Tag Archives: rejection

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him / an interview with poet Courtney LeBlanc

To My Ex Who Asked If Every Poem Was About Him

by Courtney LeBlanc

I wish you happiness, but the kind that makes you think of me
after your wife has fallen asleep. I wish you 2% raises and average
performance evals. I wish you casseroles and Bud Light. I wish you
vacations to Disney World in July. I wish you khakis and plaid
button-ups. I wish you sex but only missionary position and only
with the lights out. I wish you calendar reminders and capped
teeth. I wish you individually wrapped low-fat cheese
slices and turkey bacon which insults two animals. I wish you
mayonnaise and store-bought white bread. I wish you decaf
coffee. I wish you “sleeping in” till 7am on Sundays. I wish you
instant oatmeal microwaved each morning for your heart
health. I wish you a tie each Father’s Day and a birthday card
received a week late. I wish you a daughter who writes poetry filled
with metaphors about a complicated family relationship. I wish
you a football team that never makes the play-offs and a son
who’s an average soccer player. I wish you this poem popping
up first the next time you Google me.

First appeared in The Cabinet of Heed Literary Journal 2018.

courtney leblanc_10.2018 

Courtney LeBlanc is the author of the chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press), and a Pushcart Prize nominee. She has her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte and loves nail polish, wine, and tattoos.

Courtney says of her style, “I mostly write free verse poetry; only occasionally do I try to any sort of form poetry – I’m honestly a little scared of form poetry!”

Courtney and Bekah connected via The Poetry Blogging Network. We wanted to know more about Courtney and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included. How is it representative of your work?

A~I think of this as a feminist poem – it features a strong female voice who speaks her mind, even if that’s wishing her ex a mediocre life. =)

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

A~It came pretty easily once I started it; for me the first draft of each poem usually comes pretty quickly/easily.

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

A~I tend to go through phases in my writing where I will write extensively about one topic until I’ve beaten it to death…and then I usually write a few more poems about it. 😉 Eventually, another topic takes root, and I move on.

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

A~Everyone gets rejected; it’s part of the process. But, keep writing, keep submitting, and keep getting your words out there. Also, remember that editing is a necessary part of the process. Few of us write the perfect poem on the first try, so remember to come back to a poem with fresh eyes and be willing to play with it – sometimes it’s only a word or two that need tweaking, sometimes it’s whole lines. But, that’s okay, everyone has shitty first drafts.

Q~You mentioned that you are finishing up your MFA. What are the best/worst parts of this for you?

A~I completed my MFA in January 2019, and it was an amazing experience. I wrote so much over the past two years and finished with a full manuscript. Being in an MFA program forces you to write and to read – both fellow student’s work but also your instructors and everything that gets assigned. I felt fully immersed in poetry for two years. It’s very bittersweet to be over – I already miss the program, but I found my community there, and it has been a wonderful experience.

Q~Who are you reading now? According to your blog, you read A LOT of books. How does this inform your own writing?

A~I do read a lot; in 2018 I read 221 books which was a personal best for me! I read a little of everything – a ton of poetry, literary fiction, genre fiction (fantasy is great for audio books!), CNF, memoir, etc. (Friend me on Goodreads to follow what I read: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6611777.Courtney_LeBlanc) I get recommendations from friends and Twitter (shoutout to DC Public Library for running great book chats – https://twitter.com/dcpl). I just finished Seducing the Asparagus Queen by Amorak Huey, which is a gorgeous collection of poetry and a great way to kick off 2019. Next, I plan on reading some of Mary Oliver’s work since she just passed away, and I’m already missing her words. I recently read The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang and really enjoyed it (fiction). My favorite fantasy is Strange the Dreamer (book #1) and Muse of Nightmares (book #2) by Laini Taylor, which I recommend to everyone, haha.

When reading books of poetry I’m often inspired to write my own poems – either by something I read or just the general feeling I get from a book or a poem. I think the better read you are, the better writer you’ll be. As poet Jane Kenyon said, “Read good books, have good sentences in your ears.”

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

A~I really love Hypertrophic Press.They publish gorgeous poetry and pair it with gorgeous artwork. I also love Whurk magazine, which is a local Virginia magazine and of course, Glass: A Journal of Poetry – Anthony Frame who operates the journal is a true gem in the poetry community.

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

A~Honestly, I love Twitter for poetry – I’ve learned of so many new poets this way and been able to read their poems and share them with my followers. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet several “Twitter friends” in person, and we’ve become real life friends who support one another and share each other’s work. Twitter can be toxic, but it can also be a great place to share poems.

