Sunday 31 March 2019

Amanda Stovicek : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading recently?

I’ve been re-reading Good Bones by Maggie Smith. It is my go-to when things feel rough and when I want clean and elegant language. Smith’s poems have the right amount of words and sing with emotion. I cannot recommend this book enough.

I have just finished American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes. I loved Hayes’ collection How to Be Drawn, and this book takes a very different approach. But the lyricism and music of the poems is still there. I read this one out loud in one sitting and found so much connective tissue and repetition and sound. I definitely recommend reading it in one go, because otherwise you might miss the through-lines that Hayes draws.

I have just started reading Louise Gluck’s American Originality: Essays on Poetry. I am not very far into the collection, but Gluck’s prose is just as sharp as her poems.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Mark Antony Owen : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Absolutely. I used to insist poetry had to rhyme (it doesn’t). That poems must use accepted forms (a nonsense). That … well, many other ridiculous things besides. All of which changed once I started reading poets like Robin Robertson, Connie Bensley, Hugo Williams and half a dozen others. Work that led me on to that of scores of younger, newer writers. So when I’m asked now what advice I’d give to aspiring poets, I usually suggest they unshackle themselves from what they think they know – and possibly also, from what they were taught in school.

Friday 29 March 2019

Judson Hamilton : part five

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

One thing I really like about poetry is how flexible it is; how it can envelop any subject or stylistic bent you may want to throw at it. And it is the only form I know of that can make sense without making sense. Which truly makes it invaluable.

gc cohen : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Absolutely. When I was a teenager, I always thought poetry had to be about love or angst. So that’s all I wrote about when I was younger. My consideration of poetry changed as I changed, and it has become ridiculously cathartic, allowing me to grapple with, work through, and further contemplate tough shit that has plagued me for years – even if I just write something and keep it to myself.

Juliet Cook : part one

Juliet Cook's poetry has appeared in a small multitude of magazines. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including a collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), and an individual collection called From One Ruined Human to Another (Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective, 2018).

Cook's first full-length individual poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX more than ten years ago. Her more recent full-length poetry book, A Red Witch, Every Which Way, is a collaboration with j/j hastain published by Hysterical Books in 2016. Her most recent full-length individual poetry book, Malformed Confetti was published by Crisis Chronicles Press in late 2018.

Cook also sometimes creates semi-abstract painting collage art hybrid creatures.

Find out more at

How did you first engage with poetry?

To an extent, via Mother Goose and other nursery rhymes. To another extent, via high school English class. To a more personal and more contemporary extent, through tons of poetry books and chapbooks I discovered for myself or was introduced to in small bookstores, college classes, libraries, and at poetry readings.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Siân Griffiths : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

No one is more important to me than Sylvia Plath. Her poetry broke everything I thought I knew about poetry, so many of which I learned in high school from Victorian poets. She showed me how a simple word could be elevated through cadence and contrast. Lines like “You do not do, you do not do/ Any more, black shoe” are so deceptively easy but also musical, but then she takes those long oos of do and shoe and shutting them down with “in which I have lived like a foot”—did the word foot ever feel so cramped, so final? And she opens it up again with “barely daring to breath or achoo,” which is delightfully comical. And she does this kind of thing over and over. I could read her all day.

Before her, I was really in love with Robert Browning, and I still love the way a poem like “Porphyria’s Lover” is part horror film, part confession. I remember reading that poem the first time as a high school sophomore and thinking, Whoa! Poetry isn’t supposed to be this violent, is it? But it is, and it’s beautiful. Understanding how Browning’s confessional dramatic monologues were fictions helped me understand Plath’s work as a constructed fiction as well, which I think is really important to unpacking her work and getting past the autobiographical way writers like Robert Lowell and Ted Hughes framed her poetry in general and Ariel in particular.

