Tag Archives: relationships

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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Time Travel II / an interview with poet Valentina Cano

Time Travel II

by Valentina Cano

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

from Event Horizon (mgv2>publishing, 2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q~ What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

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

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

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

Q~Who are you reading now?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The month after the cruelest month / An interview with poet Anne Barngrover

The month after the cruelest month

by Anne Barngrover

is silk and velvet, redbuds and forsythia,
lace-white pear trees backlit

in a streetlamp’s planetary glow.
A grinning dog chases cars in tall grass’s

gold tassels, and some fool
burns wet green wood in the near

distance, the rising smoke in the trees
with a bad smell that creates no heat,

no clear purpose. How I no longer feel
out-of-love but simply not-loving.

I established this pattern years ago.
For one month I believe

I’m someone’s dream girl. I fall
for someone’s charm like a migrating bird—

the bright flicker of feathers, the rare
trill threading the dogwoods—then gone.

I’m down on my luck again, pissing off
every man around. I’m no one’s

dream; therefore I am everyone’s
foe. Call me jaded—it fits

me like a dress that’s so tight
I can’t properly sit down. Every woman

must come to a crossroads. Oh, charmer,
I have learned your bright alphabet

of night-blooming flowers.
There will always be dirt in your nails

and smoke on your breath.
There will always be smoke in the trees.

First appeared in The Adroit Journal 2015.

Barngrover author photo-color.jpg

Anne Barngrover is the author of two books of poetry, Brazen Creature (University of Akron Press, 2018) and Yell Hound Blues (Shipwreckt Books, 2013) and co-author with Avni Vyas of the chapbook Candy in Our Brains (CutBank, 2014). She is an assistant professor of English at Saint Leo University and lives in Tampa, Florida.

Anne’s work was brought to our attention by poet Jennifer Maritza McCauley, whom we interviewed here. We offered Jennifer the opportunity to “pay it forward” by choosing another poet to interview, and she chose Anne. Jennifer says, “I met Anne Barngrover several years ago when she was Contest Editor at the Missouri Review. As I got to know Anne personally, I was blown away by her lovely and fierce spirit and soul-stirring poetry. Her newest collection Brazen Creature (University of Akron Press) is elegant, searing, and beautifully rendered. A must read!”

So, here is Jennifer’s interview with Anne.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~My highest style aspiration is to sound like a Southern/Midwestern Amy Winehouse. I’ve only ever lived in the South or Midwest, or usually a place that’s a blend of both regions like Cincinnati or Missouri, and so I can’t escape the linguistic flair of the South nor the frank “them’s the breaks” attitude of the Midwest. I particularly enjoy using line breaks to hit harder, double-back, or surprise the reader with an unexpected turn of phrase.

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

A~Like a lot of my poems, it is snarky as hell. I am both nodding to and poking fun of T.S. Elliot by positing the question: if April truly is the “cruelest month” and the harbinger of apocalypse for him (read: for men), then what comes after that, for women?

Poems like this one often begin with me feeling angry, hurt, or confused at a very raw, base level. But, then I take a step back and try to examine my feelings and reactions in a logical, almost detached manner. For this poem specifically, I thought about how to be desired as a woman often means playing a role and acting out a script that ultimately does nothing (aka burning the wood that never makes a real fire). And, so I wonder—here is the hardest part—how do I fall prey to these patriarchal notions, how am I complicit in them, and how do I enact them myself?

I am not the hero of my poems; I am the villain. This poem is calling out my own bullshit for whenever I say oh, this time will be different, which of course is a myth that tricks women into performing emotional labor and taking on the thankless and pointless task of “fixing” men. What do we give up when we fashion ourselves to be desired? And, what do we sacrifice when we reject those notions and refuse to be this “dream girl?” Does that subject us to anger? Or, are we called bitter and jaded when we refuse to follow this narrative? These are all of the mental gymnastics I had to perform as I was writing this poem. I ask these questions throughout the book, especially as they play out in the conservative landscapes in Midwestern/Southern places that often rely on women fulfilling traditional roles.

