Monday 31 August 2020

Tommye Blount : part five

How does a poem begin?

This is one of the questions that always makes me feel like a bad poet, because I don’t have one set way of approaching poems. There are some poems that arrive to me quite fast like “My God, Lick Him Clean” from my book Fantasia for the Man in Blue (Four Way Books). Then again, that might not be the whole picture.

The painting that sent me to the poem, “Portrait of Christopher D. Fisher, Fourth Reich Skinhead, 1995” by Peter Williams, had been in my head for years. It’s on view in Detroit of Institute of Arts (DIA). Before The Pandemic, I was a frequent visitor to the DIA, so the painting was always a stop on my perusal through the galleries. Nightmarishly grotesque yet somewhat whimsical, the painting challenged me and terrified me.

The DIA approached me about participating in a poetry series called “Poetry is Art / Art is Poetry.” They asked me, and a few other poets from Detroit, to pick a painting from the African American gallery, and write a poem in conversation with that painting. Of course, I knew it would be Williams’ painting. The actual writing of the poem took three months, but, unbeknownst to me, I had been writing it in my head over the years, each time I visited the painting.

With all of that said, I do think I write poems in my head, but don’t realize that I am doing that work. When I am pressured into writing a poem, a deadline or something like that, is when the thing actually comes out. Then there are some poems that, at the time of creation, I think of as false beginnings. I have abandoned many of those only to come back years later and go, “Oh, I know what you were after now, Tommye.” So I guess both are true for me in how poems begin: sometimes it requires pressure to get it from my head to the page; and other poems require a few years for me to catch up to their initial impulse.

Sunday 30 August 2020

Mark Harris : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry? 

The desire to get it right, to make an impossibly perfect creation, gets in the way. I need to tear that impulse down before I can write.

Saturday 29 August 2020

Charlie Clark : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Well, there are my teachers—Phillis Levin, Michael Collier, Stanley Plumly, Elizabeth Arnold, Joshua Weiner. Each of them was and remains incredibly important to my writing. But aside from direct tutelage, I’ve had countless moments reading poems and books that have altered my sense of what a poem is or can do, and therefore what I need to be willing to bring to the page, creatively. I think of these as moments from which there is no going back. One of the earliest such experiences I had was encountering Tomaž Šalamun’s poem “History” as an undergraduate. It was like nothing I had ever read before. There is the impossible (wonderfully self-mythologizing) assurance of that first line—so bold and yet somehow coy, the concision of each line, its understanding of breath and utterance, the tenuousness of the connection from line to line, image to image (though the connections are there). It’s a poem that starts one place and seems to run immediately in every other direction but forward. It’s a poem I have spent decades coming back to, imitating, reminding myself of how to move away from the self into the universe, but always remain in very tactile particulars.

More recently, I’ve been absolutely floored by Ai’s first few books: her ability to inhabit the dramatic first person, the project of exploring history through the voices of its players big (JFK, Joe McCarthy) and small (an anonymous journalist or police officer, a participant in Kristallnacht). She makes each of them intimate, strange, and worthy of our attention. The poems become so much more than a checklist of historical signifiers; they become excavations of the strange particulars of human psychology. They are phenomenal. There’s no going back from them.

Friday 28 August 2020

Victoria Mbabazi : part two

How does a poem begin?

A poem usually starts with me when I get fixated on a sentence from an intrusive thought or something someone said to me. I tend to use conversations as prompts which sometimes makes me a bad conversationalist because I can be quite spacey. If I have no one around me to use for content I go to music and I try to find inspiration from the beats or the rhythm of the songs.

Thursday 27 August 2020

Julie Hogg : part one

Julie Hogg is published widely in many literary journals and anthologies. Her debut pamphlets are Majuba Road Vane Women Press 2016 and Eleutheromania Blueprint Poetry Press 2019. She tweets @hogg_julie.

What are you working on?

