Friday 31 December 2021

Kevin Varrone : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I never feel like a poem is finished. I’ve been a nightmare for anyone who has ever published my poems, I’m sure, because I always want to keep tinkering. There are just so many possibilities within every sentence it’s hard––impossible––for me to imagine not at least having a go at as many of them as I can.

Kevin Carey : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Banana Bread (JD Scrimgeour), Battle of Sillicon Valley at Daybreak (Alex Peary), Imagine Sisyphus Happy (RG Evans), When My Body Was a Clenched Fist (Enzo Silon Surin), Her Kind (Cindy Veach), Uncertain Acrobats (Rebecca Hart Olander), My Tarentella (Jennifer Martelli), Rewilding (January O’Neill), Emblem (Richard Hoffman), after that (Kathleen Aguero), How Her Sprit Got Out (Krysten Hill), Pelted by Flowers (Kali Lightfoot), Cloud Pharmacy (Susan Rich), Threshold (Joseph Legaspi).

Thursday 30 December 2021

Jessica Anne Robinson : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Lately I have been reading: Ada Limón’s Bright Dead Things; Kate Camp’s How to Be Happy Though Human; Ryanne Kap’s Goodbye, Already; and Amanda Merpaw’s Put the Ghosts Down Between Us. Next on my list is Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Coast Mountain Foot.

Victoria Toykkala : 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?

Typically, my work enters the world in my phone on my notes app. My mind is always racing, so when I get inspired or have something I think may be good for a poem or even just a stream of thoughts, I get it onto my notes so I don't forget and go back and edit. I have a close friend that has encouraged me and has helped me develop as a writer, which is really great!

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Abigail Wender : part seven

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Searching for an authentic subject. I don’t want to write about writing or about something that doesn’t mean a great deal to me. That’s why I like translation—it’s grounded in something vital. 

Nikki Dudley : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I used to think a poem or piece of writing was finished but sometimes, even when I see it in print, I’m still not sure it is! I think it’s an important skill to learn to let go of a piece of writing and it’s taken me a while, but I think I’m nearly there. I think the best we can hope for is that the message you wanted to portray has come across, even if it’s a more experimental piece and your intention was to challenge or surprise someone. 

Tuesday 28 December 2021

Cam Scott : part four

How does a poem begin?

So far, my project has compelled me to view every poem as an eddy mid-stream of an enormous social current, so I have a difficult time demarcating them, even by author. Of course they exist apart from me and separately, but I preserve them as odd, indelible phrases that swim together, whatever their attribution. Where my own writing is concerned, poems always begin musically, with a particular sonic effect of language that exceeds or precedes or even strengthens meaningful communication.

David Bradford : part three

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

Renee Gladman’s Calamities, Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart’s The Hundreds, Rachel Blau Duplessis’s various Drafts, Fred Moten’s “On Freedom,” Andrea Actis’s “Volta: One poem,” Claudia Rankine’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely, Anne Boyer’s “Questions for Poets”—I feel like exposing our reading loops is both irresistible and embarrassing, but here we are anyway.

To give a straight answer I’ve got to bend the question a bit because I’m most likely to return to hip hop. When I’m spent, sometimes I think 2Chainz’s “FREEBASE”—those “I came from nothing” hoots get me every time, but also: 

Work hard play hard work hard again (Freebase)
My bankroll had twins can you comprehend (Freebase)

To make sense of this thing we do, I like to be reminded of the whole maniacal theatre of confidence and hustle and survival that can go into it. Often Princess Nokia’s 1992 Deluxe gives me that too, but with a different kind of situatedness than the above—I’m thinking of “G.O.A.T.”, that “eatin’ off the land” serious joke seriously landed. I go to Jay Rock’s “WIN” for the cynical but critical mass version of the same—you know if you know it.

But lately, it’s been JID’s DiCaprio 2. JID’s a poet’s poet, an MC’s MC, an ATLien talking that shit. I’m reminded of Simone White wondering why she’s so stuck on hip hop and the moments when she may have stopped caring. This whole album’s one of those moments and a complete classic to me, but “Despacito Too” took me forever to get into. Now, though, it breaks me right into something insular but big—a chip on the shoulder, that paranoid player one, forever fresh and on refresh—and it reminds, me, on some level, poets are always playing, playing hard, even darkly:

I can be a dream, yeah, or I can be a nightmare
Born on Halloween night, it seems like a light year
Double my sprite, hey my guy do you got a light, yeah
Squash them pea, plenty lion and many bison, huh
Seen some, seen one, but it's not many like 'em
When I fry or when I die, bury me with many mics, yeah

If you can fully work out the rhythm he so fully works out here, you’re doing alright. Give it a listen. This whole poem thing is a dramatic, unreasonable confidence game we’re playing with ourselves. That good-good rap reminds me to big it up.

Monday 27 December 2021

Danielle Wong : part four

What other poetry books have been reading lately?

I came across Andrea Gibson last year on Spotify, reading several of her poems. Each of the poems was filled with an incredible amount of passion. It was that passion that made me decide to buy her latest book You Better Be Lightning. It is a beautiful book, filled with empathy, understanding, encouragement, and love. Two of my favorite poems in that book are “Acceptance Speech after Setting the World Record in Goosebumps” and “Instead of Depression”; she lists facts in “Acceptance Speech” that really do leave you with goosebumps and I have to agree with her that we could remove the stigma of depression by phrasing the situation differently, focussing on what you need to do to get better, such as rest, rather than just give a label that many people cannot understand.

I have also been reading Resistance: Righteous Rage in the Age of #METOO, which is an anthology of poets discussing the trauma of abuse. The poems in there are powerful. When I sit with it, I can only read a few poems at a time. Each one of them stops me in my tracks and sends me off wondering about the horrible experiences many people have.

There are some chapbooks I have been reading from Yavanika Press. still lifes by Ron Scully is an incredible chapbook of short poems with gorgeous art. where the roots are, edited by Shloka Shankar, is a wonderful collection of short form poetry. Each one of these poems is proof of the power of words that make you stop and think.

I also read a lot of poetry from literary journals like Room, Vallum Mag, The Pine Cone Review, Tipton Journal, and many others.

Sunday 26 December 2021

Charlene Kwiatkowski : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Oof, many things. Aside from the ever-present threat of cliché, an ongoing one is holding the tension between accessibility and mystery. Too much emphasis on the former can lead to poetry that reads more like statement or fact; too much emphasis on the latter can lead to obscurity for the sake of obscurity. I want to land somewhere in the middle: to say enough so readers aren’t lost but not too much that they don’t have to put any effort in. Poems are, after all, a conversation, a living thing. I gravitate towards narrative poems where I proceed linearly but I’ve been challenged to take more imaginative leaps. Emily Dickinson’s exhortation to “tell all the truth but tell it slant” is a good refrain to keep in my head. 

