Monday 29 June 2020

Jacqueline Valencia : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

That would be when I was a kid in school who took books out of the Bookmobile and school library often. I was an only child until I was 7 and it felt like books were a way of learning to navigate the world. It started with Dr. Seuss books and as soon as I learned to read Alice In Wonderland, I was hooked.

Sunday 28 June 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : coda

I think the questions in this series are really interesting, and they really force a person to think about how they approach poetry and/or writing.

Fred Schmalz : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The same things that I find rewarding about poetry are what I find most difficult, which are that each poem operates on its own terms, and those terms can’t be defined for any other poem, so you essentially have to carry what you can from the other poems you’ve written and rely on none of it. Starting over each time with no assurance of what will happen is both daunting and compelling.

Saturday 27 June 2020

Michael Sikkema : part five

What are you working on?

Right now I have two projects going, in very different stages. The first called Music Before We Were Bodies, and is a personal, almost confessional exploration of my experience as a stutterer and how that has affected my approach to writing. A little sliver of prose from that project can be found here:

This project is hybrid, includes verse and prose and is proving very difficult to write. Trauma is at the heart of it and it gets written in fits and starts and then sat aside for a while. While it’s certainly not individual standalone pieces, I don’t know yet if it’s a chapbook or a book length project, or more like a hybrid essay. I’m going to play along and see where it takes me. To be honest, it might not go anywhere.

The other project is also hybrid and plays with elements of video games, interactive storytelling, choose your own adventure books, police procedural stuff, horror tropes, and sci fi elements. It’s called Choose Your Fighter, and it actually lets you do that. It’s much further along than Music Before We Were Bodies, but is still in a seedling stage. I have a lot of notes and ideas, and some first threads written out. I’m designing the project so it’s clear what I will be writing next and that feels good. It’s still exploratory but has direction. I will have a brand new baby in about three weeks, so writing time will disappear somewhat.  Writing it in threads and understanding that it’s a long term project, and can be done episodes at a time makes it less overwhelming.

The manuscript allows a reader to choose a POV and to shift between them. I guess if it were a film, it’d fit into the psychotronic category, and I’d like for the end result to feel like reading is game playing, with an emphasis on play.

This one might not turn out how I have planned, but I’m confident it will turn into something.

Friday 26 June 2020

Dorsey Craft : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Revision. Looking back at my own work makes me feel so vulnerable, especially since I often write a poem and (foolishly, brazenly) send it out to a magazine that same day. So I’m sheepish about going back in, which is almost always what the poem needs. I someday want to become one of those people that cannot stop revising and take years with a single poem, but right now I am taking baby steps. I change one or two words in a sitting. I try to make myself give poems time to marinate and feel less like mine.

Thursday 25 June 2020

Stella Hayes : part one

Russian-American poet Stella Hayes is the author of poetry collection One Strange Country (What Books Press, forthcoming in 2020). She grew up in an agricultural town outside of Kiev, Ukraine and Los Angeles. She earned a creative writing degree at University of Southern California. Her work has appeared in Prelude, The Indianapolis Review and Spillway, among others.

Photo credit: Karin Charbit-Harnevo

What are you working on?

I am excited to have just returned to my publisher the last round of proofs of One Strange Country, my debut poetry collection forthcoming in October. I am also placing my second book Nowhere with Him.

Before the pandemic, I was working on Propaganda, my third poetry book. I had 25 poems. In it I am investigating how erotic, familial and parental love is founded on an accepted set of illusions/delusions. Night is a leitmotif and how I prefer it to day. I find myself going to bed at nearly dawn and so what I do at night continues to be a theme. At the moment, everything is up in the air and I am—be it unwillingly— find myself writing pandemic poems. I am hoping to weave them into the book, abandon the book altogether, and/or write a cycle of “Pandemic Chronicles.”

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Elaine Equi : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

Not as much as I would wish it to be. I’m more of a visual person. Growing up, no one in my family played an instrument or took music too seriously. I like all kinds of music, but always feel I’m missing a key part of it. I’m mystified by it much like some people say they’re mystified by poetry. That said, I spend an enormous amount of time listening to the music in and around words – the patter and patois between them. I even have a line in one of my poems that says, “I write because I can’t sing.” It’s funny, but partly true. True in that my singing voice is less than stellar, but also true that writing for me is a way to participate in music-making – at least my version of it.

