Sunday 31 May 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I have a gut sense that the poem is finished, and this is especially true for me with poems that I think are really good. I’ll trot the poem out to my writing group, and the response I’ll get will usually confirm my own perceptions. That’s also true when I feel that the poem is unfinished, or has a weak spot, and it’s kind of exciting when others point to the exact spot I was concerned about because it tells me that I have a fairly well-developed sense of my own work, which is a great feeling.
Having said all of that, in some ways, I don’t know if a poem is ever really “finished”, because I think that as writers, we’re always hoping to perfect the work, and when we look back at our writing after a time, we might think: “oh, I wish I’d written that line differently” or “oh, I can’t believe I actually wrote that in that way”. So in a way, a poem is never really “finished”. It just reaches a point perhaps where you think: “ok, I’ve travelled with this poem long enough, and I can’t go any further”. It’s as “perfect” as it can be, and so out into the world it goes.

Saturday 30 May 2020

Michael Sikkema : part one

Michael Sikkema is the author of 6 full length books, and over a dozen chapbooks, most recently Caw Caw Phony, forthcoming from Trembling Pillow Press, 2021, and Here On Huron, from Above / Ground Press. He edits Shirt Pocket, a chapbook press, and lives in Grand Rapids, MI.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I chose to answer this one first because it touches on some core ideas of my poetics and practice. I value poetry over the poem. Not thinking about the singular poem, but thinking about poetry is a great way for me to generate a lot of writing and get better thinking done. I don’t sit down and try to write a poem, with clear beginning, middle, and end, etc. I sit down and try to write some poetry and then later I’ll figure out where edges or borders or connections are. I try to wait a while and turn into the reader of my own work, trying to figure out what the poem is teaching me. I can then see how things are supposed to go together and maybe what’s missing. As far as when a project is done, it’s usually when I stop obsessing over it, or coming up with new ideas for it while doing something else. I think ‘finished’ is wholly subjective. People get a piece published, hate how it looks in print, and then rework it. I can usually tell when I’m done with a piece because I’m not interested in it anymore. I want it to leave the house and go off on its own adventures.

Friday 29 May 2020

Jade Wallace : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes! In at least three ways:

1. Politically—I have always appreciated poetry that is politically engaged. When I was young, that tended to mean poetry that took a clear stance and argued for it. Now I prefer poetry that sharpens my consciousness and forces me to confront new ideas without being didactic. I usually distrust people who are dogmatic about their politics and claim to have definitive answers, even if the person in question is me. Beyond a basic imperative to care about each other and try to limit suffering, I am not sure that there is much I find to be absolute about human relations.

2. Aesthetically—I used to read and write as if poetry's primary purpose was to express truths, as if it were a mere vessel for some important idea. During this phase, someone suggested that my poetry, perhaps, lacked adornment. I fixated on this word, adornment. It was soon after that I started dating my now-partner, who is an artist, so I found myself spending more time in art galleries and antique shops. My partner would often use a particular phrase for things he liked: “that's a beautiful object.” I thought about this phrase a lot as I looked at things that seemed kind of useless but were also inexplicably transfixing, like a century-old Art Deco compact. I began to get enamoured with craft in a way that I hadn't been before. What if poems could also be as ornate and stunning as any other tiny trinket you might see and wish to carry in your pocket because it is so lovely?

3. Cryptically—When I was about ten I bought an anthology of poetry because I wanted to learn how to read “adult poetry.” By adult poetry I meant things that didn't sound like nursery rhymes and that didn't have immediately obvious meanings. I read the whole book while I was on a road trip with my parents. I'm not sure I understood much of it; mostly I was annoyed by it. Yet I would often return to that book after reading others and find that more and more of it made sense to me each time I came back. I now read and enjoy many of the poems, though ironically a lot of them seem over-simplified and sentimental. I still don't much enjoy poetry that I can't understand at all, but the more I read, the more I appreciate poems in which meaning slips elusively in and out of sight, always evading but always returning.

