Tag Archives: nature

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.

Advertisements

Fall Poem / an interview with poet Rachel Warren

Fall Poem

by Rachel Warren

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

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

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

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

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

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 I know Rachel is unpublished (but likely not for long), so I thought this would be a great way to get her name out there.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

So, here is Crystal’s interview with Rachel.

Q~How would you describe your style?

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

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

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

Q~Why do you write poetry?

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

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

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

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elk at Tomales Bay / An interview with poet Tess Taylor

Elk at Tomales Bay

by Tess Taylor

Nimble, preserved together,
milkweed-white rears upturned,

female tule elk
bowed into rustling foxtails.

Males muscled over the slopes,
jostling mantles, marking terrain.

Their antlers clambered wide,
steep as the gorges.

As they fed, those branches twitched,
sensory, delicate,

yet when one buck reared
squaring to look at us

his antlers and his gaze
held suddenly motionless.

++++++++Further out, the skeleton.

The tar paper it seemed to lie on
was hide.

++++++++Vertebrae like redwood stumps—
an uneven heart-shaped cavern

++++++++where a coccyx curled to its tip.
Ribs fanned open

hollow, emptied of organs.
In the bushes its skull.

Sockets and sinuses, mandible,
its few small teeth.

All bare now except
that fur the red-brown color

of a young boy’s head and also
of wild iris stalks in winter

still clung to the drying scalp.
Below the eye’s rim sagged

++++++++flat as a bicycle tire.

The form was sinking away.

The skin loosened, becoming other,
shedding the mask that hides

but must also reveal a creature.
Off amid cliffs and hills

some unfleshed force roamed free.
In the wind, I felt

the half-life I watched watch me.
Elk, I said, I see

++++++++you abandon this life, this earth—

I stood for a time with the bones.

First appeared in Poetry Magazine 2011.

tess.jpgTess Taylor is the author of The Forage House and Work & Days. She was a Distinguished Fulbright US Scholar at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was most recently Anne Spencer Writer in Residence at Randolph College. She’s the on air poetry reviewer for NPR’s All Things Considered.

Of her style, Tess says, “I don’t know if I have a ‘style.’ I have fascinations— how to write place? How do we live race in America? How do we attend now? And, I do love the textures of things, including words, and I like to entertain my own ear and hope that in doing so I entertain others.”

Bekah and Tess connected after Poets & Writers published Tess’s article, “The Art of Publicity: How Indie Publicists Work With Writers.” In the article, Tess says, “I’ve had good luck with two books of poems, including Work & Days (Red Hen Press), which magically appeared on the New York Times Best of 2016 list. But even so, my own attempts at publicizing my work have felt a bit haphazard at times—a last-minute scramble of hurried lists and harried galley mailings, carrying packages to the post office—often, it seems, with a baby strapped to my chest.” She gets advice from three publicists on how to be more strategic with publicity. It’s a great article. We wanted to know more about Tess, her poetry and the art of publicity, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about “Elk at Tomales Bay.” How is it representative of your work?

A~This poem was finished years ago on a hike in Pt Reyes, the National Seashore near where I live. It will be in my third book, RIFT ZONE, due out in 2020. I think this piece has everything to do with love of place and mystery of artifact, and in the pleasures of attention and attending.

Q~Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~The tule elk used to roam wide over California and now live in a couple tiny little preserves. One of them is this spectacular finger of land called Pierce Point which sticks out into the sea. I love that hike. Anyway, I really did see this elk skeleton, way out on the trail. I was transfixed. My dad and my then boyfriend wanted to leave, and I sort of felt the poem forming. I didn’t have a notebook, so I recited what I was sure was in the poem for the two miles back to the car and then on the way home. The poem still took a long time being born.

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

A~It came at once as an instinct and a feeling and a sense of rhythm, but the actual wording as laid down took some time. That feeling of incantation was always in it.

Q~We loved your article in Poets & Writers about the art of publicity for writers. What is something from that article that you have really taken to heart?

A~I think the thing I said above about beginning by listening holds true. But, what I loved in getting to know these lovely people was that each of the publicists really focused on building human relationships, human conversations— and starting from there.  Start from the urgent conversation, and the need to connect.

Q~Why poetry?

A~Because I caught this morning morning’s minion, dapple dawn drawn falcon in his riding. Because I heard a fly buzz when I died. Because all the work continues on, awful but cheerful. Because crotch and vine. Because what I assume you shall assume. Because I yelled at the sea “dash me with amorous wet, I can repay you.” Because small is the worth of beauty from the light retired. Because I lived in a pretty how town. Because I could not see to see. Because between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. And so on.