Colin Dardis : part one

Colin Dardis is a poet, editor, and arts coordinator from Northern Ireland. His debut collection, the x of y, was released in 2018 from Eyewear. His work has recently been listed in the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, Over The Edge New Writer of the Year Award, and Best Reviewer of Literature, Saboteur Awards 2018. Colin co-runs Poetry NI, a multimedia platform for poets. His work has been published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and USA.

What are you working on?

At the start of January, I just got accepted to release a new collection, entitled The Dogs of Humanity, with Fly on the Wall Poetry. The book won’t be released to August, but my immediate attention is with tightening up those poems, making them as good as possible. There’s going to be between 30-40 pieces, all loosely related through canine or other animal imagery.  I’m also writing a 50,000 word novella via Twitter, called The Lost Stations. It’s a story entirely in the third person, told through 15 different locations, and I’m tweeting about 130-150 words a day.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Kim Trainor : part one

Kim Trainor's second book, Ledi (Book*hug, 2018) narrates the excavation of an Iron Age horsewoman's tomb in the steppes of Siberia. She lives in Vancouver.

Photo credit: Kim Trainor

What are you working on?

After a year of writing a series of bastardized North American ghazals for a collection called Bluegrass, I'm working on some longer-line poems that seem to converge on climate change, Lurianic kabbalah, love, and sex. I might call the sequence "Wildfire."

Nicky Beer : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Keeping the faith when I’m not writing—or rather, muting that booming, repetitive dance track “You’re Never Gonna Write a Poem Again (Club Remix)” when I’m in a fallow period.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Hana Shafi : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Very important. It helps me a lot to write to instrumental music, it just gets my brain in the write space. But beyond that, I often tend to reference certain bands and lyrics in my work as well. I'm not sure why, maybe because it feels familiar and nostalgic to me?

Chuqiao Yang : part three

How does your work first enter the world? Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

I work with a friend of mine quite closely. We normally edit and try to exchange five pages of work a week. Sometimes I show poems to my friends, but only after I think they are no longer in rough shape.

Monday 25 March 2019

Samuel Guest : part one

Samuel Guest is a Jewish/Canadian poet, author, and educator who was diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disability at the age of seven.  His first book The Radical Dreams was self-published back in April of 2018.  Some of his poems have appeared in Half a Grapefruit Magazine and Montreal Writes.  He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Photo credit: Sandro Pehar

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to?  A particular author?

When I require renewal time, I read “Turning the Tide” by Chuqiao Yang.  Her chapbook Reunions in the Year of the Sheep won the BP Nichol Award at last year’s “Meet the Presses Literary Market” in Toronto.  It was the one and only time that I read a poem on the subway and almost teared up.  I appreciated the connection she made to family, because I value family very much.

Brad Casey : coda

I think my favourite poem is the youtube video “Lasquite’s Saint Bernards 2011” and everyone should experience it!

Sunday 24 March 2019

Amanda Stovicek : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I’ve always loved language; when I was young my dad would read me stories and poems, “The Highwayman” and “The Tell-Tale Heart.” And I loved writing, but favored fiction writing, with often terrible romantic plotlines and supernatural elements (I feel like this is a right of passage for many young writers). But I did not really come to poetry until my undergraduate college experience. Previously I believed poetry was too difficult to read, and mostly in archaic and “old English.” I did not like Shakespeare, or Frost, or Donne, or any of the canon authors we read in high school. I took an introductory creative writing class when I was a sophomore and we read Wendy Cope’s “The Orange” and Anne Sexton’s “In Celebration of my Uterus.” These poems engaged me. Their writers made poetry accessible to me. I felt included and like I could write about anything and it might turn into a poem. That course was really my entry point, but I didn’t fully embrace poetry until I began reading more contemporary poets, poets whose experiences and words inspired empathy and inquiry. Here’s a list: Shara McCallum, Chris Abani, Kim Addonizio, Rita Dove. But there were so many more than these four. I read (out loud) poetry in a voracious way after that first experience and it has only helped me become a better student of language.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Mark Antony Owen : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Many of my poems begin and end several years apart – so clearly, I’m unqualified to answer this. I often start a piece knowing roughly what I want to achieve. What takes me the time is trying to perfect the stuff sat between the opening and closing lines. It’s easy enough to see what needs doing; much harder to know when to stop. So my general rule is that if I leave a poem for six or twelve months, come back to it and find I no longer want to tweak it, it’s done. However, as gaps of four, five and even six years between inception and completion prove, poems typically take me a lot longer than a year to finish.

