Tag Archives: poems of place

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.

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Audi Alteram Partem (Hear the Other Side) / An Interview with poet Amanda Rachelle Warren

Audi Alteram Partem (Hear the Other Side)

by Amanda Rachelle Warren

I shut my eyes; a dead man sings in my head.

And I can pick the tune, well enough to
know it is a hymn for banjos and fiddles,
but he is a capella. I can pick the tune,
but not the words.

Drunk at sixteen, you sung church songs
to them few saints we believed in:
Our Lady of Lost my Last Dollar,
St. Speeditup,
Dear Done-it-now,
and all the Demi-Gods of Beech and Blossom.

Lying back in the mown grass, gathering dew,
you: mouth sticky, pink drink sweet and sweeter.
Revelation and damnation all soft-serve swirled like the Dairy King.
Every note dead set, but half the words cold, dead wrong.

I trace, on the map,
the path that led/took us to us.
Wet grass to pound cake.
Tender to foreign.
Touch to Touch-me-nots.

I ask the dead man to speak up.
What he’s singing seems important
only because I can’t make it out.

Sometimes there is a choir.
Sometimes the quick bright chatter of many voices.
Sometimes, with startling clarity, a woman, loud in my ear, distinct,
telling me about the nemesis sun, armed pirouetting galaxies,
and the smell of carded wool before it is spun.

And then asking me, over and over,
Don’t you understand? Don’t you? Don’t you?
I do not understand.

I ask the dead to speak up.
I tell them in my real loud voice,
Ifin ya’want something, ya haveta says so I can hear.

The dead man sings me to sleep,
and there’s nothing to fear.

First published by Causeway Lit 2017. (Winner of Causeway Lit Spring 2017 Poetry Contest.)

arw

Amanda Rachelle Warren’s work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, The Pinch, Roar, South 85, Anderbo, and Beloit Poetry Journal as well as other journals. Her chapbook, Ritual no.3: For the Exorcism of Ghosts, was published by Stepping Stone Press in 2011. She is the 2017 recipient of the Nickens Poetry Fellowship from the South Carolina Academy of Authors and currently works as a freelance writer, part-time teacher, and full-time poetry pusher.

Amanda’s work was brought to our attention by poet Allyson Whipple, whom we interviewed here. We offered Allyson the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Amanda. Allyson says, “Amanda Rachelle Warren is one of the people I think exemplifies a true poetry citizen. No matter how busy she is with teaching or her own (fantastic) writing, she’ll always make time to support other poets. I have such deep admiration for not only her art, but for her service to other writers.”

So, here is Allyson’s interview with Amanda.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~I would say that my style is very voice driven and concerned with place and inheritance and identity. I think the self is something we all struggle with, and I had a particularly difficult time finding my place in the world. I always feel like a bundle of contradictions, and my poetry reflects the voices of those competing selves. Place, self, and voice are interconnected for me. I am an Appalachian who grew up part-time in the city. I am an English professor and word-nerd with a non-standard dialect which I was shamed for early on in my education. That leaves a mark, particularly for poets. I had to relearn my own voice in some ways, and that’s made me concerned with dialect, speech patterns, the lexicon of our individual voices, and the ability/inability of language to capture the ineffable contradictions of our experiences. That sounded hoity-toity. I like words. Words haunt me.

Q~Tell me a little about the poem “Audi Alteram Partem.” How is it representative of your work?

A~I jokingly say that 90% of my poems are about dead boys. Although that’s not entirely true, this poem “Audi Alteram Partem” which is Latin for “Hear the Other Side” is definitely about a dead boy. I think I write poems about the things that haunt me, and one of the things that haunts me most deeply is the loss of those other potential selves and their experiences…ones I did not have because my path led elsewhere. For me, part of that loss of potential selves is a reflection of the death of loved ones who helped form the self that carries on without them.

Q~Is there a backstory to the poem that you want to share?

The Latin title is a thing I’m doing. I have a lot of interconnected poems about Appalachia with Latin titles. The choice is inspired by my great uncle who died extremely young during WWII in an airplane crash in Brazil. He was this hillbilly kid who loved machines, and oddly knew Latin, which surprised me. He ended up in the Air Force where he traveled around the world. I have a box of his letters home, and they’re fascinating. He would write his younger brother in Latin so the censors during the war didn’t know what he was sharing. He was clever and charming, and he inspired me to learn Latin, too. At the very least I wanted to understand what he had written. Sadly, his younger brother also died in an airplane crash. Gravity does not love my family.