Q~How did your role as on-air poetry reviewer for All Things Considered come about? What has the experience been like?

A~Gosh! Well, a while back they were having a series called News Poet. This was an assignment to go into the studio and write a poem, and the poem had to be based on the day’s news. I studied journalism in grad school, and I work as a freelance writer, and even though I don’t do daily news, I happen to love a newsroom. So, I sat out there and was fascinated as they built the board and the stories shifted. Also when I came I had half a poem prepared. I was going to be News Poet but I had also decided that whatever the days news was I also weave in the fact that 150 years before Walt Whitman had been walking through the same neighborhood tending the Civil War dead. So, I did a poem that was a mashup with the days’ news and our deeper sad history, even the history of the place. I decided that the ghost of Whitman, the poet and journalist, would be with me. And, that made the poem at once present tense and out of time. Poetry should unsettle us, I think, in this and other ways. It should bring us into our bodies and our lives but also make us feel the strangeness of the present.

Anyway, I loved the newsroom. And someone there did me the great honor of inviting me back, and now it’s been about seven years. I am so grateful to get to do it. I love that I get to share some of what I love about poetry with a wider audience. It’s a true joy in my life.

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~The subjects that call me literally do that. I can’t let them go. They find me. I dig to get the poem, but there’s another way in which the poem is digging me, too.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Fits and starts, notebooks and revision, scraps and wrappers. I have kids now and I teach and have a freelance writing practice and juggle a lot of things as a working writer. I don’t even know HOW— except in fits and starts and also doggedness. What I love though is looking at a new book arriving in the mail and finding that about seven years after I wrote it on a napkin, a phrase has made it into a poem. That’s a reminder to me that the work is going on, messily, perhaps, but going.

Q~Your writing has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share?

A~Acclaim is nice when it comes. A greater part of one’s life is spent in doubt, I think.  And, when one is in doubt the best thing is to turn inward and focus on listening, focus on process, focus on figuring out how to call out of the place that feels most singular and human in your being.  Also, to read the work of others you admire. And go to art exhibits. And to jazz clubs and live music and the symphony. To both center oneself and feel oneself be unsettled by art. To cultivate one’s faith not in success but in the processes of art.

Q~Current bedside table?

A~Terrance Hayes, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, John Donne, Jonathan Lethem, the letters of John Keats, Jenny Xie, the new Tracy K. Smith, and a book of nonfiction called Confederates in the Attic. I just read and read and read and read. I can’t wait till my kids get to bed, so I can get in bed and turn on the bedside lamp. After a day of difficult news this is what sustains me.

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

A~I’m so in awe of the work that Kundiman and Canto Mundo are doing right now. The emerging writers coming out of those workshops are just blowing my mind. Community is so important. I think every writer should work to find a group he or she can feel at home with— that helps support the long and solitary work of getting down the bones.

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

A~You can visit my website, read one of the books I have out (The Forage House and Work & Days), or read some of my work online at the Poetry Foundation. You can also connect with me on Twitter or Instagram.

Bimbo, a Deer Story / an interview with poet Risa Denenberg

Bimbo, a Deer Story

by Risa Denenberg

For she had no body odor and lay motionless
beside the dead doe, and so
you took her home and fed her goat’s milk.

This you did: collared and tethered her, named her
Bimbo, a pet wandering a yard strewn with cars
on blocks and old oil tanks.

Your darling: adopted, broken, stroked, chosen.
And who am I, trussed and bound to a fault line,
who shadowed not her own mother, nor knows
how she is meant to be.

originally published in Menacing Hedge 2014.

risa (2)

Risa Denenberg is a working nurse practitioner and poet with 6 published poetry collections. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, a small independent publisher of poetry by lesbians. Her most recent collection is slight faith, just released from MoonPath Press.

Of her style, Risa says, “I write mostly free verse, a combination of lyrical and narrative, with attention to poetic devises such as assonance, alliteration, enjambment, repetition, lists, and anaphora. I have tried my hand at some forms such as sonnets, haiku, and villanelles. I often write poems using equal lined stanzas that hold a shape, but also abstractly-shaped poems with very different line lengths. I also write prose poems. I try to query the poem to see what shape it wants to be.”

Risa 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, “Bimbo, a Deer Story.” Is there a back story you want to share?

