Tuesday 31 March 2020

Kate Gaskin : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

I don’t usually listen to music when I write, but music must be integral to my writing process because the way my poems sound—their rhythms and cadence—is the element of craft I most prioritize.

Monday 30 March 2020

Koss : part two

How does a poem begin?

No single way. Sometimes a poem’s a thing that rattles, a nagging, maybe for months, that suddenly shakes loose. Sometimes it’s an obsession, a repetitive thought or feeling that I have to interrupt and unleash through writing. Sometimes I hear a rhythm late at night while in bed, then a word or two or some lines, and I have to get up and let it unwind.  I’m an inspired writer, not a disciplined one. And yes—it’s a crazy thing. I should do more planning, more jotting, and notetaking as future fodder.  Fortunately, there is this persistent rattling . . .

Sunday 29 March 2020

Lynne Schmidt : part five

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Deeply. I started writing poetry in elementary school, delving in a bit more in middle school, and then keeping notebook after notebook. In some capacity, poetry was like a journal to me that I didn’t mind sharing with the world. In undergrad, I landed my first publication and then sort of took a break. I’ve been taking myself more seriously over the last two years and it seems to be paying off.

Through the timeline of about twenty years, I’ve tried to expose myself to as much poetry as possible. Poets I’ve never heard of, poets I have, poets who died years and years ago. It helps me to get a well rounded base of knowledge and respect for the art.

With that said, I think I’ve shifted away from the journal-based poetry, but remain in the contemporary confessional agenda. Many of my poems are based in my real life and they tell stories of trauma and healing. But now, I put a lot more time and effort into them to make them the best they can be. I wasn’t able to offer that when I was younger.

Saturday 28 March 2020

Lannie Stabile : part two

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

Simply put, I do my best to translate an idea to Google Docs, then beat the hell out of it. I’ll work it and rework it until I’m either terribly proud of the piece or sick of its face. In either case, I’ll often pass it on to some trusted friends. In fact, there’s a couple of guys, Jason B. Crawford and Rota, who give me incredible feedback. The three of us co-founded a poets’ group called The MMPR Collective, and I don’t think my skill would be half of what it is without their guidance. I also have to shout out Madeleine Corley, who is in charge of Poetry over at Barren Magazine. She’s a phenomenal editor and has gotten me through some tough writing moments.

Friday 27 March 2020

Sheldon Lee Compton : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Honestly two come immediately to mind. In the order I discovered them I would say without hesitation Michael Robbins and Russell Edson. Prior to these two, Michael Ondaatje made a long-lasting impression on me, but that came through his masterpiece Coming Through Slaughter and not his poetry.

Michael Robbins had to have known when he finished writing his collection Alien vs. Predator that he had brought about a formidable shift of the poetic sensibility. Here’s a guy with a PhD. in poetry who is writing poems that every single person I’ve ever shown loves. Every single one. Memorable lines that unabashedly rhyme and take on other hyper-traditional structures and forms but have a kind of serious playfulness that is beyond what any other poet, novelist, essayist, short story writer, or playwright out there is doing. I’ll buy and read anything he writes forever.

But for total fearlessness, Russell Edson can’t be matched. Often called the godfather of prose poetry, the amazing thing is that he could have cared less about that. He didn’t care what was expected. Among many other blindingly imaginative poems, he wrote about a woman fighting a tree, a family having apes for dinner, farmers falling in love with hats. And in the midst of such faith in his own voice, there was his sense of adventure and risk. He is quoted as saying, “I sit down to write with a blank page and a blank mind. Wherever the organ of reality (the brain) wants to go I follow with the blue-pencil of consciousness.”

Thursday 26 March 2020

Tyler Pufpaff : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The most difficult thing for me when writing poetry is to not limit myself to my own experiences. I think often, “writing what we know” comes easiest, yet for me, roadblocks my creative process. When I first began, I only stuck to personal experiences, but after a dry spell I realized that I could indeed create from nothing. Now, I’ve only ever had one fictitious poem published… but at least it helps keep me writing. I think reaching outside a person’s perspective will inspire if not teach a poet to write in a way previously unknown.

Madeleine Stratford : part four

How does a poem begin?