Q~Brazen Creature feels alive. It blends the tender and the fearsome, the wild and sweet, the ghostly and the carnal. The speaker seamlessly weaves through heartache, longing and self-assurance, in backwood bars and classrooms, on country roads and Midwestern fields. How did this collection come together? Were there any poems that were harder or easier to write than others?

A~It’s really interesting that you picked up on the physical movement of the poems because that’s how most of them came into being. I “wrote” most of them (in my head, with my muscles and breath) either while running on the MKT Trail or while driving on backcountry roads to teach as an adjunct in the small town of Fayette, Missouri. The images that emerge in my poems, therefore, were not usually ones that I saw once but repeatedly over days, weeks, months, even years. The ironic thing is that I am terrible with directions, but without question I always knew on my drive where I’d see the guy selling pumpkins out of his pickup truck, the herd of goats, the four white horses, the biker bar called The Hog Pen, the weak smoke above the lavender trees. And it became like ritual on my trail runs where I’d find the fencepost with the red-tailed hawk, the Catalpa trees with flowers big as dinner plates, the art installation of a bicycle strung up in branches, the rotting deer ribcage in the creek bed. People sometimes ask me if I need to write these things down, but I often don’t because these images couldn’t shake from me even if I tried.

I don’t know if any of the poems were harder or easier to write than others, but there were definitely times while writing the book when I felt like a fraud, when I didn’t follow my own advice, or when I didn’t write a single poetic word for months, even, at a time. Writing a book while doing a PhD is really hard because you’re working all parts of your brain—teacher, scholar, literary journal editor, reading series co-host, academic job market seeker, etc. etc. etc. So, there were stretches when I simply didn’t have the mental energy to work on my own poems and when I had to carve out the time, like doing two residencies one summer, to get it all out. I fretted about it a lot, but now I realize it’s ok to sometimes go a long time without writing, and I need to be gentler with myself. The poems will always be waiting for me again when I’m ready to return.

Q~I enjoyed the feminist overtones in this collection. In the poem “You apologize to me in passive voice,” the speaker and an unnamed lover switch between active and passive roles, and in poems like “He Hates What I Do,” “The one drag show in town is closing” and “Your Name in My Boot” the speaker’s affirmations of self, awareness of inequality in her immediate world and relationships, and tug of war with the past are portrayed with such empowered complexity.  When writing these poems and/or compiling this collection, were you thinking about how to present feminist concerns? Why or why not? 

A~Thank you for saying all that. I spend a lot of time thinking about how we damage women and perpetuate sexism and misogyny at the word level. Again, I say “we” because I am villainous; I am guilty of doing this, too. We all are. It’s impossible to truly separate ourselves from what our society imprints on us that we’re supposed to want, appear, say, or do. One day I counted and saw that I refer to myself as a “fool” in this book over a dozen times. That’s because I know what and why I’m perpetuating these narratives, yet I still do them because that’s how ingrained they are in our lives.

The passive voice kills me. We receive messages from pop songs, dialogue in movies and TV shows, Hallmark cards, jewelry and makeup ads, biology textbooks, Bible verses, catalogues, sermons, doctors’ offices, investigative journalism, Sex Ed pamphlets, and daily conversations that men act and women are acted upon. This is the story we hear about how sex works, even how reproduction works. It’s all crafted this way for a reason. And, we’ve invented words for women who choose to act on their own volition—slut, bitch, prude, femme fatale, witch, crazy, hysterical, bitter, angry, cynical, frigid, nasty, clingy, desperate. Those last two—“clingy” and “desperate”—I think are having their heyday right now and create an even worse stigma than “slut” or “bitch” (just think of the Overly Attached Girlfriend meme). It’s preferable right now to be “the cool girl,” to go with the flow, to not care, not overthink or pause, to never question. Hmm, wonder why that is?