Friday 22 March 2019

Judson Hamilton : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I came back around to poetry when I was in my mid-20s, quite by accident,  and realized what an open form it was. Before that I hadn’t given the thought of poetry with a capital ‘P’ much thought. And to be honest, I still don’t.

gc cohen : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I was eight or nine, and I was rummaging through the kitchen cabinets in my childhood home. I found a stack of books – mostly cookbooks – but one stood out to me: ee cummings’s 73 Poems. I poured over it, and was astonished because I’d never read anything like it. It made me want to write for the first time, and I spent the next several years journaling and writing crappy poetry throughout my adolescence, which I later burned because I didn’t think it was any good. (I sometimes still mourn the loss of burning all those notebooks.)

Thursday 21 March 2019

Siân Griffiths : part three

What poetry books have you been reading lately?

Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Dan Brady’s Strange Children, Maggie Smith’s Good Bones, Matthew Olzmann’s Mezzanines, Janine Joseph’s Driving Without a License, and Kirsten Kaschock’s Confessional Science-fiction: A Primer

(Actually, it’s been a couple of years since I first read the Vuong, but it’s so mind blowing and awesome that I can’t stop thinking about it and returning to it.)

Wednesday 20 March 2019

Nicky Beer : part one

Nicky Beer is a bi/queer writer, and the author of The Octopus Game (2015) and The Diminishing House (2010), both winners of the Colorado Book Award for Poetry. Her honors include an NEA, a MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and a scholarship and fellowship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is an associate professor at the University of Colorado Denver, where she is a poetry editor for Copper Nickel.

Photo credit: Brian Barker

What are you working on?

I’m finishing up my third book of poems, called Real Phonies and Genuine Fakes, in which I explore benign forms of “fakery,” such as duplicitous taxidermy, stage magic and optical illusions, as well as more malicious frauds such as plagiarism and forgery.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Hana Shafi : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Sedley by Chelsea Coupal, Artificial Cherry by Billeh Nickerson, Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway have been my current reads. I often find myself going back to Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya.

Chuqiao Yang : part two

What are you working on?

I am working on a manuscript of poems and a novel.

Monday 18 March 2019

Metta Sáma : coda

What are you working on?

For about seven years now I’ve been working on a collection of poems, anecdotes, original folklore, mythology, sermons and a short play titled the year we turned dragon, which, of course, began in the year of the dragon. The titular poem was written as a reflection on living in one of the larger slaveholding states (Louisiana) that also saw one of the largest rebellions organized by enslaved persons. I began to see the establishment of the U.S. as a commune with decidedly colonial histories. The poems and prose in this collection are written, primarily, in a third-person we-narrative in order to illustrate the ways in which leaders of communes often worked to eradicate people of their individual identities in favor of a shared ideology and way of being. This we-narrative also provided me with an opportunity to re-think gender constructions and to challenge readers to re-think gender constructions. While the majority of communes in the United States were, in fact, led by White men, the United Society of of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing (the Shakers) stands out as an enjoined gender commune that, one could argue, deeply believed in a dual gender or transgender God. It’s a long process to write this book, as entering into the we-voice requires a particular silence. Last year, I began constructing individual I-voiced poems, to provide the Leader with a backstory. Part of the book was published by Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs in 2016. I hope to have it completed by 2020.

