Tag Archives: queer

Anne Sexton Talks to God / an interview with poet Jen Rouse

Anne Sexton Talks to God

by Jen Rouse

Anne, frantically twisting
her sea-tossed hair through
her fingers: I’m telling you,
you see, I’ve been here
before. I remember
the way you held me
and then pushed me
back into the water.
I remember! Why won’t
you acknowledge
that I’ve been here?!

God, turned towards
the sunset, back to Anne:
I know. I’m certain,
for you, it felt like that.
For me, it was often you
there, not quite within reach
yet, a tiny bird throwing
herself against the pane
of a window. I wanted
so much for you. But you
wanted your misery
just a little bit more.

Anne rises from the beach,
throws sand at God — her usual
tantrum: That’s a horrible fucking
thing for God to say. You’re not
really God are you? This is
not where I was supposed
to have landed. Where is my
boat, goddamnit?! I’m going.

God, softly, like the voice,
of an ocean, like the arms
of a tide: For some of you, I feel
more maternal, and your struggles
cause me something that manifests
in you as a kind of hellish anguish.
I would’ve let you come sooner, but you
were so strong. You had to do
it yourself. Such a constant dervish.
The unsettled rattle of your brain.

Anne: You could’ve saved me.
God: You could’ve saved yourself.
Anne: Why am I here?
God: You decided to row.

First appeared in Glass Poetry 2018.

JenRouseHeadshot

Jen Rouse is the Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, Gulf Stream, Mississippi Review, Lavender Review, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Acid and Tender, was published by Headmistress Press in 2016. Riding with Anne Sexton, Rouse’s second book was recently released from Bone & Ink Press in collaboration with dancing girl press. Find her at jen-rouse.com and on Twitter.

Jen’s work was brought to our attention by poet Risa Denenberg, whom we interviewed here. We offered Risa the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Jen. Risa says, “Headmistress Press published Jen Rouse’s first book of poetry, Acid and Tender, in 2016. It was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize; the contest judge for that year was Ellen Bass. I was delighted to learn that Jen’s second book of poetry was being published with the fabulous title Riding with Anne Sexton, and I was totally blown away by this poem (“Anne Sexton Talks to God”), which was published online at Glass: A Journal of Poetry. In looking for more of Jen’s work, I learned that she had two poems published in Poetry in 2002. I was jealous! But also intrigued. Why did it take so many years for such an obviously accomplished poet to publish a first book? And, so pleased that Headmistress Press was given that honor.”

So, here is Risa’s interview with Jen.

Risa Denenberg:   That is a very brilliant poem. When did you first read Sexton’s poem, “Rowing” from The Awful Rowing Toward God? Did a particular line catch you in the throat?

Jen Rouse: So much of Sexton’s “Rowing” is about not fitting in and how the gaze of everyone watching the ways we don’t fit can seem to be constant.  Her line “I wore rubies and bought tomatoes” speaks to me of the ridiculousness of living that she really sought to convey in her final work.  The writing in the entire posthumously published The Awful Rowing Toward God has this frenetic feeling—the desperation of trying to find some foothold anywhere. And nothing takes. In my poem, I get Sexton to that island, and she has her first conversation with God. I rarely spare anyone (including myself) in my poems, and this piece is no different. Anne wants to understand why God would make her suffer, and God basically tells her: These were your choices. Not mine.

Risa: The poem is from your new book, Riding with Anne Sexton. Mazel tov on its publication! I am very much looking forward to reading it. Can you describe it for us? How can people order it?

Jen: Riding with Anne Sexton is an unflinching portrait of my relationship with mental illness. I use the conceit of a journey with Anne Sexton—a poet who committed suicide at age 45—as a way to examine the darkest and, perhaps, most tragic voices in my head. In an absence of connection and care, the confessional voice of the pieces expresses the constant struggle I face in trying to end suffering, even in the face of great beauty and hope, while capturing what it’s like to remain trapped in a cycle of pain, longing, and loss.

Riding with Anne Sexton is collaboratively published by Bone and Ink Press and dancing girl press. Sending $10 for the book plus $2 for shipping to my PayPal address will get you a copy.

book

Risa: You are a poet and a visual artist and also a playwright. How do these arts interact in your life and your work? Do you work on them at the same time or do you work on art or poetry or playwriting at different times?

Jen: When I first start to conceptualize a poem or a play, I often think in images or images pop up while I’m doing research.  Sometimes I draw or paint those images as a way to connect with my subject. Sometimes I draw while I’m writing if I need to approach the poems in a new way.

Risa: How did it feel to have poems published in Poetry in 2002 and then to not have your book, Acid and Tender (which was a finalist for the Charlotte Mew Prize) published until 2016 (by Headmistress Press)? Were you submitting the manuscript and getting rejections during those years? Or, did you take a hiatus from writing poetry?