As I speak and write in four languages, even now, it is as though I had multiple personalities, worlds colliding and merging within me. My poems have a life of their own. They are the ones that decide to be written in a given language, or to be written at all. I have never chosen what comes out when I write, and am often surprised with the result.

Eleanor Boudreau : part two

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

Since we met in 2016, Tanya Grae has been the person I show my poems to first and most frequently. Tanya has read more of my work than anyone else and she has read draft, after draft, after draft. I doubt I’ll ever have a reader more dedicated than Tanya. I also show early drafts to Dorsey Craft and Alexa Doran, and they have helped me immensely, too.

Tanya, Dorsey, Alexa, and I are all Ph.D. Candidates in Creative Writing (Poetry) at Florida State University. We entered the program at the same time and that’s how we met and became friends. When I was first admitted to FSU, I felt incredibly lucky (and grateful), and that feeling has only grown, because once I moved to Tallahassee and started taking classes, I saw firsthand how talented my classmates are and how much effort they put into their work.

And the poetry classes I have taken at FSU, and also at the University of Houston and Harvard, have taught me invaluable lessons—lessons I am thinking about even years later, lessons I try to apply every time I write. But, somehow, I’ve never felt entirely at ease brining my first drafts to a workshop, so I’m glad to have found a small group I feel comfortable showing my poems to when those poems are in their roughest state. 

I also used to meet every Sunday morning with a group of classmates and friends, including Tanya, Lee Patterson, Marianne Chan, Josh Wild, and sometimes Dorsey. We’d eat pancakes and workshop poems. It was productive and sweet.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Ilona Martonfi : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

To wed the “political” with the “personal” the pathos of my poetry is plain. Poems call out and talk back. Expose truths, raise consciousness, one clipping at a time. My book The Tempest, does collage but makes deliberate choices when I put the pieces together. Each item, cut out, becomes one more word, one more symbol.

Offering free verse, prose poems, haibun, and haiku, I use poetry to build on my activism as a tool for achieving goals, taking a stand. My book is composed of poetry of  witness, ekphrastic poems, resistance poems, erasure poems, dream poems, persona poems, elegies. Witness-bearing poetry often comes out of great social tragedies. Exile from place, displacement, the refugee, immigrant. To disappear into a place. The dispossessed. The personal is political.

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Kate Gaskin : part three

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

I return again and again to “The Abduction” by Stanley Kunitz, which reminds me to prioritize strangeness and beauty and to not be afraid to go for broke with the ending.

Monday 23 March 2020

Koss : part one

Koss is a queer writer, fine artist and designer with an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They have been, or will be published in Entropy, Diode Poetry, Cincinnati Review Online Micro Feature, Hobart, and Spillway #27. They have a hybrid book due out in 2020 by Negative Capability Press. Keep up with Koss on Twitter @Koss51209969 and Instagram @koss_singular

Why is poetry important?

This has always been a difficult question for me—with poetry or art. There’s importance to creator and significance to audience, so I’ll try to answer both. Obviously one often writes poems out of personal need and urgency, whether it’s a way of understanding ourselves or the world around us. There’s also an element of attachment to making art—a secondary attachment that is not a mother or a lover—the oneness/connection felt while writing or painting and, later, the connectedness of reading out, sharing, and publishing.

Sometimes it’s an important message we send in a bottle—an artifact to the future, or a small comfort provided to a stranger who might pick a book of poems from a used bookstore shelf in 2050. Along with reaching strangers with my ghost words, I wouldn’t mind being immortalized in that musty book and have my art work hanging in the dead museum—proof I was here and I mattered. So yes, it’s about connecting with others AND mattering, here, there, now, or some time. Poetry defies time even while marking it.

As for importance to society, poetry, as traditionally defined by academia, is a fairly elitist activity, written and appreciated by few. One can say society needs poetry to remind us we are human, or we need it to converse with, comfort, instruct, and connect with each other. That has often meant three poets reading to 40 other poets. While this, in itself, isn’t a bad thing, the exclusivity hasn’t always enabled poetry to reach its full potential as an expressive medium or way to build communities.