Saturday 25 December 2021

Paolo Bicchieri : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Man, so many great poets putting out work right now. As Antony Fangary told me while pouring me a cup of coffee the other day: poetry is in a renaissance. His book, Haram, is dope, as is Roberto Santiago’s Like Sugar, Kevin Madrigal’s Hell/A Mexican, Ben Gucciardi’s West Portal, Dena Rod’s Scattered Arliss, and Cal Calamia’s San FranShitshow all are in and around my life right now. A few I go to on the regular are Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic and Ada Limon’s The Carrying.

Nathan Anderson : part four

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

I find myself coming back to Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein again and again. I find it both mentally dislocating and remarkably powerful. It always works to inflame my mind.

Friday 24 December 2021

Kevin Varrone : part one

Kevin Varrone’s chapbook, How to Count to Ten, was recently published by above/ground press. He live outside Philadelphia.

What are you working on?

I’m currently RE-working on something I have been writing for a few years now. It’s a book-length sequence of poems about the alphabet called The Collected Letters. It began when my 3 kids, who are each 2 years apart, were at various stages of language acquisition and I started (re) paying attention to words and letters and even the component graphic elements of letters, (sort of) as if I was encountering them for the first time (again?). I’ve been at these poems for a number of years now, trying to figure out what I’d like them to do and then trying to get them to do it.

Kevin Carey : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It’s not a consistent process for me. I’m sure there were many times when I thought a poem was finished, but fortunately I have some poet friends who have set me straight. In those instances, it’s probably been a case of over finished, trying to hard in the end to make a point, or to be too dramatic. There’s that idea that the poet Paul Muldoon brings up “about bringing the reader to the party and nipping out the bathroom window.” Getting out at just the right time, on the right line. Often in drafts I bury that end line somewhere in the poem and I don’t give its proper place. When I figure that out, knowing where to put that line for the most impact, or to leave the reader with something interesting, then it’s a finished poem, I think.

Another thing that tends to happen is usually I will begin later and end sooner than the draft version. Cutting back on both ends seems to be a constant. 

Thursday 23 December 2021

Jessica Anne Robinson : part four

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

Poetry does not sacrifice form to produce meaning. By which I mean, a poem can be beautiful and nothing else and still be a poem – and it is from that beauty that we then derive meaning. In poetry the meaning can be beauty, without feeling as though something is missing or lacking. I don’t find that to be the case often, if at all, with other forms.

Victoria Toykkala : part one

Victoria Toykkala (v.m.t) is a writer and a cat mom of two, who lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

She has forthcoming poems in @tinywrenlit ISSUE 1 & December 2021 ISSUE @VerseZine

Besides writing, she enjoys coffee, hiking and thrift shopping.

You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @vmtpoetry. 

What are you working on?

Currently, I am working on expanding my knowledge on poetry, writing and life in general. I have been creating a lot which is really great, and I've also been going through old poems with fresh eyes and just having fun in the process. It's really cool so see myself grow as writer and a person. I have been inspired by a muse which has really been a huge part of creating my work. A

lot of my work is pretty dark and I have been working on some NSFW content as well!

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Abigail Wender : part six

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

I can’t speak for poetry in general--but for me, poetry is my medium. The song of poetry gets inside me and I like that, and I like words with all their nuances, different allusions, connotations, and references. Words are like tree roots, and there are so many roots to follow that it makes my heart beat faster and my brain snap louder.

Nikki Dudley : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

A writer visited my school and taught us about similes and metaphors and I thought it was the best thing ever! I also had trouble doing joined up handwriting and my mum made me sit down after school and copy out poems from a children’s poetry book – she had an inadvertent role in my writing career!

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Cam Scott : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

There are several writers or historical moments that completely altered my ideas about poetry. John Ashbery weaned me from some fairly staid, morally upright modernist fare and felt immensely permissive. bpNichol always brings me back to basics, to the level of the letter. I think that he taught me how to really look at poems, rather than greedily reading as if to paraphrase. Elizabeth Smart more so than any polemicist affirmed for me that the writer must be fanatical in some respect, and when I encountered New Narrative I felt a similar affinity. The Kootenay School of Writing really lit a fire under my ass—it had that para-academic precocity that one associates with Language poetry but felt unaffiliated, rough-shod, DIY, more rebellious than scholastic. I related it immediately to punk, which was something I knew how to do. 

David Bradford : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Hugely, yeah. I think, on the one hand, I was exposed to so little when I started writing poetry because I’m just old enough that the internet was much smaller for poetry then, and one had to rely on teachers and library stacks to figure out where one stood with this thing. As a weird little light-skin kid with very white teachers, that was mostly bad news for me. Then everything became reachable all the time and what I do now has been made possible by that, full stop. That’s one reason I’m always—with massive caveats, just like everyone else—grateful for the internet.

On the other hand, I think a natural shift has occurred over time, wherein I’ve moved from working to take myself seriously as a poet to working to take poetry serious as a practice. It’s a trope, no doubt, but: this stuff has kept me going, kept me alive. People taking you seriously has, on its own, next to no shelf life; I try (try) not to think about how the work will be received when I get to the reception part because the angst that can come with is has no life in it for me. So, now I work to make my days busy with the practice of this work keeping me alive. My understanding of taking that seriously, of being dead serious about how hard you have to keep pushing for that life to keep, has grown with that. It’s the way a sprint is enough to get you high at first, and by year 19 it’s running an ultra in the woods with a bad knee by headlamp in the middle of the night wondering when you’ll start vomiting. That growth is still changing poetry for me.

Elena Bentley : coda

Thank you for including me in this virtual space for poets! I want to leave you with something to chew on (one of my favourite stanzas of poetry):

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
- from “Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand


Monday 20 December 2021

Magpie Ulysses : part five

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins as something incredibly small or incredibly big. Usually, in my mind it is born of a juxtaposition or an irony. A dripping leaf after a storm, the impacts of colonialism on the environment, a funny joke, some righteous absurdity that lives in the palm of our hands. To me, growing a poem is always a process of expansion or distillation to find the pure form of an idea, a feeling, a rhythm, a thought, a joke.

Danielle Wong : part three

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

Non-fiction provides information. It teaches us. It keeps us grounded. 

Fiction entertains us. It introduces us to situations we probably will never find ourselves in. It takes us to places we probably will never see in our lifetime. It keeps on edge, makes us laugh, makes us cry. At the end, we have, hopefully, thoroughly enjoyed our journey with the characters.

Poetry is a bit different. It can do what both non-fiction and fiction can do. It can be factual. It can take us to another world. All the emotions that go with suspense can be brought up. Poems can be downright silly, like those of Shel Silverstein. They can be romantic like Pablo Neruda or Shakespeare. However, the process is slower with poetry.

With non-fiction and fiction, we read it sequentially page after page. In non-fiction, we may flip back to a previous section to remind ourselves of a fact or two before continuing where we are in the book. 