Another inspiration for this poem is not something I normally talk about directly except to family really, but there are many women in my family who hear voices. It’s not a frightening or a troublesome thing, but a fact. Are they real? Who knows. Is it psychic ability or mental illness? Probably both. Centuries ago they’d be saints or witches, right? The fact remains that we hear voices, and those who do hear them love them. They’re a comfort of sorts. So, when I wrote this I was thinking about my extended family and the voices (literal and not quite literal) of those family members we lose during our lifetimes. Those people live on in the stories we tell and those things we’ve learned or come to understand by growing up in a space shaped by their presence: place and voice and sorrow and joy and love and struggle going back generations.

I was also thinking about the border between what is acceptable and unacceptable, what is holy and profane, which is a topic I’m always interested in. I’m not a religious person, or really a spiritual one in any standard sense of the word spiritual. But, I am fascinated by what does and does not feel like “church” for lack of a better word, and the ecstasy of that feeling–those moments of overwhelming oneness and belonging, those little moments of awe, in the strictest sense with a little touch of terror, that we hold on to that become touchstones or emblems of joy. I was also thinking of how religion often offers joy in one hand while slapping us with the other and telling us “no.” That’s not fair. Life does it, too. I want the awe. Many people seem to become less aware of awe as they get older and more concerned with what’s acceptable. Well, some of us do. I seem to get less concerned with what others think as I get older, or I just never grew up. I don’t want to be so “grown” that I can’t lay in the yard and stare at the sky and feel awe.

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

A~This one was easy but it also developed slowly. It started with a bunch of notes, the title, and the italicized line in dialect. It sort of pieced itself together and then went through a few drafts. I remember being excited to write it, particularly the part about the map and my indecision about whether the line should be “the path that led us to us” or “the path that took us to us.” Both the active “led” and the passive “took” seemed genuine to the poem, so I decided to include both. The list that follows moves the speaker and audience from innocence and acceptance to something less secure, more distant, impersonal, fragmented.  I want to weep for the two boys in the poem and what they hold on to…like the comfort of their voices and memories.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~Scraps and lists. Lists everywhere. Notes. A bit of a line. A snippet of an image. Something I overheard. Something I saw. A list of names for cats I hate. A list trying to describe a smell. A list of attempts at spelling out birdcalls. A list of the interesting names on gravestones in the old corner of the cemetery on top of the hill between this town and the next. A list of astronomical terms. A list of meteorological terms a storm-chaser might use. A list of places where someone might experience a first kiss. A list of street signs or town names that make me imagine the people who live there.

Eventually these things will spark a poem. I live up the road from a street called Withering Heights. Withering. On that road are three mobile homes. One day as I drove by I noticed that near the second trailer there was a dog standing on the roof of a red pickup truck and howling. That’s a beautiful image…old joyous dog sounding his heroic AOOUUU on top of a truck on Withering Heights!  That’s going in a poem eventually. And, that poem will go through a lot of weird little revisions and a few major ones. Hopefully, it will turn into something, but if not…that’s a learning experience for me. It might take decades to write that poem, or it might take a half day. I don’t know. I’ll keep working at it.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~I’m not really sure. I love words. I love language. I love the power it has to create ideas. I started out writing stories and reading nursery rhymes. I learned to read by writing actually. It was some 1970s method of teaching children to read and my Aunt wanted to try it out so I was her guinea pig. My first story was a poem/story about my new swing set. It was written in a “book” of kindergarten lined paper bound in wallpaper scraps. My mom still has it. I love writing prose, too, but poetry is my main focus. Ideas and images and lines and voices get stuck in my head, and it’s how they get out. It started out pretty cathartic, and I guess it still is, but it became more than that once I started reading the work of other poets. I was the 15 year old with three books of contemporary poetry in her bag, I guess.

