Love Waves / an interview with poet Jennifer Rodriguez

Love Waves

by Jennifer Rodriguez

A cool chaotic breeze in a stagnant world
You shook my leaves to the ground
Bare and exposed 

Coursing like fire through my roots,
you fueled me 

Winter invaded the world 
Everything tumbled down 
While you held my ground

The endless static noise was all so familiar
Until you whispered your song to me
like a seductive bird, 
with your voice like honey
my insides contorted and intertwined inextricably  

An overpowering storm 
You showered me whole 

The crash of lightning loomed nearby
A sudden fear of finalization
A winter’s breeze left me trembling  

When the darkness envelops me 
The fear of loneliness invades me
Yet, you shine your presence silently in a billion ways

Will you be there when the darkness is all I have?

Engraved in my trunk is the story we shared,
A collection of scars and tattoos inexplicable to others

When the darkness swallows me whole, 
I’ll glance up once more to see your fading light smile bright

To have known you was a pleasure
But to have loved you without having you was like 
that of a majestic wave relishing in rising happiness
until it collides with the ground in a loud crash and returns to nothingness.

First published by Drunk Monkeys 2019.

Jennifer Rodriguez is a Latina writer with a bachelor’s degree in Communications and a minor in Spanish from California State University of Fullerton. Her work has appeared in Palabritas, Drunk Monkeys and Memoir Mixtapes, among others. Visit her at www.jennifer-rodriguez.com

Of her style, Jennifer says, “My style of poetry is free verse and it is shaped by my invasive thoughts, differing emotions and shifting perspectives. I love the way that Mary Oliver described it: ‘Free verse is not, of course, free. It is free from formal metrical design, but it certainly isn’t free from some kind of design. Is poetry language that is spontaneous, impulsive? Yes, it is. Is it also language that is composed, considered, appropriate, and effective, though you read the poem a hundred times? Yes, it is. And this is as true of free verse as it is of metrical verse.'”

Jennifer and Bekah were published together in the January 2019 issue of Drunk Monkeys. Here is our interview with Jennifer.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included with your interview. Was it easy or hard to write?

A~This particular piece was my first poem to get published, which is why it’s very close to my heart. It shook me out of bed one night, as if demanding to be written. I couldn’t go to sleep because it kept reverberating in my mind. It’s one of those rare pieces you cherish because of the way it was born and the space it holds. It illustrates my endless pursuit to interweave these illusive visions that vary from being soothing sensations to agonizing recollections. It came surprisingly easy to me, as if I was simply freeing it out of me. The words an extension of myself.  I don’t know how long it took for me to finish this piece, but it was all done in one sitting. I was absolutely transfixed in the process. Of course, not all pieces are easy to write but there’s nothing like that special, glowing moment when such a poem comes to life.

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

A~My advice would be to continue writing regardless of whether your pieces are published or not. Publications should not be a determining factor of whether your pieces are valuable or not. Of course, validation from literary journals and other outlets is great but it shouldn’t be the motivating factor. If you love a piece and believe it will resonate with others, then work on getting it out into the world, whether it be through the submission process, self-publishing, reading it at an open mic or any other method. There can’t ever be enough art in this world. It’s something we all need and if you can create it, then you should.

Q~Why poetry?

A~I have written poems for as long as I can remember so it has become a natural reflex of comfort for me. Poetry allows me to make out the obscure images in my mind without limitations. I also love that poetry is open to all interpretations and there is no “wrong” way to perceive or connect with a poem.

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~Yes, I always tend to gravitate toward the themes of love and death. These are powerful topics that go beyond our own understanding, they push us toward unexpected places and propel us to grow in numerous ways. As a result, I find myself using nature’s extremities to best represent such complexities. I have always found great solace when looking up at the sky or staring out into the seemingly endless ocean. Those are two places I always find myself circling back to. They’re endless to me, the way love is. They both come full circle, the way life and death does. 

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I wish there was a specific process that I followed, but it’s always very scattered. I’ll have lines that pop up in my mind, so I’ll either write them down in my notebook or in my phone. I prefer to write on a piece of paper but that just means I end up with various pieces of paper at the bottom of my purse that say differing things that don’t make too much sense.

Sometimes I’ll I begin to hear lines form in Spanish. Afterward, I’ll translate it to English, but I feel like it loses some magic in the translation process.

When I have time, I’ll make it a special thing to go out to a coffee shop and focus on writing. Typically, I’ll have a couple of ideas swirling around my mind but if that’s not the case, I will observe the people around me for inspiration.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I’m reading a couple of books simultaneously: “The Order of Time” by Carlo Rovelli, “Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” by Haruki Murakami, and an assortment of poetry books on my nightstand.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~It’s the role of any artist – to help make life worthwhile and meaningful. Through the use of words, we craft images and stories. We relive moments, immortalize people and revisit life differently every time. Through poetry we can connect with others, help them feel understood and know they are not alone in their journey. It’s beautiful to read poetry that resonates with you and there’s nothing like being able to do the same.

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

A~My personal website is the place where it all comes together and it includes my latest published pieces. My Twitter and Instagram handle are @Jenrodgz. I’m also on Goodreads for anyone who wants to send along some book recommendations.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills / an interview with poet Julie R. Enszer

Update 12/25/21: This poem seems even more timely now! In 2022, Julie has two books forthcoming; Rutgers University Press will publish OutWrite: The Speeches that Shaped LGBTQ Literary Culture in March of 2022 and Sinister Wisdom will publish Fire-Rimmed Eden: Selected Poems by Lynn Lonidier in October of 2022. Her scholarly book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ, and Frontiers.

The Pinko Commie Dyke Kills

by Julie R. Enszer

babies on street corners
with the steel speculum
she has been carrying
since she was nineteen
and gazing at her cervix
with a group of women

now with the Kumbaya of
body exploration passed
abortion docs in demand
commanding high fees
for a simple D & C
so the pinko commie dyke
helps women dilate and
evacuate their own uteri
as women have for ages
with herbs or pebbles or poultices

a thin metal line
pierces the endometrium
like rupturing the yolk
of an egg menses slither
through the cervix
down the uterine wall
sloughing that baby
into the toilet
creating a vast empty space
in the womb where
the woman now child-free
can move in
kick back
have a cocktail
and enjoy herself

The pinko commie dyke takes one life
and gives another in return

First published by Impossible Archetype 2018.

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Photo Credit: Steffan Declue.

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is a scholar and a poet. Her book manuscript, A Fine Bind, is a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2009. Her scholarly work has appeared or is forthcoming in Southern Cultures, Journal of Lesbian Studies, American Periodicals, WSQ, and Frontiers. She is the author of four poetry collections, Avowed (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2016), Lilith’s Demons (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2015), Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013) and Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). She is editor of The Complete Works of Pat Parker (Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2016), which won the 2017 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Poetry and Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the 2012 Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry. She has her MFA and PhD from the University of Maryland. Enszer edits and publishes Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and is a regular book reviewer for The Rumpus and Calyx.