A~It was originally published in Menacing Hedge and is included in slight faith.  It came to me after reading a news item that described an eccentric woman who had found a fawn beside her dead mother and took her into her home, treating her like a child. The details (feeding her goat’s milk, naming her Bimbo, etc.) are directly from the news story. It made me realize that any sentient creature, taken out of her natural environment, would probably never become who she was meant to be. I identified with that concept, not because I was adopted, but because I often wonder who I was meant to be. The poem hints at a troubled relationship between the narrator and her mother, but prefers to leave much to the reader’s imagination. I think the poem is similar to others of my poems in that it has a certain restraint, rather than being “in your face,” it shows (rather than describing) emotions, and hints of darkness without specificity.

Q~How is the poem representative of your new collection?

A~slight faith is a collection of poems that consider ways of creating and finding meaning, ways of seeing the world in all its horror and still wanting to live. The story that my poem, “Bimbo: a Deer Story,” is based on looks to the natural world (a dead doe, the fawn helpless at her corpse) and positions the fawn in an unnatural environment (a woman’s home). The story is simultaneously heartwarming and anomalous. In the poem, the narrator tries to understand who she is under the circumstances she has been dealt. She looks for meaning, which I believe has its core in faith. Many of us who are not drenched in religious life have difficulty talking about concepts like faith, and yet these tropes are found everywhere in art. I’ve learned “god language” through my work in end-of-life care, as a way of connecting with people who speak it. My own experience of faith vacillates between feeling authentic (faithful) and feeling hopeless (faithless). At core, faith says there is meaning. I lose and recover meaning all the time. slight faith is a way of finding peace in that dilemma.

Q~You mentioned your work in end-of-life care, how much does your “day job” influence your writing?

A~There is no doubt that my years as a nurse, witnessing illness, suffering and death, has been a bedrock of my need to write. It has also given me experiences to write about, as I have done in my chapbooks What We Owe Each Other and In My Exam Room (both published by The Lives You Touch Publications). When life seems suffused with sadness, despair and even alienation, poetry carves out a place for these difficult emotions in the world.

Q~How do you balance your work at Headmistress Press with focusing on your own writing?

A~It can be difficult. I not only spend many hours a week running Headmistress Press with Mary Meriam, I also work full time and volunteer with End of Life Washington, the advocacy group for Washington State’s Death With Dignity Law. Being an introvert and living alone helps me to carve out time for writing. I try to write first thing in the morning before other things clamor for my attention. I also go on retreats two or three times a year where I focus exclusively on a writing project.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I write in spurts, sometimes daily, but sometimes not at all for weeks. I typically start with jumbled thoughts/emotions, unformatted, like journaling. I usually let it sit, but if there is a spark of truth there, later I might interrogate the writing by asking: what is it I am trying to say here? My goal in shaping and revising a poem is to strip away any words or codicils that feel false or so private that they are unlikely to speak in any viable way to a reader, and then to locate specificity of language by inviting the lines and stanzas to dialog. I read the work out loud to see if it has rhythm or musicality. Typically, writing poems is my attempt at meaningful conversations with myself, that I deeply hope will communicate meaningfully to someone out there.

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

 A~Just write the poems. Let the rest take care of itself. Support other poets; buy their books; attend readings and poetry events. Read as much poetry as you can, and learn how to read your own poems aloud.

Q~When you say, “learn how to read your own poems aloud,” do you mean as part of the writing process or were you talking about poetry readings?

 A~Poetry is about the sounds of words. When I’m reading others’ poems, if a poem excites me, I will often stand up and read it aloud. When I’m writing, I stop and read a stanza or a line aloud many times as I am revising and working on the poem. I don’t enjoy it until it “sounds” right. What I was referring to as advice, however, is that any poet who has the opportunity to read their work for others should, first of all, do it (!), and second, rehearse reading the poems aloud many times. A reading opportunity usually comes with some sort of time limitation, so it’s also very important to time the reading. Misusing the gift of time is very poor manners. Finally, with practice and deep familiarity with the words, I think most poets could give a convincing, strong reading. Personally, although I’m an introvert, I totally love reading my work for an audience.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I was nine, I had pneumonia and had to stay home alone for several weeks, since my parents both worked. I had Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse with me in bed, and it was a wonderful comfort to read poems about children that felt like they could have been about me (when I was sick and lay abed, I had two pillows at my head). I also have to credit reading the Hebrew Psalms and connecting with their deep sorrow, lamentation, and longing. In high school, I fell in love with Emily Dickinson, started reading the beat poets, and was introduced to Sylvia Plath and the confessional poets. I greatly expanded my reading list after high school, but these introductory poets were very formative in my love of poetry.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I have been gob smacked by so many contemporary poets, and in particular, LGBTQ poets. I have bought so many books of poetry in the past year that I fear I’ll never find time to read them all. Lesbian feminists held sway with me in previous decades (Rich, Lorde, Jordan, Cheryl Clarke, Marilyn Hacker, Pat Parker, so many others), but lately the gay boys have really knocked me off my feet. I only have room here to name a few: Mark Doty; Danez Smith, Philip B Williams, Jericho Brown, Richard Silken, Saeed Jones, Carl Philips, Spencer Reece; Ocean Vuong. I must say that I also adore Natalie Diaz, Sharon Olds, Ilya Kaminsky, and Greg Pardlo.