When I started attending poetry workshops and learning more about what could be done with language I was hooked, but it still wasn’t a thing I thought about as more than a hobby…it was just a thing I did. I wrote poems. I got serious when I applied for my MA in creative writing at Ohio University, but I still didn’t know what I was doing or what I was getting into. I will admit that the reason I didn’t apply for an MFA is that I didn’t know that was an option. I had no clue about college and definitely no clue about graduate school. If I hadn’t gotten in I still would have written poetry, but I have no idea what I’d be doing with my life or where. Sometimes I like to think about that other self.

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

A~I return to place. I write about rivers and mountains and light and fractured people who are haunted by things. I write a lot about roads as well. I love roads. I love driving. I love seeing what’s out there. And, I’m super social, which is not very “poety” of me. I love talking to people and learning about their lives…what makes us human and tragic and bizarre and lovely. Also like I said, 90% of my poems are about dead boys. Again, I my poems return to those things that haunt me. I think that’s true of most writers though.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~My first love was Homer. We had an old, dusty collection of bound books, which now live on my shelves. I read The Illiad and The Odyssey. It’s all action and adventure which I loved at age 10, but it was the quiet moments that got to me. The wine dark seas. The hair curling like hyacinths. The pleas with the gods. The descriptions. Then I found other poets. Yeats, Tennyson, Rilke, then e.e. cummings for some reason, and he exploded my expectations of poetry.  I’d borrow poetry anthologies from the library and I ate up all the modernists and the Romantics and sonnets and psalms. I devoured them. Still, I hadn’t heard a voice like mine though. I had that odd expectation that we sometimes get as novice poets that poetry is this grand formal thing that belongs to  only certain kinds of poets, and certain kinds of people. I felt like it didn’t really belong to people like me because I hadn’t read poets like me yet. It took me a while to find the voices and poets connected more intimately to my experience. So, when I found Lucille Clifton, C.D. Wright, and Maggie Anderson and I read their work, I felt like the world had exploded. It was awe.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Currently on my desk: Lucille Clifton’s good woman, Terrance Hayes’s How to be Drawn, Martin Rock’s Residuum, Eugene Savitzkaya’s Rules of Solitude, and Donika Kelley’s Bestiary.

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

A~I’ve had a lot of publications in the last year due to some major “carpet bombing” of literary journals. It’s been great actually. The high point is that I had a manuscript accepted for publication through Urban Farmhouse Press for their Crossroads Poetry Series.

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

A~Take risks with your work. I mean that in several ways. The first way I think we should take risks is when writing. We should be unafraid to go to uncomfortable or difficult places in our writing. We should be brave about complicated things, expose hard truths, risk discomfort, and be honest about what we want to share with others.  Remember, poets can always claim poetic license if someone should question us…so don’t hold back. Those poems we take risks with sometimes turn into our best pieces. The second risk we should be willing to take is in sending our work out for publication. I know many very good poets who are afraid to share their work or submit it for publication. I am not sure if it is a fear of exposure, rejection, or something else, but I always think “what’s the worst that could happen?” I mean, if you send your work out and it is rejected, that’s not a big deal. And, if it’s published? Well, that’s awesome! Rejection of a piece of writing isn’t a condemnation of the work or a writer’s ability. Keep writing. Keep sending. Keep sharing. It’s okay.

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

A~I have no idea. My work is scattered all over the place. I should probably have a website. Just Google me, but be sure to include the middle name or you’ll get the myriad other Amanda Warrens. I can also be found on Google Plus.

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

A~Not all of my poems are about dead boys.

blue_house_photAllyson Whipple is a poet, amateur naturalist, and perpetual student living in Austin, Texas. She is the author of two chapbooks, most recently, Come Into the World Like That (Five Oaks Press, 2016). Allyson teaches business and technical communication at Austin Community College, and enjoys hiking and camping.

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.

The High Road / An interview with poet Allyson Whipple

The High Road

by Allyson Whipple

I. Highway
To know if you love
someone, drive
at least 500 miles with them.

Make the night owl get up early,
and the early bird wait.

I stare too hard at how
industry has cracked
open landscape.

We cross into New Mexico.

Oilfields,
fracking rigs,
behind us.

For 100 miles,
I sighed at dead
earth, sites
where trash outnumbered
cacti, where groundwater
was full of poison.

We cross from oil country
into no country.

II. Atmosphere
To know if you love
someone, spend
a week in close quarters.

West wind careens
against our tent at 35 miles
per hour. The sides buckle.

I am about to suffocate
in my shelter.