Of her style, Julie says, “I generally describe myself as a narrative, lyrical poet. My poetry explores the lyric moment with an important investment in narrative and storytelling. I admire formal poetry enormously and at some points in my work, I feel the influence of the sonnet keenly. Recently, for a new project, I have been reading more experimental work and admiring that work anew, particularly how poets invest in challenging language and breaking it to remake it.”

Julie gave Bekah her first poetry acceptance back in 2012 when she chose Bekah’s poem, “Stuck in a Web,” for issue 87 of Sinister Wisdom, a tribute to Adrienne Rich. Here is our interview with Julie.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included with your interview. Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~I’ve selected a poem from a more recent collection of work that has obsessed me for the past year. The character of the pinko commie dyke, who is sometimes me and other times other women walking through the world, has been speaking to me in a series of poems that muse on contemporary life and the issues and ideas that are important in the world today. In some ways, I think that this series is representative of my work, which is invested in lyricism and also narrative. I also am interested in personae and exploring where the lyrical ‘I’ overlaps with the poet and where it does not. The disjuncture between the lyrical ‘I’ and the poet fascinate me much more today than they did ten years ago.

Q~You’ve published several books of poetry, but you seem to be focused more recently on your academic writing and have a book forthcoming about lesbian-feminist publishing, Can you tell us more about that project? Also, how do you think this work has or will influence your own poetry?

A~Great question. I finished my MFA in 2008 and from that work, I had a lot of poetry that took shape in Handmade Love, Sisterhood and Avowed, three of my full-length collections. Immediately after my MFA, I entered a PhD program in Women’s Studies, and the research and work into lesbian-feminist publishing came as a part of that degree, which I finished in 2013.

My work now is immersed in both poetry and the scholarly work. I am working very hard to finish the history of lesbian-feminist publishing (and am getting closer!). This book tells stories about lesbian-feminist publishing and how it both inspired and energized a variety of lesbian-feminist poets and what function that publishing work has in relationship to the broader formations of feminism. There are so many rich stories of women publishing amazing work and reaching readers with that work that I hope to do justice to them all!

Throughout my PhD research and writing, I have been writing poems. I am working on a new collection of poetry and have a chapbook coming out sometime this year with a new selection of poems about the “Pinko Commie Dyke.” Some of these poems have been published here and here.

While readers tend to think in terms of genre, as a writer and a thinker, I find that the scholarly work, the editing work, the essay writing work, and the poetry work all blend together and feed one another.

Q~It meant so much to Bekah to be included in the Adrienne Rich tribute issue of Sinister Wisdom. Can you tell us more about putting that issue together, and also feel free to speak more broadly on Rich’s influence?

A~I remember so clearly learning that Adrienne Rich had died and feeling an immense sense of loss as a reader and writer of her presence in the world—of loss in the future of the books that she might write and of loss of her persistent moral presence in our world. It took a few days of processing that loss to recognize that it was important for Sinister Wisdom to mark her life and her contributions to the journal in a meaningful way and the issue grew from that impulse.

It turned out to be a beautiful issue, that now has sadly sold out. Rich’s work and influence continues to be palpable for me in the daily work of Sinister Wisdom, which carries on some of her vision and commitments in the world. I’ve been reveling in the new volumes of her work coming out from W. W. Norton that allow us to revisit her work in new bindings and new arrangements with new people exploring how she inspired and influenced them.

Rich demanded an intellectual rigor and a moral rigor in her work, at least in my reading of it. I am interested in holding to her demands of herself and of others around her in my own work.

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~There were many first loves. As a youngster and even today, I read voraciously. When I was a teenager, I loved the journals and the poems of May Sarton. As a young reader in college I discovered Rich, Mary Oliver (this was many years before she came out, acknowledging her long-term relationship with Molly Malone Cook), Audre Lorde, Marilyn Hacker, Pat Parker, Elizabeth Bishop, and Muriel Rukeyser. All of these poets loom large in my mind and in my early reading years.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I still wait eagerly for new collections from Marilyn Hacker, Maureen McLane, Alicia Ostriker, among others. Recently, I’ve been reading the new collection by Eileen Myles, first collections by Jenny Johnson, Alicia Mountain, and Jenny George. Nickole Brown’s new chapbook, To Those Who Were Our First Gods, made me weep with joy and empathy and pain and all of the feelings that poetry raises. I’ve also been reading new work by Dawn Martin Lundy and Duriel Harris and appreciating the work they do in the world.

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

 A~I try to update my personal website regularly. For information about the journal I edit, visit www.SinisterWisdom.org. My critical writing appears in a variety of places, particularly The Rumpus and Lambda Literary. You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

In Which I Declare My Resistance / an interview with poet Jeannine Hall Gailey

Update 12/26/21: Jeannine has two new books upcoming: Fireproof in 2022 from Alternating Current Press, and Flare, Corona in 2023 from BOA Editions. 

In Which I Declare My Resistance

By Jeannine Hall Gailey

I will resist the moon. The sun will not exert its solar pressures
on me. I will resist the wind; it will not carry me away.

I will resist the entire earth, a cloak of darkness around me
and a cave to protect. A protest of oceans rising, of clouds descending,

dust in the air and fire in the sky. I will resist
with plagues of locusts, with the withering of crops

and when you cry out, don’t be surprised if you hear
my laughter in the scraping of tree branches together,

in the movement of air through the empty windows.
You had your chance. I will resist in a barrage of rooks

and rocks and wild horses. The fish will glint in the light but you
will never catch them. The birds will claw at your eyes.

If this world burns, so be it.
I am the feathers of a thousand poisoned snow geese,

the cesium in the snow and clover in the mouths of children.
I am the embers of the dresses of charred women.

First published in The Rise Up Review.

j9greenauthorphoto

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as the second Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of five books of poetry: Becoming the VillainessShe Returns to the Floating WorldUnexplained FeversThe Robot Scientist’s Daughter, and Field Guide to the End of the World, winner of the Moon City Press Book Prize and the SFPA’s Elgin Award. She’s also the author of PR for Poets: A Guidebook to Publicity and Marketing. Her work appeared in journals such as American Poetry ReviewNotre Dame Review and Prairie Schooner.

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

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “In Which I Declare My Resistance.” How is it representative of your work?

A~This poem was a difficult one to write. I was feeling hopeless, feeling what, as a writer, I could possibly do against the many injustices, evils, and hurts in the world right now. And, this poem just came out.

A lot of my poems are written in the first or second person, I think because I’m often thinking of talking directly to a person, to an audience, and I love persona poems, because they kind of allow poets to play with being a fiction writer. I love stories, but mine just come out in poem form.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~Conversational surreal? There’s an art gallery here that describes itself as “goth surrealist pop,” and that might be a good description of most of my own work, too…with a mythological twist.