Jen: Ha! It was the thrill of my life to have a poem next to Maxine Kumin’s in that issue of Poetry. What a trip. And,  it was an even bigger thrill when I got the Headmistress email, saying my first book was accepted.  Such a full heart for Headmistress! I was doing something I hate—clothes shopping—that afternoon, when I checked my phone and the message about my book was there. My sister was with me, and we totally flipped out in the store. The person helping us even gave me an extra discount on my purchase that day.

As for the years in between, I was still writing. I never stop writing. But, I had to do a lot of relationship work during that time. I moved to Iowa with my partner. I finally came out to my mom—because we would be near her in Iowa. I landed my job at Cornell College—where I have been for 15 years now and will go up for full professor this year. I gave birth to my now 13-year- old daughter, Madeline.

Risa: Did you feel that your identity as a poet was marginalized during those years?

Jen: My major mentor, the one who guest edited that issue of Poetry, rejected me when I had our child, basically treating me as though that decision was the one that would end my career as a writer. I’m a very devoted and loyal friend, and the sting of that still lingers. It wasn’t until one of my amazing poet friends—Paulette Beete—from my MFA program at American University asked me to participate in an online writing group that I really started thinking about the trajectory of my writing career, of getting better, of publishing again. A wonderful writing group. I am deeply indebted.

Risa: Who were your gateway poets? Ones who made you feel passionate about reading and writing poetry.

Jen: I only ever wanted boxes filled with poetry books for holidays. When I started struggling with mental illness at 14, I found Plath and Sexton captivating.  Later in high school, I had the biggest aha moment of my life. I only got to see Rich once in person, but on the day of her death I felt like something in me went with her. Later there would be Maureen Seaton, Rita Dove, Gwendolyn Brooks, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Li-Young Lee, Mark Doty, Louise Glück, and so many more.

Risa:  How do you feel being a lesbian affects your poetry?

Jen: There’s a kind of crazy wonderful courage I’ve developed over the last few years in my writing, especially in publishing poetry, that is very lesbian-centered. I love queering fairytales. I love having heartbreaking muses.  I want everyone to know what a fabulous press Headmistress Press is and how you and Mary Meriam made me excited to be a poet again, excited to have a community. The attention you pay to your authors and their works is truly remarkable.

Risa: Thank you! Is there any advice you want to share with other poets on writing, submitting, dealing with rejection, doing public readings, etc.

Jen: God, I really love every bit of the writing life. I’m too old to think too long about rejection—though when they come with thoughtful criticism I sincerely listen. I am old enough to lift up poets who need a boost in the mix. That’s important to me. I’ve always been a teacher and a learner. As a writer I want to be learning, constantly. When I do readings, I like to think of them as teaching moments. Of connecting with audiences in ways so that we really grapple with the material together.

Risa: How do you balance work life with your writing life? Also with your family/personal life?

Jen: I’m very fortunate to have a stellar community of colleagues at Cornell College. They celebrate my writing successes and promote my work. My last sabbatical really contributed to getting more of my work out into the world. Even though I’m constantly on the run, I believe it’s important to show my daughter that the life of the mind is important. She’s been in the audience for all of my plays. And she even asked if she could give my book, Acid and Tender (Headmistress Press), to two of her favorite teachers. Not that there is anything even close to balance, but I also don’t believe in bemoaning my choices. I live a life of privilege—with rewarding work and healthcare, a brilliant daughter, and supportive friends and family. Even when I struggle with my internal demons, I refuse to take these things for granted.

Risa:  On  lighter note, what are you reading this summer?

Jen: Your magnificent Slight Faith is on my bed, along with Maureen Seaton’s Fisher. I’m also reading Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

risa (2)Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state where she works as a nurse practitioner. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, publisher of LBT poetry. She has published three chapbooks and three full length collections of poetry, including Whirlwind @ Lesbos (Headmistress Press, 2016) and slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

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my allergy pills / an interview with poet Marisa Crane

my allergy pills

by Marisa Crane

 

come with a warning label: may

cause depression or severe

mood swings   my head throbs like the grinch’s

holiday heart   there’s snot on the sleeve of my hoodie

i am sick you are sick we are all sick

we practice building artificial hearts with

fumbling hands

we are palm trees stealing the sunlight

from other plants

our roots are tangled by interminable

insecurities      crooked halos sit on our modern skulls

i was once an island staring

at my reflection

in the water

the original Narcissus but with less beauty

i know there’s a riddle in there somewhere

but i’m too lazy to search for it

 

my lineage began                    with a question mark

my uncle tells me we have native american blood

that my great   great    great

grandmother died of fire-

breathed fury

a snake turned stake in her heart

 

several of my ancestors were named

thankful           i’d like to sit down to dinner

with each one of them            wipe the drool from their mouths

find out

where it all went wrong

First appeared in Free Library of the Internet Void 2018.

mcranewebsite

Marisa Crane is a fiction writer, poet, and editor. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pigeon Pages, Drunk Monkeys, Pidgeonholes, X-R-A-Y Magazine, Riggwelter Press, among others. She is the co-founder and editor of Collective Unrest, an underground resistance magazine featuring poetry, prose, art, photography, and music intended to promote feelings of political unrest, social unity, human rights, and social justice. You can read more of her work at www.marisacrane.org. She currently lives in San Diego with her fiancée.