I see that changing right now as poetry finds its way into mainstream culture via certain phenomena like Slam Poetry and social media. We are, in America, now seeing poetry as social action and protest. It’s exciting to see, in my lifetime, art as a vehicle for social change and political action, something vital in these dark times. It’s the stuff I’ve mostly only read about in history books, occurring, usually in some faraway country. I hope this phenomenon proves to be enduring.

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden : part five

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

I love Wislawa Szymborska. She makes me feel there's no shame in being human. Especially her poem Four a.m. If you've ever suffered from insomnia I would recommend it. Elizabeth Bishop's poem, One Art, always moves me. And Derek Walcott's book White Egrets has a number of elegies in it that mean more and more to me as I get older.

Sunday 22 March 2020

Lynne Schmidt : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Starting, and the pressure of “good” poetry. There are some poems that aren’t meant to move mountains, and I have to remind myself that it’s okay to allow quieter, more gentle poems to exist. Outside of that, I have to be in the mood to write, so I TRY to write a poem a day, but sometimes it’ll be a poem a week, or a poem every two weeks. It’s hard to get into the mindset, or to properly hear my muse.

Saturday 21 March 2020

Lannie Stabile : part one

Lannie Stabile (she/her), a queer Detroiter, often says while some write like a turtleneck sweater, she writes like a Hawaiian shirt. A finalist for the 2019/2020 Glass Chapbook Series and semifinalist for the Button Poetry 2018 Chapbook Contest, Lannie's first published collection, Little Masticated Darlings, is now out with Wild Pressed Books. Individual works are published/forthcoming in Entropy, Pidgeonholes, Glass Poetry, Okay Donkey, and more. Lannie currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Barren Magazine and is a member of the MMPR Collective. She is a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize nominee.

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins with a whimper, I suppose. Or perhaps that red-hot wave of ire undulating behind my ears when I watch the news. Maybe it grows fat and vibrant from an infinite field of anxiety. I’d even go as far as saying a poem begins in a bog of defeat.

Friday 20 March 2020

Sheldon Lee Compton : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Oh yes absolutely. In particular in regard to prose poetry. I once thought prose poetry was a high-brow way of describing a paragraph of straight prose. But the more I read, the more I saw how lyrical the form can be while maintaining a solid foundation rather than mucking around with obscurity for obscurity’s sake. I think mostly of Lydia Davis’s work when considering this approach. Her “stories” could as well be “poems” if insight and authenticity count for anything, and both certainly should. Standing in direct opposition to this more relatable kind of poetry would be poems written by the likes of Wallace Stevens. I’m aware I’m on cusp of utter blasphemy saying so, but I can’t stand Stevens’s work. And it’s likely for the same reason Harold Bloom worshipped it; Stevens seemed to go out of his way to write poetry for some elite idea of other poet-readers, poets who, themselves, wrote poems for the others in turn, hoping to create their own kind of secret, exclusive language built to stroke one another’s bruised sense of self. Or there’s always the chance these poets were just more educated and more talented than me and I’m missing something. Who knows really?

Thursday 19 March 2020

Tyler Pufpaff : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A poem is never finished. It is only temporarily adequate to serve a current purpose. Sure, often I will feel confident in a poem I have produced, not desiring to make any changes, but after some time, a few years later maybe, I may have come across a better way to express myself or perhaps I scrap half of it and elaborate taking a different route, creating another version of itself. I think a poem can exist in multiples and that because they could never full be explored – because the avenues are endless – that a poem is never finished.

Madeleine Stratford : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

In my view, what defines a poem comes from a particularly rich and intense use of language’s threefold nature as a semantic, phonic and graphic medium. First, there is a conceptual aspect: words have meanings, and they always convey a message, tell a story, even when it may be difficult to grasp. Then, there is a sound aspect: poets use words, syllables, and letters, to make language sing. Anyone will tell you that poetry and music have a lot in common, and many will argue that poetry is often for the ear; it needs to be read aloud. Finally, there is a spatial aspect: as soon as the poem has been written, it becomes something concrete, a visible object. We often come to realize we are in front of a poem just by looking at it. In many ways, this spatiality of language is more important to me than “music,” though the two are definitely related. I guess for me, a poem’s unique “poetic nature” revolves around the treatment of three aspects: sense, sound and space. In my poetry, I strive to harness the particular relationship between those three components.