All that is to say, I don’t set out to write “feminist poems” necessarily, but because I’m always preoccupied and obsessed with these questions, they can’t help but work their way into my poetry, especially the more I read and the more I find I don’t know.

Q~The line “sometimes a ghost is not a ghost” and the imagery of ghosts and hauntings appear more than once in this book. Would you talk a bit about why you included ghost imagery in the collection?

A~Although I’m a scaredy-cat and can’t even handle the previews for horror movies, much less the movies themselves, ghosts still fascinate me because of the stories they tell and the cultural fears and shame that they represent. It’s the second, deeper story underneath the ghost story that’s compelling to me.

In my mind, patriarchy is a ghost. Racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression are ghosts, too. The shame and fear that they carry may have originated in the past, but they still haunt us to this day and have present, real-world consequences. These ghosts have become systems. In ghost stories, the person who’s always like “I don’t believe in that” or “That isn’t real” is always the first who’s toast. I think there’s a reason behind that. We might claim not to see or believe in something, but that doesn’t mean shit because it still harms us no matter what. We must first acknowledge the ghost and give it a name, but that can sometimes be the scariest part. In Brazen Creature, I force myself to ask, what if the ghost also lives inside myself? (It does.)

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

A~They can visit my website. I just go by my name on Facebook and Instagram, and my Twitter handle is @Anne_Barngrover.

Brazen Creature cover

image2 (3)Jennifer Maritza McCauley teaches at the University of Missouri, where she is pursuing a PhD in creative writing. She is also Contest Editor at The Missouri Review and poetry editor at Origins Literary Journal. She has received fellowships from the NEA, CantoMundo, and Kimbilio. Her work appears in Pleiades, Columbia Journal, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, and elsewhere. Her collection SCAR ON/SCAR OFF is available from Stalking Horse Press.

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.

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Love Can Be a Chokecherry / An interview with poet Juliet Cook

Love Can Be a Chokecherry

by Juliet Cook

It starts with a multi-colored glitter dress lifted up high
to show thighs wrapped with garter belts made out of garter snakes.

She knows they’re not poisonous, but
she finds out they’re not really big enough
for her own magnetized thighs, unless she sits still
in one place forever. It’s a cold place, especially at night.

She knows another nightmare is coming
when the bird sounds turn into dark moans.
Mounds of wings torn, ripped, pitched
until she wonders when did wings even exist?

None of this is real, so why give birth to more?
Somebody will sea the shells, but not the birds
tiny fetuses stuck on concrete, dripping beaks,
ants crawling in and out of the cracked necks.

Now they deserve to be hung from a tree
like rotten chokecherries.  Like broken ornaments
that will fall down hard, finally trash themselves
into oblivion, then be flung into the cesspool.

It starts with a kiss that turns into a rotten apple chokehold.
Being smothered into nothing. A bitten into, spit out core.

First published in diode 2014. Also appeared in Cook’s chapbook, Red Demolition (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014).

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Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in many literary magazines, including DIAGRAM, diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, and Menacing Hedge. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, an individual full-length poetry book, a collaborative full-length poetry book, and has another individual full-length poetry book forthcoming. She sometimes creates semi-abstract painting collage art hybrids.

She describes her style as, “emotional hailstorms (based on and derived from thoughts/feelings/memories) that are redirected and reshaped into poetry, sometimes more direct and other times more abstract. Often on the dark side.”

Juliet was one of the first poets with whom Bekah connected online via Twitter, and they both share an affinity for the number 13 (Bekah is honored to be counted among Juliet’s Thirteen Myna Birds flock). Juliet is a very interesting person who writes striking poetry, so, of course, we wanted to include her in this interview series. Here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’re including with your interview. Why did you choose it?

A~It was a bit difficult to choose one particular poem, since I’ve been writing poetry for more than twenty years, and it has explored various different directions, but the poem I chose is “Love Can Be a Chokecherry.”