Marisa says of her style, “As of now, I write all of my poems in free verse. It’s typically hard for me to adhere to any rules within my writing, whether it be poetry or fiction. That being said, I’m also still learning, so maybe in time my style will change. Actually, I hope my style changes. That will mean that I’m growing and experimenting.”

Bekah and Marisa’s work—including the poem above—both recently appeared together in Collection II of Free Library of the Internet Void. We wanted to know more about Marisa and her work, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~The poem is confessional and earnest, yet a little playful at the same time. It is also somewhat self-deprecating, which is a bad/good habit of mine.

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

A~This poem was born because I was examining a bottle of allergy pills I had been prescribed after having had bronchitis for three months. I had every intention of taking them until I read the warning label, which listed possible side effects. They were far worse than having allergies. Mood swings, severe depression, suicidal thoughts. I thought, nah, I think I’ll stick with red eyes and a stuffy nose. I wanted to use the poem to explore the side effects of trying to fix ourselves.

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~Absolutely. I think I continue to explore certain themes, because there’s always more to discover and excavate. The subjects I find myself consistently writing about include depression, anxiety, my experience as a lesbian, passivity, and human connection. They all resonate with me because they are all very personal topics.

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~It is the human heart on fire.

 Q~Tell us more about Collective Unrest. Why did you found it? What do you hope to accomplish?

A~My friend, Mat, and I had this idea for a magazine that is solely focused on social justice, humanity, and unity. We are both anti-Trump and everything that he and his administration stand for, as are hundreds of thousands of artists around the world. But Trump is just one piece of the puzzle. As much as we despise him, there has been injustice in the world ever since human beings came to be. We want to highlight the human experience in the face of discrimination, cruelty, abuse, oppression, or otherwise. We want to humanize the victims of injustice through their art and expression. Our goal is to create a safe space for people who are feeling unsettled, terrified, angry, and powerless.

Q~You have a very large Instagram following. How did you cultivate such a following? What do you enjoy about the medium?

A~I didn’t necessarily mean to cultivate such a large Instagram following. It all happened pretty organically, and I think it helps that I began posting my work right before the boom of Instagram poetry (which is going downhill now, and fast). I can remember sitting on my couch in 2012 reading a poem by Tyler Knott Gregson, which had been typed on a typewriter. He had thousands of likes on a piece that was, in my opinion, pretty basic. Not to say that it wasn’t intriguing or good, but it was short and easily digestible, which made it perfect for people scrolling quickly. I figured I’d take a stab at it, so I began posting some of my shorter poems on my Instagram, which had about 300 followers at the time. I even forgot to put my name under a few of them. For a while, nothing happened, and I didn’t care. I wasn’t posting to become Instagram famous. Then, I think sometime in 2014 some bigger poetry accounts, like Christopher Poindexter, began reposting my work, and it snowballed from there. I don’t particularly enjoy the medium anymore, as I feel that it’s on its way out. Instagram changed their algorithm, and it hurt engagement for a lot of people. I’m basically just riding it out until it becomes null and void.

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

A~I’d like to offer some advice about submitting. I think it’s so easy to get caught up in the cycle of writing a piece, loving it, submitting it, then experiencing the come-down if you get rejected or the temporary high if you get accepted. Every rejection is like a demon punching me in the gut then whispering, “You aren’t cut out for this.” Every acceptance is a greedy angel patting me on the back then saying, “But you aren’t there yet. There’s so much more you need to accomplish.”

For me personally, this cycle has bordered on an addiction at times, and it’s unhealthy. I found myself losing sight of why I began to write in the first place. I had to take a step back, stop submitting, and simply write for the enchantment. For the act of creation, rather than the judgment of it. Ultimately, you write because it enriches your life. No matter what your goals are, don’t let someone steal the magic. A rejection letter doesn’t define you.

Q~How can others connect with you and read more of your work?

A~ My website is www.marisacrane.org. You can also find me on Twitter and Instagram.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every Election Cycle, The Wind From Birmingham To Chicago Smells Like Ashes / and interview with Khalypso The Poet

Every Election Cycle, The Wind From Birmingham To Chicago Smells Like Ashes

by Khalypso

saved! thank silent, merciful God we are saved!

a ghost rises from the parched soil
of a Chicago cemetery.

she drops a piece of paper into a box and suddenly
freedom rings for all brown things that are not
her tongue.

black women saved our asses this election cycle

her son is somehow
next to her & somehow
in Washington D.C. & somehow
at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River,
guiding its currents.

a well-intended hand grips her arm,
a pair of friendly lips kisses her mummified
cheek.

bless you
you have saved us

she is screaming into everyone’s faces.
she is calling for help.