We can read poetry books the same way, from page one straight to the end, but we often stop part-way through a poem to think. Or we stop at the end and reread once, twice, before continuing. 

Poetry slows us down, keeps us from rushing. It helps us to stop and think. We will read the meaning of the poem at a superficial level, but some use of word, some phrasing, will surely make us think there may be another meaning. Our mind continues to think about the poem long after we have closed the book. Eventually, we may have no choice but to return to the poem and reread it.

By slowing down, rereading, and thinking, poetry can bring us a consciousness of the abstract. We may not be any good with paint brushes or pencils, but we can see murals unfold in our mind. Each unfolding draws on additional emotions. From the newly found emotions, we come to another level of understanding, not necessarily of the poet, but of ourselves and the world around us. Other forms of literature are too fast in comparison to be able to achieve this type of awareness.

How is it that poetry can make us slow down while other forms can’t? I think it is, to some extent, more personal than other forms of writing and we all sense that. Even when a poem is presenting facts, we can feel underlying currents of the poet’s emotion or reaction to the facts. An excellent example of this Victims of Ted Bundy: Washington State and Oregon by Caitlin Elizabeth Thomson. Each poem is dated to the death of a victim and each poem is named after a victim. It gives the facts of what each victim had been doing the day they were murdered. It is completely factual, but with just a few words, the positioning, the breathing, we feel chills, as if we may be next. We feel the pain the victims’ families and friends experienced. We feel disgust at seeing how quickly incorrect assumptions are made about the victim. 

If we can become that entangled with raw emotion over facts, it is no wonder we feel a private connection with the poet when they speak of love, death, nature. We slow down because each poem is a private conversation who really needs to let someone know a secret. We may read in hushed tones. We may read loud. Yet these secrets are always held closer to us and make us think about our own lives. That is what poetry does more than any other form.

Sunday 19 December 2021

Charlene Kwiatkowski : part three

Why is poetry important?

Like all art, poetry is a response to the world, and as a wise person once told me, “Response matters.” It seems that there are just as many ways to respond to the world as there are ways of being human, and that’s a mind-boggling thing. Art responds creatively, generatively, which is an important distinction from the ways we can respond destructively. Poetry connects us to place, to people (including ourselves), to worlds past, present, and future. Poetry is not fast reading or listening. It requires slowing down, sitting with, reflecting, returning. In our high-speed, consumer-driven culture, poetry is nothing short of subversive.

Saturday 18 December 2021

Paolo Bicchieri : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I think writing holds a unique place in folks’ minds that writing and being a writer is cool and somehow worth more than other crafts or hobbies. Since that feels true to me, I’ve felt that the most difficult thing about writing poetry is finding out why one is writing it and for whom? The focus is so often on the product but not the process. As a white person I have asked myself a lot why I write poetry, for what audience, and what space that takes up or creates. Loads of people putting out poems aren’t curious about what stereotypes they might perpetuate, what topics they are ignoring, and what poetry community we do and don’t create by remaining ignorant to our intentions. 

Nathan Anderson : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Currently I'm working my way through IMPROVISATIONS by Vernon Frazer and I recently finished Palace of Culture by Ania Walwicz. Both are excellent. 

Friday 17 December 2021

Kevin Prufer : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

I believe that music in poetry is often paraphrase-able and is sometimes at its best when it works in counterpoint (or in opposition) to what any summary of the poem might suggest the poem is about.  I love the way Emily Dickinson’s profound ambivalence about the nature (or existence) of the divine comes couched in the music of hymn meter.  Is the hymn meter ironic?  Or does it create a musical backdrop of faith against which the poem works out its doubts?  And what to make of the complex syncopation of “The Weary Blues” or “Not Waving But Drowning,” one paraphrase-able rhythm and tune interrupting and undercutting the previous one.  Poems have melodies, though it takes some study to learn how to describe the qualities of melody.  Still, music is inseparable from poetry; without it, there is no poetry.

Kevin Carey : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

I was in my late thirties, having bounced around a bit and decided to take some creative writing graduate courses at Salem State College (now Salem State University). In one of those classes the professor (Rod Kessler) assigned a book of poems by Philip Levine, New and Selected Poems. I remember reading a poem called Starlight. When I finished all I could think of was my father. There was an immediate connection to Levine’s poems, their storytelling, narrative nature. Years later I read an interview with him and he said, "I want to bring poetry to people who have no idea how relevant poetry is to their lives." That was me. 

Over the years I’ve read so many poets who have lifted me up and inspired me. A few that jump out are Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Laura Boss, Gerald Stern, Niki Giovanni, Franz Wright, Afaa Michael Weaver, Naomi Shihab Nye and Ruth Stone.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Jessica Anne Robinson : part three

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem begins with any line that you can’t otherwise extricate from inside yourself unless you write it down. These can also begin as images or experiences or feelings, but I find my mind is very language-driven, and I think in fragments if not complete sentences. The initial lines don’t necessarily remain the first lines of poems – sometimes they migrate down a stanza or two, sometimes they wind up at the very end. An example of this is what became the last line of “a Demy trilogy spinoff,” the first poem in my forthcoming collection (originally published in Harbor Review): “if this were my life i could live like this.” It is a line that continues to echo around inside me. That, to me, is the beginning of a poem.

Douglas Cole : part five

Why is poetry important?

I don’t know that I would say poetry is important, but it’s certainly primal, in a way. Once we began using language we began creating poetry. I think poetry shows the essence of what language itself can to do. On the one hand, it describes and catalogues our world in a system which is very useful for survival. Poetry contains our most fundamental beliefs: just read any religious text. On the other hand, poetry, like language, is also a means for discovery. I mean, if you go into the writing of poetry with the intention of saying something, you’re only exploring half of what it’s capable of doing. But if you go into writing poetry looking to see what it reveals, letting go of the ego and all the intentions it’s heir to, then you’re on the adventure. Then you’re really going somewhere new. 

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Abigail Wender : 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?

I write notes in a book and sometimes share these beginning poems with other writers, sometimes not. Eventually I will share the poems I’m writing with a few close readers, to see if I’m on to something. I like to hear what my friends think. But my poems enter the world like infants--bare, raw, and generally unformed. Time will tell me what to do with them and I treat them gently. 

Nikki Dudley : part one

Nikki Dudley is managing editor of streetcake magazine and also runs the streetcake writing prize and MumWrite. She has a chapbook and collection with KFS. Her pamphlet I'd better let you go is out with Beir Bua Press. She also has a new poetry collection, Fanny B. Mine, out with Beir Bua Press. She has a forthcoming Legitimate Snack with Broken Sleep in 2022. She is the winner of the Virginia Prize 2020 and her second novel, Volta was published in May 2021. Her website is:

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on a novel, which is a speculative thriller. I’m also working on a collection about my fears. It’s going well but I need to dedicate more time to it. 