I don’t remember exactly when I wrote it; maybe close to 5 years ago?

For well over 5 years (probably closer to 7), a lot of my poetry was focused on loss, mental turmoil and sadness, and brokenness, including broken (borderline abusive) relationships, and no longer believing in or trusting in love – and I think this poem represents all of those things. Body parts, insects, and dead birds have made their way into quite a few of my poems too.

So, have dolls and holes and blood.

Q~Why do you write poetry?

A~For  many years, poetry has felt like my brain’s preferred form of creative expression. When I was a kid, it felt creatively fun, even if other people thought it was nerdy. When I was a teen, it felt like a melodramatic, over-the-top angst fest, expressing itself from a shy and quiet girl’s brain, because I wasn’t shy and quiet on the inside.  As an adult, it has undergone various incarnations and creative phases, all of them individualistically expressive. Word choice, word usage, emotional expression, dream interpretation, and sharing parts of my own thoughts/feelings my own way.

Sharing parts of myself and allowing them to continue to exist even after they’ve begun to meld with other parts.

When I was younger, the process of writing a poem sometimes helped me figure out and interpret my true feelings.  That still happens occasionally, but in more recent years, it feels more like poetry is my preferred form of expressing myself in sudden onslaughts or crafted journal-like entities or repetitive coagulations instead of keeping it hidden inside.

For the most part, my poetry/art is a small scale personal interpretation – and even though I like a variety of different styles of poetry, small scale personal is my overall preference.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~I like the poetry itself.  The writing, the revising, the reading, the submitting, the independent non-corporate publishing, the sharing, the interpretation, the connecting to others through the poetry.  Poetry as expression, poetry as art, poetry as emotion, poetry as questioning, poetry as exploring.

I dislike aspects of the poetry scene that feel too close for comfort to some sort of popularity contest involving group attacks or judgment calls. Poetry can be political in many different, powerful ways, but I don’t like the forming of groups outside of the poetry that take a side and lump other sides together and judge them and try to send other poets to jail.

I’m a small scale individual poet, not a large scale judge.

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

A~A low point of the last few years involves me getting very excited about having poetry accepted, but then it never ends up being published. This has happened so much more than usual in the last few years that I’m worried it’s slightly toned down my excitement about poetry acceptance and my trust that poetry presses are fairly well organized and caring. Especially in regards to poetry chapbooks, I’ve had one solicited, accepted, then ignored and never published – and I had another chapbook manuscript accepted by a press that suddenly folded and then accepted by another press that suddenly folded.

In the middle ground are my concerns that my poetry of the last few years seems to have mostly remained in a similar plateau, and I wonder of that is too close to stagnation. I can help myself feel better about recurring repetitive content by thinking about the art of Louise Bourgeois, which I love.

A high point is writing more poetry, reading more poetry, and having more poetry chosen for publication. In addition to inside various literary magazines, one of the poetry chapbooks from the low point up there was recently accepted by another small press – so Another Set of Ripped Out Bloody Pig Tails is forthcoming from The Poet’s Haven. Also, my second individual full-length poetry book, Malformed Confetti, is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press.

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

A~Be yourself but don’t be completely full of yourself.  Read other’s poetry, too, consider other writers’ points of view, reconsider some of your own thoughts and feelings, realize that you’re allowed to change your mind and your style, and that your poetic voice and choices and decisions and goals and aims should ultimately be your own, regardless of whether you do or don’t fit in anywhere in particular.

It can be positive to be connected with other poets, as long as you still have a focus on the real and true you – and try your best to allow yourself enough time and space to create your own poetry.

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

A~I try to link to my most recently published poems (as well as other details related to me and my writing) via my Horrific Confection website. The online sources I use most are my personal Facebook page, My Blood Pudding Press Facebook page, my personal blog, my Blood Pudding Press blog, and Twitter.