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

A~My books are available on Amazon or at my website. I also have a blog, and you connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

slightfiath-frontcov-withbleed

At the Landing / an interview with poet Jessica Goodfellow

At the Landing

by Jessica Goodfellow

atthelanding

First published by FIVE:2:ONE Magazine 2018.

Janne1small

Jessica Goodfellow’s books are Whiteout, Mendeleev’s Mandala, and The Insomniac’s Weather Report. She was a writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. Her work has appeared in Threepenny Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, The Awl, The Southern Review, Motionpoems, and Best New Poets, and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2018.

Jessica says of her style, “My educational background is in analytical fields, and I think that shows in my poems—they tend toward the abstract, festooned with logic games and scientific and mathematical vocabulary. I’d like very much to write something with less of an obvious anchor, with more trust in the unconscious tether to the conscious mind. I try to do that—I think it’s important to try to write outside of your comfort zone—but so far, I haven’t succeeded.”

Bekah and Jessica’s work—including the visual poem above—both recently appeared in #thesideshow at FIVE:2:ONE Magazine. We wanted to know more about Jessica and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~ Tell us a little about “At the Landing.” What was the source material for this piece? What made you choose the stamps?

A~I call each erasure by the title of the short story it came from. I chose Eudora Welty’s short story collection, The Wide Net (Harcourt Brace, 1971), as my source material from the many books on my bookshelf because it has such an evocative vocabulary and also because there was a lot of space between the lines, making it easy to work with on a practical level. I have a box full of international stamps that I’ve been saving for some future project yet unconceived, and one of the erasures I worked on reminded me of a stamp I knew I had. After that I just tried putting them on different erasures, looking for stamps that were thematically relevant. I thought it was pretty unique, but I’ve since seen that Mary Ruefle has used this technique before.

Q~What appeals to you about erasure/visual poetry?

A~This is my first foray into erasure poetry. At the time I erased this piece, my mother-in-law was staying with us for end-of-life care, and I found that though I had vast swaths of free time while she slept, the need to be on-call at all times meant I couldn’t get into the writing space in my head. So, I decided to try erasure instead, and that worked really well for me, possibly because the act of erasing mimicked the experience I was having as I watched my mother-in-law dying, disappearing slowly.

Q~So sorry for your loss. Your new book, Whiteout, is also about loss. I am fascinated to hear more about the book and your experience as writer-in-residence at Denali National Park and Preserve. How did that come about?

A~My most recent book is about my uncle who was a mountain climber. He died on Denali in what was, at the time, the worst mountain-climbing accident in US history. I applied to be a writer-in-resident in the park in order to finish that book. I stayed in a one-room cabin out by the Toklat River, with only my sister. We were in the park (Denali National Park and Preserve) for 10 days. Being there gave me an understanding of why my uncle was compelled to do such a dangerous thing as climb Denali. Wandering around the vast park, feeling completely alone in the wild, going places we knew he had been, was profoundly moving. We were there 49 years and one week after he was lost—watching the sun wheel around the sky instead of set in the evening, I knew he had seen that, too. For the park I wrote a series of poems as an artistic donation. They say better than I am doing now what my experience was. Here is one:

The Wandered

My sister’s drawn to clean-edged kettle ponds,
learning how to tell which pools were formed in basins
left behind by glaciers, and which weren’t.

I’m captivated by erratics, empty-house-sized
boulders stranded in a strange land by ice
that melted out from underneath them.

Erratic comes from the Latin errare,
meaning to wander, to stray, to err. We are
not wrong, my sister and I, to feel kindred—

kin and dread—with what remains after
a mammoth force, no longer visible,
has carved out such a tattered landscape.