Thursday 28 May 2020

Rory Waterman : part two

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

Well, a poem can’t be a protest song: the best poems have a tension at their heart, not a simple answer. It can’t depict something in the same way a painting can. It can’t unfold like a novel – unless, of course, it is a novel in verse, and most of those are awful. It can’t affect you directly, on a sub-linguistic level, in the same way music can. But it is the finest, most fine-tuned explicatory art, or so says me – which is also partially why poems are so hard to write well (even though they’re very easy to write badly). Unlike almost any other art, most poems – all the shorter ones, at least – can be memorised. If you memorise a poem, you have it whole, always, wherever you are – the real thing, not the memory of it, or an inferior facsimile. That’s powerful.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Alexa Doran : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

For me it’s a combination of image and sound. The sounds in the poem will start working up and up and all the sudden I will feel the need to deflate, to yank back out. When I feel that moment musically, I try to catch it in an image, like the sounds are runoff and that last image the perfect basin.

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Evan Jones : part one

Canadian poet Evan Jones has lived in Manchester, UK, since 2005. His new book is Later Emperors (Carcanet, 2020).

What are you working on?

I have just finished translating the poems of C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933), from Modern Greek, for a book that’s scheduled to be published in the autumn. So right now, not very much, which is a lovely feeling. I’m starting to think about what I might do next, and am reading De Administrando Imperio of the tenth-century Byzantine emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, translated by Romilly J. H. Jenkins. I have no idea what I’ll do with this, but I love reading about it, the Pechenegs and the Zachlumi, the Russians and their long ships trading along the rivers from Constantinople.

Monday 25 May 2020

Bill Neumire : part one

Bill Neumire’s second book of poems, #TheNewCrusades, will be published with Unsolicited Press in 2022 and was recently a finalist for the Barrow Street Prize and the 42 Miles Press Award. He reviews books of contemporary poetry for Vallum, and for Verdad where he also serves as poetry editor.

How did you first engage with poetry?

That’s a tough question, especially for someone with as sketchy a memory as me! But I can tell you that my grandparents used to watch me while my mom and dad worked, and they were wonderful people with a mysterious and wild backyard wherein I had pretty free range (terrifyingly so by today’s standards!) and I remember writing poems about things like wild strawberries and a secret well. I am also proud to say that I won my third grade Halloween poem contest. I think this came from having poetry around me in the form of books and music. My grandmother used to play piano and I remember loving the music and words to “Over the River” (all those prepositional phrases!).

Alex Manley : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I spent the final months of 2019 feverishly trying to meet a Goodreads goal that I was lagging way behind and ended up meeting it by pivoting to poetry collections, hard. I ended up finishing two poetry collections on December 31st around 11:30 p.m., having briefly snuck away from the New Year’s Eve party I was hosting. (My partner was not pleased.) These are the poetry collections I read during the course of that frantic late-year dash and a handful from 2020 so far:

Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer
Confirmation Bias by Ivanna Baranova
Tampion by Ali Pinkney
Space Struck by Paige Lewis
Number One Earth by Jasper Avery
Holy Wild by Gwen Benaway
Ghost Of by Diana Khoi Nguyen
Feed by Tommy Pico
Love Speech by Xiao Xuan/Sherry Huang
Renaissance Normcore by Adele Barclay
A Fortune for Your Disaster by Hanif Abdurraqib
Prosopopoeia by Shazia Hafiz Ramji
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
Even This Page Is White by Vivek Shraya
Mercy Tax by Rebecca Rustin
Homie by Danez Smith

Sunday 24 May 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : 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?

I am one of those people who believe in making an effort to write every day. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and several other books, recommends “morning pages” where you write 3 pages of whatever, every morning. I’ve been doing this on and off for several years, and I generally find this approach helps to excise some of the noise that circulates within our heads – what some people refer to as our “monkey brain”. And after a page or so, sometimes two, something starts to take shape: an idea, a sentence, a phrase, and I just follow that and watch it germinate into something that will eventually become a poem.

Yes, I have a writers’ group that I am part of – in fact, I’m the current president of the Brooklin Poetry Society, and in addition to the larger group, I do have a few poets and writers I like to discuss my work with. I’m not comfortable sharing ideas as I like to let my ideas ferment a little before sending them out into the world, but over the years, I’ve become much more comfortable sharing a work in progress, especially if there are things about a piece that I’m unsure of, or feel I’d like to establish some kind of gauge for.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Adam W. Burgess : part five

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins with a deep breath and a thrilling leap. The first line, the first word, is the terrifying, exhilarating act of letting go.