Ava Hofmann : part three

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

Poetry is strictly inferior to every other medium in terms of cultivating formal capabilities (“getting good at writing badly”), access to an audience (“nobody reads poetry”), and opportunities for community-forming (“poets are loners and/or assholes”). But the no-good value of poetry is precisely in the fact that it is has a very low skill floor and is a largely insular activity. It can be the impossible screwed up space weirdo freaks can write into in order to gain something back from a planet which systematically denies them an identity, happiness, (self-)understanding, etc.

At a certain stage, poetry can also become a site for recasting forms which we associate with high-skill collaborative artistic activity into one of a similar kind of weirdo amateur art: visual poetry, sound poetry, interactive poetry, film poetry. What’s great about it is that poetry can become every other medium, but it’ll be still inflected with the fact that poetry is (thank god) amateur shit. Bad art utopia.

Alice Burdick : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I first was exposed to poetry when my parents read it to me. My dad is still a writer of poetry, although very few have read his work. But there was always a manual typewriter on the go in our house. One of my earliest memories of poetry is the book Archy & Mehitabel by Don Marquis, with those great illustrations by George Herriman. Later, as a teenager, I found out about many different types of poetry through an extracurricular high school class called The Dream Class. It was what hooked me for good (or for better and for worse).

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Evan Jones : part five

Why is poetry important?

Poetry remains the artform that is both so central to our identities (mixed and mutual) and, at its best, at the same time, endlessly disconcerting. People like things to be easy. I understand this. A long day at work, kids to care for, there is too much weight on everything – the last thing someone wants is to be challenged when the day itself is a challenge. Poetry is not about comfort and positive reinforcement; it is not about making you feel better and telling you what you already know. That’s doggerel. Poetry requires effort. That sounds terrible, doesn’t it? I’m surprised anyone is interested at all. But they are. I have met them. Lovely folks, for the most part. Alive is what I’d call them.

Monday 22 June 2020

Jacqueline Valencia : part one

Jacqueline Valencia is a Toronto-based writer and earned her Honours BA in English at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Lilith (Desert Pets Press, 2018) and There Is No Escape Out Of Time (Insomniac Press, 2016) and the founding editor of These Girls On Film. Jacqueline is the organizer of the 2015 Toronto Poetry Talks: Racism and Sexism in the Craft. She is a project partner at Poetry inPrint and editor at The Rusty Toque, Watch Your Head, and manygenderedmothers.

What are you working on?

At the moment, I'm editing some work by other poets and writers. I have an ongoing novel manuscript that I've been plugging away at and I'm hoping to get somewhere with it soon.

Bill Neumire : part five

Why is poetry important?

Maybe it’s not? I know so many fulfilled, incredible people who don’t know poetry. I only know that it’s a part of me, important for me, (and often it’s an essential part of the poets I know), and it expands the valence of my life in subtle but meaningful ways--allows me to connect with people I can’t imagine ever otherwise connecting with including anyone who might be reading this right now. None of my close IRL friends read poetry, none of my family, but it is a part of me that exists in a separate room, a room that needs company, that, in this new pandemic metaphor, sings out the window to others’ windows, others’ rooms and tries to find the poetry part of them that begs finding. It’s important, I suppose, because the difficulty of knowing each other in any real way is our greatest and most important difficulty--I always loved Steinbeck’s advice that we try to understand each other, that “if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love”--and poetry is one of the deepest ways I’ve ever known to understand someone else.

Sunday 21 June 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : part six

How important is music to your poetry?