Brad Casey : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Very! I listen to a lot of instrumental music while I’m writing like the Dirty Three and Phillip Glass and Joana Brouk and Gail Laughton. Lorca has a lecture on the duende, something that is wordless, not a concept but maybe something resembling a feeling like a core of happiness within a vaster experience of sadness. Listening to Nick Cave or PJ Harvey or the song Dido’s Lament, those things often reach toward duende. I move for music that approaches that when I write. It’s a mood I’m enamoured with. Duende is central to my practice for sure.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Billy Mavreas : part five

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

Renewal mostly comes to me from found poetry, which finds me at the right time.

I have boxes and envelopes filled with tiny shards of paper that I consider infinitely inspirational.

So renewal comes knocking as often as I’m ready to welcome it.

When I seek out renewal I comb through my collection of strange books and ephemera.

Amanda Stovicek : part one

Amanda Stovicek is a poet from northeast Ohio made of star stuff. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in BARNHOUSE, Gordon Square Review, Nice Cage, and Noble/Gas Qtrly. Her debut microchapbook, SPACE SPECTACULAR, was published by Ghost City Press in their 2018 Summer Series. When she isn’t writing, Stovicek teaches college English. You can find her on Twitter/Instagram @amstovicek, or on her website

How does a poem begin?

With a word, or a combination of words, that make music. My poetry is all about wrenching sound and lyric. I think about how words play off of each other and how they sound when I say them out loud. Poetry is not meant to be printed words only--it is meant to be read out loud, to be heard. I read all of my poems out loud, it helps me find where they work, where I can play up the music, and where sounds become too much for the ear or the image of the poem. When I read poetry I read it out loud, too. So, it is with sound where a poem begins, with the ear recognizing the music.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Mark Antony Owen : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Finding the time to write or revise! I’m a father to five, commute long distances for work, and am very hands on domestically. So being able to snatch 30 minutes here and there to work on my poetry feels like a luxury. Even more so if that half hour arrives when I’m not tired, hungry or simply uninspired. Because to tell the truth, writing and revising poetry – once I’m in the zone – is an utter joy (including when it’s difficult). What poet wouldn’t want the ‘agony’ of deciding whether or not one word works better than another in a line; of spending two hours removing then retyping a semi-colon? Sounds like quality personal leisure time to me.

Friday 15 March 2019

Judson Hamilton : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When there is nothing left to fix, and I feel satisfied with the result.

gc cohen : part one

gc cohen (stylized as such) is a queer writer / poet that currently lives in Massachusetts and daydreams of homesteading with her wife and son. cohen enjoys scribbling in notebooks and journals, adventuring outdoors, hanging with her pets, being a foodie, and drinking copious amounts of coffee. She holds a BA in English from the University of Louisville and dual MA degrees in Children's Literature and English from Simmons College in Boston. family matters (also stylized as such), cohen's debut poetry collection is available on Amazon. For further writing and updates, cohen may be found on Twitter (@bygccohen) and Instagram (@gc.cohen).

Photo credit: Chelsea Cohen // @chelseacohenphotos (Instragram)

What are you working on?

Mellowing out. Being a more patient human. Practicing more kindness. Self-love. Planning future trips. Saving money for a house. Meditating. Trying to get better quality sleep. Putting my phone down more often. Hiking regularly. Marketing my debut poetry collection, family matters.

Writing-wise, trying to make sense of my time growing up/coming of age in the Midwest US, my college years, some tumultuous relationships, and some self-loathing I’ve experienced in the past. I’m still unsure of where it’s all going, and it may take years to write, but I’ll get there.

Thursday 14 March 2019

Siân Griffiths : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

There’s not much about poetry that isn’t difficult, which honestly is part of what draws me to it. I grew up in Southern California, and I used to love watching skaters working on tricks. Skaters have reputations as being slackers, but I didn’t see that. Instead, I saw people who were always trying to do the next hardest thing because the next hard thing is the cool thing and who didn’t want to be cooler? I feel that same way about writing: if you do things you know you can pull off, it’s boring. Boring isn’t worth spending time on. You have to reach and do the things that are tricky to pull off because that’s where things get interesting.