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

A~The best place to look is my blog, where they’re all listed. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler

Belief

by Lesley Wheeler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning to Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin / an interview with poet Crystal Ignatowski

Learning To Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin

by Crystal Ignatowski

It was August. Heat rose off the cement in
deep breaths, thick and heavy waves.
We had the windows cranked

down and I could see the skinny
road behind us in the side view mirror.
I couldn’t seem to keep the car straight

and you kept cracking jokes,
saying we sure were lucky Pulaski
only had a population of 45. I gritted

my teeth, ready to make you proud.
Your arm hung out the window,
but all of me was inside: sweating,

trying not to blink, holding my breath
inside my 16-year-old rib cage. I didn’t
know you well. But then,

when we rolled to the only stop sign in town,
I experienced your patience: long, unrestless,
true, and I saw something crack open inside you

like an egg, and all the yellow poured out.
You pulled your arm inside and let the window
frame the landscape: all the wheat, all

the overgrown pasture trying to be
a painting, all the cows with their beady
eyes. You had lived here all your life, fallen

in love, said goodbyes, shot your first deer,
grown your first garden, watched her die,

and for me this was just a stopping-
through, a half-home, a place
to learn to drive.

crystal headshot

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

Crystal describes her style as “free verse, narrative, autobiographical.” She says, “I mostly write about normal, everyday things in my life: my family, driving through town, going to the beach, watching a TV show, etc. I try to write what I know and create a story from it. I draw inspiration from poets like Sharon Olds, Dorianne Laux, and Ada Limon. Sometimes I challenge myself by writing a poem in traditional verse (this year I had a poem published in Contemporary Haibun Online, which was exciting) or about an abstract idea, but it isn’t usually what I usually gravitate to. I gravitate towards what I know, what I lived that day.”

Crystal 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, “Learning To Drive In Pulaski, Wisconsin.” How is it representative of your work? What’s the backstory?

A~If you opened my poetry journal, this is the type of poem you would regularly see: it is drawn from an experience in my life, a very simple experience (learning how to drive), but the poem itself goes deep. This poem is exactly as the title sounds: learning to drive in Pulaski, Wisconsin. My dad’s side of my family lives there, and this poem is about my uncle. We live on the opposite ends of the country, so I don’t feel like I know him as well as I know my family who lives close to me. But, there are times when I visit when I see into him, into a little opening or a crevice, and he makes sense to me, and I feel like I know him better than anyone I’ve ever known. Leaving Wisconsin always makes me sad and that is what this poem is ultimately about.

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

A~This poem came very easy for me to write. I workshopped it in my writing group, as well as with another wonderful poet, and the critiques also came easy. When people critique a poem that has come naturally for me, I feel less defensive about it. I feel like the poem just came to me, and therefore, I have to honor what came.

Q~How has workshopping helped your writing? What advice can you share?

A~Two pieces of advice that I have been reminded of lately: “Write for yourself, and you will reach the most people,” and “It really isn’t about the publications.”

I recently tried writing a poem about race. I workshopped it with two women of color and it was a very intense, powerful, yet intimate conversation. One of the women reminded me that I should stick with what I know and write for myself. She could tell I was struggling with this poem, and we talked about how sometimes it is okay to not write about the things that seem big and worldly right now. I have a desire to write about politics, race, gun violence, all these things, but deep down, I just want to write about my everyday life. I just want to write about driving in Pulaski with my uncle. She reminded me to stick with what I want to write because those things are going to resonate with the most people. Write smaller, reach wider.

This year I made a goal to get 100 rejection letters. What I learned is that submitting your work is a full time job! Just the habit of researching publications, workshopping poems, and sending them out into the world has been a wonderful experience. I have gained confidence in myself and my writing. And, with so many rejections, they don’t hurt or sting as bad! But, what I learned most is that it isn’t about the publications. It isn’t about the rejections or the acceptances. It is about the writing. I recently have been giving out a lot of poems to family members for birthdays, Mother’s Day, etc, and seeing a family member cry from receiving a poem about them, wow, that is bigger than any publication.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I don’t set a schedule for my writing. The only “set” part of my writing is that I write every Tuesday and Thursday at Dragonfly Coffee House in Portland before I intern at Tin House. Other days, I just let the writing come. This might get me in trouble some day, but my best writing comes while I am driving. I have a notebook in my car, and I literally write in the car as I’m driving. (So bad, I know!) The writing is all messy and goes all over the page, but sometimes I just have to get the sentences down! Before they leave me!

