Tag Archives: interview

Not This / an interview with poet Hyejung Kook

Not This

by Hyejung Kook

notthis1

notthis2.PNG

First appeared in The Ellis Review 2018.

kook

Hyejung Kook’s poetry has most recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Hyphen Magazine, and Pleiades. Hyejung was born in Seoul, Korea, grew up in Pennsylvania, and now lives in Kansas. She is a Fulbright grantee and a Kundiman fellow.

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

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

A~I’m so grateful to The Ellis Review for publishing “Not This.” The poem grew out of two different pieces I wrote while participating in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project back in 2015, which involved writing thirty poems in thirty days. I usually write slowly, so the pressure cooker of having brand new drafts shared daily on the Tupelo 30/30 website was both terrifying and generative. The first piece was an erasure of a poem by Margaret Rhee—the gorgeous phrase “the precarity of the line” comes from her. The second piece was called “Not this but” and had “whatever is rising” as the first line, but the imagery was rather diaphanous, full of sleet and unpruned wisteria and birds and the moon.

Revisiting these drafts, I realized they had the feel of an exercise rather than necessary utterance. When I tried to dig deeper, I found myself grappling with personal loss alongside the many recent killings of people of color—the murder of indigenous women and black folx like Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland, as well as the shooting death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla at a Kansas bar just half an hour from my house. Nature imagery still permeates “Not This,” but with violence as well as beauty, tenderness matched with fury. In retrospect, I was also channeling some of George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous and his preoccupation with multitude, justice, and clarity. This was a challenging poem to write, but it also opened up spaces of possibility for me—this is my first poem to engage more directly with current events.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~Poetry happens in a moment of collision between myself and the world. On occasion, I strike sparks. If I’m lucky, I have words at hand for kindling, but still I’m scrabbling, reaching for anything that might sustain the flame, and anything goes, stylistically speaking. Some of my poems are strongly narrative; others revel in fragment and elliptical movement. I’ll go months avoiding first-person and then embrace it wholeheartedly. Poetry as distillation. Poetry as outpouring. I’m drawn to the freewheeling, associative mode of renga, each verse linking only to the previous, as much as I am drawn to the complex code of rules that dictate the appearance of motifs and seasonal references in a classical renga’s hundred verses. I struggle to describe my style since the formal aspects of my writing continually shift from poem to poem.

Writing poetry for me is a mode of exploration, of reaching out and often struggling to find out even what it is I’m grasping for. I’m often guided by the physicality of language when I get lost–the sound of the words, the cadence of the line, how the text exists on the page as a visual field. I know I value openness. I want the reader to have a place to enter into the work. I once heard a poem described as a full and laden table except for a single empty seat–that’s the space for the reader to sit down. I love that image, the idea of the reader sitting down and partaking, of us somehow going from strangers to friends at the table of poetry.

I suppose my style is mutable, musical, and open-ended.

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

A~I moved to Kansas City about seven years ago and had my children soon after, so I am not as involved in the local scene as I’d like. But, I discovered a wonderful community of KC-area poets thanks to Jenny Molberg, who teaches at University of Central Missouri, where she also directs Pleiades Press. Last winter, I met Jenny when she read at The Writers Place, and she generously invited me to join a monthly gathering of women-identifying/non-binary poets for brunch. The group keeps growing and currently includes Jenny Molberg, Marianne Kunkel, Micah Ruelle, Bridget Lowe, Ruth Williams, Hadara Bar-Nadav, Traci Brimhall, Luisa Muradyan, Elizabeth Barnett, Erin Adair-Hodges, Maryfrances Wagner, Melissa Fite Johnson, and me. It’s been such a gift to get to know these poets and their poetry and have regular, engrossing conversations about poetry, publishing, motherhood, and more.

What I know of the KC literary scene, which is quite lively, comes from the New Letters literary events calendar and the collective knowledge and activity of the brunch group. I’ve learned about local venues and literary magazines and reading series and even a poetry festival just trying to keep up with what everyone is doing. And next year, I hope to do a joint poetry reading with Marianne Kunkel we’re calling “Writing the Woman’s Body.”