thank you
for rescuing us from the cradle robber

she is pointing to a struck pine—
split down its trunk and weeping streams of
skittles, bullets, ink;

streams that sound like whistles
& roll across silt like jilted tremors.

we owe you so much

she snatches tires from rope, unable to bear
seeing anything swing.
she tosses sheets of steel to the earth.
she traps every match, every lighter in a meat
locker and tears the lights apart.

we should have listened to you

she is still screaming, still pointing

we owe you so much

we owe you so much

if we could go back in time and do this whole
election again, we would—

any black boy’s body has risen to the
surface of any river.
his mother falls, exhausted,
into an abandoned grave, the ivy molded to
accommodate the curve of her soaked cheeks.

if we could go back

there is jubilation in the streets.
every soft, brown thing is now named Mammy,
Messiah, or Most High.

we’d listen to you this time

she has stopped screaming.
she is whistling now—soft and serene.
she is cursing every selective, unyielding ear
& daring someone
anyone
to say something about the noise.

First published in Rigorous Magazine 2017.

poet

Khalypso is a Sacramento-based activist, actor, and poet. They are fat, black, neurodivergent, queer and badass. Their work can be found in Calamus Journal, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, Rigorous Journal, Wusgood Magazine, and Shade Journal, as well as a few others. They are a Leo-Virgo cusp, they want to be your friend, and you can find them on Twitter at KhalypsoThePoet. They are not here for your bullshit.

Of their style, Khalypso says, “I honestly do not know how to describe my style. I’d like to think I’m as vulnerable as Amy Winehouse. I’m honest with my poetry, much more so than in real life. The best thing I can do to describe my style is tell you that my favorite poets are Langston Hughes, Hanif Abdurraqib, Danez Smith, Ntozake Shange, Kaveh Akbar, Aziza Barnes, Julian David Randall, Luther Hughes, torrin a greathouse, George Abraham, Noor Najam, Logan February, Siaara Freeman, and Paige Lewis. I try to write like them, but I mostly just try to write like Amy Winehouse sings—beautifully.”

Bekah and Khalypso connected via social media. After reading “Every Election Cycle, The Wind From Birmingham To Chicago Smells Like Ashes,” we wanted to know more about them. So, here is our interview with Khalypso.

Q~What would you like to share about the backstory to this poem?

A~This poem came from seeing Twitter’s collective reaction to Roy Moore’s defeat and the fact that black women showed up against him the most. We stay doing that. We stay showing up when it’s time to protect the best interests of others. No one does that for us, and I’m fuckin tired. This poem is about the black woman’s mammification and black fatigue and a little bit about politics and a little bit about Emmett Till; how no one but his mama showed up for him. Black bodies are expendable until they’re useful, and, again, I’m tired.

Q~What do you hope to accomplish with this piece?

 A~I want to make people who subscribe to mammification and respectability politics feel really bad about it. I also want them to know they can fuck all the way off.

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

A~Emotionally, it was very hard to write. But, it came easy. I was, I AM, so angry.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I smoke weed and then write whatever comes to mind. Obviously, I don’t only write when I’m high, but lately I’ve been doing that to see what I produce. I’m generally delighted with the results.

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

 A~With writing, I’d say to be vulnerable and honest at all times. Before craft, or precision, or readership, focus on that. I also, though, kind of feel like I’m too new to the game to offer sound advice, so take what I say with as many grains of salt as you want.

Q~Who are you reading now?

 A~Morgan Parker. Hieu MInh Nguyen. Saeed Jones. Luther Hughes.

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

 A~I got rejected by a ton of retreats and conferences, which made me feel like a motherless child. My highs were making it into BNV’s semifinals and being published by Glass and Drunk in a Midnight Choir—two dream publications.

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

 A~Allpoetry.com is a nice, chill place to get feedback, but it’s mostly old white people on the site, which might turn some folx off.

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

A~I have a ton of publications so I’ll include a few: Shade, Drunk in a Midnight ChoirGlass, Calamus, WusGood, Black Napkin, and yell/shout/scream. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

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

 A~I’m raising money to attend a couple retreats this summer. I do a lot of work in the spaces of activism and writing and most of it goes unpaid. If anyone is interested in helping me go to these retreats so I can improve my writing and hopefully put out a book, I ask that they consider donating to my Paypal, my Venmo: @khalcashbby, or my Square Cash: $khalcashbby. Every little bit of money helps in a big way, and everyone who donates will go in the acknowledgements page of my first full-length collection.

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

Sirenia / An interview with poet Emily Holland

Sirenia

by Emily Holland

I fucked a girl with a mermaid
tattooed on her back and felt
something like an ocean move
under me, a falling tide just out

of reach. I melted an ice cube
down her stomach, said here,
I know you’re out of water, said
here, I know you miss the sea.

first appeared in Impossible Archetype 2018.