Tuesday 14 December 2021

Cam Scott : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

For years before I wrote poetry as such I sang—shouting, truthfully—in punk bands, and my first lyric attempts were wholly musical, insofar as the words were secondary signification; I was far more interested in affective extremes of the human voice, however unintelligible as speech. Unsurprisingly, the words were often maudlin and ridiculous beneath the level of yowling rage. For more than a decade since, I’ve worked closely alongside and with an ear to improvised music, composing extemporaneously for principally sonorous effect. A lot of writing simply thematizes music and suggests a complementary playlist, but I’ve always tried to think of my writing in sonic terms first and foremost.

David Bradford : part one

David Bradford is a poet and translator based in Tiohtià:ke (Montréal), on the unceded territory of the Kanien:keha'ka Nation. He is the author of Dream of No One but Myself (Brick Books, 2021) and several chapbooks, including Nell Zink is Damn Free (Blank Cheque Press, 2017) and The Plot (House House Press, 2018). His work has appeared in The Capilano Review, The Tiny, filling Station, The Fiddlehead, Carte Blanche, and elsewhere. 

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

I don’t know that there really is that much poetry can accomplish that other forms can’t; I've kind of gone the hybrid camp that says (campily) it’s fiction, essays, poetry if you call it that. But I do think deciding something is poetry frees a number of things up. 

Unlike if you call it fiction or nonfiction, sending something out into the world you decides to call poetry is to send it out into a book industry convinced there’s no money to be made off it. Publishing, book distribution, book promotion, bookselling stuff and people and places often act like they’re pretty convinced in this matter, and I don’t really blame them, even if I think it’s a wrongheaded conviction. 

I think the old “poetry is economically unproductive” adage is untrue, but that it’s generally perceived that way is certainly true. Now, there’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy at work in a publishing world that makes that call (don’t try too hard to sell poetry books and poetry books definitely won’t sell too hard), sure, but it’s one which, for poets, sustains an opportunity we maybe take for granted. 

Poets and poetry get to work in the dark, maybe more particularly in the economic dark. Calling something “poetry” and bringing it to publishers as “poetry” is to lean into the fact it’s been worked out somewhere away from “will it $ell,” somewhere opportunities outside of selling are easier to get to. Whether that work is good or bad doesn’t really matter to what I’m saying: the potential afforded by the form’s unprofitability branding is, maybe, “poetry” getting to do whatever the poet wants it to. By contrast, the “big publisher dream” for prose writers amounts to thousands of tiny and not-so-tiny demands for changes in direction, style, tone, point—requests made in droves by agents, acquisition editors, publishers, etc.—before a manuscript even gets a yes. A poetry collection usually has to show up already cooked or it doesn’t get served; no publisher really has the time to invest in overhauling your poetic conceit or having you add five action beats to your book of poems. They’ll take the book because they like your choices or they won’t because they don’t.

This might sound bleak but it’s a better place to be as a writer than it seems, which is the magic of it, maybe. Call it poetry as long as you can. That’s our lot.

Elena Bentley : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Apart from some deep down, body-mind intuition, I often feel a poem is finished when I am brave enough to share it beyond my circle of closest supporters (like to a lit mag, for example). I think submitting poems requires a person to be vulnerable—and vulnerability can be a very uncomfortable space to be in. So when you feel it’s worth it to sit within that discomfort, I’d say the poem is finished. 

Monday 13 December 2021

Magpie Ulysses : part four

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry is important because it relies on observation and constantly brings us back to our senses. It allows us the heart space of the universe and forces us to reckon with the cramped legs of a bomb shelter. Poetry is life. Poetry is not for sale. Poetry is not a commodity. Poetry is radical mindfulness. It is part of the true essence of all things that are real. 

Danielle Wong : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I think every poem has multiple finish lines. 

When I write poetry, I like to sit down and get my thoughts out in one sitting. That would be what I would call the initially finished version of the poem. I manage to write a lot of those during the Poetry Marathons, hosted by Caitlin and Jacob Jans, and the Quarter Crazy Marathons, hosted by Amanda Potter.

If I stop writing half-way through a poem, when I come back, I often have lost the ambiance, the mood, the underlying mood, or the train of thought. All I can do when that happens is to let the poem sit, unfinished, somewhere in my computer, or in the notebook where it may have started. I go back over the incompletes to see if I can resuscitate any of them; sometimes I can, but many years may pass by. 

When I do end up with an initially finished version of the poem, I go over it right away, changing one word here or there, changing line breaks, adding form, removing form. I do this until I feel like I can’t make any more changes. I call that being draft finished. I let the poem sit for about a week.

There are multiple edits I do to a draft finished poem, with a few days to a few weeks in between each one.

When I can’t see anything else that I should change to make the poem say what I want it to say, I call it finished and send it out to the world.

Even then, I have been known to alter one or two words of a so-called finished poem just before sending it out. I did that with my poem “Semicolon-ness”; the wonderful editors at the The Pine Cone Review included it in Issue 2 and nominated it for Best of the Net.

Sunday 12 December 2021

Charlene Kwiatkowski : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

This has been on my mind lately. I’ve been listening to singer-songwriter Madi Diaz’s new album A History of a Feeling and was wondering if someone were handed the lyrics, say for the title track, could they tell it was song lyrics or would it read as a poem? Does it matter? The line between the two can be blurry. I’ve been considering how a songwriting course might enhance my poetry (I dabble in piano here and there). There is strong musicality in both poetry and song—rhythm, rhyme, tone, pauses, pacing, repetition. Even though I rarely read my poems in front of audiences, I always try out lines aloud as part of my writing process. I turn them over my tongue as I’m driving or going for a walk. A poem has to work for the ear. 

Saturday 11 December 2021

Paolo Bicchieri : part one

Paolo Bicchieri is white latinx writer living on the coast. His writing has appeared in Eater SF, SF Weekly, Standart Magazine, Ghost City Press, Quiet Lightning, Bay Area Generations, and more. He is the co-founder of the reading series Something Ordinary. He is the recipient of the 2019 Bindle Award from Nomadic Press and the Teach! Write! Play! Writing Fellowship from the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. He has spent time organizing with campesinos for Communidad de Communidad and recruiting volunteers for 826 Valencia. Paolo is the author of three books of speculative fiction. Familial Animals (Animal Heart Press, 2021) is his first book of poetry.

Photo credit: Lucie Pereira 

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Oh yeah, a ton. I wrote rhyming poems for middle school crushes when I was 12-years-old. Anyone writing with the same intentions or understanding of what poetry can be or the role it can hold in society might not be approaching their work with much intention. It is, after all, work – that’s how I see it now. Work to excavate yourself and your beliefs, work to liberate yourself and others, and work to connect politics to people. Shout out to my partner for showing me Safia Elhillo, Danez Smith, and Chinaka Hodge, all of whom do this in clever, beautiful ways. 