Eleanor Boudreau : part one

Eleanor Boudreau is a poet who has worked as a dry-cleaner and as a radio reporter. Her poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Tin House, Barrow Street, Waxwing, Willow Springs, FIELD, Copper Nickel, and other journals. Currently, she is finishing her Ph.D. and teaching creative writing at Florida State University.

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

My forthcoming book, Earnest, Earnest? (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), is structured by postcards that the speaker, Eleanor, writes to her on-again-off-again lover, Earnest. But these “Earnest Postcards” did not begin as postcards, they began as “Dear Diary” poems. Years ago, instead of writing Dear Earnest, as the speaker does now, she wrote,

 Dear Diary,
 The front of a motorcycle reminds me of my reproductive system—
 handle bars fallopian tubes, mirrors ovaries, headlight uterus,
 and front wheel vagina.

There was only one problem: No one believed she was writing to herself.

At the time, I was re-reading “Dulce et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, “Her Pet” by Thom Gunn, and What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison by Camille Dungy; and re-reading voraciously—sometimes every day, certainly several times a week. I was really captivated by how these poets used the sonnet form. To my mind, they shaped the sonnet to their vision, not the other way around.

And somewhere in that re-reading, I got the idea to a) turn my “Dear Diary” poems into postcards addressed to Earnest and b) turn them into sonnets.

Each “Earnest Postcard” is two pages and consists of the front of the postcard (an image) and the back (Eleanor’s message to Earnest). These postcards are experimental in their use of images and formal in their dialogue with the sonnet. Like the sonnet, these poems have two parts, include a turn, and are all very close to fourteen lines. The first “Earnest Postcard” is exactly fourteen lines (split across front and back) and ends on a rhyming couplet of iambic pentameter:

 What else can I tell you? What else is true?
 The child I did not have belonged to you.
It is difficult to choose whether this “Earnest Postcard” is a sonnet or not. Thus, Earnest, Earnest? is a question of form.

I am simplifying the story of my “Earnest Postcards” somewhat in order to fit it into paragraphs, rather than years. But I do not think it is an oversimplification to write that I drew my inspiration for the form of these poems most immediately from reading Owen, Gunn, and Dungy.

Wednesday 18 March 2020

Ilona Martonfi : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

My knowing when a poem I have been working on for several weeks is done is when it closes itself to me. Whatever feels undone I write in another poem. I start the poem over again from a new setting, era, persona, as if I was not really done with what I was trying to get that poem to say. New title, new research. Note taking. Yet, it is not a revision either.

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Michael Maul : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of writing poetry is displaying the poem inside a correctly sized frame. This speaks directly to beginning the poem at the right place and ending it at right place.  It is sometimes difficult for me to get the proportions correct without a lot a effort, gnashing of teeth and sometimes starting over with very different dimensions.

Kate Gaskin : part two

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve recently read Graham Barnhart’s The War Makes Everyone Lonely and Abby E. Murray’s Hail and Farwell. Both deal with the tensions of critically engaging with the U.S.’s recent (and ongoing) wars. I love how technically beautiful Barnhart’s work is, and Murray’s is delightfully clever, even funny. I’ve also recently read Jenny Molberg’s new collection Refusal which is an absolutely scorching powerhouse of a book. Hayan Charara’s Something Sinister is singularly the most absorbing and memorable book I’ve read in the recent past.

Monday 16 March 2020

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Sonnet's Shakespeare, by Sonnet L'Abbé. Bantam, by Jackie Kay. Love in the Chthulhucene (Cthulhucene) by Natalee Caple. I've also been reading tons of individual poems, as I'm teaching a course, Foundations of Literature, at Humber College. Poets we've been reading and talking about include Dionne Brand, Philip Larkin, Terrance Hayes, Gwen Benaway, Harryette Mullen and Ann Shin.