Firstly, I’m currently thoroughly enjoying writing the final poems of my first, full, collection. Also, as a publisher, fellow poet Jo Colley and I are Blueprint Poetry Press; we founded in the later part of 2019, publishing satisfying slices of poetry by poets who are between full collections @poetryblueprint. Following publication of my debut pamphlet Majuba Road in 2016, Vane Women Press invited me to become a member of their esteemed collective; we publish first pamphlets of fine poetry by women poets in the North East of England. I’m lucky enough to review poetry pamphlets and collections for London Grip.

Michael Chang : part five

Why is poetry important? 

All poetry is political.  Let’s get that out of the way first.  For me, poetry is an avenue for political protest and bearing witness.  With my unique lens as a lawyer and political operative, I believe in storytelling as a means of affecting change.  Maya Angelou said that there “is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”  At a time when forces choose to pick at the historical scabs of inequity and injustice, we must bear witness!  We must say loudly: we’re here!  And use the language of seeing and telling as a means of strengthening our communities and advocating for our fellow people.

In my own work, I consider aspects of diaspora dislocation, estranging inheritance, the decentering of self, distance, rupture, and restlessness.  Ultimately, poetry is important because it challenges convention and introduces unruliness, boundlessness, borderlessness as a means of reclaiming power and enacting change.

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Keith Leonard : part one

Keith Leonard is the author of the poetry collection Ramshackle Ode (Mainer/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016). His poems have appeared recently or are forthcoming in New England Review, Ploughshares, and The Believer. Keith has received fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the Ohio Arts Council. He lives in Columbus, Ohio.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I’m afraid I don’t. Not really. It’s generally a vague sensation. I try to lean towards hope in my work—which is always an incomplete gesture, a feeling with a touch of mystery and momentum. For that reason, I try not to over-polish a poem—I want a line or phrase I don’t completely understand in there.

Tuesday 25 August 2020

James Knight : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I read a lot of contemporary poetry, and have been binge-reading Aase Berg recently (in Johannes Göransson’s translations). I discovered her work only a couple of months ago, and it has been a revelation. Her poems are surrealistic in their construction, juxtaposing unstable blocks of meaning and imagery in ever-shifting patterns, and there is an exciting ungainliness about clauses and sentences, a sort of violence on a grammatical level. There is such an abundance of good, well-written, polished poetry out there, poetry that feels too “right” to the reader, poetry that has perhaps been sanitised and rendered toothless. Berg’s poetry is the opposite: she does not give the reader the smooth ride of the perfectly-turned phrase. Instead, we are constantly challenged by poetry that demands to be read on its own terms, not ours. And she deals with big topics: nature and nurture; the complex relationship between words and things; the intractability of language; what it is to be human.

Monday 24 August 2020

Tommye Blount : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Music—pacing of syntax, patterning of sound, and metrical prosody—is at the service of the speakers in my poems. In other words, music isn’t just a perfunctory or happenstance occurrence, but it is there to help, or work against, a speaker navigating a specific moment or event or thought, which I think is one of the responsibilities of lyric poetry. When a poem fails to have a handle of its music, it can read as false or flat. An often-used example of music and speaker working in concert to affect tone is Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” with its constant volley of baby coos (all of those freaking o’s) over grotesque and dark imaginings of a father. I’ve heard people giggle when they read the poem aloud, but when one pays attention to the images, the effect is unsettling.

On the other hand, because I am a poet who believes in breaking rules, if a poem intentionally lacks music, but amps up other qualities, the result can be just as effective. So, yes, music or the intentional absence of music are very important considerations when I am writing.

Sunday 23 August 2020

Mark Harris : part three

How does a poem begin? 

The source of the impulse itself is a mystery, isn’t it? And everyone is different. I might be motivated by a desire to convey a notion difficult to express through conventional means, one that resists linear narrative. I’ll start with a few words I enjoy the sound of, or an observation, because why not start where attention is currently trained. Some people get things going by using divining systems like the I Ching. There are many approaches to staying open to possibility. I’m interested in what happens after the beginning, how we, author and reader, construct a world. The poem will end up going where it goes. I think it helps to remember a text is composed of words that have their own heft before and after the meanings we individually ascribe them.