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~Yes! Fairy tales, mythology, and science inform almost all of my poems. Feminism is definitely a recurring theme, as is what might be called “body horror” poetry. I studied biology for my first degree, and my husband’s a chemical engineering major, so we regularly have discussions about the latest in medical research or environmental news, so of course it comes out in my poetry. I was (and remain) a huge fan of mythology from all kinds of cultures and love to read fairy tales in translation.

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

A~I wrote a whole book of advice called PR for Poets all about how poets can get the word out about their poetry books, how to do readings and book parties, and all that stuff. I also write a lot of how-to articles for Poet’s Market and talk casually about rejection, submitting, and the business of writing on my blog. If I just had one sentence, it would be: read widely – and have fun with your writing. If you don’t have fun with it, who will?

Q~What did you learn from writing PR for Poets?

A~I just wanted to give poets what I didn’t have when my first book of poetry came out. I had published a technical book, previously, and worked in technical publishing before publishing my poetry book, so I knew some things about advertising, contracts and distribution, but poetry books are a totally different thing – especially in the realm of things like reviews, awards, and book launches – poetry books are in their own little universe. I wish poets that “made it” talked more openly about how they got to where they are, because I often feel like people act like it’s magic or some kind of secret code. There’s nothing mysterious about it – and a lot of is based on hard, discouraging things, that poets can’t control, like the amount of money the press will spend or the press’s prestige level, which will impact reviews and distribution. And, there are new avenues that didn’t even exist a couple of years ago – like Instagram Poetry! Anyway, I hope the book is helpful to the many poets who bring out books every year and aren’t sure about what exactly will happen and what will be expected of them.

Q~What was it like to be Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington? 

A~It was quite an honor to serve the community there. It’s famous as the home of Microsoft and other tech companies. I got to meet with the mayor to talk poetry, read poetry with the city council, and talk with teenagers and librarians about poetry and technology. I got to write poetry in connection with local visual artists, which was a real pleasure. The whole idea of being involved in the civics of our community is still very moving to me. I wish more cities had a Poet Laureate Program – it doesn’t usually involve a ton of money, but it helps people interact more actively with literature in ways they don’t, normally.

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

A~My website has some links to my work, including some recordings, as well as links to my books of poetry. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram.

Belief / an interview with poet Lesley Wheeler

Update 12/25/21: Lesley Wheeler’s forthcoming essay collection is Poetry’s Possible Worlds. @LesleyMWheeler

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.

Resurrection Party / an interview with poet Trish Hopkinson

Update 12/25/21: Trish Hopkinson is author of three chapbooks and has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Sugar House Review, Glass Poetry Press, and The Penn Review. You can follow Trish on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.

Resurrection Party

by Trish Hopkinson

You ask me to take the Christ costume
out of the closet. It’s been a year

since your consciousness went
missing—stunned out of you

into the road: collision of machine & boy,
no pulse in your wrists, your ghost

gasping. Crash doesn’t capture it: your halo
ringing as it bounced from gutter

to sidewalk, singing down concrete
end over end. I wonder, did you throw

your shoulder against your eyelids, wanting
to burst through those last slits

of light? Your recollection of this
is dead, as is the seven days

after. Yes, the neuro-surgeons were pleased
when you answered: your name, the year, but didn’t

know your whereabouts. You told us in nature, lying
hazily in chirping forest, or at a tattoo parlor

getting ink on your abdomen: the half-arch
of a rainbow. Sometimes, you’d remember

you’re in the neuro ICU & we’d
celebrate. Funny—the detachment of body

and brain. I smile when I see the party photos
you post online: you, dressed as Christ,

thorny crown, death metal makeup,
bottle of Hennessey in your hand.

First appeared in Tinderbox Poetry Journal 2017 (To hear Trish read this poem click here.)

Trish Hopkinson is author of three chapbooks and has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Tinderbox, Pretty Owl Poetry, and The Penn Review. You can follow Trish on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.

It was from Trish that we first learned of The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, and she was part of the inspiration for this interview series. Trish and Bekah were published together in Shabda Press’s Nuclear Impact: Broken Atoms in Our Hands in 2017, and Bekah was honored when Trish chose to read one of Bekah’s poems along with her own in a reading for the anthology. We wanted to know more about Trish and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~How would you describe your style?

A~My approach to writing poetry is to quickly write a first draft and then revise it a million times. I love workshopping and missed it so much after I graduated end of 2013 with my undergrad in English/Creative Writing I co-founded a poetry group called Rock Canyon Poets. We meet monthly to workshop each other’s poems, and we also have a private web site where we can do more of the same.

My poems vary in form, but are most often free verse. I’m a sucker for a great internal rhyme, a little alliteration, and how the words are spaced on the page. I like to play around with stanza length, caesuras, white space, etc.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’ve included with your interview. Is there a backstory you want to share?

A~“Resurrection Party” is one of several poems in my latest manuscript about my son’s recovery from a life threatening accident that occurred in 2015—he was hit by a speeding pickup truck in an intersection in downtown Salt Lake City while riding his bicycle to meet friends. The poem is a true story, and I love the way it shows his personality and creative spirit. Fortunately, he recovered almost completely, except for the loss of his sense of smell. The experience was the most difficult thing I’ve had to face as a parent. It took me a couple of years to start writing the poems and even then, these were the most emotionally exhausting poems I’ve written. I thought about what to write, how to write it, took notes, and considered whether to write them at all for months before drafting the first poem. Then, it took me months to determine whether a chapbook length manuscript on this topic would be the best fit. I’ve sent it out to several presses and contests, so we will see what happens next. So far, only two of the poems from the collection have been published. But, my son has read them all, shares them with his close friends, and heard me read several of them at multiple events. I love that he’s so proud of them and that he has an appreciation for my work and poetry in general.

Q~Your contributions helping other poets through your blog and social media were part of the inspiration for this interview series. What made you decide to do this work?

A~I’m so thrilled to hear that my blog helped to inspire your interview series! My blog really has been a happy accident. I originally created the site just as a place to post poems for others to read when asked about my work. As I started submitting and looking for writing resources online, I found that my blog was a good place to save them. Then I shared one of my posts in a Facebook group and received such positive response, I decided to keep sharing. I also noticed that in the writing community some writers are competitive—they don’t want to share opportunities for fear that someone else will be published or win the contest instead. It seems to me that poetry just does not get enough attention in general, and the more I can share, the numbers of poetry readers might just grow, which means a larger market for my work while supporting other poets along the way. I kept trying new things based on my own research, like lit mag submission calls, then interviews with editors, guest blog posts, etc. and continued to get more followers and great feedback. I’ve learned so much along the way and I’m still learning every day.

Q~How do you balance your time between your own writing, the work you do to help other writers and your life outside of writing?