Friday 22 May 2020

Jade Wallace : part one

Jade Wallace's poetry and fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in Room Magazine, Vallum Magazine, Canadian Literature, The Dalhousie Review, Studies in Social Justice, and elsewhere. Their most recent solo chapbook is Rituals of Parsing (Anstruther Press 2018) and their most recent collaborative chapbook is Test Centre (ZED Press 2019). They are an organizing member of Draft Reading Series and one half of the collaborative writing partnership MA|DE. <> <>

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was in the third grade, we were assigned the task of writing a poem. I wrote a long series of rhyming couplets that began “I took a train to an open prairie./ Everyone there was very merry.” Shortly after that, I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling compelled to write a poem about a river. As I started writing about the river, I had one of those renegade epiphanies you have when you're a child. I realized that I didn't have to make the words rhyme, I could just do whatever I wanted. Such power. Poetry still wakes me up at night.

Thursday 21 May 2020

Grady Chambers : part five

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

Many poems I write are first seen and commented on by two great friends and poets--Adam Bright and Tim Craven. We were in the Syracuse MFA program together, and have been holding a near-weekly workshop between the three of us since the spring of 2013--about seven years. Our group was larger at the start, and those meetings used to take place in-person at various diners in Syracuse, but now it's just the three of us and most meetings take place via video chat online as Adam lives in Canada and Tim in Scotland. They're work and feedback and friendship has been invaluable to me, and many of my poems reflect their input or edits.

Rory Waterman : part one

Rory Waterman was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1981, and lives in Nottingham, England, where he is on the English faculty at Nottingham Trent University. He is the author of three collections from Carcanet Press: Tonight the Summer’s Over (2013), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Prize in 2014; Sarajevo Roses (2017), which was shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Prize 2019; and Sweet Nothings, published in May 2020. He is also the author of several books on poetry, writes regular criticism for a number of publications, and co-edits New Walk Editions. His website is

Why is poetry important?

I’ve asked myself a version of this question quite a lot lately – mainly in the context of my own poetry. There’s nothing like a global pandemic and all its future ramifications to make writing a poem seem like a futile endeavour. It sometimes feels like this is situation impossible to write about while we are all in it, and yet I can’t imagine myself writing about anything else at the moment, at least obliquely or aslant. Nonetheless, I’ve been reading a lot of poetry. At its infrequent best, poetry is a rich form of communication, a complex interchange – and we need that more than ever.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Alexa Doran : part three

When you require renewal is there a particular poem you return to?

I turn to Anne Sexton’s “Self in 1958’ for renewal. Life is so damn harrowing it seems impossible to approach without humor, and this poem is a perfect pairing of existential dread and inward chuckle. Sexton’s coy “They think I am me!” always makes me smile as it touches on the impossible distance that we are all faced with while also making you feel like you are in on a big secret. She talks about the pressure to “swing the doors open in wholesome disorder” and then responds with a literary fuck you. The poem always lets me feel again when everything else in me has turned off.

Tuesday 19 May 2020

Jay Besemer : coda

What are you working on?

As I write this, I'm proofing galleys of my book Theories of Performance, which should be available for preorder by the time these questions post. I'm also working on placing another book, The Horse. I have slowed down my poetry writing for a number of reasons, but I do have a collection-in-progress called Simple Machines that's coming into being. I'm also working on an ongoing visual poetry/poetry comics/collage poetry collaboration with Johnny Damm, which spills over into independent collage poetry pieces.

I'm always working on my ongoing everyday journaling, which has direct & indirect relationships to my other work. I'm also placing more energy into video work that isn't precisely poetic. I am thinking through the question, "what would happen if I made a 'lyric essay' in video format?" as I imagine a possible road trip across New York State that is also a trip through my past & present. But the trip itself is also, possibly, completely imaginary, or may have to be. Making a video "essay" from that is in keeping with the way I work poetically, though!