Saturday 22 August 2020

Charlie Clark : part one

Charlie Clark studied poetry at the University of Maryland. His work has appeared in New England Review, Ploughshares, Threepenny Review, and other journals. A 2019 NEA fellow, he is the author of The Newest Employee of the Museum of Ruin (Four Way Books, 2020). He lives in Austin, TX.

Photo credit: Matthew Wester.

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 have the benefit of being married to an amazing poet, Sasha West. She’s usually my first reader. I also have a few friends with whom I exchange poems. But usually I’ll write something and then allow a big lag between the writing and showing to other people. Then there is another lag between showing Sasha or a friend and submitting to journals. This passage of time serves two functions. First, I want to see if the poem hangs around, if I keep caring about it. Many of the poems I write feel valuable in the moment, but three months later I can see that they were more like practice, more placeholders rather than the work I want to have out in the world. So if a poem seems important or valuable after several months, I trust it more as something to show others. Second, I want the poems to feel cooled off—for them to be estranged from my imagination—before I send them out, especially to journals. It helps me to see what’s important in the poem as opposed to what felt important at the time of composition. That said, it invariably happens that I will sit on a poem for six or seven months, decide it’s finished, send it somewhere, and then immediately get an idea on how to revise some part of it. What I mean is that my creative concerns are usually elsewhere by then. I think it was Ocean Vuong who said in an interview that he likes publication because it means he can turn his back on that work. That seems healthy. Which isn’t to say continuing to revise after publication is a bad idea. In particular, I recall seeing poems by Rick Barot (“The Wooden Overcoat”) and Reginald Dwayne Betts (“For the City that Nearly Broke Me”) in Poetry Magazine some years ago. Each poem then appeared in revised forms in their books (Chord and Bastards of the Reagan Era, respectively). I really appreciate that the poems can be public in different forms. And I enjoy the weirdness of not being totally sure which version to consider final. Probably the book versions, but the journal versions are still out there, insisting upon themselves.

Friday 21 August 2020

Victoria Mbabazi : part one

Victoria Mbabazi is a mental health major pursuing a double minor in creative writing and philosophy at the University of Toronto. Her can be found in The Puritan, CV2, Feels Zine, Bywords, Untethered Magazine, and  Release Any Words Stuck Inside You Volume 2. Her poetry placed second in The Hart House Review contest and her work has been shortlisted in Plenitude's Flash Fiction contest and long-listed in Room’s Poetry contest. She’ll be doing an MFA with a concentration in poetry at NYU in the fall and is currently working on a poetry collection.

Photo credit: Cas Harwood.

What are you working on?

Currently, I’ve been editing both my chapbook and full length poetry collection. I’ve also been trying to write one long epic. What I really mean is, I’ve written nothing in weeks and I’m stressing myself out with all of these projects.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Michael Chang : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Oh, God.  It’s like an acceptance speech, I don’t want to offend anybody by leaving them out.  Here is a very short list: Rae Armantrout, Alexander Chee, Alice Notley, Bernadette Mayer, Cathy Park Hong, David Trinidad, Denise Duhamel, Dennis Cooper, Dottie Lasky, Eileen Myles, Ellen Bass, Frank Bidart, Frank O’Hara, Justin Chin, Kim Addonizio, Natalie Diaz, Rick Barot, Wayne Koestenbaum, and countless others. And Jason Koo, absolute master of the long poem!

Every single one of these poets has challenged convention in their own way.  I think that is the overarching takeaway from reading their work.

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Dale Tracy : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Recreating a feeling that doesn’t have specific content.