Nathan Anderson : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Both Gertrude Stein and Will Alexander have had an enormous impact on me. Their use of language came to me at a time when I was looking for something beyond the more standard forms of writing. They introduced me to a world of experimentation where the possibilities were endless. 

Friday 10 December 2021

Kevin Prufer : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

My ninth book is now under contract.  And each book is harder to write than the previous one because I am always trying to change my voice, my style, my interests.  I’m afraid of being predictable.  I don’t want a reader to pick up my next book, wrinkle her nose, and say, oh, him again? But I’m not sure how many modes and voices I have in me, not sure how long I can go on without being repetitive.  Usually, I try to write something that isn’t poetry between my poetry books as a way of cleaning out my mind.  For a while, I wrote mystery stories—whodunits—which I published here and there in magazines and anthologies poetry readers weren’t likely to encounter.   It was refreshing to write those, to write with the purpose of entertaining and not feel pressure to be meaningful.  And then, after a while, I’d return to poetry with new concerns and, I hope, a somewhat different voice.

Kevin Carey : part one

Kevin Carey is Coordinator of Creative Writing at Salem State University. He has published a chapbook of fiction from Red Bird Chapbooks, The Beach People (2014) and three books of poetry, The One Fifteen to Penn Station (2012), Jesus Was a Homeboy (2016) which was an Honor book for the Paterson Literary Prize, & Set in Stone (2020) all from CavanKerry Press. His poems have twice appeared on The Writers Almanac on National Public Radio and on The Academy of American Poets Poem a Day. Kevin is also a playwright and a filmmaker. He has co-directed & co-produced two documentaries about poets, All That Lies Between Us and Unburying Malcolm Miller, which premiered at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in 2017. His first crime novel, Murder in the Marsh, from Darkstroke Books, was released in October (2020). A new middle grade novel Junior Miles and the Junkman will be published in September of 2023 from Fitzroy Books, an imprint of Regal House Publishing.

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on a chapbook of poems with a friend of mine, poet Colleen Michaels. It’s modern day versions of the Greek gods who now live in a gated community (Olympia Heights) with a guard shack, swimming pools and catered backyard parties.  

I’m also finishing a fourth poetry collection of my own. Working title is Waiting on the Love Train.

I have a second mystery novel in the works, a sequel to Murder in the Marsh (Darkstroke Books) and I’m looking to stage a play I wrote with poet/songwriter RG Evans. It’s a low residency MFA murder mystery called The Terminal Degree.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Jessica Anne Robinson : part two

What are you working on?

I’m putting the finishing touches on my debut chapbook, OTHER MOTHERS’ FUNERALS, forthcoming with Frog Hollow Press in the next couple months. It is terribly exciting to have this collection out in the world – it’s about grief in all these different forms.

I’m also slowly plugging away at a concept for a second chapbook manuscript, which picks up more intentionally on an unconscious theme of the first book: dreams. For the most part, my manuscripts are pieced together from the individual poems that I’ve been writing for the last few years; I take a arrange them to tell the story that I discover threading through them after the fact. I wish I could develop a manuscript concept and then write to it, but that doesn’t seem to be the way my creativity flows. The closest I’ve gotten to that process for this collection is identifying the presence of dreams and dreaming in my regular writing, and making a conscious decision to write down and consider my actual dreams as I, well, dream up new poems.

And, I am in the very, very early stages of a collaborative, cross-medium project with a dear friend and painter, that likely won’t see the light of day until 2023 – but it will be worth waiting for.

Douglas Cole : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been reading Charles Simic’s new collection Come Closer and Listen. I love his surreal pieces. I like the strangeness of his poem, like you’re in a dream. I also enjoy the humor. He’s been a model for the prose poem, too. I’ve been reading Tess Gallagher’s Dear Ghosts. I very much admire the way she creates the poem on the page, the line breaks. And I love the way she re-orients the point of view in some poems so that you’re seeing something in one way; then, she shifts it so that that same thing becomes something else. It’s really quite beautiful. And I’ve been reading Joy Harjo’s new collection An American Sunrise. I think she’s masterful at blending the natural and the spiritual and the political, and she comes to the music in her language honestly being a saxophone player. 

Wednesday 8 December 2021

Abigail Wender : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Oh, yes! So much depends upon that word “consideration”…. For me, poetry is the interior language, mine and so many other writers’ as well. It’s the only way I can see the world as I did as a child, completely anew, “glazed with rain / water” and so on. Without metaphor and image, everything becomes flat and predictable.

Angelo Mao : coda

Why is poetry important?

(I’m being a bit arrogant in trying to answer this one, but I’ll give it a shot!) To me, it seems that poetry engages with the world in a way that most accurately mimics the human mind, compared to the other art forms. We think symbolically and associatively. For example, when I use a microwave, I don’t go through all the steps of its function—it’s just a magic box that makes food warm. That “magic” isn’t all that far from poetic association. And when I think of a microwave, I’ve a few vivid images and names, like anchoring points; so the images and diction in a poem. I think we also experience narrative in a similarly loopy way. Time lives nonlinearly in memory, with gaps and distortions, even when we configure it chronologically. 

I also love that poetry doesn’t need any advanced technology or material goods; it doesn’t need a crew. It doesn’t have “originals” you need to fly to New York or a big city to see. In that sense, poetry is a very free art.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Cam Scott : part one

Cam Scott is a poet, critic, and non-musician from Winnipeg, Canada, Treaty 1 territory. He is the author of the poem ROMANS/SNOWMARE. A book of essays, THE VANISHING SIGNS, is forthcoming from ARP Books in 2022.

Photo credit: Robert Szkolnicki

What are you working on?

My project consists for the most part in a single poem, entitled ROMANS/SNOWMARE. This poem is a lengthy agglomeration of sentences without an obvious beginning or end, rebuffing closure and sequentiality, to which I add something every day. I started organizing my writing under this heading in order to address a restless feeling, that I was constantly writing and annotating but not producing anything; and this kind of slowly aggregative collage work more or less solves the problem of content and inspiration, because the poem is always growing even when it doesn’t feel as though I’m writing anything at all. 

Elena Bentley : part four

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

Faced with the death of someone I love, I always seem to turn to Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night.” The repetition of the word rage echoes my own; and in a way, the poem gives me a sense of control (albeit a false one) in a situation where I have, quite literally, no control—I suppose the poem renews my desire for an impossible outcome.

Monday 6 December 2021

Magpie Ulysses : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I have been reading poetry books by Charlie Petch, jaye simpson, Jillian Christmas and RC Weslowski. I also recently found some nice vintage copies of Brautigan and Ferlinghetti. They all sit bedside together in a jumbled heap of beatnik joy (and some surreal misery as well).

Danielle Wong : part one

Danielle Wong is the author of the poetry collection, Bubble Fusion, that portrays life with an autistic child. Her work has appeared in Montreal Writes, Tipton Poetry, Pendemic, Pine Cone Review (issues 1 and 2),  Chronicling the Days (Guernica Editions), Resistance (University of Regina Press), among others. Visit her at

Photo credit: Ben Di Nunzio @dinunziophotography 

What are you working on?