Monday 18 May 2020

Alex Manley : part four

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

I feel like one of the best attributes of film as a medium is the existence of the montage technique, and I think poetry is the closest thing writing has to a montage technique. Being able to juxtapose seemingly unrelated or even nearly incoherent concepts with each other is something that’s simply not done in other forms of writing. In poetry it’s not just normal, it’s expected; it’s wished for. There is so much beauty in throwing two things together and seeing what happens next.

Sunday 17 May 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : part one

Renée M. Sgroi is an Associate Member of the League of Canadian Poets (, and the current President of the Brooklin Poetry Society ( She edited the poetry anthology, Written Tenfold (Poetry Friendly Press), and her work has appeared in journals including Synaeresis, The Prairie Journal, The Banister, Fresh Voices, Verse Afire and anthologies published by Beret Days Press. In 2019, her unpublished novel was shortlisted for Canada’s Guernica Prize. Renée blogs at: and she can be found on Twitter @ReneeMSgroi and Instagram @renee_m_sgroi.

Photo credit: Kapil Bhargava.

How did you first engage with poetry?

Like many people, I was first introduced to poetry in elementary school, and I wrote my first poem in grade two (which I still have!). I surprised myself because I learned that I could write something that rhymed (a real talent when you’re in grade two). And from that point on, I decided I wanted to write poetry. When I was in about grade five, my parents gave me a small poetry anthology for Christmas. It had all kinds of different work in it, from e.e. cummings to Queen Elizabeth I, to Ogden Nash to Robert Frost. I think there was even a little bit of Chaucer in there. Just a strange little compendium, but it opened the world of poetry to me. Throughout my undergraduate and during one of my graduate degrees, I studied poetry, and I wrote some poetry, but it was on and off for many years. I didn’t “settle” on poetry until much later, when I really started to focus on my writing life outside academia (I’m an academic, so a large chunk of my writing over the years has been focused on essays and journal articles). It’s been a long process and journey to fully engage with poetry, and it’s one that I think is always evolving.

Saturday 16 May 2020

Adam W. Burgess : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Reading Ocean Vuong has reinvigorated me as a writer. I had been in a slump, or a panic of self-doubt, for a very long time. Then, Vuong came along with his Burnings and Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and changed my entire perspective. Even his recent novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is, let’s face it, poetry. He thinks like a poet, which is to say, roundly, fully, and deeply, about issues great and small; and he expresses those thoughts with the sensory skill, the musicality, the cutting precision, that is a poet’s unique ability. I’ve returned to poetry and prose in large part thanks to the feeling that he invokes in me as a reader; it’s been a reminder that the daily work is worth it, even if no one ever reads it.  

Friday 15 May 2020

Madeleine Barnes : coda

What are you working on?

Along with my scholarly research on embroidery and textiles, I’m currently working on a hybrid visual art/poetry chapbook for Tolsun Books titled Women’s Work. It combines my own original embroideries, digital collages created using images from the public domain, and poetry. As always, I remain captivated by how women rebel in private and in public. This project has been in the works for years, as I had to create all of the embroideries first and master both hand collage and digital collage. I’m especially grateful to David Pischke, co-founder of Tolsun Books, for elevating my collage skills and supporting this project.

I also serve as Poetry Editor for Cordella Magazine (, which features incredible women and nonbinary creators, and we are about to launch our first print issue. This space would not be possible without our Editor-in-Chief, Cate Clother, whose unmatched aesthetic sensibilities provide a gorgeous home for these essential voices.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Grady Chambers : part four

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

Well, one thing is that many poems are brief enough to be memorized with a bit of work, and then can be carried with you in their entirety, inside your mind, to be called up and shared or recited or re-experienced whenever you choose.

Wednesday 13 May 2020

Alexa Doran : part two

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

Poetry offers a closer understanding of the world around us, one that isn’t obscured by plot. Plot makes life easier to conceive of but it’s a lie. The whole idea of beginning, middle, and end, which constructs so many other art forms, is pushed aside by poetry so that we can travel in the quick of it, where life is at its rawest.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Jay Besemer : part five

How does a poem begin?