Q~Oh my. What has interning at Tin House taught you?

This could amount to a novel if I truly answered the question, but since I am a poet, I will try to keep my answer concise. Tin House has taught me how to engage with other like-minded people. Over the last 5 years I have kind of been hermitting with my writing, with my passion of books and literature, and with my excitement to get back into the publishing industry. Interning at Tin House has provided me a platform to break out of my shell. I am eternally grateful for all the feedback I have received, the skills I have learned, and the support I have been given from every person at Tin House. They are the dream team.

Q~You also joined the Poet Bloggers Revival this year, which Dave Bonta digests weekly on Via Negativa. How has this impacted you?

A~I’ve been blogging since 2011. I mostly just blog poems I have been working on and don’t intend to send out to publications. Joining the Poet Bloggers Revival has allowed me to see how diverse poets are (and think) when given something to work toward. I have continued to simply post my “work in progress” poems. Each week, though, I see poets who are doing new things: perhaps it is an interview or maybe it is a deep rumination about their craft or something they have been needing to get off their chest, or maybe they comment on a worldly issue that has recently happened. I’m really impressed to see so many different takes on the week from every individual.

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~Poetry is razor sharp; it has the power to engage, inspire, and change someone’s perspective in just a few moments. There are few things in this world that can do that today.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Hands down, Sharon Olds. I will forever be a fan. I also have a big soft spot in my heart for Andrea Gibson because they taught me it is okay to push the envelope with my writing. They also taught me repetition can be the ending to a poem…even if your partner doesn’t think so! I think I’ve seen Andrea live six times, and I love them more and more each time.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Books beside my bed right now include: Matthew Dickman’s Mayakovsky’s Revolver (re-reading this because it is so incredible), Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk About Race, George Saunders’ Lincoln in the Bardo, and Oliva Gatwood’s New American Best Friend.

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

A~I regularly post to my poetry blog on Tumblr. You can also find me on Twitter .

A Glimpse Inside / An interview with poet Judy Shepps Battle

A Glimpse Inside

by Judy Shepps Battle

Inner voice

muted by biography
distorted by decades
defying extinction

alive for nanoseconds
moments of magic
lucid awareness

reveals pristine prison
equipped with
Jacuzzi and bidet

cell carpeted
door unlocked
length of stay

optional.

First published in Fourth & Sycamore 2018.

Judy Shepps Battle has been writing essays and poems long before retiring from being a psychotherapist and sociology professor. She is a New Jersey resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She is also just one more human trudging the path of human incarnation; one who loves to write.

Judy says her style is “to meditate deeply and then allow my pen to act as a conduit for what my heart is feeling/saying.” She says, “I have never been a ‘technical’ poet and my biggest lesson I had to learn was to be willing edit. To be willing to remove my clutching of each written word as something I had to keep. There has been incredible freedom to release that faux ownership.”

Bekah and Judy were recently published together in Fourth & Sycamore—including the above poem—as well as The Ramingo’s Porch’s “Love, Spring & Revolution” issue and Free Lit Magazine’s “Bildungsroman” issue. We wanted to know more about Judy and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us about “A Glimpse inside.” How is it representative of your work?

A~It is part of the theme of active introspection that has infused all of my writing since age 10 (nearly 65 years ago). For more than a decade, I wrote poems with both my dominant and non-dominant hands. It was the voice of “Li’l Jude” (the youngest part of me that experienced early incest and other abuse) and “Teen Jude” (my inner rebel who was angry and scared but somehow had words to describe what she was feeling) that emerged from the non-dominant hand writing.

Q~Your background in psychotherapy seems to inform your writing. Can you tell us a little more about this?

A~My earliest childhood memories begin around age three and include incest, emotional abuse, and being the child of addicted/mentally ill parents. I studied psychoanalysis and became a therapist in an effort to understand these factors and their effect on me. In the process, I heard so many stories similar to mine from resilient adults who used their experiences in a positive way. And, from kids of all ages. My first poetry chapbook (currently looking for a publisher) is “Permission To Tell Secrets” and is entirely the “voice” of Li’l Jude. The second chapbook (also looking for a publisher) is “Telling Secrets Without Permission” and is the angry and wise voice of Teen Jude.

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

A~Just write and just submit. Value each rejection as evidence that you are true to your calling and sharing your being (whether met with rejection or not). For me, dealing with rejection was the hardest, especially when it was of material written with my non-dominant hand. The muse guiding Li’l Jude and Teen Jude is very fragile and needs support from my adult self and its awareness that there is no shame or injury received in getting a rejection from an editor.