Tuesday 18 August 2020

James Knight : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

There are too many to mention, so I’ll just concentrate on one. Henri Michaux had a huge impact on my thinking about what a poem is and the relationship between poetry and the visual arts. Michaux jettisoned the notion of the “poetic” (which even his contemporaries, the Surrealists, still clung to), allowing language free reign into new territories of thought and experience. His asemic writing bristles with anthropomorphic and zoomorphic figures, returning written language to a state of pictographic innocence in which the mark on the page exerts its fierce life, its resistance to straitjackets of meaning imposed by writer and reader. Much of what we regard as most cutting-edge in contemporary poetry was prefigured by Michaux several decades ago.

Monday 17 August 2020

Tommye Blount : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Vievee Francis is always my first answer to this question. A brilliant poet, and also a dear friend, who was my first poetry teacher. Through her example, the mysticism that often gets assigned to poetry was quickly dismantled. Francis taught me that poetry is work, not magic. It demands the same attention as building car engines on a Detroit assembly line—which I have done. This is not to say that there is no play involved, play is so instrumental to my process, but Francis taught that I have to chaperone that play as well.

Carl Phillips’ work was also pivotal to how I came to understand writing poems. Rock Harbor was my introduction to Phillips. Poetry, both its consumption and creation, demand patience—this is true of Carl’s work. There was such an organic connection between the lines of desire and the lines of syntax that just thrilled me to track and parse out in Rock Harbor. Each time he has a new book out, I gobble it up immediately. Before Carl Phillips, I never realized that (absolutely!) poets still work in sentences. Even when the best poets are manipulating traditional sentence constructions—I am thinking of my dear friend and poet francine j. harris now—there is still an awareness of the sentence’s power.

Then, of course, there are Cornelius Eady, Toi Derricotte, and Cave Canem, where I was lucky enough to workshop with so many: Patricia Smith, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, Erica Hunt, Colleen J. McElroy, Claudia Rankine, Cyrus Cassells, and Ed Roberson. Cave Canem instilled in me the audacity to demand more of my writing, while at the same time affirming that I have the know-how to be capacious and hold space in the larger poetic landscape—one beyond my hometown of Detroit.

Finally, where would I be without my mentors, and friends, who taught me more than poetry at Warren Wilson College: Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Martha Rhodes, A. Van Jordan, and C. Dale Young? Among many lessons under their tutelage, I learned (in actual practice) that my writing life would always be one in which the two (my writing and my life) will forever be inseparable. One territory feeds the other and back again.

Sunday 16 August 2020

Mark Harris : part two

How did you first engage with poetry? 

I came to poetry in a roundabout way, through other avenues. I’ve been involved in the visual arts since I studied painting in art school, and fascinations I embraced then continue to influence my thinking. Eventually I noticed my favorite artists often employ text in their artwork, and I slowly came to understand those texts as poetry.

Looking back to childhood, I want to give thanks to my mother, who recently passed away. She read aloud to my sister and me every night, picture books, novels, poetry. I remember liking a rhyme by Hughes Mearns that begins, “Yesterday upon the stair / I met a man who wasn’t there / he wasn’t there again today / I wish, I wish he’d go away” and will recite it to myself to this day. Mom was a fan of the blues. She loved to play recordings of her favorite singers. Dinah Washington was in heavy rotation, and I became intrigued by (without totally getting) her creative interpretation of song lyrics, the way she’d slip in slyly coded euphemisms, just behind the beat.

Saturday 15 August 2020

Maureen Hynes : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me, it’s often a visceral experience. There is a twinge in my gut, a physical recognition that a line in another poet’s poem, in a piece of art, in a moment in nature, in an experience, in an exchange with a friend, or sometimes even just the usage of a single word, that signals to me that I have something to say, something that carries a sense of urgency and also potentiality, something that could be well expressed if I can meet the challenge and stick with the work until the “truth” or vitality or pleasure or pain of that moment is revealed. 

Friday 14 August 2020

Lance La Rocque : part five

How does a poem begin? 

Poems seem to begin randomly from phrases I hear on the street, lines from songs, photographs, signage, titles of other people’s poems, lines from my journals, dreams.  But since my poems, for better or worse, seem unintentionally obsessive, they seem to begin in the unconscious before I’ve done anything concrete.