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first poetry love was Edgar Allan Poe. I was in seventh grade, and I had picked up a collected Poe while waiting for my sister to finish her piano lesson. I was mesmerized by the compelling music and meter of his poems, especially lines like “And the silken, sad, uncertain, rustling of each purple curtain,/Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before” from “The Raven” and many passages from “The Bells,” including “What a world of merriment their melody foretells!/How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle/In the icy air of night!/While the stars that oversprinkle/All the heavens, seem to twinkle/With a crystalline delight.” I had enjoyed learning and reciting poems for three years in grade school, but Poe was the first poet I memorized for the sheer joy of having his words in my mouth and ear any time I wanted.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’ve been reading poetry by Jennifer Chang, Danez Smith, Ada Limón, Fatimah Asghar, jos charles, and Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey. I just started Alexander Chee’s collection of essays, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel. Before bed, I re-read a little fantasy or science fiction to unwind—lately it’s been Ilona Andrews, Lois McMaster Bujold, or Robin McKinley. And, since I have two toddlers, I’m always reading children’s books. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson are two in heavy rotation I’ve been enjoying. I used to love devouring whole books in one sitting, but I no longer have that kind of time. I miss the marathon reading sessions, but there’s also pleasure in reading  multiple books at once, which lets me more easily make connections between writers.

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

A~Submit your work often and thoughtfully. I used to think that writing poetry and submitting poetry were two entirely different animals, but I realize now that they’re more of a two-headed beast. Last year, I tried for a hundred rejections, and while I came up short (the actual tally of poems submitted was around sixty), I received more acceptances than I had the previous five years combined, largely because I started to treat submitting work as part of creative writing rather than separate from it.

What does that look like for me? I resubmit to journals, especially if I received an encouraging rejection. I find new places to send by looking to writers I love, learning where they’ve published and what journals they support. I follow the oft-stated advice to read the publication, which introduces me to new, exciting writers I can learn from as well. Thinking about whether/which of my poems fit with a given journal gives me a better understanding of the aesthetic and thematic concerns of my work. (See above difficulty in describing my style.) Even perusing the submission guidelines, while not exciting, serves as practice in close and attentive reading. And, always taking the time to reconsider a poem before submitting has led to fine tweaks as well as wholesale revision. This way, the time spent preparing a submission—reading the journal, choosing poems, reexamining them—never feels wasted, even when a poem is rejected over and over.

Submitting poems went from, “Ugh, I’d rather be writing” to “Wow, look at this amazing poet I’ve never read before,” and “Hey, I just made this poem of mine so much stronger.” Each rejection still stings, but instead of taking it as a definitive assessment of my work, I try to embrace it as part of the process of becoming a better poet.

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

A~Keeping with the theme of submitting work, I’ve found  ENTROPY’s Where to Submit feature to be a great resource. Every couple of months, they collate an updated list of places to submit: presses; chapbooks; journals + anthologies; residencies, fellowships + other opportunities.

For a model in how to keep track of submissions, I recommend looking at Todd Dillard’s detailed, illustrated explanation of how he stays organized using an Excel spreadsheet  here. I use Excel, but his method is far superior because of the way he organizes the data allows you to unleash the power of filters—be still, my Virgo heart.

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 love Glass Poetry Press. Editor-in-chief Anthony Frame runs the Glass Chapbook Series as well as Glass: A Journal of Poetry, a monthly online publication. Anthony is deeply committed to nurturing an inclusive poetry community and publishing underrepresented voices and a diversity of aesthetic styles. Both the series and the journal are fee-free submissions. One dollar of each chapbook purchase goes to social justice organizations; this fall, donations are going to the Trans Women of Color Collective. And the poetry he publishes is stunning. You can really feel how each poet has gone through the crucible of their experience to bring something essential and beautifully crafted into the world. The journal also includes reviews, interviews, special features, and Poets Resist, a current events poetry series curated by guest editors. I’m so thrilled that my newest poem, “The Day Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Testifies Before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I Teach My Daughter the Names of the Parts of Female Anatomy,” appears in the Poets Resist 2018 Midterm Elections Special Feature, which came out on election day and includes Yanyi, Luther Hughes, Sage, Sumita Chakraborty, and Lynn Melnick, among others. You can read the issue here.

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

A~You can find a full list of my publications at my website which includes links to poems in Memorious, Verse Daily, wildness, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Indianapolis Review, among others, and an essay on motherhood and poetry in The Critical Flame. You can also connect with me via social media. I’m most active on Twitter. While I have an Instagram account, I haven’t been using it much yet.