A~This is a great question. I do have a lot of poetry projects going on, locally with my poetry group Rock Canyon Poets, Provo Poetry poemball machines, Poetry Happens (a monthly radio feature of poetry events in Utah), an annual community writing workshop, two annual anthologies, festivals, readings, open mics, the list goes on and on. And, of course, a full-time career in software product management, my blog, and my own writing. It’s a delicate balance to be sure. Ultimately, all the work I do for poetry feeds and supports my own writing practice as well. I’m continually learning, finding inspiration, and growing as a writer. Timewise, I focus a lot on efficiency, large blocks of time to work on specific projects or to write, so I’m not stopping and starting too often. And, I have a very patient husband and family, who let me spend hours in my office uninterrupted. They know how important poetry is to me and have been an amazing support system. I often combine poetry activities with other things—like weekend trips, family time, dinner before or after an event, etc.

Q~What is your local poetry scene like?

A~It’s growing! There are several open mics, lit mags and journals, bookstores, organizations, and events. I’m doing all I can to spread the word about poetry happenings and to involve the general public. That’s really what the Provo Poetry project is all about. It too, started on accident; my friend and co-founder Marianne Hales Harding had a couple of gumball machines and we thought, why not fill them with poems? We applied for a mini grant from Utah Humanities and now have four machines—one in a café, one in a bookstore, one in a radio station, and one we take to events. The machines have been successful enough to fund supplies, new machines, and even for an annual cash prize poetry contest. The coolest part is that the machines include poems from Utah poets—bringing new readers to poetry and supporting local, living poets. You can learn more about Provo Poetry on our web site here: https://provopoetry.org/about/

pioneerbookmachine1

Q~There are lots of publications out there–many of which you have featured on your blog. What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~Sundress Publications is doing so much incredible work in the writing community. They have multiple programs/projects with opportunities for poets and writers, including Sundress Academy for the Arts, SaftaCast, Poets in Pajamas, and several literary publications: Best of the Net, Stirring, Rogue Agent, Pretty Owl Poetry, Agape Editions, cahoodaloodaling and more. Their staff are generous and wonderful to work with, and they don’t charge submission fees for regular submissions.

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

A~Most importantly, when submitting to literary markets, I encourage poets and writers to send to several (simultaneously if possible) and to not take rejection as a reflection of the quality of their work. There are many reasons why a piece may not be a good fit—maybe the topic has recently been covered in a previous issue, maybe similar work has already been accepted, maybe the piece doesn’t fit well within the aesthetic of the issue or collection, maybe they’ve simply ran out of room. If I believe in my work, I’ll keep sending it. One of my poems was rejected 31 times before being published. I’m sure that record will be broken in the future.

Q~What online resources would you like to recommend?

A~I have a list of my favorite “Writing Resources” links on my blog. You can find it by scrolling down past the Twitter feed on the right sidebar. Specifically, I love Entropy, The Review Review, Winning Writers, Authors Publish, Erika Dreifus, and Publishing and Other Forms of Insanity.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~Most recently I’ve been reading Tommy Pico, Tracey K. Smith, Paisley Rekdal, and Lance Larsen. And, I’ve been completely addicted to the Commonplace podcast. It’s so fantastic.

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

A~I post all my publications on my blog here: https://trishhopkinson.com/poetry/. I also sell signed copies of my third chapbook Footnote in my store here: http://trishhopkinson.storenvy.com/products. You can also connect with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt / an interview with poet Colleen McKee

Update 12/25/21: See Colleenshoshanamckee.com for her upcoming women’s poetry workshop and latest book.

In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt

By Colleen McKee

Every girl ought to walk a tightrope. It develops a rare set of muscles
and teaches one how to walk properly on the street.
+++++—Internationally acclaimed aerialist Bird Millman, 
+++++    in a 1913 interview with the Milwaukee News

But why would a girl want to walk
on the street, properly
or otherwise,
when she could promenade
across the sky?

In a pink velvet dress
twirling a crimson parasol,
Bird hops on the sides
of her ballet flats
along a string
between skyscrapers.
The brash Chicago wind
throws itself at her,
licks her hair
like a rowdy puppy.

Most women were hung up on clotheslines
as Miss Millman explored
the umbilical cord
joining
heaven
and earth.

She went through three husbands
before she was fifty. Did men
love her best from afar?—
The gasps, the terrified smiles
were mirrors flashing the sun
up at her, magnifying
its radiance, as the wind
flirted with her skirt and she kicked
her legs and shimmied
her fanny laughing
at death
and earthbound fools.

Photo in TGP (2)
photo by John Reskusich

Colleen McKee is the author of collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction.  Her latest collection of poetry, Routine Bloodwork, was a finalist in the Charlotte Mew Contest from Headmistress Press. Other works include The Kingdom of Roly-Polys (Pedestrian Press); Nine Kinds of Wrong (JKPublishing/The Saint Louis Projects); A Partial List of Things I Have Done for Money (JKPublishing/The Saint Louis Projects); Are We Feeling Better Yet? Women Speak About Health Care in America (PenUltimate Press); and My Hot Little Tomato (Cherry Pie Press Midwestern Women Poets Series).

She and Bekah met while Colleen was living in St. Louis.  We wanted to know what she’s been up to lately. So, here is our interview with Colleen.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem we’re including. Is there a back story you want to share?   

A~“In Her Famous Fur-Lined Skirt” is the most recent poem I have written. It came out of research I have been doing for my novel in progress, tentatively titled Shlomo the Strongman and the Uninvited Guests. Bird Millman, who was a real-life aerialist, is the idol of Shlomo’s fictional aerialist girlfriend, Gitl.

I wouldn’t say this poem is representative of my work because most of my poetry is autobiographical. Somehow a few years ago, I got tired of writing about myself (with the exception of some funny writing about my early childhood among hippies in rural Missouri. You can read some of this in The Kingdom of Roly-Polys.)

I probably went through five-ten drafts of “In Her Famous Fur-Lined Dress.” That is normal for me. I don’t expect writing to be easy. I have patience when I write.

Q~Would you like to say a little more about your novel in progress, Shlomo the Strongman and the Uninvited Guests?

A~Shlomo Eisenberg is proud of his life: he’s the star of the Rosenbaum Circus, he loves his gorgeous aerialist girlfriend, and he’s pretty certain he’s the strongest man in Poland, if not the world. But then he has a problem–his body parts start turning into animals. Everyone has a theory about why this is happening, everyone has a suggestion, but answers are hard to find. Shlomo has no desire to be a freak. He wants to prove that Jews are strong, and these mutations test not only his strength but his faith. The tragicomic story follows Shlomo throughout Poland and Austria in the turbulent years following World War I. Along the way we meet Sarah Rosenbaum, circus founder and elegant bearded lady; Gitl the glamorous aerialist; Pietro, a convert to Judaism and devoted circus friend; Benyomin, a lovesick juggler; Borukh, Shlomo’s handsome gay brother; and Miriam, a girl who longs to run away with the circus, away from an arranged marriage. Of course, we also meet a variety of wondrous yet wildly inconvenient animals.

Q~How would you describe your poetry style?

A~When I was working on my MFA, I had to compile a poetry manuscript for my final thesis. I gave my thesis advisor (who was usually very supportive) about 100 pages of poetry. She read around 40 pages of it, gave it back to me, and said, rather miffed, “I can’t read this! Make it sound like one person wrote the whole manuscript.”