Thursday 13 August 2020

Michael Chang : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yeah, of course, it has to be a constant evolution.  I am very concerned, whether in my writing or reading, if I’m moving the ball forward.  One of my other passions is fashion, and fashion collections always hit me differently depending on certain ever-shifting factors like mood, time & place, what my body is yearning for, etc.  Same thing for poetry. 

There are definitely poets that I return to time and again, but I am also always on a path of discovery.  Because I teach, I find myself being a scout for new poets and underrated writers.  It is a constant curation: literally in the sense of reading lists for my classes but also mentally and spiritually for my own poetic practice. 

Right now I am reading New Poets of Native Nations (edited by Heid E. Erdrich), which is an anthology of amazing NDN poets.  Also Foreign Bodies by the inestimable Kimiko Hahn and Banana Palace by the legendary Dana Levin (who has the best author portraits).

Wednesday 12 August 2020

Dale Tracy : part four

Why is poetry important? 

Poems make structures graspable by the eye.

Tuesday 11 August 2020

James Knight : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

After initial, experimental exploration of an image or cluster of images, comes the graft. The process of refining, shaping, rearranging, etc, is time consuming and hard. I have to think about the poem differently, critically. The process of challenging myself, being really tough on myself, can be exhausting. I often feel as if a poem can never be finished satisfactorily. Its faults and foolishness obscure everything else about it. The solution comes through leaving a poem alone for a few days, or even longer. Going back to it, I’ll often see it differently and realise what I need to do to complete it. Thereafter, the challenge is to not constantly tinker. My visual poems in particular are subjected to endless tinkering, and sometimes small adjustments add up to big changes, so that the revised visual poem is radically different from the original: effectively a different poem.

Monday 10 August 2020

Tommye Blount : part two

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

Poetry is the queerest of all the artistic letters—at least more so than fiction or essay. On a formal level, poetry can assume whatever shape it deems vital to its intent: prose chunk, a list, reportage, documentary, instruction, spell—the possibilities are only limited to the practitioner’s imagination. This isn’t to say that fiction doesn’t do this kind of shapeshifting too. To be sure, one only needs to see: the shifts into lyric and verse in Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Beloved; Tommy Orange’s There There—with its percussive anaphora in the chapter on the drummer-character Thomas Frank or the essay-like prose of the “Prologue” and “Interlude” chapters; the play that one suddenly finds themselves in the middle of in Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men. No, my point is: where this shapeshifting is a necessity to the fabric of poetry, it isn’t necessary to how we experience fiction—although it is exhilarating when it happens there.

I’m also thinking about how some of my favorite poems handle words as objects. These are word-objects that have varying weight and textures, so that when they hit against each other, they create sound and music and other physical shapes. It’s the poet, for example, who notices the noun “duplicate” is a copy of the verb “duplicate”; or the way “parallel” contains parallel lines; or how “th” in the word “teeth” forces one’s tongue to be slightly bitten by their teeth. Unlike other artistic letters, the presence of word-objects is as vital to a poem’s success as any meaning or news that may be found on an informational level. At its best, poetry has the capability to engage the entire body, in a tangible way, when it is read.

Sunday 9 August 2020

Jonathan Andrew Pérez : part five

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

The best poets are distinct in their pain, either through joy or the architecture of building time.  In that sense historical revisionary works appeal to me.  Likewise, I respect Wallace Stevens for his projections into the subconscious.  John Ashbery for his weirdness. Gwendolyn Brooks for her ritual revision of belonging and epic status.  I am drawn to messing with form, too.  The most pertinent example for me are the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets, who are architects of transcendental distinctions. I also enjoy the many personas of Pessoa, and the ballade quality and folk vision of Gabriel Garcia Lorca.