Wind brings the tent
to its knees.

The roof pulls down
toward our faces,
hair flying skyward
with static electricity.

The car our only refuge,
I watch sun
rise across a crack
in the windshield.

III. Cavern
An 800-foot descent
into the cavern.
In darkness, all my body
craves is sleep.

My knees have never known
such pressure.
My body thinks it is about to break.

I am deep in the heart
of New Mexico.
Some stalactites
still pulsing.
Some stalagmites
still reaching up
toward a ceiling
they will never penetrate.

An 800-foot ascent
out of the cavern.
My thighs burn
in cool cave air.

Upon emergence
I believe I am weightless.

IV. Bluff
On the night of no wind,
my body cannot adjust
to the cold, even with three
shirts, two pairs
of paints, gloves,
socks, hat, three cups
of coffee, two warm
bowls of beans.

The tent befriends
the air, welcomes
the chill in.

Things I took
for granted:
brushing my teeth;
toilets;
space heaters;
hot tea;
pillows.

My body believes
if I sleep, I die.

V. Water
When I am in the desert
all I think about is water.
Each drop I drink,
use to wash dishes,
my face, to brush my teeth.

On the night of rain,
we stay dry.

The tent stands
firm against the whims
of weather.

On the night of rain,
I sleep.

VI. Trail
We cross back into Texas.
Road signs only speak
of superficial distance.

At our best
we move two miles
an hour.
At our worst, half.

Two miles
into the Chihuahuan desert:
maples.

For a moment, I can believe
we are borderless.

I did not understand
how much dust
the desert contained.

Two more miles:
pine trees and firs
run up and down the mountain.

I did not understand
how quickly a landscape
could change on me.

VII. Peak
You warned me
about the weight of water.
I only half-listened.

Anyone who makes a metaphor
out of climbing a mountain
has never summited anything.

My body believes
if I stop,
I will never walk again.

There is no metaphor
for having to carry the remnants
of your own excrement
in order to leave no trace.

On top
of the mountain,
I am too tired
to sit.

We can look down,
see clouds beneath us.

I cry,
but I am not sure why
I need to.

To know if someone loves
you, cry
in front of them.

I am almost too tired
to stay awake
for the stars.
The Milky Way
a white ribbon
for my naked eyes.

For a moment, I believe
we are bodiless.

To know if you love
someone, climb
a mountain with them.

blue_house_photAllyson Whipple is a poet, amateur naturalist, and perpetual student living in Austin, Texas. She is the author of two chapbooks, most recently, Come Into the World Like That (Five Oaks Press, 2016). Allyson teaches business and technical communication at Austin Community College, and enjoys hiking and camping.

She describes herself as “an environmentalist and a feminist struggling with how to be political on the page. A confessional poet struggling with the ethics of turning real people into art. A poet in love with Texas, and angered every day by Texas politics.” She says she writes “from the intersection of deep love and deep conflict. A study of tension, always tension.”

Allyson and Bekah’s work has appeared together in TRIVIA: Voices of Feminism’s “Animal Instincts” Issue (2013) and When Women Waken’s “Knowing: Issue (2014). We wanted to know more about Allyson and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about your poem, “The High Road.” Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~In the workshop I was enrolled in last spring, we were asked to write a poem that was a minimum of 6 pages long, without individual sections. I’d never attempted to write a poem that long before, but I was set to take a week-long camping and backpacking trip in the Guadalupe Mountains. I decided to draft the poem throughout the trip as a travelogue. On revision, I shortened things slightly and did add relevant sections, but the essence of the trip is still there.

Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“The High Road” is a poem that deals with my two greatest obsessions: the terrain of Texas and the terrain of my heart. It’s a poem that focuses on something deeply personal, and the ways in which the personal is woven into the far west Texas landscape, the way in which I am constantly surrounded by something greater than myself. I always find myself returning to the idea of place and space. After both of my chapbooks, I thought I’d said all I needed to say about landscape and its effect on a person, but as I delved into my thesis, I found myself returning to those themes yet again. Geography is, for me, as large and mysterious as God, and the way I wrestle with place is akin to spiritual exploration.