I feel like I’m dodging a little though, so I’ll be more specific: as someone who spends a lot of her time writing prose, I will admit that I find line breaks baffling. I spend way more time that I would like to admit trying to figure out how any one poem should arrange itself on the page. I stare at the way published work break their lines, too, and try alternatives in my head, trying to figure out why the poet landed on the ones they chose.

Wednesday 13 March 2019

hiromi suzuki : part five

Why is poetry important? 

To tell the truth, excuse me, I feel embarrassed to speak about poetry. Looking around, many people do not need poetry. For me, poetry may be important. Besides poetry, my creation is the only way of communication with others. Of course, I don't want to say "Look at me!". Rather, as an anonymous, I am happy if more people enjoy their life by my work. I just love to create.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Hana Shafi : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

It's easy to get carried away in an abstract thought in poetry. Sometimes you get so deep into writing a poem, you don't even realize it's going completely off the rails. Something this is great; you can create something that's so out there, but that's such a gorgeous piece of writing. Sometimes, once you've left the high of writing it and you read it again, you realize you just wrote a page of gibberish.

Chuqiao Yang : part one

Chuqiao Yang received her Juris Doctor from the University of Windsor. Her writing has appeared in The Unpublished City, 30 under 30: an anthology of Canadian millennial poets, The Puritan, Ricepaper, Arc, Prism, Filling Station, Grain, CV2, Room, and on CBC. In 2011, she was the recipient of two Western Magazine Awards for a non-fiction piece, Beijing Notes. In 2015, she was a finalist for the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers. Her chapbook, Reunions in the Year of the Sheep, published by Baseline Press, won the 2018 bpNichol Chapbook Award. Follow her on Twitter @chuqiaoyang.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I am not sure, but I think I know when a poem is unfinished and I know when I am done with the poem.

I know a poem is unfinished when it reads poorly, or if I am outright embarrassed by it.

I know when I am done with a poem when I able to separate my experience and emotions from the poem. It’s at that point that I know I am done with the poem, and that it may be on its way to becoming something else to someone else. In that respect, I’ve freed myself from the obsession, or experience that got me stuck in the mindset behind the poem. And that means I’ve recovered, processed, or healed, mostly, from whatever inspired me to write in the first place. So maybe the poem isn’t done but by that point, I am done with it, until, of course, the cycle repeats itself and I revisit it a decade later.

Monday 11 March 2019

Metta Sáma : part five

How does your work first enter the world?

In my head. As visual fragments that are unconsciously stored away. Sometimes lines enter but I think of them as poem lines which inevitably means they will be willfully destroyed. In other words, anytime I imagine that a certain phrase or sentence is “poetic”, I immediately distrust and thus destroy it. For me, the poem has to be purely organic, unconscious, received. (I know this will piss some people off, particularly those who love to give advice and whose advice all ends with “Don’t wait for the Muse! There is no Muse!” and that’s fine for them, but it is not my way of construction.) One of my poet-teachers, Herb Scott, once said that he could see me “percolating”. We were sitting in a coffeehouse and I was surrounded, literally, by dozens of poetry manuscripts that I was reading for a book contest. Herb stopped by to chat with me about my own work, and as I sat there, smelling the coffees, feeling the art above my head penetrate my scalp, watching Herb’s scratchy voice enter my eyes, thinking about Aretha Franklin and how I had lived for so many years without a deep deep deep reverence for her voice, until then, tasting the metallic blue ink slipping from my pen, Herb said, “I can see you percolating” and I erupted into laughter. My professor had just called me a pot of coffee and I thought of that image for weeks. And yes, he was right about me, as Aquarians tend to be, I was percolating, I do percolate before I entrust one line to a page.

Brad Casey : part four

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

I always go back to Federico Garcia Lorca. I have his collected works. I often open to wherever, whatever page and start reading. His work clears my mind. I read about a meditation technique from Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist monk who studied under Chögyam Trungpa and is deeply involved with a monastery in Cape Breton called Gampo Abbey. She says that when your mind is wandering you can clear it by thinking the word “thoughts.” Say it in your mind. Thoughts. It can clear your mind, help you breathe slower. That’s what reading Garcia Lorca is like for me. It’s like a big, empty, quiet field.