You can read the others here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/getinvolved/air-goodfellow.htm  Only “Nine Views of Denali” is in my book, because I wanted the park to have some original work not from the book. “The Wandered” is the one I most regret not putting in the book. Kettle ponds are formed by retreating glaciers carving out grooves in the landscape, and leaving meltwater. Erratics are giant boulders that were carried along by glaciers and deposited in a location where they seem out of place–they don’t match the surroundings because they didn’t come from there–many of them may have come from a mountain. Denali National Park and Preserve is dotted with both kettle ponds and glaciers.

Q~ Is there any online resource you would recommend for anyone thinking about a project book, like Whiteout?

A~The Cloudy House is a website of interviews with poets who’ve written project books, curated by poets Cynthia Marie Hoffman and Nick Lantz. If you are interested in project books, or want to know what one is; if you are curious about how having a project affects the writing process and later the marketing; if you wonder what kind of topics end up as project books, and whether a poet starts out with a project in mind or notices one is arising later—topics such as these—the interviews here are useful and fun to read.

Q~Your poetry has received a lot of acclaim. What’s one piece of advice you want to share? 

A~Your poetry should surprise you, but it won’t much of the time. That’s okay. Just keep sitting with it until it does. It takes a long, long time to write the words that are the right words. A short poem can take months. Don’t give up, and don’t get impatient and publish something before it is truly surprising to you. Read everything aloud—the part that you want to rush through is the part that you need to keep working on. 

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

 A~Forklift, Ohio: A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety is a quirky journal featuring smart, unusual poetry. Even the format of the journal is quirky (see their website for examples http://www.forkliftohio.com/ ), and with a print copy comes random pieces of ephemera, such as an envelope of seeds for planting or an old key fob from a hotel. Fresh writing, a little bit askew—there is nothing like it. This journal knows what it likes and doesn’t apologize for its slightly off-kilter aesthetic. From their guidelines (known as their logistics page) come these two pieces of info (plucked from among many others): 1) “[we] Fetishize the aesthetics of early industrialized society in a distinctly post-industrial fashion;” and 2) “[we] Include, besides poetry, such diversions as recipes, agricultural wisdom, home economics lessons, and other bits of nonsense.” How are you not going to love this journal? 

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Right now, I’m rereading Natasha Sajé’s Vivarium. I love this book—it’s the right amount of cerebral for me. The poems are built around the alphabet and as with all good constraints, the alphabet fetishization inspires a certain meandering that is unexpected and mesmerizing. I’m also reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s dark and disturbing novel, The Sympathizer, for my book club.

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene?

A~I live in Kobe, Japan, and there isn’t much of a poetry scene in English here (I don’t write poetry in Japanese). A couple of times a year there is a reading series event, but it’s any kind of writing in English, and more often than not it isn’t poetry. But, I attend and have been invited to read several times. I also belong to a group of poets around Japan writing in English who do a linked poem project. We each write a single stanza with given parameters and constraints, and pass it to the next poet who uses our stanza for inspiration, and that’s a lot of fun. It tends to be seasonal, in the Japanese tradition. There’s also the annual Japan Writers Conference that I attend about half the time. Mostly though, I’m on my own as a poet here.

Q~How has living abroad changed you as a writer?

A~I get asked this question often, and I have to say that I don’t particularly write about Japanese themes. Local imagery and the occasional Japanese word or phrase will show up in my poems, but I don’t specifically seek to dwell in the experience of living here—I leave that to other writers, while I tend to be interior in my work, and so only the part of Japan that penetrates my interior identity appears in my work. However, living here means a certain amount of isolation—from the poetry scene back home, from native speakers who comprehend my words without effort, from society at large here in this place where my foreignness is the most important aspect of me to nearly everyone I interact with—and that gives me more time and space to write than I imagine I would otherwise have. Also, my sense of being an outsider is heightened and continual, which I think is good for any kind of art even while it may not always be good for the private life of the individual artist.

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

A~I’ve linked to most of my online publications on my website. My erasures aren’t listed there, but here are journals where you can see more erasures: Star 82 Review, Thrush Poetry, Calamus, and decomP. On Facebook, I’m Jessica Goodfellow Ueno, and my Twitter handle is @jessdragonfly.

Whiteout Front Cover

 

Restless / An interview with poet M.J. Iuppa

Restless

by M.J. Iuppa

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

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

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

like panic–we look
around, feeling
homeless.

First published in Third Wednesday 2017.

mjiuppa

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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