I remember thinking, why? (I should have asked her why but was too flummoxed to say anything.) Why is it necessary for a book of poems to be uniform in voice, or for a writer to have a consistency of style? Perhaps for marketability—though poetry is so nonlucrative, marketability seems like an absurd concern.

Eventually some of the poems in this thesis manuscript wound up in other collections that were published. I edited my other collections of poetry, memoir, and fiction based on theme and intuition; they were more consistent than the one I gave my advisor back in 2005. I do consistently want my work to be sensual and honest, and for there to be a sense of humility in the narrative voice.  Still, I don’t see the value in consistency, not in a poetry book. I like surprises when I read.

Q~Why do you prioritize going to readings and being involved in your local poetry scene?

A~Part of it is social, part of it is entertainment, and the need to get out of my studio apartment.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are multiple literary circles that overlap. There are so many readings here that I could choose from several almost any night of the week, and it would still take me years to meet all of these writers. So, partly I go out due to curiosity.

I also like to go to readings to be reassured that though I am a little crazy, I’m not any crazier than the rest of the writers in Oakland.

And, it’s not so rare that I hear something that floods me with wonder, that brings me a perspective that’s so rare and spiritually necessary, it makes me feel, if only for a day, that life actually does make sense.

Q~Any advice for other writers?

A~I would remind writers that if you want to be asked to read, you probably have to go to readings and show your face. Let editors and curators know you exist and remind them that you exist.

In St. Louis, when I was young and just starting out as a writer, there were, it seemed, two literary scenes in town: an academic scene and a spoken word/open mic/slam scene. These scenes did not overlap.  People were friendly enough in both milieus, but I had few publications to impress the high-art crowd, and my style of reading was insufficiently dramatic to interest people at the spoken word scene. Still I went to as many readings as I could and listened and introduced myself. And, I wound up organizing a bunch of variety shows with music, drag queens, paintings, photography, performance art, poetry… By the time I enrolled in an MFA program and the Get Born scene rolled into town, I felt very much a part of the live literary world in St Louis. But, it didn’t start that way for me.

If you want people to notice you and your writing, go out! If the kind of events you want to be part of aren’t happening in your town, organize them yourself. Involving other kinds of artists, like painters and musicians, will widen your audience and make your show more interesting. Going to shows or organizing them should not just a means to an end, a way to satisfy the goals of getting published, getting gigs. The writers communities I have belonged to in St Louis and in the Bay Area, and the writers communities in other cities where I’ve been so warmly welcomed—Portland, Oregon; Los Angeles, Florence, Italy; Chicago—have brought me some of my fondest friendships and wildest nights.

Q~What is the poet’s role in society?

A~As I say, a poet can have a very rewarding role in her literary community. But in our society as a whole—the United States—the poet doesn’t have a role in our society. Mostly, when nations have promoted poets, it is because they support their ideology. Our government has never, in a serious, consistent way, used poets to promote its ideology. This is bad for poets financially but good for their souls. The American poetry tradition is a bunch of impoverished, awkward underdogs saying things most people don’t want to hear and refuse to hear. But, as my teacher David Clewell said, “There are some poems we humanly need.”

I wish I could say I had some noble purpose in mind when I pick up a pen to write poetry. I write because something fascinates or vexes me, and in some instinctual way, I want to get inside it. If I understood why I was writing it, I couldn’t write it.

Perhaps the purpose of poetry is to remind people that they are alive in a living world.

Q~What is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention?  

A~I like the Lavender Review. Not only does it fill a need as a lesbian literary review, it is consistently filled with entertaining, luscious writing, often with a subtle sense of humor. It is also easy on the eyes, both in terms of layout and visual art. They publish giants as well as unknowns. (And yes, I will admit my work has been published here a few times.)

Q~You have the distinction of being one of the only poets in this interview series who has met Bekah in person. What’s your favorite Bekah story?

A~That’s hard to choose. I mostly associate Bekah with things you shouldn’t put in your mouth but want to. Like the time she encouraged me to drink too many Pussy Galores (these chocolate martinis at the old Absolootli Goosed in St Louis—they were rimmed with so much whipped cream I was doomed to wear it on my face). All these Pussy Galores led to me going home with a woman who wrote the names of heavy metal legends on my arm with Magic Marker…Or, take the times Bekah slayed me at Scrabble though she was drinking screwdrivers and I was sober (because I wanted to win)! It was years before I got to know the serious poet Bekah. First I knew the sweet yet slightly dangerous Bekah.

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

A~https://www.colleenshoshanamckee.com/ Current website with bio, information on latest publications, as well as the new women’s poetry workshop I am offering.

http://thesighpress.com/ (A Florentine literary magazine in English. Scroll down to the Autumn 2018, Issue 18 for poems and novel excerpts; and to the Ampersand Interview 10.)

http://colleenmckee.blogspot.com/ My old blog. If you scroll back through older posts, there is also a guest column on editing and a few poems.

http://karenslibraryblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Writer%20on%20Writer (An interview by Sarah Shotland on Karen the Small Press Librarian)

To contact me: connect via Facebook or email.

Grit & Decolonisation / an interview with poet Moylin Yuan

Grit

by Moylin Yuan

washing down igneous rock
Spattered in bird waste
All speckled and sun coloured
Remember the climbs and twisted ankles
++++++your fingers onto fissures, crags stacked with oysters, their tongues
Waiting for the tides
We ran after the shells
hiding under waves
++++++the new elders soaking toes under
foaming sands
++++++when being, vanishing, was a phasing Sexuality

Decolonisation

by Moylin Yuan

Softly we un-borrow the ivory shells,
learn to lean towards ourselves
Identity shifting in sand
Now it’s daily weather, with dunes
drifting at different levels
Every morning if the sun burns my skin
Would you call my name?

Both poems first appeared in Peach Velvet Magazine 2018

me

Moylin Yuan is a self-taught designer, illustrator, and occasional art director, born and raised in Dubai, UAE. She enjoys working with paper in all formats (print publications, modular origami, turning dollars into koi…) and reading as many abstract concepts as possible.

Moylin says of her style, “I try to keep the flow loose and abstract, and often imbibe visual symbols in my work and play with their possible meanings, questioning the language I use to portray scenes. I strongly think my poetry style is still developing itself. I’m not sure what it is yet, but for me words hold a kind of vibration, and if they kind of echo constantly I try to jot them down as quickly as possible. Once that’s done I’ll pull apart the concepts and experiment to see how the flow changes.”

Bekah and Moylin’s work—including the poems above—appeared together in the “Seconds to Consume” issue of Peach Velvet Magazine. We wanted to know more about Moylin and her poetry, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about these poems. Is there a backstory you want to share? 

A~The poem, “Grit,” was actually my first attempt at concrete (shape?) poetry Indented poetry can look like waves seeping back and forth, and I wanted to go all out indenting without feeling embarrassed by it. I also wanted to address sexuality and the freedom to sit with not knowing your preferences.