Mark Harris : part one

Mark Harris’ most recent booklet The Other Other reprises a collaboration with artist Keith Crowley at Art Center Sarasota in May 2019, an exhibition that paired paintings "Familiar (1–12)” with a multi-part poem "Nocturnal". His poetry has appeared in a wide range of magazines, and several compilations, including NOON: An Anthology of Short Poems and a Norton anthology Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years. He currently resides in New Jersey, where he devotes an increasing amount of his energy to Ornithopter Press, an independent publisher of poetry.

Photo credit: Laura Harris

What are you working on? 

I’ve returned to a manuscript I had set aside for a while. Its initial impetus was a group of poems inspired by my part-time art museum job. I work with objects in the collection hands-on, and those poems reflect that experience. They became the bones of a longer project that has branched out into formally varied pieces loosely united in questioning the nature of perception, cognition, gaze, shared attention, identity, aesthetics, etc.

Saturday 8 August 2020

Maureen Hynes : part four

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

Poetry can work in so many modes and genres and topics– purely emotional, narrative or historical, scientific, biographical. But I think, at its core, and no matter its subject matter, poetry is a form that usually relies on cadence and sound and music more than others; that somehow manages to present some piercing truths or perceptions that get overlaid or overlooked in our day-to-day lives; and often –not with every poet, but many-- seeks to intensify by distilling or condensing language. That mysterious process of revealing more by saying less. Poetry can also be a way to play with language that other literary forms tend to make less use of.

Friday 7 August 2020

Lance La Rocque : part four

How important is music to your poetry? 

I spent years trying to learn how to play the guitar and how to read music. I hoped that listening to and playing music might help me develop a greater sensitivity to sound. I don’t have any talent, but the endless practice might have helped my poems. I don’t know.  I also learned a lot about how flexible singers can be when phrasing lines over a regular beat. The same lines/lyrics can be performed very differently. Somehow that frees up my approach to lines.

Thursday 6 August 2020

Michael Chang : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

A poet’s poet would say that a poem is done when it has nothing left to say!

When I write, I go through the research process, let things marinate, and then start writing.  And because I’m not rushing to put things on the page, the poems usually come out 90% done.  I then make cosmetic changes and small tweaks.  I guess a poem is finished when I get sick of looking at it.  I’ll let it sit, or send it out, and then come back after some time has passed and the distance lets me see it with fresh eyes.

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Dale Tracy : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

At first I knew I was playing with language to make ideas I didn’t have yet. Now I know that writing poetry for me is writing theory, which means that I’m more active about following how ideas I find out in poetry re-shape ideas I already know.

Tuesday 4 August 2020

Calibna J. Kerr : part five

Why is poetry important?

I think poetry is important because it has been a cornerstone of our culture, it’s how we have told stories, created myths, legends throughout the ages, and I think it still has its place in our contemporary culture now. It enables people to communicate on an esoteric level, where there is a unique bond created between writer and reader. And I often find myself returning to poetry to discover meaning and to identify solutions in the bigger problems. I think from the perspective of the writer themselves, and many poets I believe would agree, that poetry is like meditation. It is an opportunity to rid yourself of the darkness, to decompress. It’s important to the writer of course as poetry itself I suppose forms the greatest of counsellors, and on late rainy nights poetry has enabled me to release the pressure of modern life and living.

James Knight : part one

James Knight is an experimental poet and digital artist. His books include Void Voices (Hesterglock Press), Self Portrait by Night (Sampson Low) and Chimera (Penteract Press). Website: Twitter:

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem almost always begins as an image in my mind, which I then explore on the page through free association, until a cluster of strong images emerges. Those images then form the basis for the poem or, more frequently, a series of poems; I rarely work on one poem at a time, and usually find that an image is so insistent as to demand several poems in which to play itself out. For example, an image that came to me earlier this year was that of a metallic figure like a massive antenna that resembled Christ on the cross, but also suggested some sort of hieroglyph, a sign to be read. That image recurred in a number of poems I wrote.