I really appreciate this question, and I think I alluded to an answer when I wrote about Gertrude Stein’s “Lifting Belly”. Music is so important to me. I was trained in classical piano, and I also studied voice and sang in several choirs as a youth and young adult, so music is absolutely a fundamental part of my life. Music inspires my writing, and there have been a few occasions where I’ve been driving, and I’ve had to pull over to the side of the road to write something down in response to some music I’d just heard on the radio. And it’s really a response, and not an echo – I’d just like to be clear about that. For instance, I wrote a poem that I named after the piece of music that inspired it, Jane Antonia Cornish’s “Wave Cycles” from her album, Constellations. There’s nothing in the music that necessarily evokes being in a hospital room and looking out a hospital window, waiting for the patient in the room to pass away. But that’s where the music took me – I guess it evoked that image for me.

Even if there’s no music playing, if I’m at my writing table working on something, I find that a poem might actually start out as a rhythm, as something that begins with a word or a phrase whose meter just stops me in my tracks for some reason. I think the experience is similar to the way others might be captivated by a particular image. I have some friends who write ekphrastic poetry, where the poem is inspired by a work of visual art, and while I think that’s fantastic, the image is not paramount for me, or at least, not initially. Even when my poems actually do stem from, or are guided by a very strong image, music is never far away, because once I have sculpted a poem into something that has some kind of shape, some kind of recognizable form, I then put it through a process of reading it out loud. I have to hear how the poem sounds in order to determine where it should go, what it needs, or the extent to which I consider it finished. I guess that emphasis on sound, on hearing the poem comes from my musical training and background.

Fred Schmalz : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

Extremely. Since I was a kid, I have tried to train myself to hear everything around me as music, and to relish it accordingly. This includes the accidents, the interferences, the noise, and the happenstances of sound. The other morning on a run I was repeatedly dive-bombed by an angry crow along a tree-lined street. Though the crow’s aggression freaked me out, the screaming doppler effect as it swooped down was unrepeatable and astonishing. 

Saturday 20 June 2020

Michael Sikkema : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I’ve moved from thinking that poetry was something made by already famous people, tucked in books, and stuck in a library or classroom to thinking that poetry is a way of being in the world, characterized by transformation, improvisation, and collaboration. This shift was a process of unschooling, of refusing to think of a poem as a riddle to be solved, or a little didactic lesson to be learned. It was also a process of moving away from received forms and expectations and taking a more exploratory route. While I still respect haiku and sonnets and traditional forms, at some point it became obvious that they were just a little bit of a vast ecosystem and you could make poetry by the yard without ever having to consider them. I became very suspicious of popular book blurb ideas of “mastery,” and a poet being “at the height of their powers.” The term exerimentation is overused and overdetermined, but taken at its most basic definition, it means the poet can keep trying new approaches, can evolve, can keep attending to new voices, and exploring. I began to suspect that a small circle of friends who more or less got what you were up to was more important than having grad students write essays about the “School” you were in. I shifted from setting goals to get into Big Important Magazine to supporting and interacting with the small press world. I realized that promoting and publishing and creating venues for others to perform was just as important as writing and getting my work published. I also realized that writing/making in and of itself was a reward and had amazing mental health benefits,so doing a fair amount of work that you don’t even consider sending out or sharing is important and necessary.

Friday 19 June 2020

Jade Wallace : part five

What are you working on?

I recently finished re-editing my first full-length poetry manuscript, Love is a Place but You Cannot Live There, which is about how geographies shape our identities and relationships, and sent it off to a few publishers. (Wish me luck.) I'm currently writing my second full-length poetry manuscript, which looks at various forms of labour, my first full-length short speculative fiction manuscript, and my as-yet-untitled novella for my Master's degree. I am also part of  MA|DE, a collaborative writing group.

Dorsey Craft : 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?

My husband, who is an engineer and a totally science/math-oriented person, is often my first reader. His perspective is always really fresh and I can actually “read” his reactions better than anyone else’s and tell what he wants from the poem. After Kyle, I circulate it with a small group of poets. Eleanor Boudreau, Josh Wild, Marianne Chan, Lee Patterson, and Tanya Grae have been holding a Sunday poetry breakfast for a few years that I just got involved with last summer. The last couple of weeks we’ve reinvigorated poetry breakfast via Zoom, and it has really gotten my newer work off the ground. I also swap poems with Alexa Doran. We share the same obsession with euphony, so she always has great suggestions for the language.