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Emily Holland is 23 years old and a recent graduate of the George Washington University, where she received a BA in Creative Writing and English. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her girlfriend and her cat and is currently a manager at a coffee shop. She plans on beginning graduate school in the fall of 2019.

Emily describes her style as contemporary. She says,  “Lately, I’ve drawn inspiration from Loiuse Glück, Danez Smith, Meg Day, Aracelis Girmay, Terrance Hayes, Kay Ryan, and Richard Siken. I think we can see each of them as contemporary in their own way— some using their poems to draw attention to our most painful current events, others writing about identity in its many forms. My hope is that my writing also falls into a similar category. I don’t tend to follow traditional forms, and if I am writing in form, I always try to subvert it in some way. It feels almost like our job now to do anything we can to acknowledge the poetry of the past while transforming it into something very present.”

Bekah and Emily’s work—including the poem above—both recently appeared in Issue 3 of Impossible Archetype, a Dublin-based journal of LGBTQ+ poetry. We wanted to know more about Emily and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~This poem originally appeared in my undergraduate thesis. At the time, I was newly “out” as a queer woman, and I was struggling to grapple with that newfound liberation/identity in my writing. This poem does have some truthfulness to it, in terms of subject matter—though I’ve always defined “truthfulness” in my writing as more of an honesty in theme rather than events. We all embellish and create for our poems, but without some essence of poetic truth behind those literary devices, the poem would read hollow. For now, I’ll leave the so-called truthfulness up for my readers’ interpretation.

Q~What themes or subjects do you find yourself returning to in your work?

A~I tend to write a lot of poems about queerness and the South, having grown up in North Carolina. I find that the two are so often in conflict with each other and that juxtaposition works well in poetic form. I dwell a lot on childhood, not necessarily my specific childhood, but I do draw from certain instances and then expand or elaborate to fit the poem’s needs. When thinking of poetry, it’s always been connected to identity—my personal identity can’t help but permeate everything I write, even if my writing isn’t outwardly “queer.”

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Sometimes, I just have a line or a few words pop into my head—I’ll add them to a Google doc of lines that will hopefully end up in a poem someday but maybe don’t fit anywhere yet. Other times, I have a concept/theme/idea in mind, something like a new interpretation of the pantoum (which I’m working on) or maybe just an image like catching fireflies in summer. Those poems tend to take form more quickly, but the workshop process is still quite long for me. I’m always hesitant to call something “finished.”

Q~What draws you to poetry?

A~I had always written poetry as a kid, albeit not very good poetry. Having a poem accepted to a small publication was encouraging in my last year of high school. Where it really resonated with me was my first year of college—I had signed up for a poetry class on a whim, though I always knew that I wanted to study English. My professor was Jane Shore, who would later become one of my closest mentors throughout my writing career. Her insight changed the way I looked at poems. We were studying Lowell’s “Imitations” and learning to craft our own poems by borrowing certain aspects of already published works (such as style, imagery, or tone). And, while many of my classmates were merely using the class as an elective course, I was fully invested. And, I’ve been fully invested ever since.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~ee cummings was the first poet whose work I committed to memory—I suppose his poetry “looks” the most like poetry (or what I thought poetry should look like) on the page, with its crazy line breaks and spacing. There’s something about the sparseness in his poems that really resonated with me, the way he seems to say more in what he’s leaving off the page than what he includes on it. I still remember each line of my favorite poem of his, a short one starting “no time ago” and ending with two simple, devastating lines: “made of nothing / except loneliness.”

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

A~As poets, we are recorders of our time. Poetry gives us the ability to transform what we see or experience into something with a greater meaning, a universality. The history of poetry is one deeply ingrained in the social customs of our world. Spoken word poetry, which I admit is not my forte, is taking on social justice issues and greater social awareness as its larger project. Printed poetry can sometimes occupy a similar space, but it seems more timeless, more lasting, in a sense. Not all poetry on the page goes viral, but it does stand the test of time—our role as poets is to determine which space we want to occupy and what our larger project should be or will become.

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

A~Write, always. If you can’t write, read read read! Sometimes the inspiration just isn’t there for me, bur reading always helps me get back into the poetry state of mind.

Q~Who are you reading now?

 A~I’m working through Saeed Jones’s “Prelude to Bruise” and Sharon Olds’ s“The Dead and the Living” right now. I’m also almost finished with Louise Glück’s “Proofs and Theories,” which isn’t necessarily poetry, but appeals to my interest in literary theory.

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

A~Send me a message on Instagram if you want to workshop! I’m always looking for new sets of eyes, and Google docs make it so easy to workshop new poems with other writers. Also, if you’re in the D.C./DMV area, I’m trying to get a queer poetry night started to provide a safe space for poets to come read their work, so be on the lookout for that.

origin story / An interview with poet Caseyrenée Lopez

origin story

by Caseyrenée Lopez

once upon a time
i wanted to die

be reborn a god

i stopped short,
killed myself

watched as i
became a christ

became my own
salvation

First published in the new gods (Bottlecap Press, 2018).