Like an itch or sneeze. Or a craving for a certain food. Sometimes a small phrase, two or three words, will surface in my consciousness & I will begin there, finding the poem that wants to emerge from those words. Other times, with work that begins with a source text I've chosen to select words from, it starts with the discovery of a phrase or word on a page that seems to have special life & could lead somewhere. Or it might begin very literally with an image, a piece of video I've recorded that I center a video poem around or otherwise incorporate into the video poem.

Monday 11 May 2020

Alex Manley : part three

Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

I spent six years at Concordia University’s now-infamous creative writing program from 2007 to 2013, over the course of which I came to have a deep appreciation for the experience of workshopping poetry, of being in close contact with other poetic minds. The sensation of pushing and being pushed in new poetic directions is something that I’m not sure you can achieve by other means. I think you genuinely have to meet with other writers, consider their work, have them consider yours, and let the process take you where it may, maybe? That’s not to say that that experience is only available in creative writing programs, though. I’ve been lucky over the past two years to be a part of a small group of Montreal-based poets who meet every so often to consider each other’s writing, and the feedback from those writers has made me a stronger writer, a better poet and, I like to imagine, a more interesting person. (I also count them as my friends, or like, whatever.)

Sunday 10 May 2020

Daniela Naomi Molnar : coda

What are you working on?

In terms of writing, several in-progress manuscripts:

The Lost is an excavation. It’s the book I didn’t want to write but had to. Via poetry, narrative, and image, it tells the story of my grandmother Rosalie’s life, the intense traumas she experienced, and the way that trauma passes mysteriously and inexorably from generation to generation. Fundamentally, it’s about the way that the invisible/unknowable world that lies beyond the visible/ the known is ultimately more powerful than any known or visible thing.
Or: “The visible is thick but the invisible is thicker.” Brenda Hillman

Pry is an unapologetically furious collection of poems and images that confronts the heteropatriarchy, trying to expunge its hold on and within my own (femme, queer) body.

A third yet-untitled water-obsessed manuscript, including:
“  }  ”     : a long poem about the ocean and its birds and its trash and its power;
“WEB” : a series of visual poems which are about the varied, maddening, urgent, beautiful experience of being bodied on a dying planet;
“we woke up early so we would know how to survive” : a long poem about what I call the Misanthropocene and is better known as the Anthropocene;
“River notes” : a lyric essay which wades deep into my riparian obsessions.

I’m also working on videopoems, teaching myself the form haphazardly as I go.

And a poetic/critical/memoir on feminist chomophilia*.

And a poetic/critical/memoir on poetic space and its social/political/ecological implications.

And I’m working always, moment-by-moment, on staying awake — politically, emotionally, spiritually, physically, creatively — in a culture that constantly nurtures and coaxes us into the opposite — a sort of resigned, comfortable, complacent deadness. This awakeness is the precursor, for me, for any type of creative pursuit.

* Chromophobia, in the words of David Batchelor: “Colour has been the object of extreme prejudice in Western culture. … It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that, in the West, since Antiquity, colour has been systematically marginalized, reviled, diminished and degraded. Generations of philosophers, artists, art historians and cultural theorists of one stripe or another have kept this prejudice alive, warm, fed and groomed. As with all prejudices, its manifest form, its loathing, masks a fear: a fear of contamination and corruption by something that is unknown or appears unknowable. This loathing of colour, this fear of corruption through colour, needs a name: chromophobia… [C]olour is made out to be the property of some ‘foreign’ body – usually the feminine, the oriental, the primitive, the infantile, the vulgar, the queer or the pathological. In the second, colour is relegated to the realm of the superficial, the supplementary, the inessential or the cosmetic. In one, colour is regarded as alien and therefore dangerous; in the other, it is perceived merely as a secondary quality of experience, and thus unworthy of serious consideration. Colour is dangerous, or it is trivial, or it is both. … Colour is the corruption of culture.” Chromophilia the opposite of the above. If an embrace of color is ascribed to a demeaned feminine “other,” chromophilia is an embrace of this otherness, a colorful confrontation.