I am currently working on a chapbook about Holodomor, which is also known as the Great Famine of Soviet Ukraine in 1932-1933, and the events leading up to it. Some of the poems are based on fact; others are based on imaginings of what happened and how people must have felt.

I know it is odd that someone who is neither Russian nor Ukrainian would write poetry based on historical events that happened a hundred years ago. So, what gave me the idea to do this?

I grew up in an area where there were many Polish and Ukrainian people. I remember kids saying not to talk to their grandparents about their homeland; it was a touchy subject. This piqued my interest in knowing what had happened to their grandparents. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to approach the topic, especially since classmates often said not to bring it up.

Many years later, I became friends with a wonderful woman who happened to be Ukrainian. She knew what had happened and told me about it.

Oddly enough, a few years after befriending her, Holodomor was finally in the news. The event was getting recognition of its existence, although some people still denied it ever happened. What I couldn’t understand was how everybody either believed the event happened or believed it was nothing more than a hoax, a non-existent event that deserves no attention.

I started paying attention to what was being said in the news. Some places were more accepting of the fact it happened, while other places eventually gave way in recognition or simply paid lip service to its existence.

I started reading anything I could find online and looking at pictures. My friend gave directed me to wonderful books, such as Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine by Anne Applebaum. it seemed obvious to me that Holodomor did happen. It felt like it could have been avoided. I understood, finally, why my classmates often said not to speak with their grandparents about life back in Ukraine. It is incredibly how many atrocities were committed. It was unbelievable. 

I feel more people need to know about Holodomor, how it came about, how horrible it was, so that we can, hopefully, not repeat history. I know that is rather naïve on my part, but maybe if I can express the horrors in another light someone will learn the lesson ahead of time and be able to put a stop to similar events.

Sunday 5 December 2021

Charlie Petch : part five

How does a poem begin?

I usually enter with no plan. I sit at my desk in the morning, before the news and any other influences have started my mind spinning in all directions (I have ADD) and find this is also my most emotional part of the day. I can cry at almost anything before 10am, a perfect state for creating art. Sometimes I open up a book and blindly let my finger fall on a line, or word and use it as a prompt. Sometimes it’s the dictionary, or whatever is usually nearby, and I write a little something. My poetry begins with the sunrise. 

Other times it is an idea that has stayed with me, a dedication or need to get a message across wrapped inside a narrative. For this process I will write with intention, and go into the editing process soon after. There’s a different excitement for these poems. Sometimes I will carry around the idea for years before it’s ready to be voiced and oh my gosh, that day when the poems comes together, is a real celebration. 

Charlene Kwiatkowski : part one

Charlene Kwiatkowski’s debut poetry chapbook Let Us Go Then is forthcoming this December with the Alfred Gustav Press. Her work has been published in Arc, PRISM international, Maisonneuve, Red Alder Review, June 2020: A Pandemic Anthology (845 Press), and elsewhere. In 2020, she won Pulp Literature’s Magpie Award for Poetry. Charlene lives in Vancouver, BC and works at an art gallery. You can find her occasionally blogging at

Photo credit: Yohan Kim

How does a poem begin?

Most of the time there’s a phrase or image I can’t get out of my mind. It niggles at me until I do something with it. Other times I know I want to write a poem about x but need to wait for that phrase or image to strike like flint, otherwise I have no entry point. That spark can come from slogging through, but it definitely helps to have at least a hint of inspiration, some direction to follow from the outset (even if the poem ends up changing course, as it often does). All that to say, I’m not a prolific writer. 

Saturday 4 December 2021

Robert Hogg : part five

How does a poem begin?

Archibald MacLeish famously said, “A poem should not mean, but be.” And T.S. Eliot opens ‘East Coker,’ part II of his Four Quartets, “In my beginning is my end.” So how, then, can a poem begin anywhere or for that matter, mean anything. Answer? It can’t. Because it is, for the most part, forever in flux, in process. Oh, we can start writing at a given point in a day, of a calendar year, and so forth. But is that the beginning of a poem, and does that mean anything? Not much. What matters—and there is such thing—is that at some point in our day to day life as a writer, we hook into a passing comet, or, it may be, a poem, and suddenly realize we are riding a crest, a wave, heading to, or over, a near or far horizon, and the exhilaration is tremendous. We are suddenly caught up in what feels like a whirlwind, and maybe it is, for all we or Toto know about the matter. Because suddenly we are not at anything like a beginning or an end, but rather in the middle of a cyclone, weightless, terrified, joyful, and about to die. What could be better than this? Not a beginning, surely. And, preferably for the moment at least, not an end! In 1963 I wrote a Noh Play called Cannabis Sutra in which the figure referred to as Waki relates a dream:

Early   before sunrise
I woke to the light of a dream

The dream
was of sunrise,
sunrise over the sea

I lay on a raft
feeling neither cold
nor fear
nor the water
that lay around me

Only the sun
held my attention, rising
in what must have been the east
though there was no sign
no way of knowing
what way
east was
but that the sun
rose out of water
suddenly whole

Poems are born like that --not of a grand idea, but from a state of chaos and disorientation—‘suddenly whole’. 

Nathan Anderson : part one

Nathan Anderson is an experimental poet from Mongarlowe, Australia. He is the author of Deconstruction of a Symptom (Alien Buddha Press) and has work in BlazeVox, Otoliths, The Babel Tower Notice Board and elsewhere. You can find him at or on Twitter @NJApoetry.

What are you working on?

I tend to work on one long project and many small poems simultaneously. Currently I am working on a long book of poetry entitled 'The Screaming Paper' it is a highly exploratory work which is proving challenging but enlightening. 

Friday 3 December 2021

Kevin Prufer : part three

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

Here’s one:  There are so many kinds of silence available to poets that are unavailable to writers or prose or to painters or sculptors or even musicians.  We have the silence of the line break, of the stanza break.  The silence of white space.  Of the punctuated caesura and the unpunctuated caesura.  We have the vast silence that comes at the end of the poem.  These silences are so versatile and, well deployed (well arranged) contain within them a kind of music, patterns of silence.  Sometimes these silences suggest the dramatic pauses of a speaker who falters, looks for the right word, creates suspense or tension.  Sometimes they are the silences of a mind at work on a problem—moments where the mind rests in unarticulated thought before thought arrives at articulation and the words begin again.  I am increasingly fascinated by qualities of silence, the white page. 

Peter Vertacnik : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Very. For me it’s one of the three most important impersonal elements in my poems—the other two being metaphor and the line. Other poets I know are often obsessed with the look of their poems on a page; I’m far more concerned with how my poems sound. There’s a danger in relying on sound too much, of course. Occasionally I’ve been accused by a mentor or an editor of overemphasizing the music of a poem, to the point of facileness or opacity, but that’s a risk I’m always ready to take. Also, it’s not as if verbal music in poems only exists as a kind of sonic ornament (I’m not trying to rewrite “Jabberwocky”); as A.E. Stallings and others have pointed out, rhyme creates its own intelligence akin to that of metaphor, in that the pairing of rhymes can create connections that the poet would not have arrived at in any other way. 