Sunday 10 March 2019

Billy Mavreas : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

I guess early on it was e.e. cummings. All and any of the concrete stuff I saw early on was a revelation of course. I enjoyed a correspondence with j. w. curry in the early 1990s that triggered a lot of thought. Serge Segay’s Zaum stuff blew my mind. John M. Bennett, Ficus Strangulensis, J. Lehmus and the other folks I met and collaborated through the mail-art network. They all showed me that really anything goes. And it could be fun and completely un-precious.

The two or three pieces I saw by Space Daisy also made me perk up as did a short lived correspondence I had with a now missing poet named Cameron Conklin who wrote under the name Dead Sarah. They sent original odd hand scrawled word plays to my university’s lit journal only to be completely ignored - what a bunch of boring twits. I was enamoured and wrote back, still have those precious papers.

I can’t not mention the anonymous writers and designers, the weather, the children, the accidents. Poetry is not solely the province of directed human intention. So much of it floats in these spaces where it’s never even seen let alone picked out and considered poetry by some wise guy like me.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Mark Antony Owen : part one

Mark Antony Owen is a syllabic poet writing in nine self-developed forms (occasionally, with variations). Though he has a handful of publishing credits – five poems in three journals, two of these online – he’s chosen to self-publish his digital-only poetry project Subruria rather than look to be published by either a new or an established press. Mark has been writing poetry for many years, but only ‘returned’ to it in the autumn of 2010. You can follow him on Twitter at @MarkAntonyOwen and @Subruria, and read his work at and Longer term, Mark aims to launch Advocate Poetry – a new kind of digital-first poetry press.

What are you working on?

Good health permitting, I’ll be working on the same project for approximately the next 30 years: my ‘magnum opus’ (too grand a term by far), Subruria. Troubled by the conceit of writing lots of different collections, all with separate titles but essentially cycling around the same themes, I wanted a broad concept into which all my work could fit. As I’ve lived most of my life in what I call ‘subrural’ places – areas where town and countryside meet – it made sense to me to write about what I knew. Further galvanising my resolve to do this, and to do it as a long-term, self-published project, was a Twitter chat with Adrian Slatcher and J T Welsch about Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. This flicked on a green light in my head. History seemed to be saying it was okay for me to do my ‘collection’ my way. The first release of Subruria would later appear online from April 2018.

Friday 8 March 2019

Kevin Spenst : coda

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Of late, I’ve been immersed in the work of BC poets. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the work of Roy Miki in a huge collection of his work entitled Flow, which brings together his six books of poetry. There’s an intensity of thought that goes into the placement of each word in lines that flip through multiple meanings. Right now, the book is open to this line: “the rain renews all hollow/ pain that can’t be renewed/ by a drive down the street.” Lovely. Also, I’m slowly reading the poetry of Joy Kogawa “A Garden of Anchors” and I’m rereading Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Other books I’ve loved of late: Curtis LeBlanc’s Little Wild, Malory Tater’s This Will Be Good, Katherin Edwards’ A Thin Band, Russell Thornton’s The Broken Face, Onjana Yawnghwe’s The Small Way and Eve Joseph’s Quarrels. Yes, I’ve been on a reading bender this year.

Judson Hamilton : part two

How does a poem begin?

These days it begins as a series of notes in my phone that then get dumped either directly on the computer or into a notebook and reworked. I have a tendency to group them by tone or voice or their shapes and then once I’ve accumulated enough first drafts in a folder I’ll pull them out and cycle through them nipping and tucking along the way.

Brian Kirk : part five

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes it’s a line you wake up with or a phrase you’ve heard. Mostly it comes from the real world. Other times it’s a cadence, a repetition of sound. The old diesel trains made a peculiar rhythm as they built up speed, and that sound was always in my head as a child growing up beside a railway station. All you need is a word or two to start and, for me, the form emerges as I go.