Sunday 15 March 2020

Lynne Schmidt : part three

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

Poetry gives a lot more freedom than fiction or nonfiction pieces. I like it because you spend a minute or three with a reader and you only have so many lines to connect with them and make them feel something. Novels and short stories have significantly longer. Poetry also allows for shorter commitments from the readers, which is why I think in our current distracted states of mind, poetry is picking up momentum.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Hilary Sideris : part five

What poems or books do you return to?

There’s something about reading poems in translation and poems in the English of another time that gets me generating ideas and making quirky connections. I go back to Neruda, Pessoa, Quasimodo. I like reading the original and translation side by side and thinking about the translator’s choices, limitations, possibilities. I also love rereading the small Folger paperback editions of Shakespeare plays I read long ago, with the glosses and images of obsolete objects on the opposite page—a weapon called a partisan, a tool called a harrow, a game called hoodman-blind. There are so many stories to tell about flounder, basil, Western versus English saddles, the etymology of the word gift. I’ve learned that I can meditate on the names and facts of a story or phenomenon and, when I’m lucky, make something of my own.  

Terese Mason Pierre : part five

What are you working on?

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on a second chapbook, and aim to send it out before spring comes. I'm also working on a full-length collection with poet Khashayar Mohammadi, as well as a collection of my own, with Caribbean and speculative-futuristic influences. I don’t know when that will be finished. Everyone tells me not to rush.

Friday 13 March 2020

Sheldon Lee Compton : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

My first exposure to poetry, beyond the mush they serve up in high school, was with my uncle Gayle’s poems. He’s a well-known Appalachian poet and started letting me read his work when I was very young, around eleven or so. He treated me like a peer even then, and had already won numerous awards for his work, including an unprecedented three consecutive Plattner awards, a high water mark for Appalachian writers throughout the state. I read and reread his poems back then and can still remember images from them, such as the moon hanging yellow in the sky and one in which he cuts himself shaving while turning thirty. Even today one of my favorite pieces of literature ever is a poem of his called “Nine Cedars” that has as its subject his grandfather and my great-grandfather Augustus Payne Hobson.

Emily Coppella : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me, I’ve found that it’s usually a single word or an image that I begin a poem with. It gets me past the blank page and then I wait to get lost in the flow. Usually I don’t know where my poem is going at all until I really dive into that original word or image that has sprung into my head.
Sometimes a poem begins with a word like “tongue,” and then I attach a seemingly incongruous word to it: “rusty tongue.” Other times I look at the dirty dishes in my sink and think there’s definitely a poem there.

Sometimes that first idea becomes a focal point, a fulcrum that the rest of the piece centres around, other times I ditch the concept entirely by the end of the poem. Most of the time, it’s just a little background noise to get me to the last line.

Thursday 12 March 2020

Tyler Pufpaff : part three

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

Everything is poetry. That email, the fiction book you’re reading, the news, a word, a tree. I feel as though it’s like the relationship between a square and a rectangle. Everything is poetry, but poetry is not everything.

Seeing it this way, I believe that poetry can not accomplish what other forms can. If it could, wouldn’t we all just write poetry instead? I see other forms as poetic variations. Denying standard conventions, I instead focus on what the author said and how they’re trying to say it; I don’t care about “normal”.

Madeleine Stratford : part two

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

When you love poetry, you quickly realize that a poem, by nature, demands to be heard, felt, but first and foremost: interpreted. Poetry is perhaps the most concentrated, hermetic, and intense, of all literary genres. Out of context, a given word can mean a variety of things, and even in context sometimes, it can have at once more than one, or even more than two meanings. This is precisely what Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik was trying to express at the end of a poem called “La palabra que sana” in El infierno musical: “[…] cada palabra dice lo que dice y además más y otra cosa” or, in Yvette Siegert’s translation, “each word says what it says – and beyond that, something more and something else.” Because meaning is complex in poetry, because it is never straightforward, a poem needs to be interpreted. It will inevitably generate more than one possible reading, produced consecutively or simultaneously. Language is intrinsically polysemic, and this is precisely what poetry taps into. I don’t think any other genre can afford to embrace ambiguity this freely.