Thursday 2 December 2021

Jessica Anne Robinson : part one

Jessica Anne Robinson is a Toronto writer and, tellingly, a Libra. Her poetry is featured or forthcoming with Vast Chasm, untethered, Diagram, and Room magazine, among others. Her debut chapbook, OTHER MOTHERS’ FUNERALS, is being published with Frog Hollow Press. You can find her anywhere @hey_jeska.

How did you first engage with poetry?

My mom bought me Sharon Creech’s Heartbeat when I was about ten. Up until then I was a voracious reader but mostly read fiction novels, and it was then that I discovered you could write stories in verse, that poetry didn’t have to rhyme, that repetition could make for rhythm, and that you could in fact tell a story using a series of poems that interrelate. It paved the way for me to later learn that poetry does not necessarily need to be written in verse – and I did a lot of prose poetry writing for a while, particularly as an undergraduate. That book marked a turning point; from then on, when I said I wanted to be a writer when I grew up, I shifted from picturing a novelist to picturing a poet. Which was really for the best, because my novel drafts from those early days spent four chapters describing characters and scenery and feelings and never did get around to anything resembling a plot.

Douglas Cole : part three

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

Poetry like music is totally free. No one is the authority on it. It’s an absolutely free form. We can invent all the rules for it we want, but someone is going to break those rules and make something beautiful. Poetry is the ultimate edge of creation, the unknown. It’s an adventure. It’s a trip. Its language at play like the rawest elements of reality, becoming in the moment over and over and always new, yet full of everything that went before. It can capture your most fluid thought or dream. It can give you your most fluid thought or dream. It’s a document of an idea and it’s the engine for an idea. It’s the snake biting its own tail. It’s the dark enigma. The minute I say what it is, I’m wrong. That’s what makes it so fun. It’s as old as language itself, and it’s always being born. 

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Abigail Wender : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t know. Is anything really “finished?” 

Angelo Mao : part five

How did you first engage with poetry?

Quite late, for English-language poetry. I learned Chinese before I learned English, and my parents had me memorize some Chinese poems early on. I think the rhythms of those Tang poems occupy a very deep stratum in my subconscious. We didn’t study any lyric poetry in high school. I did begin writing then, but it was fanfiction. I wrote three novel length fanfiction pieces by the time I was midway through undergraduate. My engagement with poetry at that point involved trawling it for beautiful lines, out of which I’d fashion evocative chapter titles. I also composed music for fun, and had written all sorts of things—fugues, an opera—before I seriously engaged with poetry. And I only did so because I found it difficult to transition from fanfiction to fiction. Writing fanfiction was easy, because I could make up things about preexisting characters; “real” fiction was hard. I felt that I had to use myself as a resource, and I wasn’t ready to do that.

So I looked into poetry as an unexplored alternative. I wouldn’t have gotten very far, though, if I hadn’t discovered Helen Vendler’s criticism. I could sense and savor the music in poetry, but Vendler helped me see that the words, forms, and artistic choices weren’t there just to “sound good,” but harbored huge possibilities of expression. (It is the same thing with operatic music: you can treat an embellishment as just that, or as an opportunity for conveying an emotion or mood.)

Tuesday 30 November 2021

Meg Kearney : part five

How does a poem begin?

Every poem has its own origin story. Some begin with a title, some with an image, others with a phrase or even a whole line. Some begin in response to a poem that has come before, or they are born of dreams. I often compare a poem with a trap. The trick, I think, is to lure readers into the trap with the title; then the first line has to capture their attention and lock the door behind them. The poem’s trap needs to be so well constructed that the reader stays “in” it until the last word—if the poem has a weak spot, that’s a potential hole through which a reader might slip out and turn the page or go make a sandwich. And if the trap is good enough, readers—even if they’re not exactly sure what the poem was about—will want to go back to the top and enter the poem again. And again.

Elena Bentley : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent by Liz Howard; Girl running by Diana Hope Tegenkamp;  Phantompains by Therese Estacion; The Untranslatable I by Roxanna Bennett; and Side Effects May Include Strangers by Dominik Parisien. 

Monday 29 November 2021

Magpie Ulysses : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I had to write terrible rhyming poems in school. My parents both love to read and we grew up memorizing Shel Silverstein and Dennis Lee. There were always poems around and we had a very large library in a closet in our house. When I was 13 my dad gifted me a Rumi book and then the Leonard Cohen anthology Stranger Music. After that I spent hours upon hours alone in the library poetry section sitting on the floor reading. Between my parents and the library I found my biggest first influences, Yeats, Lillian Allen, Keats, Rumi, Brautigan, Rilke, Lorca, Gibran and on and on it went. When I was in grade 11 I put together an entire show, for a project in Drama class, of poems from the holocaust. I failed English 5 times in High School. I moved to an Alternative High school in grade 12 and my teacher there encouraged me to make a book of poems to be read out loud. I started performing them at school fundraisers and at 17 I fell into a really great group of weirdo poets at a reading series at a local coffee shop.  Somewhere in there, I fell hard into a spoken tradition in my own work.

Michael Lee Rattigan : part five

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

By pushing at the limits and finding a language worthy of yearning, poetry can do much. It needs to stay keen, nimble. A salutary reminder of the multi-directionality required can be gleaned from a reading of Heller Levinson and Will Alexander’s ‘Dialogics’.

Sunday 28 November 2021

Charlie Petch : part four

Why is poetry important? 

As a spoken word artist, I know our strength is in telling the truth. In creating something bite sized that can illuminate the listener. As so many of us fall into a kind of social media hypnosis, I find poetry is thriving because it doesn’t demand a long attention span and so much of it has become instrumental in bringing forward the idea that we need to really decolonize our minds and embrace our shortfalls as starting points for learning. Once we really move away from the more academic parameters of poetry, it really becomes a tool of the people. They don’t call them three minute power poems for nothing. 

One of my favourite spoken word pieces, “Whitey on the Moon” by Gil Scott Heron, recently got a lot more airplay after Elon Musk started taking fellow billionaires to space. I’m a huge lover of the power of satire, and that poem is just devastating in it’s effectiveness. I’m big on horrifying and funny as a political tool.

The act of writing has helped me to process so much of my long indoors of the past few years. Writing keeps me from stagnancy, keeps me from silencing myself, and being able to produce during this time has really helped with my mental health. Here I can imagine myself an earthworm, a multiheaded alien, a person who can just be free to wander, at least in my mind. It is dreaming while awake, and when the landscape is bleak, it can really fill it with emotion and resilience. 