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

A~The first draft was grueling, because up to that point I hadn’t written a poem longer than a page. I had to really stretch myself here. I was grateful to be able to revise and trim it down and shape it into a poem that felt more my own.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~My process is always changing. I find I need more mental/creative composting time than I used to. My poems require more research, because my works has become more concerned with the world beyond my limited vision and experience. These days I go through bursts of writing and revising, and then I spend several weeks doing anything but writing. Those fallow periods used to scare me. I used to think they were dry spells and worry if I’d ever write again. But I’ve come to realize they’re an essential part of my process now. I do have daily habits (yoga, meditation, walking). I feel I get stronger poems now that I’m not trying to push creativity every single day.

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

A~The Austin scene is amazing. The Austin Poetry Society hosts monthly meetings, talks, open mics, and critique groups. We’re home to some amazing slam organizations, including Austin Poetry Slam and NeoSoul. The Austin International Poetry Festival is a mainstay of our city. And of course, the University of Texas, Austin Community College, St. Edwards University, and Huston-Tillotson University all contribute through journals, readings, classes, and events. We have some of the best local bookstores around, including BookWoman, which is one of just a dozen feminist bookstores left in the country. And, we have open mic events in Austin or surrounding towns nearly every night of the week. My all-time favorite is I Scream Social, a showcase that features women-identified poets (and free ice cream!) every month. I’m there regularly and hate the months when I have to miss out.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I love poetry that plays with form, such as the abecedarian sonnets in Barbara Hamby’s All Night Lingo Tango. I simultaneously love the expansive poems of Rachel Zucker, and the compression of haiku. As for dislikes, I’ve never really enjoyed a poem in which the word “fart” appears.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf, and it feels like every poet is reading this book right now, but also I think everyone should be reading this book right now, so that’s a good thing.

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

A~Your process is going to change. Your creative interests are going to change. Your projects are going to change wildly between when you get that first idea and when you actually finish them (or let them go). Sometimes that change can make us uncomfortable. However, it’s inevitable, and it’s worth learning to accept that all or most aspects of your writing are going to evolve over time.

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

A~My high has been finding a long-distance haiku partner. Each week, we send each other a new haiku by midnight in our respective time zones. No critique, no judgment, just sharing poetry. Not necessarily writing for publication, or worrying about whether the poem will go anywhere. Just writing and sending it. And, sometimes we miss our deadline, but we pick back up again. At the end of the year, my friend surprised me by telling me what his five favorites were. That’s the only feedback, and it was a delight to know which pieces had resonated with him the most. We’re all our own worst critic, so I loved knowing that two pieces I thought were inadequate actually were his favorites. This very simple writing practice brings me incredible joy.

Here’s one of my haiku partner’s favorite pieces of mine:

the breath from my sun
salutations in time
with your snoring

My poetry low, I hate to admit, has been my MFA program. Although I will graduate in the spring with a manuscript, my program has isolated me more than fostered community. I now understand why some people never write again or don’t write for many years, after completing an MFA. It has been difficult for me to speak about this, and I would never say that nobody should do an MFA program, but it was definitely a mistake for me.

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

A~In the spirit of not ending this interview on a low note… In addition to my thesis, I’m working on a long-term project in which I’m creating blackout poems of Ezra Pound’s Cantos. I post updates on Instagram, my blog, and my Medium account, so if you’re interested in those, check out my social media and enjoy!

Q~What drew you to Ezra Pound’s Cantos?

A~I was drawn to it for a few reasons: 1. Ezra Pound, for all he contributed to poetry, was a fascist. There’s apparently been a resurgence of blackout poetry since our current president took office. I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to write over the words of politicians and artists with gross moral failings and make our own texts out of them. 2. The Cantos seems largely antithetical to Pound’s earlier poetics. Of course, poets and their creative interests change over time. But the Cantos are bloated, stuffed with allusions you need a degree in classics to understand, and the imagistic impulse Pound once prized is buried in a convoluted narrative. Once while on a hike, my boyfriend off-handedly suggested it might be fun to try to turn each canto into a haiku. I didn’t take his actual idea, but I am interested in finding the actual images in each poem.  3. Pound said “Make it new.” Well, Ezra, I’m taking your advice literally!

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

A~I’m participating in the 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, and you can find work there:  http://allysonmwhipple.com/. I also have recent work in the Summer/Fall issue of WORDPEACE. Finally, I have haiku forthcoming in Under the Basho.