Thursday 7 March 2019

Siân Griffiths : part one

Siân Griffiths lives in Ogden, Utah, where she directs the graduate program in English at Weber State University. Her work has appeared in Ninth Letter, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Cincinnati Review, American Short Fiction (online), Indiana Review, and The Rumpus, among other publications. Her debut novel, Borrowed Horses (New Rivers Press), was a semi-finalist for the 2014 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Currently, she reads fiction as part of the editorial team at Barrelhouse. For more information, please visit

Photo credit: Megan Griffiths

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was a high school student, I thought of poetry as I had been taught to think of it: a form of self-expression. I wrote accordingly, producing dreadful, angsty, abstraction-filled cries from the heart. At the same time, I kept a notebook in which I would copy favorite poems and song lyrics, including anything from Robert Herrick to Sylvia Plath to Depeche Mode. I think I started to sense the gap between what they were doing and what I was doing. I began to realize that poems needed to be about more than the poet. As a reader, I started thinking about how poems made me care, which translated into my writing as I started reaching for ways for my words to do more work. I’m still reaching.

Tina Mozelle Braziel : coda

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Mend by Kwoya Fagin Maples
The Wounded for the Water by Matt Miller
To Make It Right by Corrine Clegg Hales
Blood Writing by Sean Sexton
Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

Wednesday 6 March 2019

hiromi suzuki : part four

How does your work first enter the world? Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

I was a member of Japanese poetry magazine gui for six years. gui is run by members of "VOU" group, founded by the late Katsue Kitasono. (But all members of "VOU" had passed away.) By the way I had been a commercial illustrator. Kitasono was a poet, photographer and designer. And he had been exchanging letters with Ezra Pound. I left gui at the end of 2018. However, I will continue to make concrete poetry, visual poetry (also called "plastic poem" by Kitasono) as ever, taking over the gene of Kitasono. With my independent style.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Hana Shafi : part two

What do you feel poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t?

There's something really special about poetry as an art form. There's something fluid about it; I really feel like poetry almost has no rules, it's kind of a wild art form, where things can get as abstract or as literal as you want. I don't think other forms of writing are as free—you can't get away with odd or warped structures with essay writing or fiction writing, etc. Poetry is inherently experimental, in my opinion.

Shazia Hafiz Ramji : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Great question! Poetry is quite close to music for me, but I haven't been able to speak about it in a way that makes sense. Often, when I'm overwhelmed by the need to write a poem, it manifests itself as a need to sing. I think this is why my poems begin with a choke-feeling in the throat, as if I were about to cry, or as if I need to say something urgently but can't say it. Sometimes when I feel a poem coming, I need to noodle around on the guitar and sing a bit, and then I'll write. The writing is often much clearer after I've played music.

Monday 4 March 2019

Metta Sáma : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

I’m not sure that any poets have changed the way that I think of writing. I’ve never thought, for example, that there are subjects that don’t belong inside of a poem, nor have I ever thought a poem cannot have movement, cannot have shape, cannot have a sonic landscape that is larger than the flat page. Nor have I ever thought that a poem needs to have a consistent “narrator” or single voice or that certain subjects cannot be broached in certain formal structures. There have been poets who have worked with structures, using basic computer skills, for example, to help their poems do the work their poems intend to do, such as Douglas Kearney and a former student, Morgan Christie. And poets such as Maria Damon who have embedded poems into textiles and Anne Carson who has reimagined what a book of poems can do. They have each shown me that the worlds I imagine are possible, as long as I have the skills to pull off the work.

Brad Casey : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Very early it was the Beat writers. To write freely, that appealed to me. YB Yeat’s poem When You are Old. John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the Romantics. I went to see John Keat’s death mask in Rome, the room he died in. That was an arresting experience. So a lot of male writers in my early years because I studied poetry in university and university classes tend to sway male. But also I loved Sylvia Plath too. As I’ve gotten older and been exploring it’s been Anne Carson, Eileen Myles, Ariana Reines, Ashley Obscura. A lot of women. And Bill Bissett too, Bill is one of the best poets of the last 100 years, in my opinion.