Saturday 9 May 2020

Adam W. Burgess : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The tension between using a traditionally accepted form or not. The trend or habit in contemporary poetry seems to be to ignore the rules and, rather, feel your way through the poem by expressing it the way it intends to be expressed. “To go with the flow.” That’s appealing for a lot of reasons, of course, but I’m also drawn to the classical types, to sestinas and pantoums, to villanelles and sonnets. But some of these come with baggage, today, a level of formality that tends to turn off publishers and readers alike. (Okay, maybe not villanelles; I can’t say Dylan Thomas has gone out of style!)

Friday 8 May 2020

Madeleine Barnes : part five

Why is poetry important?

I asked my Brooklyn College composition students this question recently to test the waters, as our class was not a creative writing class. A student’s hand shot up. He said, “Poetry is important because it gives people hope.” There was no hesitation in his voice. I feel super old saying this, but I think the younger generation gets it. As long as people are writing poetry there’s a chance that they're reflecting on their lives and on the world they inhabit. Poetry forces you to tackle bigger questions surrounding mortality and your inner life. Through poetry, we can encounter another person's thought processes and memories, and when that is accompanied by linguistic precision, musicality, and experimentation, this is an irreplaceable a gift. Or at least the right people will recognize it as such.

Another student followed up and said that poetry is important because it creates a community that capitalism can’t interfere with. Poetry readings give people a place to gather and share their creative work, and we need these supportive spaces more than ever under late capitalism. My student argued that poetry is a refuge, a way to channel pain and experience, and I could not agree more. Our class was full of secret poets. I will never forget them.

Thursday 7 May 2020

Grady Chambers : part three

How did you first engage with poetry? 

Largely through the books on my parents' bookshelves. Both my parents are anti-war, anti-racism, pro-social justice activists who were born in the mid 1940s, and so their shelves were filled with a pretty great array of texts, among them a lot of Beat-era literature. My dad gave me Howl to read when I was probably 11 or 12, and I remember really liking it, at that age probably mostly because there were swear words and sex and so I felt cool reading it, but it's a poem I've come to absolutely love, and I try and read aloud to myself once a year or so. Also: I remember that in my freshman or sophomore year of high school, our teacher asked us to memorize a poem and recite it aloud to the class. I chose "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," and still have it memorized. Reciting it in my head for so many years, I feel like I have a relationship with it. It's a comfort. 

Wednesday 6 May 2020

Alexa Doran : part one

Alexa Doran is the author of the chapbook Nightsink, Faucet Me a Lullaby (Bottlecap Press 2019), and is currently a PhD candidate at Florida State University. Her series of poems about the women of Dada, “The Octopus Breath on Her Neck,” was recently released as part of Oxidant/Engine’s BoxSet Series Vol 2. You can also look for work from Doran in recent or upcoming issues of Los Angeles Review, Passages North, Salamander, Pithead Chapel and New Delta Review, among others. For a full list of her publications, awards, and interviews please visit her website at

What are you working on?

Currently I am working on tidying up my first full length manuscript, DM Me, Mother Darling. This collection intertwines the descent (some might argue ascent) of Mother Darling, the mother from J.M. Barrie’s classic tale, Peter Pan, with my personal struggles as a mother in twenty-first century America. From casinos, to boxing matches, to Jewel concerts, what it means to mother is constantly challenged by Mother Darling and myself as we try to make sense of modern society’s kaleidoscopic backdrop. The manuscript is meant to work on the reader like a potion, slowly but powerfully transporting them into the Mother Darling-Me galaxy until, like the speakers in the collection, they are released. Even though motherhood is the lens through which these narratives churn, they hold weight for anyone who has ever felt the mire of grief or the desperation of joy.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Jay Besemer : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Initially I would have said that music is unimportant, because its superficial elements aren't easily recognized in my work, even when I write lyrically. But that ignores the truth of music as context for the work--again, in non-obvious ways. My father & husband are both musicians, as was my mother (lots of musicians in my extended family on both sides, too). I am significantly not a musician, though I did sing until transition & illness sort of mangled my voice. I think the real importance of music to my poetry lies in the connection between a bodily-felt awareness/relationship with rhythm, from having family members & friends practicing, learning pieces of music, giving concerts or recitals, all around me. Perhaps that created a sort of subliminal auditory sense I could apply to my own work, because I am very interested in the "mouthfeel" as well as the sounds of words, what one might call their musicality. I don't necessarily feature this in the work, but it's often present. I also find myself using very loose internal rhyme in some poems or batches of poems. I suppose all of this makes sense in terms of that ambient musical vibration.