Thursday 18 June 2020

Rory Waterman : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

It depends what you mean. Musicality is very important to my poems – but I don’t want to my answer to descend into some form of self-aggrandising criticism of my techniques, which will hopefully be apparent to anyone who reads my poems. Suffice it to say that poetry is made of sounds as much as it is made of explicatory language, and no poem can work if it doesn’t do interesting things with both, and between both. Music is important to my life, so it must be important to my poetry on some level. I am a born obsessive, and this week I’ve been waking up every morning to the compilation Joe Strummer 001, which is rich and varied from end to end. It makes me feel good, before I start hitting refresh on a news screen. Next week, it will be something else.

Wednesday 17 June 2020

Elaine Equi : part two

How does a poem begin?

Often with just a word or two. Sometimes I’ll start writing by making a short list of words that fit my mood, like a quick sketch. Even when I teach creative writing, I’ve asked students to write a poem that comes from one word. You can repeat it to create a chant or litany, or talk about the history of the word, or just explore your own personal associations with it. It’s amazing how evocative one word can turn out to be. I also really like concrete and minimalist poetry, anything that makes the word the star.

Ava Hofmann : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I started writing poetry in high school, like 10 years ago, so there’s inevitably going to be a lot of change between where I started and where I began. I grew up in a semi-rural small-town environment in a cult-y family where access to poetry wasn’t all that widespread. My first encounter with anything like experimental poetry was the work of e. e. cummings, which is not really all that experimental (nor am I necessarily still a big fan of his work). I think, at the very least, an interest in “weird shit” has remained from that time.

What has changed the most has been, I guess, the actual content of my work. When I started writing poetry, I was still religious. I wrote a lot of strange poems about god and Christianity, and in general I just tried to have kind of a weird sensibility about faith back then. Partly because I wanted to be artsy or whatever, but also because I was an extremely closeted person who couldn’t really acknowledge the fact that she was really a trans girl. I ended up writing poems about like, Christ’s piss being a holy relic, being erotically beaten up by a genderbent Jesus, or poems where I would just call myself a nun without any kind of accounting for my gender. And I was writing these poems both as a kind of sincere sacrament, but I think also as a place to explore the things I wanted to explore, stuff that was kind of taboo in my conservative environment—like my own transness. My poetry was a pathway out.

Eventually, I had started to write less about Christianity, and more about other stuff I cared about, like communism and history and infrastructure. But when I finally figured out religion wasn’t for me and I came out and started transitioning, what my poetry was really about had to change a lot. It was kind of if the form and the content of ways I had been writing finally clicked; form became an accounting of transness, and my transness became an accounting of form. I could really let loose with weird and visual stuff because I finally had a personal way of being in the world that aligned with it.

Alice Burdick : part one

Alice Burdick is the author of four full-length poetry collections, and a book of selected poems: Deportment: The Poetry of Alice Burdick. Her work has appeared in many chapbooks, broadsides, folios, magazines, journals, and anthologies, and she co-owns an independent bookstore in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia called Lexicon Books.

What are you working on?

I have found these months of the pandemic a very unproductive time in terms of writing poetry. I am working on a variety of writing projects, including a fun collaboration, but mainly I’m just keeping up with life - figuring out daily existence things like feeding, housing, and clothing the kids and cats (not so much with the clothes for the cats). Every now and then I write something, but it is incidental and not something I can dedicate a lot of time to right now. I’ve been doing this long enough that I know that life is doing the writing right now, and bits and pieces will present themselves for use later.

Tuesday 16 June 2020

Evan Jones : part four

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

Not really. I think if I needed renewal, I’d go looking for something new. I’m not the kind of poet who can go back, really, to try and think how I thought once. I like movement and development. Those poets who have settled into a voice: that’s too comfortable for me. I like listening to new and different voices. I guess I’m inconsistent that way.