 

Advertisements

Grit & Decolonisation / an interview with poet Moylin Yuan

Grit

by Moylin Yuan

washing down igneous rock
Spattered in bird waste
All speckled and sun coloured
Remember the climbs and twisted ankles
++++++your fingers onto fissures, crags stacked with oysters, their tongues
Waiting for the tides
We ran after the shells
hiding under waves
++++++the new elders soaking toes under
foaming sands
++++++when being, vanishing, was a phasing Sexuality

Decolonisation

by Moylin Yuan

Softly we un-borrow the ivory shells,
learn to lean towards ourselves
Identity shifting in sand
Now it’s daily weather, with dunes
drifting at different levels
Every morning if the sun burns my skin
Would you call my name?

Both poems first appeared in Peach Velvet Magazine 2018

me

Moylin Yuan is a self-taught designer, illustrator, and occasional art director, born and raised in Dubai, UAE. She enjoys working with paper in all formats (print publications, modular origami, turning dollars into koi…) and reading as many abstract concepts as possible.

Moylin says of her style, “I try to keep the flow loose and abstract, and often imbibe visual symbols in my work and play with their possible meanings, questioning the language I use to portray scenes. I strongly think my poetry style is still developing itself. I’m not sure what it is yet, but for me words hold a kind of vibration, and if they kind of echo constantly I try to jot them down as quickly as possible. Once that’s done I’ll pull apart the concepts and experiment to see how the flow changes.”

Bekah and Moylin’s work—including the poems above—appeared together in the “Seconds to Consume” issue of Peach Velvet Magazine. We wanted to know more about Moylin and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about these poems. Is there a backstory you want to share? 

A~The poem, “Grit,” was actually my first attempt at concrete (shape?) poetry Indented poetry can look like waves seeping back and forth, and I wanted to go all out indenting without feeling embarrassed by it. I also wanted to address sexuality and the freedom to sit with not knowing your preferences.

There’s also a sexual beauty branded to the beach which I was attempting to pull at. We’re young! We’re old! I wanted to say there’s a beauty to being, and allowing for contemplation to experiment or refrain as you wish, to not know, to not be certain. Like how we are within life. To be a child again playing with waves, which can be deadly.

The poem, “Decolonisation,” was initially a series of separate lines, written at different times over four years – as thoughts from conversations with different people then and now. I placed them together to see how they felt. The result left me feeling satisfyingly unresolved. Like when you finish reading a good book or run a mile thinking by yourself. I’m addressing many themes in this poem – decolonisation, obviously, but also what it means to live and work in Dubai, the tropes people associate with this place and my tropes within it.

These two poems were written at different points in time. Possibly a year apart. I write on the Notes app and transfer after to my laptop after a gestation period. This affords some distance to the words and reduces the chances of decimating the energy of the language, for me. I mostly write verses when on moving transport. The flow seems to work better. Sitting and focusing on writing is quite difficult – I don’t do well in libraries or offices!

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~Sand or earth in various forms, water and/or its bodies, and a lot of references to actual sounds, (such as spoken sentences), are what tend to surface in the poems I’ve written. Not so much smell. Maybe because I associate language and the world with what I actually hear. I’m not sure! But, those tropes tend to end up in the verses, they vibrate my brain.

Q~How has your experience as a poetry reader at Longleaf Review influenced your own writing?

A~It’s a gratifying process, to be able to read people’s submissions from around the world. I think it has made me more aware of the rules in poetry and what can be broken (maybe everything). I am less hesitant in experimenting as well. Seeing others imbuing confidence in their own voices encourages me to raise my own.

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

A~Honestly, I haven’t applied much yet, and therefore haven’t had many rejections. It takes work to apply well. By that I mean applying to publications or zines etc.,that I enjoy reading or that would feel aligned to the theme of the work. I encourage applying to the places you read and love, because what you like and whom you work with becomes a reflection of who (or what) you identify with or try to be.

And, if it doesn’t work out there’s always somewhere else. And, if there isn’t somewhere else, start your own zine or publication or blog etc. Self-publication is a great way to learn the process of publishing – the editorial work of copy editing, grammatical and ethical debates of editing someone else’s work and so on.

Also, it’s important to submit and support your local presses and publication houses. They need your good content! And reviews! And if you can, your sentiments in monetary value… 🙂

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene? If so, what’s it like?