There’s also a sexual beauty branded to the beach which I was attempting to pull at. We’re young! We’re old! I wanted to say there’s a beauty to being, and allowing for contemplation to experiment or refrain as you wish, to not know, to not be certain. Like how we are within life. To be a child again playing with waves, which can be deadly.

The poem, “Decolonisation,” was initially a series of separate lines, written at different times over four years – as thoughts from conversations with different people then and now. I placed them together to see how they felt. The result left me feeling satisfyingly unresolved. Like when you finish reading a good book or run a mile thinking by yourself. I’m addressing many themes in this poem – decolonisation, obviously, but also what it means to live and work in Dubai, the tropes people associate with this place and my tropes within it.

These two poems were written at different points in time. Possibly a year apart. I write on the Notes app and transfer after to my laptop after a gestation period. This affords some distance to the words and reduces the chances of decimating the energy of the language, for me. I mostly write verses when on moving transport. The flow seems to work better. Sitting and focusing on writing is quite difficult – I don’t do well in libraries or offices!

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

A~Sand or earth in various forms, water and/or its bodies, and a lot of references to actual sounds, (such as spoken sentences), are what tend to surface in the poems I’ve written. Not so much smell. Maybe because I associate language and the world with what I actually hear. I’m not sure! But, those tropes tend to end up in the verses, they vibrate my brain.

Q~How has your experience as a poetry reader at Longleaf Review influenced your own writing?

A~It’s a gratifying process, to be able to read people’s submissions from around the world. I think it has made me more aware of the rules in poetry and what can be broken (maybe everything). I am less hesitant in experimenting as well. Seeing others imbuing confidence in their own voices encourages me to raise my own.

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

A~Honestly, I haven’t applied much yet, and therefore haven’t had many rejections. It takes work to apply well. By that I mean applying to publications or zines etc.,that I enjoy reading or that would feel aligned to the theme of the work. I encourage applying to the places you read and love, because what you like and whom you work with becomes a reflection of who (or what) you identify with or try to be.

And, if it doesn’t work out there’s always somewhere else. And, if there isn’t somewhere else, start your own zine or publication or blog etc. Self-publication is a great way to learn the process of publishing – the editorial work of copy editing, grammatical and ethical debates of editing someone else’s work and so on.

Also, it’s important to submit and support your local presses and publication houses. They need your good content! And reviews! And if you can, your sentiments in monetary value… 🙂

Q~Are you involved in your local poetry scene? If so, what’s it like?

A~I’m barely involved, honestly… Partly because spoken word or slam poetry is very popular here, and that’s beyond my comfort level right now! I’m usually the audience. Some of the all-stars within the local scene include Afra Atiq and Rewa Zeinati.

Q~Is a literary gem you feel deserves more attention? Why will we love them?

A~I’d like to highlight two publications currently being produced by friends – Locale and LIFTA. Both promote inclusivity and positivity for communities that have often been narrated to, and I’d love for more people to dig and complicate their lives with these multiple narratives. Life isn’t black and white, and it’s important (even more so, these days) to bring in different stories and listen to multiple points of view:

Q~Who was your poetry first love?

A~This question had me thinking for awhile! Having been exposed to poets from early on (a lot of Rabindranath Tagore…) I can’t say who was the first, but it might have been a triple threat combo of Pablo Neruda, Maya Angelou’s poems and Virginia Woolf’s letter to Vita Sackville-West, when I was in university.

After graduation, I fell into reading poetry from Rumi, quickly moving to Mahmoud Darwish, and Etel Adnan –  in longing for belonging to a land, for being, and loving what was always around. Now though, if not reading contemporary poets, I’m digging Sufi poets like Amir Khusrow, and catching up on the gaps of my education of poets in Asia, geographically.

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I am still reading the Goddess of Democracy by Henry Wei Leung. It is my movable feast.

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

A~I’m working on this, but for now my poetry is tagged within my personal blog. You can also connect with me on Instagram and Twitter.

Hunger / an interview with #poetblogrevival cofounder Kelli Russell Agodon

Update 12/25/21: Kelli Russell Agodon’s newest book is Dialogues with Rising Tides (Copper Canyon Press). 

Hunger

by Kelli Russell Agodon

If we never have enough love, we have more than most.
We have lost dogs in our neighborhood and wild coyotes,
and sometimes we can’t tell them apart. Sometimes
we don’t want to. Once I brought home a coyote and told
my lover we had a new pet. Until it ate our chickens.
Until it ate our chickens, our ducks, and our cat. Sometimes
we make mistakes and call them coincidences. We hold open
the door then wonder how the stranger ended up in our home.
There is a woman on our block who thinks she is feeding bunnies,
but they are large rats without tails. Remember the farmer’s wife?
Remember the carving knife? We are all trying to change
what we fear into something beautiful. But even rats need to eat.
Even rats and coyotes and the bones on the trail could be the bones
on our plates. I ordered Cornish hen. I ordered duck. Sometimes
love hurts. Sometimes the lost dog doesn’t want to be found.

Previously published on the Academy of American Poets website:
Poets.org Poem-a-Day 2017.

Kelli Agodon full photo

Kelli Russell Agodon’s most recent book, Hourglass Museum was a Finalist for the Washington State Book Awards. Her other books include The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice and Letters from the Emily Dickinson Room, Winner of the Foreword Book of the Year Prize for poetry. Kelli is the cofounder of Two Sylvias Press.

Kelli describes her writing this way: “If someone walked into a fancy party in flip-flops, hugged a few guests, drank some champagne, opened the windows so wild birds could fly in and perch on the chandelier then took every one on a field trip to the cemetery, that would be my style.”

Kelli and Bekah connected via The 2018 Poet Bloggers Revival Tour, which Kelli started with Donna Vorreyer. We wanted to know more about her, her writing and the origins of #poetblogrevival, so here is our interview with her.

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

A~I think this is one of the poems I am most known for, and I feel it’s a good representation of my work because it’s both dark and funny (well, I think it’s funny). Usually when I read it to an audience, they laugh when the narrator brings home the coyote and tells her lover she has a new pet, and then I hear gasps when we come to the part about that cat. As someone who grew up being told weird stories of deaths in my family, I was brought up with the idea that’s what life is—we’re all having a good time then someone dies. But, there is also love and humor. There are also people trying to be helpful and also making mistakes. Maybe my entire philosophy for life is in this poem—we want to be loved, we screw up, bad things sometimes happen, we do our best to go on, and we hope to have dinner together in the end.

Q~Why poetry?

A~Why love, why sex, why desire, why nature, why curiosity, why find art when the world is falling apart?

Our reality is where we look, so why not look to words, why not create? No one apologizes for watching sitcoms or organizing the shed, we shouldn’t even have to question poetry. Why poetry? Why not.

Q~What’s your writing process like?

A~Imagine the sky on a foggy day, then imagine the sun coming through the darkness, or the sun not coming through and an entire day of shade—that’s my writing process.