Q~Why poetry? 

Why not poetry? I also write articles on family dynamics and troubled teens and have written a short book (needing a publisher) on “Almost Forever: When Your Teen Wants to Die.” I write meditations which are really poetry in motion and had a newspaper column in the local paper for three years. It was called “Kids and Community” and published weekly with the goal of both increasing a sense of community and educating families about the world kids lived in, the stresses and the joys. In the process, I also did a lot of educating on the variety of drugs kids were exposed to and what is “normal” for teens (and not just oppositional). The column ran a couple of years and followed a similar column I wrote called “It Takes a Village” with the same theme.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~To keep alive the positive energy of communal connection that is so sorely threatened by politics, technology, and environment.

Q~You deferred publishing for many years to focus on career and family. What has it been like to be free to pursue your passion again in retirement?

A~Blissful. Organic wholeness has returned. I don’t multitask well, so to finally be able to focus on publishing the thousands of poems I have written as well as essays and a book is freedom incarnate. I never have not written. It is just part of me. Not to say that there haven’t been periods of me walking away from my muse to something more attractive, but these brief intervals usually dissolve naturally.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Get up in the morning. Meditate. Write. Send out submissions. Then play with my one-year-old black labradoodle who has to patiently wait for this process to complete.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~Paul Goodman. Paul was a model for growing up in the 60s. He was a radical, intellectual, adamant support of the New Left and an amazing guy. I met him when I was taken to a reading of one of his books (Growing Up Absurd) by one of my professors at State University of New York at Oyster Bay (now Stony Brook University). I’m told I just sat through his reading which was at his apartment in New York City with my jaw wide open. The room was filled with New York intellectuals, and I was a college junior. I was surprised that he wrote/published a lot of wonderful poetry and felt his energy was much like mine. We became friends, and he was a wonderful mentor.

Q~What are you reading now?

A~Buddhist magazines.

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

A~Just Google “Judy Shepps Battle” and tons of pages with my work will appear.

The Order of Things / An interview with poet Soledad Caballero

The Order of Things

by M. Soledad Caballero

As with all things now, I want order.
I want to take the strings of chaos, the
lonely stamp, the left over paper,
the bruised, too ripe peach, the thick
flyaway grey hairs and stack them.
Stack them in a row. Put them in a box.
Label each part, taking time to make
sure I noted the skin of the peach, the
wire tangle of the hair, the missing
colors on the faded stamp. I want
to make them whole again, full and
not dead or dying. Order is a place
of rest and stopping. Long ago I said
I wanted to be light, the way silk feels
light against the heat of the sun.
I imagined floating in this world, always
sure of how beautiful the mess would be.

But I have learned cells can grow to wild
proportions. Along the inside pulsing parts
of the body, carving their path with serrated
blades along muscle tissue, the pink inside
of the breast. Under the arm, reaching for
the small, jellyfish glands. This was more
than a mess. Those cells, an aching
mouth of angst and blood, urgent for
the rest of it, the rest of me. And I alone
in this jungle of living, a stumbling
wanderer. This is not the story I wanted.

First published in Memoryhouse Magazine 2018.

Self-picture

M. Soledad Caballero is associate professor of English at Allegheny College. She is a 2017 CantoMundo fellow, has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, a New Poet’s Prize, and has been a finalist for The Missouri Review’s Jeffry E. Smith poetry prize and  Mississippi Review’s annual editor’s prize. Her work has appeared in the Missouri Review, the Mississippi Review,  Iron Horse Literary Review, Memorius,  Crab Orchard Review, Anomaly, and other venues.

Soledad says she is drawn to narrative verse. She says, “I think my style tends, generally, to reflect this. I think my style can be over the top and I get really caught up in images that are ‘big,’ for lack of a better term. I like big sweeping poems, poems that make me gasp out loud after I’ve read through them, epic in their emotional qualities, and I am drawn to that in my writing. But, more recently, I have also been trying to be more muted and understated, more contained in my form. There is power to that kind of slow-burning in poems, too.”

Soledad and Bekah’s work—including the above poem—recently appeared together in Memoryhouse Magazine’s “Wander” issue. We wanted to know more about Soledad and her writing, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “The Order of Things.” How is it representative of your work?

A~“The Orders of Things” is representative of a move in my work to be more structured in form and in images. I am trying to be less unruly in some ways, so I can tap into unruliness in others, if that makes sense. I wanted this poem to be muted since it was such a big thing I was writing about, cancer, my cancer and what it has meant to think through being sick.