A~I’m barely involved, honestly… Partly because spoken word or slam poetry is very popular here, and that’s beyond my comfort level right now! I’m usually the audience. Some of the all-stars within the local scene include Afra Atiq and Rewa Zeinati.

Q~Is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~I’d like to highlight two publications currently being produced by friends – Locale and LIFTA. Both promote inclusivity and positivity for communities that have often been narrated to, and I’d love for more people to dig and complicate their lives with these multiple narratives. Life isn’t black and white, and it’s important (even more so, these days) to bring in different stories and listen to multiple points of view:

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~This question had me thinking for awhile! Having been exposed to poets from early on (a lot of Rabindranath Tagore…) I can’t say who was the first, but it might have been a triple threat combo of Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou’s poems and Virginia Woolf’s letter to Vita Sackville-West, when I was in university.

After graduation, I fell into reading poetry from Rumi, quickly moving to Mahmoud Darwish, and Etel Adnan –  in longing for belonging to a land, for being, and loving what was always around. Now though, if not reading contemporary poets, I’m digging Sufi poets like Amir Khusrow, and catching up on the gaps of my education of poets in Asia, geographically.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I am still reading the Goddess of Democracy by Henry Wei Leung. It is my movable feast.

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

A~I’m working on this, but for now my poetry is tagged within my personal blog. You can also connect with me on Instagram and Twitter.

Jeopardy / An interview with poet Chella Courington

Jeopardy

by Chella Courington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally appeared in Avatar Review, Spring 2010

IMG_4572 (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

A~No Fee Calls for Poems Hosted by Trish Hopkinson

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

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

Hunger / an interview with #poetblogrevival cofounder Kelli Russell Agodon

Hunger

by Kelli Russell Agodon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Why poetry?

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process like?

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

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

Q~What are your poetry likes and dislikes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Has it accomplished what you hoped? 

A~Yes and no.

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

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

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

Q~Have there been any unexpected outcomes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Any other advice do you want to share?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time Travel II / an interview with poet Valentina Cano

Time Travel II

by Valentina Cano

Head out the way you came
and I promise to forget the last hour.
I will roll up the minutes
like a stretch of unbaked dough,
pulling the sticky remnants from between
my fingers.
I will wind your voice up
like a fishing line,
the bait, the hook
tucked safely in the coils
until I’ve forgotten them.
You can erase the footprints,
I’ll leave that to you,
pick them up one by one,
with a spatula, with a finger,
as you like.
And when all traces are gone,
when your presence has been carved
out like a jewel to leave a dark hole
where an eye should be,
only then will I throw you
a smile, a sigh of
relief to land like a bird
on the branch of your shoulder.

from Event Horizon (mgv2>publishing, 2013)

v

Valentina Cano is a classical singer and writer. Her works have appeared in numerous publications, and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. Her debut novel, The Rose Master, was called a “strong and satisfying effort” by Publishers Weekly.

When asked how she would describe her style, Valentina says,It’s a tough question, because I don’t think I have a particular style. What I try to do with my poetry is to drop the reader in a moment, it could be a sliver of time, or the aftershock of an entire day, and surround him or her with what I want them to feel, see, smell. I suppose I would call my poems vignettes, because there doesn’t tend to be a narrative arch of any sort.”

Bekah and Valentina’s work, including the above poem, recently appeared together in Issue 0 of Datura Literary Journal. Walter Ruhlmann created the inaugural issue to show future submitters what he is looking for: “”What I want from the work I read is that it traumatizes me, tortures me or makes me laugh, disturbs me in fact.” Bekah and Valentina have actually been published together quite a bit. You can also read them together in Issue 15 of TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism, Issue 16 of Five:2:One Magazine, Issue 1 of Sanity Not Guaranteed, Issue 3 of Dirty Chaiand the Winter 2014 issue of Snapping Twig. We wanted to know more about Valentina and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~I love the use of figurative language in “Time Travel II.” Tell us a little about the poem. How is it representative of your work?

A~The poem submerges you (at least I hope it does!) into one of those moments I spoke about. You don’t necessarily know what the issue is or who is involved, but you know there is one between two people. I give you the emotion that brought me to write it, and I tell you that even as you read it, I wish I could un-write. It’s in the title. The wish to undo.