Monday 15 June 2020

Bill Neumire : part four

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

Nothing? Everything? It’s a form that finds those who need it, I think. I’ve always bristled at efforts to push poetry on the public, to lament how few people read poetry, etc. I think its eclectic nature is its power in many ways, and it’s immensely available for free everywhere, so it holds this both democratic/idiosyncratic position that makes it alluring. For me, it accomplishes what those little plastic capsule creatures that expand in water are meant to accomplish--it’s a big bang universe that doesn’t bang until you read it, and then it keeps expanding, if it’s a good poem, each time you go back to it.

Sunday 14 June 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Lately I’ve been reading Carolyn Forché’s In the Lateness of the World and The Essential W.S. Merwin edited by Michael Wiegers. Forché’s work is just heart-stopping, I find, and I’m reading and re-reading her poems. I haven’t dipped too much into the Merwin yet, but there are one or two poems that have stood out for me so far and have just made me catch my breath. And before Forché and Merwin, I read Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic. What a gift to poetry, and to the world!

Fred Schmalz : part one

Fred Schmalz is the author of Action in the Orchards (Nightboat Books, 2019). He makes art in the collaborative Balas & Wax. His writing has appeared in Oversound, Poetry, A Public Space, Conduit, and elsewhere. He lives in Chicago.

Photo credit: Susy Bielak

How does a poem begin?

For me the poem begins with an encounter and an utterance about that encounter, which may happen at very different times. So, a recognition—here is something that gets to me, that I can’t quite shake, that moves me, that I have forgotten and recalled, or that I have seen and have to address. I rarely sit down to write “about” something—instead I rely on forgetting and the allowance for encounters to resurface while I am writing. I try to allow the imagery to serve as the starting points for poems.

Saturday 13 June 2020

Michael Sikkema : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Since writing is all wrapped up with music and performance and image making for me, my list looks like this:

Kenneth Pacthen, Gary Barwin, Roger Miller, Alice Notley, Bernadette Mayer, Harryette Mullen, Will Alexander, Fanny Howe, Brenda Hillman, bp nichol, Pablo Neruda, Inger Christenson, C.D. Wright, Russell Edsen, Celia Vicuna, d.a. levy, Michael Basinski, Jorge Carrera Andrade, Richard Brautigan, Ruth Krauss, Lucinda Sherlock, John Prine, Tom Waits, Dogon, Gertrude Stein, A Tribe Called Quest, Tom T. Hall, ee cummings, Slick Rick, Scott Snyder, Warren Ellis, Emo Philips, Stephen Wright, the Muppets, especially Gonzo. 

Friday 12 June 2020

Jade Wallace : part four

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

I heard once that poetry is the language that refuses all other categories. That's not a direct quote and I don't know whom I'm paraphrasing but I like that description. It suggests that poetry exists to try to fulfill any unmet needs we have for words. (Sometimes what we need is for words to be completely undone.)

Dorsey Craft : part one

Dorsey Craft’s debut collection, Plunder (Bauhan 2020), won the 2019 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. She is also the author of a chapbook, The Pirate Anne Bonny Dances the Tarantella (CutBank 2020). Her poems have appeared in Colorado Review, Greensboro Review, Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Southern Indiana Review, Thrush Poetry Journal and elsewhere. She lives in Lake City, Florida and serves as a poetry editor for Southeast Review.

What are you working on?

I’ve been writing poems about the mourning dove. It’s a cliché kind of bird, but I love the way that it pops up in literature and mythology. I grew up hunting doves, so I paid a lot attention to the way they fly, the shape their bodies make in the sky, what they sound like, and I’m interested in writing poems that put that experience in conversation with the dove as archetype. I was talking to my writing group on Zoom recently and we agreed that the quarantine feels like it’s coming into the poems no matter what. 

Thursday 11 June 2020

Rory Waterman : 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 always share almost everything, as I write it, with the American poet Nicholas Friedman. He knows how to bully me into doing better, and I try to do the same for him. Various versions of the typescript of my third collection, Sweet Nothings – which is being published by Carcanet in May – were also read by Anjna Chouhan, William Ivory and Alan Jenkins. Alan is a superb poet and editor. The other two are neither of these things: Anjna is a Shakespearean scholar and Billy a screenwriter. They’re great readers, tuned in to what I try to do, who aren’t afraid to tell me what they think. They also represent, to some extent, the non-poet audience I’m after, so I feel safer letting the book go now they have seen it. My editor Michael Schmidt is instrumental too. He made one small suggestion for Sweet Nothings that changed everything for the better. Poetry is not, for me, a collective endeavour, and I don’t trust the opinions of most people. But I’m lucky to have these ones to rely on.