When I’m making a visual poem the starting point may be a mental image, but more often it is a photograph. I might be struck by some aspect of the photo, something in it that seems half-hidden. I use a range of processes to deform and transform the photograph into something that bears no obvious resemblance to the original image; something hidden emerges. I work experimentally, with no fixed idea in my mind of how the visual poem should end up. The core image that forms the basis of the visual poem has often been arrived at accidentally.

Monday 3 August 2020

Tommye Blount : part one

A Cave Canem alum, Tommye Blount is the author of Fantasia for the Man in Blue (Four Way Books, 2020) and What Are We Not For (Bull City Press, 2016). A graduate from Warren Wilson College, he has been the recipient of a fellowship from Kresge Arts in Detroit and the John Atherton scholarship from Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. His work has been featured in Magma, New England Review, Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day, Ecotone, Ninth Letter, Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Detroit, Tommye now lives in Novi, Michigan.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

“Finished” is a word I try not to use when it comes to revising drafts. I’m hardly the first poet to say this—I remember Cornelius Eady at a Cave Canem retreat speaking of poems as attempts—but poems are abandoned and never finished. At least that is the visceral sensation I am after when I am in the act of drafting, because I am suspicious of my body’s circuitry and its lust for neat closure. A mentor once told me, “Have you ever noticed how your poems sort of snap close at the end? It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to pay attention to.” Uneasiness is the final sensation I look for when drafting. A better word is discomfort. Discomfort as nervy as the top of a head coming off—that old nutshell from Dickinson. This is how I know that I have arrived at a place I was never expecting to find. A momentary respite? Yes, because there is always the next poem in which I can attempt, but splendidly fail at, getting to some sense of comfort—read finality. A continuum that, I hope, will never meet its end until I die.

Sunday 2 August 2020

Jonathan Andrew Pérez : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Not remembering the beginning.  How I got to the point in which the poetic architecture stops.  The capacity is something that comes out of workshopping, a surrealistic ritual that blows up one’s safety and assumptions, and mines the margins.

Saturday 1 August 2020

Maureen Hynes : 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?

Yes, I have several long-term writing groups that I rely on for inspiration, attentive editing, motivation, and encouragement. These groups are a crucial part of my writing practice, and have broadened my poetic goals and sharpened my revision skills. And they hold me accountable:  we each feel the responsibility to bring a new piece of writing, and if nothing else does, that gets us writing.

Over the past eight years or so, many of my poems have emerged in the reading/writing classes that Hoa Nguyen teaches; we write in response to, or alongside, the poet we’re reading (these have included Charles Olson, Frank O’Hara, Gertrude Stein, James Schuyler, Emily Dickenson, C.D. Wright, Philip Whalen, Jack Spicer, Lorine Niedecker and so many others).  I’m grateful to Hoa and the poets we have read because, through them, I think I’ve learned to “aerate” my poems a little more, to reduce their narrative density and to turn to allusiveness more.

But I also have several long-term writing groups that I also rely on for inspiration, editing and encouragement. These groups are a crucial part of my writing practice. In the 90s, I started out with a women writers’ group—we called ourselves The Miss Vickies (after the potato chips!)—where we simply sat and wrote in each other’s company. As time has gone on, I’ve helped form or joined a few other groups, each with a personality and purpose of its own. An important one has been with Barry Dempster, Maureen Scott Harris, Jim Nason and Liz Ukrainetz, each an accomplished writer and editor. Out of this this group grew a project, an interview that Maureen Harris and I did with Barry Dempster about his writing and editing career. (Parts of this interview were published online in The Puritan (; the full interview will be published as a chapbook by Maureen Scott Harris’s Fieldnotes/MSH Press). Other regular groups that meet (now online through Zoom) to edit poems are “The Inconvenients.” and a large and experienced group that John Reibetanz facilitates out of Victoria University at UofT. And finally, for the past 8 or so years, four of us who stared writing together after breakfast in High Park’s Grenadier Restaurant now meets on Zoom (no breakfast, alas).

Each of these groups has provided invaluable support and learning, and as I said, motivation to keep writing.