Another important connection is with ancient Greek drama, which is a large influence on my writing lately. I have a theatre background that probably enters into this mix. The "sung" quality of Greek drama comes through even on the page in contemporary translation, in a way that is fascinating to me, which is why I was engaging with a lot of it a few years ago when I was writing Theories of Performance. I don't know if that's obvious in that book's poems, though--readers will have to tell me!

Monday 4 May 2020

Alex Manley : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

For a long time — almost the entirety of my 20s — my poetics was around relationships, romantic love, sexual attraction, and the like. I couldn’t really — on a gut level — believe in the importance of poetry about other things: family, politics, disease, place, friendship, in part because my feelings about all those things paled in contrast to the intensity of my feelings around being loved and desired at the time. But in addition to the ways in which my lived experience has changed and, it seems, the world has changed in the past few years (creeping fascism and ecological collapse, anyone?) I’ve also been reading a lot more over the past three or four years, which has helped shift my relationship with poetry, and a year and a half of cognitive behavioural therapy has helped me de-center sex and romance in the constellation of my feelings, which I think has been a really healthy shift and one that I recommend to anyone who has access to therapy.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Daniela Naomi Molnar : part five

How does a poem begin?

With sound. I write every morning in my journal. Most of what I write is just about the act of writing. Pen to paper, taking a line for a language-based walk. I often start out with Marie Howe’s excellent writing prompt, which I have been writing from for many years: write 10 observations that do not use any metaphors. (It’s harder than it seems.) I invariably drift away from this constraint into writing with metaphor about stuff going in my life, in the world — more abstract things that benefit from having started with concrete observation.

Some mornings, I find myself inside a poem. I keep writing in my journal, then transcribe whatever I wrote to my computer, editing and adding as I go.

How do I know if I’ve stumbled into a poem?
If the language begins to leave me behind, I am in a poem.
If the language leaves me both slightly disoriented and fully alert in a way that both encompasses and surpasses the senses, I am in a poem.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Adam W. Burgess : part two

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

Poetry has the ability to be more viscerally sensory than anything else I know. As someone who teaches all forms of writing, including fiction, non-fiction, and drama, I’ve found that poetry, while often scary because it is so “unusual,” ends up being a favorite unit for my students. Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, considering how much our college-aged students are going through, how they’re quite literally in the act of becoming, which is the very type of truth that poetry reveals, both in the reading and the writing of it. Poetry helps us process emotionally what we might not be able to process logically. It helps us sing when we can’t quite speak.

Friday 1 May 2020

Madeleine Barnes : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

It’s vital. I learned to play the piano around the same time that I became interested in poetry, and this timing inspired a dedication to musicality, especially cadence, harmony, and prosody, in writing. I remember reading a book of poetry and realizing that a musical experience was taking place, and it depended on spatial arrangement, similar to sheet music. Even though I was classically trained, I loved playing in jazz bands and preferred to play by ear. When I would do this, my teacher, a nun, would scold me and say, “stop and read what’s there.” She insisted on perfect posture and wouldn’t let me hear a song before I muddled through the sheet music. If I didn’t practice and leaned on my ear during lessons, she put a neon green Mr. Yuk sticker beside my name for everyone else to see. Yikes! She required her students to write papers about dead composers and to describe in detail what we noticed about their music. I owe my obsession with craft and lyricism to her. Above all, she taught me that music, like poetry, has a history, and to before you improvise, you better read what’s there. Doing so will make your flair and style stronger when your moment arrives. Whether I’m engaging with music or poetry, I’m absorbed in the moment, connecting to something otherworldly. I don’t necessarily believe in God, but I believe that poetry and music are connected to divine creation. If we focus too much on interpreting art literally, or completely ignore its historical foundations, we risk losing the magic.