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

A~This poem felt like it came very easily, but that is only because I was sick for a long time, and I was in some ways writing it even while I was sick.  In terms of drafting, I had the form in my head, and I had the first line.  Usually, if I have the first line of a poem or the sound of the first line, its music, I’m ready to start drafting.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I wish I could say I have this very disciplined writing process for poetry, but I don’t! For my scholarly essays I am very disciplined: research, drafting, more research, more reading and drafting. I get the sense of an arc there.

For poetry writing, I guess it’s more seasonal, but there’s no way to say what the seasons really are. I get an inkling, like a gut feeling, and that often starts the process. I just read a news article about the possible extinction of the North Atlantic Whale, that captured something for me. I do not usually write about nature in a traditional sense, but the ocean is something that really grabs me, so I started thinking about images for this poem. I like being in the world a lot and then seeing what feels like it sparks something. Another way I have done sustained writing is taking workshops. That kind of writing really forces me out of my usual subjects and forms. I’m taking a workshop right now, and it’s been very good for me, just to practice using different poetry muscles.

Q~Why are you drawn to poetry?

A~I learned English as a girl, and I actually hated all the strange rules of it. English seemed like very alien, and I think writing poetry was, when I was a girl, a way to get closer to it. Now, it seems to be the best way to capture the strange extraordinariness of living. I think reading poetry for me is like taking in something so rich and beautiful, as if I didn’t even realize how thirsty I was until I read poetry.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~When I turned fifteen years, my mother gave me Pablo Neruda’s Veinte Poemas y una Canción Desesperada and said, “Estas lista para esto, hija.” It was her copy, a bilingual edition. But, even before that, when I was a very little girl, four or five, my mother had me memorize long poems in Spanish. I think that’s something that kids used to do in Chile once upon a time. She did it as a girl, and so she wanted me to do it. I still have memories of reciting those poems after dinner and at dinner parties when I was very young in Chile. I don’t remember the poems now but I remember the cadences of reciting long, beautiful words. That is how I fell in love with poetry I think, Neruda and Mistral just cemented my life long affair!

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I am just finishing Nikky Finney. I also just finished Empire by Xochiquetzal Candelaria. On my list is the rest of Beast Meridian by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, Scar on/Scar Off by Jennifer McCauley, and Javier Zamora’s Unaccompanied. I’m reading my CantoMundo gente as much as I can.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~By training I’m a British Romanticist, so I am sucker for Percy Bysshe Shelley’s idea that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world and of William Wordsworth’s idea that a poet is like all other people but also more attentive to things. I think we are living in an era of amazing poetry and poets. The list I mentioned above is just a small taste of that reality. I think we are seeing that poets and poetry are able to make connections across time and communities in unique, complicated, beautiful ways. Poetry is compact and packs a lot in it. That matters right now. I think Jimmy Santiago Baca said that poetry saved his life. Lots of poets and writers think of poetry that way. I know that sometimes people are scared of poetry or think they don’t “get it,” like poetry is an elite thing only for some people. I know why there is that feeling. After all the history of education in our country is hardly conducive to anyone thinking there’s equity and justice there. But, I wish for poetry to be everywhere, for everyone, just like movies or pop culture might be. I think we need it because it’s a striking mirror that shows us who we are, what we want and aspire to, and how we might be there as communities.

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

A~Honestly, rejection is simply awful. I think we undervalue that pain a little bit. Or, we make jokes about it. Or, we individualize or internalize it so it’s secret and silently shameful.  I think we need to be honest and open about that pain. For me, poetry is some of the most personal writing I do. Getting rejections, and I get a lot of them, is hard. It takes emotional effort to shake it off and keep writing. I think we need to be okay with feeling that pain, the pain of rejection. I think that honoring that pain more and being receptive to its truth may make it easier to pick yourself up the next day or next week and keep writing.

I write because I can’t not write, but that doesn’t mean it’s not painful. In some ways, it’s only more painful not to write than to write, and that pain isn’t only about that internal critic we all have. Rejections of our writing hurt. I really find it frustrating that there’s sometimes a denial of that pain. My advice is not to smother or deny that it hurts a lot to get rejections, and it make take you a minute to get back to your work or the page. That’s okay. I had to stop working on my manuscript for a while, several months, because it’s gotten a lot of rejections. I still haven’t sent it out again. Have compassion for yourself and for those folks in your communities who are getting all those rejections, too.

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

A~Here are links to some of my poems in The Missouri Review, Memorius, Origins Journal and Memoryhouse.