Q~Were you surprised that Walter Ruhlmann chose to reprint it in Issue 0 of Datura to guide future submitters on who they “should read and learn from if they want to contribute to this journal”?

A~Absolutely. I’m incredibly grateful to him because he was the one who published my very first chapbook, Event Horizon. He gave me the boost I needed to keep going.

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

A~It was an easy one, that one. The poems that have the most sting behind them are always the easiest. Suffering and artists, right?

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~It depends a little on what I’m working on. For poetry, I like to do a free-write, meaning I allow myself to write down everything that comes into my head, without stopping to correct mistakes or reorganize my thoughts. No inner or outer editing. The paragraphs I write will then be distilled and made into a poem.

For prose, narrative is the most important thing for me, so it takes a huge amount of planning. I keep an entire notebook for each novel I write, with carefully outlined scenes, dialogue, and exposition. The freedom that I allow myself in poetry is unsustainable in prose, so I’ve learned to do both.

Q~You are also a classical singer. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~The great thing about being a writer is that there is no real schedule to follow, so I can engage in any other activities I like. Every day, around one in the afternoon, I stop whatever I’m doing so that I can practice whatever arias or songs I’m working on. Music, I think, has also given me a sense of rhythm that transfers to my writing, as well. The way the words sound together is important to me.

Q~On your website, you said you first began writing poetry to combat severe depression and have continued on to push your own personal boundaries of comfort and truth. How has poetry helped you?

A~I always think of writing, and writing poetry especially, as a kind of medieval bleeding. Slit a vein and let it all pour out. It’s a daily ritual that I maintain. Anything that has bothered me, hurt me, affected me in any way, I let it drip onto the page.

Q~ What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~The only dislike I have is rhyming. I’m just not a fan. It’s strange, I know, when I just mentioned wanting musicality in writing, but I always feel as if rhymes take away from the meaning of the poem. Makes it less impactful, since it leads me to think that the words written were not necessarily the best ones, but just the ones that could rhyme.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Margaret Atwood. I’d never been a big reader of poetry until I started reading her work. She paints pictures with her words and that is something that I’ve tried to emulate.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I will read anything and everything, so the books I can be juggling at any one time can be an eclectic mix. Right now, I’m halfway through The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Night Watch by Sarah Waters, and High Tide in Tucson by Barbara Kingsolver.

Q~Are there any online resources you would like to recommend?

A~Duotrope is a great site to stay up to date on all of the literary magazines, blogs, and e-zines that take submissions. There is a monthly fee, but it is a truly minor expense for the wealth of information you will receive.

The other resource that I would like to recommend is one I do with a caveat. Absolute Write Water Cooler has lots of information on agents, editors, and the publishing process in general. My suggestion is to use it as a database, to find contact information for agents and others, but try not to engage with the forums. I’ve had nasty experiences with people who post on it. It is probably the only time that I will suggest lurking at a site, but in this case, it is the best way to keep your blood pressure at a reasonable level while still getting the information you want.

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

A~I have lots of poetry scattered around the web. If you type my name into Google, you’ll get some options of literary magazines where my work has appeared. The chapbooks I have out are also available: Winter Myths and Event Horizon And, if you prefer prose, my two Gothic novels are The Rose Master and Of Bells and Thorns.You can also connect with me via social media on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

Far From Home / An interview with poet Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

Far from Home

by Tiffany Shaw-Diaz

It’s a long drive to the art museum. An hour, minus rush hour, to be exact. So, I pass the time repeating some mantras that, according to all of these popular self-help books I read, will greatly benefit my mental health:

I am beautiful.

I am worthy.

I am safe.

Honestly, I am still waiting to see if they work, but in the meantime, I guess they can’t hurt.

self-love
I tell myself
what they don’t

First appeared in Scryptic 2018.

10444790_10204325484277516_7252903396581532594_nTiffany Shaw-Diaz is an award-winning poet who has been featured in Modern Haiku, Frogpond, Acorn, Presence, and dozens of other publications. She is the founder and director of The Co-op Poetry Lab and a professional artist.

Tiffany says her style is always changing: “I love shifting my energy around from haiku to tanka to haibun to experimental forms. I go where the muse takes me, and I enjoy that sense of discovery. In terms of theme, I have tackled some very difficult subjects, but I have also written about many humorous and light subjects, too. Quite frankly, I’m all over the place, but I always try to approach whatever style or theme I’m working on in a way that’s raw and relatable.”