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Originally from Georgia, Caseyrenée Lopez relocated with their family to Virginia in the summer of 2017. They work as a professor of English at John Tyler Community College and have two full-length collections of poetry, the new gods (Bottlecap Press) and i was born dead (About Editions), as well as a chapbook, heretic bastard (Clare Songbirds Publishing House) forthcoming in 2018. In addition to teaching and writing, Caseyrenée also edits Crab Fat Magazine and publishes poetry and experimental work by queer and trans people at Damaged Goods Press.

Caseyrenée says their style of writing is “similar to Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, and other contemporary feminist writers.” They say, “One time I was compared to William Faulkner, and I still don’t know how I feel about that. I know my work is largely confessional in nature, but isn’t all writing confessional in some sense?”

Bekah and Caseyrenée first connected online when their work appeared together in the Yellow Chair Review 2015 Anthology. With Caseyrenée’s full-length collection, the new gods, being released this week, we thought this was a great time for an interview. So, here is our interview with them.

Q~How is “origin story” representative of your new collection?

A~“origin story” seems to me, the best representation, thematically, of the new gods. It provides a summary of the collection by illustrating the repetition of death, rebirth, shedding skin, or morphing into a new form or self and observing the changes—there is a lot of “watching” in this collection, and “origin story” also provides the eyes through which readers will encounter many of the poems.

Q~Do you find yourself returning often to these themes in your work?

A~I sometimes feel that I am writing the same poem over and over again. I write about queerness, orientation, non-binary gender, infertility, and trans love because these are the things that I know and experience. I’ve never written a persona poem because the thought of trying to inhabit someone outside of myself on such an intimate level turns me off—why would I write about things I haven’t experienced when there are so many people who have the lived experience to write about it? Imagery-wise, I find myself using birds, teeth, bones, and flora in my work repeatedly. I used to have dreams all the time where my teeth would crumble and fall out of my mouth, and it really freaked me out, or that I would break my arm or leg, and those images gave me a lot to work with, emotionally.

Q~Did the poem, “origin story,” come easily to you or was it hard to write?

A~Just as with 95% of this collection, this poem came every easy—in that it flowed out of me with little effort. the new gods is a project that sort of materialized over the course of three months or so; it’s something that I can’t believe I completed so quickly.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~It’s pretty chaotic—I don’t keep a writing schedule, and often go through long stretches of not writing for weeks or months, then it’s like I get random bursts of energy and creativity that allow me to write again. I also read a lot of different stuff when I’m not writing—it helps inspire and guide my formation as a writer.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Emily Corwin, Lisa Marie Basile, George Abraham, torrin a. greathouse, and Anne Carson immediately come to mind, but I’m always reading, so this is an exceptionally hard question to pin down.

Q~How do you balance spending time on your own writing career with your work as an editor/publisher?

A~Umm, it takes organization. I have to plan things out, sometimes months ahead, to meet deadlines and goals. Without my calendar and email, I’d be flailing big time. As a writer I never spread myself too thin with projects and the same applies to my editor side as well. I only commit to the work I know I can complete in the time frame I give myself. I also work as an English professor, so I have to make sure that I maintain a good balance of work life and home life.

Q~How has being an editor, publisher, and professor of English changed you as writer?

A~I’m able to see writing in all forms, in all stages, and all skill levels, and that is a lot to take in. However, these things have greatly informed the types of writing I love, like, and dislike. My editorial tastes aren’t a good match to my writing. In fact, I often think that the two sides are at odds with one another because they are so different.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I’m really turned off by double-spaced poetry and centered poetry—I just can’t get passed the form. But, I do love other experimental stuff. I think Crab Fat Magazine illustrates my tastes.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~It’s a tie between Fatimah Asghar and Lisa Marie Basile. I love this poetry because it gave me the courage to write what I wanted to write and not what I thought I should be writing. Asghar and Basile’s work are unapologetic, and before discovering them I didn’t really have a strong grasp on what poetry could be or do. It was liberating to see myself in someone else’s words, to find peace in them–that’s why I think of their works as my first loves of poetry. It’s about visibility and making your space in the world, to know that other people share your ideas is an amazing feeling. It was also mind-blowing for me to know that these poets are living, writing today, and around my same age–I love being able to relate on that level, it’s like all poets are interconnected in some way, and in their writings I finally saw those connections in myself.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~To help people remember to be empathetic to others; we are always writing the hard stuff, people look to our words for inspiration, hope, love, to be seen. Poets help non-poets put language to the abstract of living—it’s an important, often underappreciated, role.

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

A~A few of my favorite journals are BOAAT, Thrush, and Adroitthey’re all publishing amazing work that pushes boundaries and constantly challenges my ideas of what makes a poem, what can a poem do, or how I look at and receive poems.

Q~What drew you to poetry?