Wednesday 11 March 2020

D.A. Lockhart : coda

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins in a moment. For me, I describe the moment as being akin to a Buddhist satori, a moment of realization. I need to experience something that is concrete and connects me to the under lying beauty or wonder of Creation. So a poem begins for me in experience. From there it moves into an image. One that I fine tune and that becomes emblematic of that moment of realization. The beginning comes from a Blakean nation of seeing the universe in a grain of sand and a need to share that vision and that moment with an audience. 

Ilona Martonfi : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I read the poem "Babi Yar" by Yevgeny Yevtushenko in a magazine. His work focused on war atrocities and denounced antisemitism. It was the 1970s. In blue ink I wrote the poem into a red notebook.

And he was more than a poet - he was a citizen taking a stand. Searching for a tombstone, a historical marker, but finding nothing. It took him two hours to write the poem that begins:

“No monument stands over Babi Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone. I am afraid.”

Three decades later I publish my first poetry book, Blue Poppy (Coracle Press, 2009). I dedicate the book to my late mother Magda Kovács.

I am artistic director of The Yellow Door Reading Series. Visual Arts Centre Reading Series. And Argo Bookshop Reading Series. Recipient of the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2010 Community Award.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Michael Maul : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

I have been a musician every bit as long as I have been a writer. And I still play old-time roots music as part of a jam band most Monday nights. (My grandfather was a professional musician who played in the orchestra pits of vaudeville shows and theatres that ran silent movies.)

So when writing, I try to read my words with my eyes and ears.  And I often end up moving the dials back and forth to achieve harmony.

Kate Gaskin : part one

Kate Gaskin is the author of Forever War, which won YesYes Books’ Pamet River Prize. Her poems have recently appeared in Pleiades, 32 Poems, Passages North, Blackbird, and The Southern Review, among others, and her work has been anthologized in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2019. She has received support from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and the Vermont Studio Center, and in 2017 she won The Pinch’s Literary Award in Poetry. Currently, she is a poetry editor for The Adroit Journal.

Photo credit is Dominic Gaskin

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I struggle with self-doubt. It can be difficult to get out of my own way. I also struggle with needing to process my own emotions and experiences for long periods of time. It took three full years of incubation to write the flagship poem of my book Forever War, but once I was able to write it, a whole flood of other related poems came spilling out, and those poems ending up being over half my book. Right now, I’m in processing/incubation mode instead of flood-of-poems mode, and I’m trying to practice patience and faith.

Monday 9 March 2020

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

In chronological order, as I came across them:
Derek Walcott, Marina Tsvetaeva, Anne Michaels, Paul Durcan, Les Murray, Sonnet L'Abbé.

Sunday 8 March 2020

Lynne Schmidt : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I’m not really sure how to describe it but it’s a feeling I get. Kind of like the final puzzle piece clicking into place, or when you’ve rearranged your books and found the best arrangement. It’s the “aha!” moment that I know the poem is done. Some poems I write never get this moment so they stay in the “revised” file the rest of their lives. The ones that reach this moment go on submission.

Saturday 7 March 2020

Hilary Sideris : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

I like the free verse possibilities of the sonnet form, with its volta or turn toward the end. I like the way a poem can unwind in couplets or tercets over time, against white space,  like a thread that breaks and mends, a shape becoming three dimensional, a sculpture on the page. A poem can’t do that without music.

I enjoy formality that surprises me, the subtle power of half or partial rhymes. There is also a lot to be gained from juxtaposing lyrical language with anti-poetic words and phrases. I enjoy the tension between jargony or pseudo-scientific language and purely lyrical phrasing. It’s like the tension between the Anglo-Saxon and Latin words and phrases in Shakespeare. In English we’re lucky to have so much doubleness to draw on.

Terese Mason Pierre : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Some contemporary American poets whose names escape me taught me that poetry doesn’t need to have a nice and tidy ending. At times, you can feel an ending approaching in a poem, like in music, but those poets would stop their poems abruptly, and leave me reeling. I really liked that effect, so I started doing it in my poems. Also, I read Michael Prior’s Model Disciple, where I first encountered contemporary instances of couplets. Prior is not the first person to write this way, but when I saw his work, it struck me as "pleasant" way of organizing a poem, so I do this a lot. The poets who write around me - Faith Arkorful, Khashayar Mohammadi, Dominik Parisien, Nisa Malli, and others - teach me that poetry can tell stories in such wonderful ways, and I try to invoke a storytelling attitude when I sit down to create.