The majority of my poems are never submitted or published. I just enjoy writing and creating. When I wake up and the first thing I do is to write a poem, that is when I’m living my best life (as Oprah would say).

Q~What are your poetry likes and dislikes?

A~Likes: I love poets who write about relationships, desire, weird stuff, death, personal struggles, their own lives/issues, and who bring vulnerability to their work in whatever form or way they are dealing with it. I like inclusively, realizing we’re all at different parts of a journey and to respect and honor that. I like kind and helpful poets who help raise other poets up than to bring other poets down. I love poets who share poems, who interact with a large group of people and find ways to make the world a better place. I love to be surprised by poems and to see language used in interesting ways. I like visual poems and when poems appear in unexpected places. I like long walks on the beach with poetry and getting caught in the rain…

Dislikes: Ego. Author nametags. Poets who read over their time limit. Poets who only connect or support/like/retweet/respond to other poets because they feel they can help their career. I dislike exclusively in poetry and looking down at someone because they don’t have a degree or book, or looking up to someone because they do. I am not a fan of placing anyone on a pedestal and/or then knocking them off it. So, I guess I’m not a fan of pedestals. Though I do love trophies and honestly, most of the poets I’ve met have been sweet and kind, so my dislikes are probably limited to a small group (I hope they are limited to a small group…)

I think there is always more to love when it comes to poetry, both in our community and in learning about each other and ourselves through words and images. Honestly, I am just thankful every day that people keep falling in love with poetry and trying to write poems themselves. I always say the world would be a better place if everyone woke up and wrote a poem. Just imagine. I think it would be divine.

Q~Why did you and Donna decide to start the Poet Bloggers Revival Tour?

A~It was cold and dreary November . . . I believe it was Steven Schroeder and Charlie Jensen who first mentioned blogging on Twitter, and I got nostalgic. Blogging was my first poetry community with poets like C. Dale Young, Victoria Chang, January Gill O’Neil, Paul Guest, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Eduardo Corral, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Mary Biddinger, Sandra Beasley, Oliver de la Paz, and so many others. I realized with Twitter and Facebook my community has grown large, but it’s different because so much of it is in short-form content (a tweet, a post, an update), but back then, we wrote these long paragraphs of our poetry lives, thoughts, fears, joys, to share with each other what was going on. It was sort of like sending poetry letters to each other.

You would read someone’s blog post and maybe continue the conversation on your blog. We’d link back and forth. It felt smaller and more intimate. I felt close to my blogger friends, even now when I share tweets or like Facebook posts, I tend to gravitate to my old blogger buddies because they feel like poets I know so much more.

I think we wanted to try to recreate that intimacy and connection by blogging once a week this year.

Q~Has it accomplished what you hoped? 

A~Yes and no.

Yes, in that I feel reconnected with a lot of poets (and have “met” a lot of new poets) plus I am getting a new glimpse into their lives again.

No, in that I was planning on blogging once-a-week, and I haven’t kept that up just due to a very busy personal life this year. I’ve deactivated Facebook on and off all year and only use Twitter (and occasionally photos on Instagram), but my personal life has had me scrambling, so I realize how I once woke up and wrote a blog post, now I wake up and manage emails or am running out the door to work.

Bu,t the people who are blogging, are accomplishing what I hope—a deeper glimpse back into the lives of poets.

Q~Have there been any unexpected outcomes?

A~Guilt on my part for not keeping up. 😉

Q~In April, you mentioned that blogging was frustrating you a bit because of worrying that what you wrote wouldn’t be “good enough.” It reminded me of the article you wrote, “Submit Like A Man: How Women Writers Can Become More Successful.”  Why do you think so many women struggle with this feeling of not being “good enough” and being afraid to put ourselves out there?

A~I can’t speak for all women, but as someone who grew up in the 70s & 80s, I know some of us saw our job as a girl was making people feel comfortable. If something happened or if someone was mad at us, the first question was “What did you do?” We worried about upsetting people. Sometimes we carried shame even for things that weren’t our fault.

I think there are many generations of women who grew up this way, always believing that they were the ones who did something wrong or that they could have been “better.” It was easy to internalize this voice and believe it. For a long time, I did. Even sharing this right now is uncomfortable because as I’m typing this I’m thinking, Am I explaining this well? Am I answering this correctly? Am I saying too much, not enough? There’s a perfectionism that can steer our lives, a worry, an anxiety.

It’s tough to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable. The world, the internet can be a challenging place if you are a sensitive person, it can feel like too much. This is when it may feel easier not to risk—you can avoid judgment by not sharing, writing, participating, etc. etc. But I don’t think that’s the best way around the feelings…

As a young woman, I remember never feeling good enough. As an adult woman, I still find myself feeling that way sometimes, but I’ve become easier on myself. I allow myself to try my best, knowing that my best won’t please some, and that’s okay. The goal is to finish; it doesn’t always have to be pretty, it just needs to be done.

The other quote I tell myself is “You only fail if you don’t try.” This takes away the outcome portion of whatever I’m afraid of doing, and it allows me to feel good about what I can control—the action. We cannot control the outcome of anything we strive for when other people are involved. I can send my best poems to a journal, but I cannot control if the editor will 1) Like them  2) Publish them.  So, I’ve learned to stop worrying about it and focus on what I can control.

I also keep myself surrounded by people who support me. I cut ties with those who don’t. I’ve become much more aware when I’m feeling not “good enough,” and remind myself that the people I love and admire are not perfect. We are human, we will screw up—we just need to be easier on each other and ourselves.

Q~Any other advice do you want to share?

A~Trust your intuition. Put your own work before chores and email. Remember, in the big picture, none of this really matters. Have fun. Make love. Work hard. Choose joy. Prioritize your writing.

Q~How do you balance your time between your own writing and the work you do as an editor?

A~To be truthful, I don’t try to find balance or even believe that’s something we should strive for in life (especially women). Balance is one of those words that can make you feel not good enough. But maybe if we look at a life from beginning to end, we’d see balance, like Chaos theory, how small bits don’t make any sense on their own (and in fact seem well, chaotic, but if you look down from above you see a pattern. Maybe this is also our lives. But, I don’t strive for balance in daily life; I strive for being kind, helpful, and finishing tasks.

There are times of overload in one part of my life, then I meet with a friend to write poems, then I’m overwhelmed at work and only editing others’ work, then I have downtime, then I’m writing poems again, then there’s some sort of family issue, then I need to buy a new rug because my cats have completely clawed the heck out of mine, then I take a nap or stay up late, wash, rinse, repeat.

So, I guess my answer is that I don’t balance myself. I make time for what’s important which is my writing, my editorial work, and my family/friends—though not necessarily in that order. But I’m highly aware of my priorities, and I say yes to them and no to the things that do not add or fulfill me in life.

I do know if I start to feel resentment towards something—then I have had too much of I,t and I readjust. Maybe that is the “balance” you ask about, but it’s not really balancing, just readjusting my time so I don’t feel bitter. Maybe what people call balance is just creating a life where you don’t feel bitter or resentful, whatever that means to you.