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Elaine Equi : part one

Elaine Equi’s most recent book is The Intangibles from Coffee House Press. Her other books include Voice-Over, which won the San Francisco State Poetry Award; Ripple Effect: New & Selected Poems, which was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Award and on the short list for The Griffin Poetry Prize; and Sentences and Rain. Widely published and anthologized, her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Brooklyn Rail, Court Green, The Nation, The New Yorker, Poetry, and in many editions of the Best American Poetry. She teaches at New York University and in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at The New School.

What are you working on?

I’m always on the lookout for my next poem. I wish I could plan in advance what it will be about or what form it will take, but that usually doesn’t work for me. Instead I’m forced to rely on the inspiration or lack thereof that I find in the moment.  A friend of mine calls this method “one after another” rather than the big project. I’ve written some longer sequences, but in general, I tend toward shorter poems. I like their immediacy. I remember an interview with Robert Creeley, one of my poetry heroes, where he said, “My goal is to say as little as possible as often as possible.” That sounds like a good idea to me.

Ava Hofmann : part one

Originally from Oxford, Ohio, Ava Hofmann is a writer currently living and working as an MFA student in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She has poems published in or forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Fence, Anomaly, Best American Experimental Writing 2020, The Fanzine, Datableed, Peachmag, and Always Crashing. Her poetry deals with trans/queer identity, Marxism, and the frustrated desire inherent to encounters with the archive. Her digital chapbook, The Woman Factory, is forthcoming from The Operating System in 2020. Her twitter is @st_somatic and her website is

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Nowadays, I look at it visually on the page. There’s a really great visual art term known as horror vacui, which represents a tendency to not want to leave blank spaces in one’s work. In the moment of writing, I’m a fretful maximalist by nature; I want to be generous with my writing, provide as much of it as possible to a reader in a kaleidoscopic whirlwind. So, as a poem-architect, I have to be stingy; I need small portion sizes in order not to die from exhaustion (or overwhelm the reader too much). Thus, I turn to constraint. Like a visual artist, I choose size of my canvas before I even start to write. “Your poems in this series can only fit in a 3-inch-by-3-inch square.” “Your poems can only be 3 words long.” “You only have 5 seconds to write poem.” Etc.

An alternate answer is when it stops being a poem.

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Evan Jones : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I have been reading the American poet, Jack Gilbert, for a few years now. He’s wonderful. On my bedside table, I’ve got Ange Mlinko’s Marvelous Things Overheard, Norm Sibum’s Gardens of the Interregnum, Ciaran Carson’s Still Life, Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas and Manuel Vilas’ Heaven (translated by James Womack). These are all excellent books. I kind of go back and forth between them, a couple of pages of one, a couple of pages of another.

Monday 8 June 2020

Bill Neumire : 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?

That process has changed over the years. I distinctly remember early internet poetry chat groups on Prodigy as one of my first experiences with the internet! Then eventually I joined online poetry workshops like the Alsop Review’s Gazebo. I definitely used those voices to help me cut my teeth. But eventually I became more comfortable with my own process, and the voices I let in winnowed, so now it’s often that a poem feels right and done and I send it away when I encounter a publication that has a platform I love (that might mean a place that offers audio, or some sort of mini-interview or launch or social engagement--some way to be in less abstract contact with a world of readers). That said, I have had the deep pleasure of working with a few writers (like Hannah Craig, Steve Mueske [who many years ago published my first out-in-the world poem!], Jiordan Castle) who have always been immensely generous and open to telling me what they hear when I’m not yet comfortable with a piece or collection. Because even the best reader inevitably sees through their own lens, I’m always looking for new readers, new groups, and as I get older, new generations to put eyes on my poems and find new problems, new revelations.