Friday 6 March 2020

Sheldon Lee Compton : part one

Sheldon Lee Compton is a short story writer, novelist, essayist, and poet from Kentucky. He is the author of seven books, most recently the novel Dysphoria (Cowboy Jamboree Press, 2019) and his third short story collection Absolute Invention (Secret History Books, 2019). He also believes baseball is our purest form of truth.

What are you working on?

Over the past year or so I’ve worked on prose poetry and what I’ve come to refer to as footnote poems. I stayed away from it for several months at one point. About a year ago a writer who I won’t name did a hate piece on me and two other writers I also won’t name. Among the vitriol thrown at me was that I should never try writing “modernist stanzas” again or Jean Toomer’s coffin would “bench press” me. The piece was actually really funny, but it hurt me and caused me to take a long look at whether or not I should be writing poetry at all. I hate how I let it get to me, and I’ve only recently regained some confidence. That’s more than you probably hoped to learn with this question, but I do think I’ll have a manuscript of prose poetry ready for publication soon. Maybe one for the footnote poems at some point.

Emily Coppella : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Creating language that is clear and concise, yet beautiful. I think those are the only guidelines I put on myself as a poet. I want my language to be specific and accessible as well as ambiguous without being obscure. My strong aversion to purple prose helps keep me in check.

Thursday 5 March 2020

Tyler Pufpaff : part two

How does your work first enter the world? 

I imagine it’s rather similar for others. Often there’s a monologue in my head, typically very brief, consisting of things that I might not say out loud in certain company, especially not knowing how they might take it. Of course, it slips out every now and then. Once a coworker had simply asked why my har was so gray when I was only 25 and I responded I’m just dying quicker than everyone else. She didn’t like that. I try to jot these things down: the thoughts, the unannounced dialogue, the marvelous, however it may appear. This is my poetry seeping out of my pores and entering the world.

Madeleine Stratford : part one

Madeleine Stratford is a poet, a literary translator and a professor at Université du Québec en Outaouais. Her poems have appeared in a number of anthologies and journals, including PØST and carte blanche, and Corresponding Voices. Her first poetry book, Des mots dans la neige (anagrammes, 2009) was awarded the 2009 Orpheus Poetry Prize in France. Her literary translations were shortlisted twice for a Governor General award (2016 and 2019).

How did you first engage with poetry?

I understand, speak and write in four languages: French, English, German and Spanish. I studied all of them and in all of them. Writing poetry has been my way to unearth language’s potential: that of my own mother tongue, at first, but also of the other languages I came to learn and love along the way. In my life, poetry emerged as a form of salvation, because it enabled me to break free from established grammar and rules. When I first started to write poetry, I felt I could be creatively deviant and subversive: I could write everything in lower-case, decide to leave out punctuation marks and put words all over the page – or not. I first wrote in French, but also a little in German, and quite a lot in Spanish at some point. Most people don’t know it, but a few of the poems I included in my first poetry book were actually first written in Spanish.

Curiously, I didn’t feel comfortable writing poetry in English for a long time. For me, it had always been an academic language. One day, a publisher asked me to translate a selection of my own poems into English. I panicked. I had translated poems from French and Spanish before, and that had felt right. But translating my own poems into English? That felt daunting. I had never been scared of betrayal before. When I translated a poem, as long as I was translating it from a place of love and respect, and thorough understanding, the result would always be faithful in one way or another, no matter how different it might sound or look on paper. I felt very differently about my own work. The temptation to rewrite everything was very strong, because my poems had not wanted to be written in English. Yet this very experience of self-translation is what led me to write poems in English. It is as though translating my own words opened up a box. I was never be able to put the lid back on, because English is now also a poetic language. I can play with it, have fun with it, and feel free.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

D.A. Lockhart : part five

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

When things get really in need of getting a kick start, I absolutely always have a handful of works and authors that I return to. The first swipe through reading is usual the classics of Issa, Buson, and Basho. Haiku as a form helps to centre me on the image and the moment that I believe to be at the heart of all successful poetry. Masterfully executed haiku helps to develop approaches to the world my poetic self needs to function. From there it is usual to Richard Hugo (Lady at the Kicking Horse Reservoir), Gary Snyder (Regarding Wave & Axe Handles), John Steifler (The Grey Islands), Campbell McGrath (Seven Notebooks) and the collected works of Simon J. Ortiz. These last books and writers help to guide the form and lyricism of the core image and moment ideas that haiku guided me. You could say I have a lot of voices in my head when it comes to renewal in my artistic practice.