But, I do make time for my own writing along with the tasks I have as an editor. Sometimes I like to be overwhelmed with my own work; it can really create some interesting poems!

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

A~Check out Hunter’s Moon and How Damage Can Lead To Poetry on WaxwingShadowboxing Andy Warhol on VerseDailyBraided Between the Broken in New England Review, and How Killer Blue Irises Spread in The Atlantic. You can also visit my homepage and connect with me on Facebook,  Twitter,  and Instagram.

Barista / An interview with poet Caroline Johnson

Update 12/25/21: Caroline is currently at work on a manuscript about breast cancer and hopes to publish it in 2022.

Barista

by Caroline Johnson

Henry says the Lakota called it black medicine.
I can imagine Black Elk drinking from a gourd,
huddling around a teepee with a peace pipe
sometime in July when the cherries are ripe.

Henry looks at each customer with green eyes
full of gourmet hot chocolate and caramel mochas.
He moves his arms across the espresso machine,
steaming milk, whirling words with a smile.

His eyes sail through you like a windjammer,
as if you’ve been caught by a cool island breeze.
He hums as he scrubs stubborn stains off of soup
kettles, stocks the pantry, or pours steamed milk.

He shakes his head and his braids rustle round him.
I work the register, exchanging money for drinks.
The smell of French Roast perfumes the air.
You can hear the crackle of beans as they grind.

The line is long:  a mother with a stroller, a boy
in a wheelchair, two ladies with Gucci bags.
Two wealthy ladies talk of sconces in their new
living rooms, a young couple orders hot chocolate,

and a lone man with dark black hair stands at the back
of the café wearing a T-shirt, his arms exposed to reveal
a green tattoo:  “I-R-A-Q” neatly printed across his skin.
Henry talks to them all as they huddle around, waiting

for their black medicine. Henry makes everything look easy.
He can do three things at once. Yet Henry’s not easy.
He’s just trying to figure life out before it passes him by.

First appeared as the winner of the February 2015 Poetry Challenge on Wilda Morris’s Poetry Blog.

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Caroline Johnson has two poetry chapbooks, Where the Street Ends and My Mother’s Artwork, and more than 100 poems in print.  Nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, her first full-length poetry book, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018), was inspired by years of family caregiving.

Caroline says of her style, “I was told I write mostly narrative poems, but I think of myself as a work in progress. I have written lyrical and form poems (sestinas, the occasional sonnet or villanelle), but I do think I like to tell some kind of story.”

Bekah and Caroline’s work, including the poem above, recently appeared together in Highland Park Poetry’s Summer 2018 Muses Gallery: Coffee, Tea and Other Beverages. We wanted to know more about Caroline and her work, so here is our interview with her.

Q~Tell us a little about the poem, “Barista.” The poem won Wilda Morris’s blog challenge. Did you write to the prompt or did it just happen to fit what she was looking for?

A~I did not write to the prompt. In general, I do not like prompts. I did, however, revise the poem to make it better before submitting it. Barista” is a narrative poem that gives a portrait of someone I really worked with when I was a barista at Borders. I was motivated to write the poem because of Henry, who worked so hard and had such a good attitude. Working as a barista is hard work, and you need to be cheerful as well as you constantly work with customers. I wrote the poem 15 years ago, and I actually gave him the poem at that time as a sort of gift when I was leaving. I significantly rewrote the poem two years ago and added the bit about Black Elk as I was reading Black Elk Speaks.

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

A~The first draft came fairly easily as I just thought of Henry…however, when I rewrote it two years later and inserted the part about Black Elk, that was more difficult. I find significantly revising a piece is sometimes more difficult than writing the first draft of the poem, but it is a very important part of the poetic process.

Q~What’s your writing process usually like?

A~I sit down with an idea. I generally don’t do as well with prompts. Luckily, I usually have no problem coming up with ideas. I write the ideas down when I get them, and return to them when I have the time to write the poem. Luckily, I really have no problem hashing out a first draft. More often than not, I need to revise the poem. Sometimes I do it immediately; sometimes as I type up the poem I edit it; and sometimes when I’m getting ready to send it out I work on seriously revising it.

Q~What are your poetry likes/dislikes?

A~LIKES: Fresh imagery; occasionally, unique rhymes; any poem that makes you think profoundly, or feel compassionately; an unexpected turn in a poem. DISLIKES: Trite rhyming or meter; abstract poetry that is unapproachable; poetry written just for shock effect.

Q~A poem from your latest collection was the inspiration for the June blog challenge on caregiving at Wilda Morris’s blog. How did that come about? Also, please tell us more about your collection. 

A~Wilda is a colleague of mine and a terrific poet. I’ve learned a lot through her about how to take my work seriously, how to revise, and how to critique other’s work. She was one of the earlier reviewers of my manuscript, The Caregiver, before it got published. The collection was written over a 15-year span of time when I served as family caregiver to both of my parents, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Encephalitis. The poems are narrative and tell their story, but I believe they speak to anyone who has seen their loved ones age, or suffer from debilitating illnesses.

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

A~YES. I am currently president of Poets and Patrons of Chicago, and have been involved with the organization for more than 10 years. We provide critiquing workshops, writing workshops, and two annual international contests. See our website at www.poetsandpatrons.net for more information. In addition, I am a facilitator for a bi-monthly critiquing group as part of the Illinois State Poetry Society. Both of these groups provide wonderful stimulation and motivation to write and submit. I also have my own private weekly poetry writing group that I value immensely. It is very important to find a group that you trust. I think something that has really expanded my work a lot in the last 5 years is staying loyal to a small committed writing group, and reading a vast number of poets who interest me. I also have challenged myself to write in the style of some of these famous poets, and thus their writing rubs off on me. 

Q~Who are you reading now?

A~I love Philip Levine, James Wright, William Stafford, Amy Clampitt. I have a book of sonnets written by Terrence Hayes and another book by Tracy Smith on hold at the local library right now. Every week I check out different poetry books. All the librarians know me, lol.

Q~Who was your poetry first love? 

A~I don’t necessarily have a “first poetry love,” except that I will say I fell in love with John Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn” in high school, and when I read Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” for the first time in the 1990s, I felt transformed. I felt the power of poetry. I tried to emulate that feeling in the last poem of my book, The Caregiver, which is dedicated to Ginsberg and written in the style of “Howl.”

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

 A~I believe in Carolyn Forche’s philosophy to be a “poet of witness.” You have to write about what you see, what you witness. We have to be voices for those who can’t speak. It is a vital role, and I am still working on it.

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

A~My new website, www.caroline-johnson.com, has a page with many links to poems I have published online. It also has information about how to order my first full-length poetry book, The Caregiver (Holy Cow! Press, 2018). You can also connect with me on Facebook and Twitter.

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

Update 12/25/21: Crystal’s recent poetry has been published in Barren Magazine, Cotton Xenomorph, Glass, and more.

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.

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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 .