words and generosity. They make me want to work harder and improve my craft.

I’ve gone through periods when I was participating or witnessing in many of these events on a minimum of a monthly basis, but lately I’ve been hermiting, tucked away in the quiet of my own home. I miss this community and camaraderie, and part of me wants to feel guilty about not being more active than I have in the past. But, I’m giving myself space to just be quiet in this way, providing support as much as I can from a distance, with the understanding that there’s no wrong way to poet, and sometimes you just need space for a while. I’ll jump back in when I’m ready.

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

A~A couple of my Pantheon poems have been published online, which can be read here: “Carrie White: Our Lady of Blood” and “Sarah Connor: Our Lady of Self Determination.” I’ve also been working on a series of found poems assembled from words in Stephen King’s The Plant, a number of which can be found at Quail Bell, including: “Morning, Wrapped in Maple and Pine,” “A Fallen Heaven,” “A Wake,” “I Have Tried to Explain,” “A Last Missive,” and “Student of More.”   Some examples of the collaborative poetry I write with Laura Madeline Wiseman can be found here. I can also be reached on Twitter and Instagram, through my email newsletter, or via my website.