Ilona Martonfi : part one

Ilona Martonfi is a poet, editor and activist; she is the author of four poetry books, Blue Poppy (2009), Black Grass (2012), The Snow Kimono (2015) and Salt Bride (2019). A fifth volume, The Tempest is forthcoming from Inanna Publications in 2021. Her work has been published in five chapbooks, and in numerous journals across North America and abroad. Recently, her poem “Dachau Visit on a Rainy Day” was nominated for the 2018 Pushcart Prize. She is the founder and Artistic Director of The Yellow Door and Visual Arts Centre Reading Series, and Argo Bookshop Reading Series. She is also the recipient of the Quebec Writers’ Federation 2010 Community Award.

What are you working on?

On a cold January downtown Montreal winter day I am editing my fifth poetry manuscript The Tempest (Inanna Publications, 2021) for the last time. And another last time.

I remember filling in the Inanna Author Questionnaire:

26. Below, please provide a description of your book. We will use these for promotions of your book. We’d like to hear your take on the book. Short, succinct description (two, maximum three sentences):

Like the mythological figure she describes as “ensnared in long tentacles of hair, skeletal, toothless, chiseled in white marble”, Martonfi has hewn her own spare lines to recast her book’s obsession with the politics, violences, and musics of the oral.

Ordering the poetry book of about sixty poems asks: What is your book about? Does a particular aesthetic carry those themes? That speak to each other. What seem to be your concerns? Mood. Tone. Dominant images, speaker. Setting. Season. Introduce the questions, issues, characters, images and sources of conflict that concern you and that will be explored by the book.

Ordering my collection was to make the book work as a whole work.

Today I proof for the word “purple” I used 5 times!

Tuesday 3 March 2020

Michael Maul : part three

How does a poem begin?

Poems usually begin with a knock on the door, and someone coming to answer. That’s how things get set in motion for me. The one who “knocks” may be an idea for a poem to be written, and an answer is the poet with whom it resonates and elects to give it a try.

From the opposite point of view, the knock may be initiated by the poet, as a gesture indicating they are available to the muses. And in this instance the “answer” is whatever is lurking behind the door that comes out to the poet to engage.

Monday 2 March 2020

Diana Fitzgerald Bryden : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

It requires an entirely different kind of concentration than prose, a kind of attentiveness to silence. Poems absolutely cannot be forced, whereas I can write my way into a piece of prose, no matter what its length, even if I end up cutting most of what I start with.

Sunday 1 March 2020

Sarah de Leeuw : coda

How important is music to your poetry?

Music in important to my (writing of) poetry only in so far as I cannot listen to music and write poetry at the same time. I always write in complete silence. Sometimes, when I’m driving and listening to the radio, for instance, or out for a run listening to a playlist, a song lyric or line will resonate with me. I’ll toss and tumble it around in my head while running or driving, reconfiguring it into a line of my own. But I’ll write it and work with it only in the silence of no music.

Lynne Schmidt : part one

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional and an award winning poet and memoir author who also writes young adult fiction. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press 2019), On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West 2020) and Dead Dog Poems (Bottlecap Press, 2020). Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor's Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne is a five time 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, and an honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Award. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.

What are you working on?

I’m always working on a lot of things at once. I have two full poetry manuscripts I’m constantly rearranging, a new chapbook that delves into Dante’s Divine Comedy a bit, signing up for or applying to be a featured poet at various gigs, and in general writing poems. I have a memoir that’s on submission as well – The Right to Live: A Memoir of Abortion. So I’m also spending some time editing that.