Sunday 3 March 2019

Billy Mavreas : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I often don’t. It would explain the scraps of paper lining my life with a smattering of words on them. It’s more the case that the poem stops than I finish the poem.

For visual poems I always know. It’s a feeling/knowing. A vague sense of satisfaction or completion. A very mini aha moment.

Saturday 2 March 2019

Emily Banks : part five

How does a poem begin?

Poems often begin with a line for me, something that gets stuck in my head. Sometimes the poem will happen immediately, but sometimes I’ll have a line in my head for years before I find the poem for it. For example, in my poem “Tennessee Warbler,” which Okay Donkey published this October, the line, “I used a bathroom with the sign ‘omen’” is one I’d been itching to use for a while. It came to me when I was driving from New York to Maryland, and stopped at a rest stop on the Jersey turnpike where the woman’s room sign was missing a “W” and thus said “omen.” I knew I’d use that in a poem someday, but it wasn’t until years later when this little bird stopped to rest on my balcony in Atlanta and made me think about migration and omens that I found the right place for it. Often it happens much faster than that, but essentially I need a strong sense of a poem in my head before I start writing. Not everything, just enough lines and images that give it shape. It’s imperative for me to write a poem all in one sitting; I lose the music otherwise. I mean, I go back and revise a lot, but the poem has to feel complete in that first iteration. So I wait until I know I’m ready to write it.

Friday 1 March 2019

Kevin Spenst : part five

Why is poetry important?

What is language? Is it biological? Is it technological? Is it private or public? How is a word in your head changed when it comes out of your mouth? There’s nothing as strangely unique and accessible as language. Poetry seems to me to be the best place to tease out its meanings in an engaging way. Poetry combines the uptick of philosophical thinking with pratfalls of slapstick.

It’s also remarkable how there can be a social dimension in something so solitary. Working with words, you are handling these nests, stones and joy-buzzers of meaning that have been thought, spoken and written by so many others who came before us. These words will also be passed down to future generations. When editing work, you also have to shift into an Ear of Another. I know what this means to me, but does it really work that way? Poetry feels like a central place in the transit of meaning-making. 

Poetry has been part of many other progressive causes. (Horn-tooting: On a very small-scale, personal note, I once helped organize an afternoon poetry reading for a group of Vancouver teachers on strike. Rita Wong, Jeff Steudel, and Danielle LaFrance were some of the poets that came out.)

Also, thinking about our current moment, we see how essential eco-poetics and the poetry of protest are. In British Columbia, we are dealing with threats to our natural environment from industry and government and it’s heartening to see poets like Rita Wong so devoted to writing and resistance. Last year she wrote a gorgeous book with Fred Wah called Beholden: a poem as long as a river.  Currently, she’s in court for being part of a blockade of Trans Mountain workers. Steven Collis is another BC poet who’s gone to court for environmental activism. These poets are doing important work.

What else can do all this but poetry?

Judson Hamilton : part one

Judson Hamilton lives in Wrocław, Poland. His most recent publications are a book of poems called The New Make-Believe and a short story collection called Gross in Feather, Loud in Voice both out from Dostoyevsky Wannabe. He’s a contributor at Queen Mob’s Teahouse. Twitter: @judson_hamilton

How did you first engage with poetry?

As a reader, my earliest memories of poetry are intrinsically linked with the work of Shel Silverstein whom I adored as a child (and someone whose work I am now revisiting with my own children). Later there were the usual suspects as imbibed through the academic syllabi of high school and college.

I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry much more than reading it though. I’m not sure why that is.

Brian Kirk : part four

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author?

I like to go back to Yeats and Eliot, particularly to read aloud. Prufrock or The Waste Land are very good. I also enjoy reading sonnets, both old and new – I like the formal at times.