A~Honestly, I tried my hand at writing fiction and that was a flop, then I tried nonfiction, and I’m actually not too bad at it, but my attention span and energy isn’t suited for the long form right now, so I turned to poetry. It’s my way of using techniques of fiction and nonfiction and blending them together with poetic techniques. I use poetry as a frame for my work, but really, I’ve always thought of my writing as lyrical and genre bending—for me, genre is really arbitrary and can be stifling, so I just write what feels good to me, sometimes that happens in stanzas, sometimes it’s prose fragments, and sometimes I can muster the energy to form complete sentences and work through an essay.

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

A~Last year BOTH of my full-length collections, the new gods and i was born dead, the “sister books,” that I wrote back-to-back were picked up for publication, and earlier this year, my second chapbook, heretic bastard, was picked up as well. On the low side of things, I’ve gotten more rejections over the last year than I’ve ever received, but I typically let it go pretty easily. The last year has been one of my most successful, creative, productive times of my life—it’s been wild.

Q~ Wow! Three poetry books coming out in one year. That sounds like quite a whirlwind! Can you tell us a little bit about each of these books?

A~My first two collections, the new gods and i was born dead, are sisters, they were written in the same year, and cover the same themes; however, i was born dead was written first and includes revised versions of some of the poems from my first chapbook, QueerSexWords. It often feels to me that these collections sort of wrote themselves because it was so easy to let the words just flow out of me. I read so often about the struggle to write and revise, and I’ve been there in the past, but I didn’t struggle at all with these poems. I think of them as a second coming-out, a revelation of my queerness and gender identity as a non-binary person.  the new gods came out on March 20th from Bottlecap Press, and i was born dead is out on October 12th from About Editions. My second chapbook, heretic bastard, is the product of a month long found poetry writing project, The Poeming, that takes place in October. In 2017 the project was based around the novels of Anne Rice, and I was assigned The Vampire Armand. It was a really fun project, and the poems that came from the text was both so alike and different from my completely original work. heretic bastard is forthcoming from Clare’s Songbirds Publishing House (date TBD).

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

A~I oftentimes feel like a total impostor, I mean can we name a writer that doesn’t, so when it comes to writing, I tell young/new writers to just get their ideas and thoughts down on paper. Don’t let the impostor syndrome scare you out of writing or submitting that work. When it comes to submitting and rejection you have to come to terms with the fact that rejection is a large part of this business, but that it’s never a personal thing. Learning how to accept rejection as a part of not only writing, but life, can get a person a long way. Really, when it comes to questions like this I tend to feel overwhelmed by all the “what-if’s?”, but truthfully, writing comes down to making a commitment to seeing your thoughts through to the end—it’s more so about holding yourself accountable and not letting the fear of the unknown deter you from raising your voice.

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

A~My website is a good place to start, and it includes most, if not all, of my writing, both online and in print. It is also a good place to learn about where to find my books. I also Tweet @caseyreneelopez.  Here is the link to order the new gods.

the_new_gods_front_cover_1_large

 

seedling story / An interview with Marisa Adame

seedling story

by Marisa Adame

bones of my resentment rest under loose dirt
that cascades when i open my fingertips.

ivory justice,
buried after far too long; the rattling of not good enough
shook my skeleton since i joined ranks with too-skinny girls.

they live there, the bones, under soft soil
aching to metamorphose into self-confidence.
they grew from the teardrops that seeped in every day after school.

the ground gurgles. my feet catch the vibrations.
bones shift–
catch rock // grow roots //
shy shoots shiver in the blowing wind.

at age 18, my first hook-up comments on my wide hips
and the curvature of my shadow. i hear the bones
rattle in the dry dirt of Texas and realize they are still there:
tears well // earth shifts //

curse,
cry,
shiver.

the not good enough rattles my bone structure,
goosebumps stick out of my skin.

i thought i had paid off my dues
but the seedling structures
rupturing the ground
tell me i still have far to go.

some days are harder than others, but
the growing has already begun.

First published in Free Lit Magazine 2018.

marisa 

Marisa Adame is a 22-year-old storyteller/creative from Dallas, Texas.  She has acted internationally and is a two-time KCACTF Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship nominee. Her manuscript butterfly bombs, an examination of Latinidad as a first-generation-college student, was a finalist in Thoughtcrime Press’s 2017 Lorien Prize competition. Her current projects are a stage play exploring the tension between her colonizer/colonized bloodlines and a choreopoem weaving together themes of time, queerness, heritage, and mental health.

As for her style, she says, “I would say that I like surrealism, and I have a bias for narrative. I try to make my work imagery-driven, so the audience has to put themselves in the world of the poem to see how everything connects. I think the work I aim to create could be called bittersweet, since it’s a little more cynical but finds optimism to balance it out.”

Marisa and Bekah’s work–including the above poem–appeared together recently in Free Lit Magazine’s “Bildungsroman” issue. We wanted to know more about Marisa and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about “seedling story.” Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~I went to an all-girls’ high school, and I picked up some distorted thinking surrounding relationships with food/body image. I feel our culture’s tendency to tell women, particularly women of color, that our bodies are somehow inadequate is essential to keep in mind while reading. Another thing to keep in mind is the truth that some experiences aren’t something to get over as much as to navigate and re-navigate over time.