Sunday 7 June 2020

Renée M. Sgroi : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

When I was in high school and in my undergraduate degree, I was taken with the work of Canadian poets Dorothy Livesay and Raymond Souster. Livesay was important for me because she wrote feminist poetry, which was really exciting, and I think I would add Margaret Atwood’s poetry in there too. Souster’s work spoke to me because of its simplicity, its openness, and its imagery. When I was in graduate school, I took a course on the long poem, and while we read some amazing stuff (William Carlos Williams’ “Paterson”, Michael Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Edward Dorn’s Gunslinger come to mind), the one that really stood out for me was Gertrude Stein’s “Lifting Belly”. I loved the idea that you could write a poem with such music, with such repetition, and with the idea that you could break away from some of the more traditional conventions about writing poetry that had been so strongly inculcated in the study of English literature up until that time. It was like a revelation for me.

Saturday 6 June 2020

Michael Sikkema : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

I think music and sound are pretty much central to my poetry. I often think of music and poetry as synonymous. Lyrics are poetry, and classical music gives us tone poems, and when poetry is performed well, the music lives right inside the words, rather than needing external accompaniment. I read all of my work outloud, score it for performance, think about the difference between how it works on the page vs how it plays on the stage, and will have different versions for different purposes. Listening to jazz, bluegrass, metal, and noise music has shaped my thinking about poetry vs the individual poem that I mentioned last time too. I love the way that musicians can choose destination out, can explore and interrogate certain themes. While I’m not a huge fan of self-indulgent jam bands who forget that they’re interacting with other people, I’m deeply influenced by musicians who will stretch a song so everyone can solo, and will blend voices so they’re truly collaborating, and will improvise, and see how far the edges can be pushed before they break. I wish more people in the poetry community thought more like musicians.

Friday 5 June 2020

Jade Wallace : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A poem is finished if it sounds like birdsong, if no words in it make me wince, if I get bored of it, or if I destroy it.

Thursday 4 June 2020

Rory Waterman : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I write a lot of reviews, and a lot of my poetry reading has been taken up by that in recent weeks. I write a round-up of poetry pamphlets for PN Review, which is especially good fun because I’m allowed to pick my winners and say why I like them. Recently, that has included new pamphlets by Hilary Menos, Vicki Husband, André Naffis-Sahely, Ramona Hardman and David Van-Cauter. I am also reviewing new books by Don Paterson and Medbh McGuckian for Poetry Review, and Peter Gizzi and Dan Burt for the TLS. I’ve reviewed for almost as long as I’ve written poems with any success, so I can’t quite separate one from the other. Thinking critically about what other poets are doing is, effectively, part of my process; a poem almost requires a public in order to be a poem. I’ve also been working my way very pleasurably through Roethke, Elaine Feinstein, and Les Murray.

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Alexa Doran : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The most difficult part of poetry for me is not returning to the same words, same body parts, same moments. You fall so deeply in love with a word like mouth or crescendo and suddenly mouths are gaping from every line, and every climax sounds the same. So, the hardest part for me is to keep expanding my toolbox, to keep letting the world in.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Evan Jones : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Every one of my books has involved translation at some level, and it’s that in-depth reading that a translator does that affects my writing most. I read the same way, looking at where the verbs and nouns fall, thinking about why one adjective and not another, wondering if an adverb is even necessary. So, right now, it’s Cavafy. In the past, I’ve translated French and other Modern Greek poets, like Robert Desnos (1900-1945), Andreas Embiricos (1901-1975), and Kiki Dimoula (1931-2020). I like to think like other poets think. That’s what translation allows me. I’m not terribly interested in the self and that kind of thing. I write by reading, always.

Monday 1 June 2020

Bill Neumire : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

When I was a kid I think poetry was a purely musical gesture (via Dr. Seuss, song lyrics, nonsensical rhymes), but then at some point it also became emotional, adding a level of moving what was inside of me out, and then again later it added a dimension that was social, writing poems in conversation with other poems, other artists; and then, too, there was a time when it added a dimension of the spiritual, in the sense that I came to sense the habits of writing had become habits of living and appreciating and considering greater questions of mortality.