Bekah and Tiffany’s work, including the poem above, recently appeared together in Issue 2.1 of Scryptic Magazine of Alternative Art. We wanted to know more about her and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us about “Far From Home.” The poem seems to say more by what it leaves out. Is that part of the appeal of short-form poetry for you?

A~That one, in particular, was very inspired. I remember writing it on a Saturday morning, and the words flowed out of me. It’s a work that is quite personal; however, I tried to not impose my own experience on it too much. I wanted to leave it a little open-ended. There is a time and place for in-your-face candor, and there is also a time and a place where I prefer to come alongside the reader and simply say, “I understand.” The haiku at the end is very vague (self-love/I tell myself/what they don’t). Who is “they”? I know who “they” is for me. But I want the reader to figure out who “they” is for themselves. Perhaps it’s an abusive family member or a toxic job environment. The point is that we all have someone or someplace that doesn’t love or support us in the way we deserve, and it is important to recognize that for our personal healing journeys.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I tend to be very spontaneous. I tried to adopt a schedule at one point, and that didn’t work well. Additionally, if I am low on creative energy or I haven’t created in a while, I try to not judge that. An important part of creating is not creating. In the absence of creation, you are preparing yourself for the next wave of artistic energy, and that behind-the-scenes work is so critical. Honor those dry spells. If you don’t take breaks for reflection and growth, you run the risk of becoming stagnant in your work.

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

A~One new publication of note is #FemkuMag, which publishes haiku written by women. It is edited by the awesome Lori A Minor, and you can learn more about it here: https://femkumag.wixsite.com/femkumag

Q~Is there any other online resource you’d like to recommend?

A~Absolutely. If you are a short-form poet, Facebook is a good resource. There are so many groups on there that alert you to contests, new publications, and deadlines, and they also provide a great opportunity for workshopping and connection. Some of my favorite FB groups are Virtual Haiku, The Haibun Hut, and Buds of Haiku. At this point, the majority of my FB friends are poets, and I love seeing their work in my News Feed. It’s inspiring! Even though I am on Facebook very little these days, I enjoy checking in with the aforementioned groups when I can.

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

A~Last year, I was quite blessed to win the 21st Indian Kukai, be short-listed for the 2nd Annual H. Gene Murtha Memorial Senryu Contest, and make appearances in several major publications and media outlets. I never thought I would have such a successful first year. On the flip side, however, I am still painfully aware of the many awful poems I’ve made and continue to make! I seriously hope I’m not alone in cringing at old work sent to editors. I know rejections are a sore subject for poets, but I’m thankful for them. They keep me balanced and motivated.

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

A~Short-form poetry is addictive, and I don’t mean that in a positive way. There are an endless number of publications to submit to. There are an endless number of contests to enter. And it is very, very easy to get caught up in the fray of accumulating accolades and credits and comparing. I know I did. If you begin to compare your creative trajectory to someone else’s, you will run the risk of extinguishing your own unique fire.

Q~You are also a visual artist. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay if at all?

A~At this point, I have come to the conclusion that there is no way I can be successful at all of my ventures all the time, which has been a freeing and humbling revelation. There are times when I want to write poetry and only poetry, and then there are times when I feel compelled to exclusively create in a visual manner. I try to follow my inspiration and not force anything. Because I am both a poet and visual artist, people frequently ask if I’ve tried haiga (a combination of art and haiku). Believe me, I’ve tried it. I’m terrible at it, and the irony of that isn’t lost on me. But, I am OK with that. I enjoy poetry for what it is in my life, and the same goes for my visual art. In many ways, I like that they exist in separate spheres.

Q~Where can readers go to see more of your work?

A~My poetry blog is afterpinkhaiku.blogspot.com and my art website is www.tiffanyshawdiaz.com. On social media I have Facebook and Instagram accounts for my art. I also have an option for people to follow me on Facebook, and all of my posts are public.

Some of Tiffany’s Visual Art:

Awake
Awake
Our-Warmth
Our Warmth
Textured-Anemone
Textured Anemone

 

Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson

Barista

by Caroline Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

caroline2 (588x748)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

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

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

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

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

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love? 

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

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

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

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

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

book_cover_caregiver.jpg