Q~How is the poem representative of your work?

A~“seedling story” is representative of my work as a piece that uses pain to excavate hope. Like much of my work, it moves through heavy moments instead of discarding them, and it tries to hit that balance of sadness and joy. It’s about the strength that comes through trial, which I value and put into my writing.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~I gravitated toward poetry because of its visual nature. I’ve always loved writing and finding the strongest words to describe events/feelings, and poetry came as a natural practice; once I started, I couldn’t stop. With poetry, you can guide and influence the audience. You, the author, decide when a line gets space to breathe. Also, poetry is specific to the author’s truth yet still malleable to audience interpretation, but more ambiguity is acceptable in poetry where it may not be acceptable in other writing styles. Also, poetry lends itself easily to unconventional imagery and wordplay, so it gives plenty opportunity to see things in fresh and new ways.  

Q~You are also an actress & filmmaker. How do you balance your creative interests? How do they interplay?

A~Balance between all of my creative interests is something I’m still struggling to find! But I’ve found a pretty good set-up for now. Un/fortunately, I’ve been moving around a good bit recently and haven’t quite found a long-term base, so acting has taken a backseat. I’ve applied to a few agencies that may be open to working with someone semi-nomadic like me, and I’m waiting to hear back from them. Otherwise, I use one of my days off from work as a creative day split in half: mornings for writing projects and afternoons for film projects.

My creative interests definitely interplay! As an actress, I tend to gravitate toward more poetic scripts like References to Salvador Dalí Make Me Hot by José Rivera. I think my spoken word poetry background makes it easier for me to understand a character who speaks in metaphor. Filmmaking shares a lot with poetry as its power often comes from what is not said or shown, or what is only implied. Again, my poetry aims to be visual, almost like film in a way, and I think that’s because I’m a visual person. I aim to make poetic films someday, and I’m currently working on a screenplay that uses magical realism.

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

A~I find the main themes I return to are mental health and legacy. My first two chapbook manuscripts dissect my mental health diagnosis and my relationship with others with mental health challenges. Because mental health does affect every aspect of life, it’s important to me to speak about it and work against stigma surrounding it. I feel the need to be very vocal about it because of the silence and stigma still surrounding mental disorders in Latinx communities, particularly the one I grew up in. I feel I wasted a lot of time feeling like something was wrong with me, and I find it important to write to let others like me know they’re not alone. Legacy is also interesting to me to explore, particularly definitions from others and from oneself. I feel most satisfied writing about the complexity of my heritage and am currently working on a few projects questioning my relationship to the colonizer/colonized sides of my family tree. I think a lot about when to use language, and when to use stillness, so I often edit and edit until the rhythm of a poem is evident on page. Some images I return to frequently are surrealism and dreams, and water and all of the implications they can have.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I love poetry that risks something. The poems that resonate most with me are from artists who are honest about who they are, where they’ve been, and how that’s shaped them into who they are now. I love poems that transport you to a new place and make you look at the world in a new way. I love poems that are worlds in and of themselves, that make you forget where you’re sitting as you read them. Some favorites are: “The Survival of What Remains” and “The Law of Halves as Applied to the Blade” by Michael Lee, “From the Desire Field” by Natalie Diaz, “Tell Them”  by Carvens Lissaint, and Said The Manic To The Muse by Jeanann Verlee. I also love: “As of today, I have yet to put my hands on the volcano of my dreams.” by Joe Jiménez. I dislike poems that are obvious, and that prioritize raw feeling over craft. I dislike work that reads like a personal essay but calls itself poetry even when it has no imagery. I dislike poetry that uses trends for quick one-liners then discards them without making a larger statement or observation.

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

A~Practice finishing. Finishing projects, or even just drafts, is a skill, and you get better with practice. Follow an idea through until something is made. Even if you don’t do anything with it, you’ll have made it, and you’ll feel more capable to try again.

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

A~I highly recommend Winter Tangerine’s Reshaping the Bell Jar issue. A one-time occurrence to my knowledge, the issue is centered around “Illuminating Realities of Mental Illness” and features contributions from poets with mental disorders to reform the narratives surrounding various diagnoses. It’s a beautiful, poignant, well-crafted issue full of tremendous work.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I recently read and am still digesting Caitlin Scarano’s debut work, Do Not Bring Him Water from Write Bloody Publishing. The work is a story of haunt, heart, and grit. I was amazed from start to finish. She shares stories of trauma through the use of powerful and breathtaking images, and the result is a gripping book. It’s been receiving well-deserved high praise.

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

 A~ I put direct links to publications, whether online or in-print, on my website at marisaadame.com. One of my earliest acceptances came from Crab Fat Magazine, and my work can be found under my name. You can also find me on YouTube, Instagram, and on my official Facebook page.