Neil Flowers : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

''The idea that music and poetry can be separated,'' Ezra Pound wrote, ''is an idea current in ages of degradation and decadence when both arts are in the hands of lazy imbeciles.'' I play blues piano and I know the history of African American music pretty well. In addition, I grew up with jazz and classical music. My father loved the former; my mother was a Wagnerian soprano; my brother, Bruce, plays some of the standard piano repertoire. 

These musics find their way into my poetry, sometimes literally, as in “Skag Line Blues” and another, “Slow Drag Funky Butt,” the verses of the latter poem built on a straight ahead twelve-bar blues structure though more complex verbally than most blues and structured in stanzas rather than call-response. I generally ground my poems in quotidian reality like the contexts of the blues or old English/French/Scots ballads or WCW’s poetry. No music is more grounded than early blues and it speaks in the vernacular. I abjure overly academic or oppressively intellectual poetry, though as I say this I confess to a lifelong addiction to Ezra Pound’s work, and, as much as I am circumspect about T.S. Eliot himself, The Waste Land, which I read when I was pretty young, provided a first model for how poems could incorporate disparate voices, snatches of song, change directions, be non-linear, be structured mosaically. Blues, jazz, classical: Their examples exist as possibilities, swirling in my head, when I’m working on rhythm or development. The example of dissonant music is important to me. Poems can squawk, bleat, dance around crazy, spill this way and that, dash off to somewhere else honking and horny.

Saturday 27 November 2021

Robert Hogg : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Luckily, I’ve already partially answered this question in the course of answering questions above. And of course one goes on reading, admiring, and learning throughout one’s life. If I had to narrow this answer down to a few poets, I’d probably say: Yeats; Williams; Pound; Olson; Duncan and Creeley. There are of course dozens of others, maybe most particularly Beat poets like Ginsberg, Corso and in his prose, primarily, Jack Kerouac. All of the above have freed me from previous constraints and ideas of what poetry could or could not do. Pound and Olson had the greatest effect on my notion of theory in writing, while Williams and Duncan had the strongest effect on the way I would write, and in the case of Duncan, the ways I would have to force myself not to write. I fell for Duncan’s melodious verse from the moment I first heard him read in December 1959 when Warren and Ellen Tallman had him up to Vancouver to read to a few interested poets and lovers of poetry in their home. Frank Davey famously dragged me in from my family in Langley, where I was in my final year of high school, saying something like, you don’t have a choice, you’re just coming! Duncan read from his yet unpublished The Opening of the Field and his poem “Often I am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” was the piece that sealed for me the need to listen, read, write and become a poet. What I heard during that reading I could not then have put into words, but it set me afire inside, and I’ve been burning ever since. 

Ae Hee Lee : part five

How does a poem begin?

It begins in what ifs, whys, hows. In a word nestled in the ear or the kaleidoscopic flicker of an image. In possibility and desire. In a breadcrumb leading to another breadcrumb or a clearing. In what's overwhelming or scarce. I suspect a poem is and has been always beginning, and I am just catching up with it.

Friday 26 November 2021

Kevin Prufer : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I began writing poetry before I knew much about it.  I wanted to write a kind of Romantic lyric because I had been reading Wordsworth and Keats and was attracted to their complex resolutions, their confidence in the existence of some complex truth that might be reached through nature and thought.  I still see the value in that, but I’ve lately become much more interested in the way a poem might tell a story, might invent characters and follow them, how the defining quality of a narrative poem is not that it offers the reader a series of events, but that it manipulates the speed and quality of the passage of time.   These days, poems have become a way that I can explore the world of the not-me, the world of other characters responding within time to unlikely circumstances.

Peter Vertacnik : part four

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

When this happens, I most often turn to the writings of William H. Gass, especially to his short stories, novellas, and essays. His work is filled with inventiveness, playfulness, and a keen music; spending time with it usually gets me excited about my own work again. I should add, however, that the most effective form of renewal for me is simply taking a long walk. When my legs are moving, when my eyes are scanning foreground and distance, my mind is more active as well. 

Thursday 25 November 2021

Kerry Ryan : part five

How does a poem begin?

Usually, a poem begins with trying to pin a single image. I don’t know why, but I think of this as a stump, even though it functions more like a seed or a sapling. From there, I build: more images, more layers. I follow those tendrils to find out what the poem is really about. Quite often, though, in the editing stages, I end up cutting that stump entirely. It’s like a rocket booster that falls away after launch; the poem has taken off and doesn’t need it anymore. 

Douglas Cole : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I know when it’s finished if I can read through it and I don’t feel an urge to change it. I’ll take it from its roughest, handwritten form, type it, revise for line-breaks and pay attention to rhythm and the way the sounds play. I don’t want any log-jambs of sound, a clashing of dental fricatives or anything. Then I mess around a bit with the way it looks on the page. I read it. Put it away, come back after giving it a little time to become unfamiliar so that I can see it without my ego. Then, if I feel like I can read it and witness it and just enjoy it without the cringing feeling that something’s just not right here, I feel fairly sure it’s done, or at least that I am done with it. 

Wednesday 24 November 2021

Abigail Wender : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I’ve been writing since early childhood. I loved to read and reading became writing. Writing was a way of seeing what I thought and could not say, learning what I felt and didn’t understand, what it was I’d witnessed but couldn’t make sense of. Eventually I began to think about compression and poetry, and then about how language was my artistic medium. 

Angelo Mao : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I recently read Jenny Qi’s Focal Point and Jackie Wang’s The Sunflower Cast A Spell To Save Us From The Void, both of which I enjoyed. I sought out Focal Point in particular because Qi, like me, comes from an immigrant background and has a postgraduate degree in a science field. I was curious how those influences would inform her work.

A wonderful piece of poetry criticism I read recently is Xiaofei Tian’s essay on the 6th century poet Yu Xin. She describes how he dealt with personal trauma and displacement coinciding with the end of empire. I’ve always felt that trauma and displacement underlies much of the classical Chinese lyric tradition—from Du Fu to Li Qingzhao and others. To me, Tian’s approach recalls Helen Vendler’s in Breaking of Style. It’s an approach I feel is missing from literary analyses of Chinese lyrics in English, so I’m grateful Tian paid this kind of attention in her essay.

Tuesday 23 November 2021

Meg Kearney : part four

Why is poetry important? 

The poet Stanley Kunitz used to say that “Poetry is ultimately mythology, the telling of stories of the soul.” He’d also talk about the fact that if you want to know what it was like to be a human being at any point in history, look to the poems of that time, not to the history books. This to me is one reason why poetry is essential—it’s speaking human truths. This is also why, when a country fall under a dictator, the poets are among the first to be imprisoned. Or shot. But I like to think, too, that poetry creates a path for world peace. It enables readers to realize that, no matter what our culture or background, we human beings have much more in common than not.

Elena Bentley : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The inner critics—there are many and they are loud. It takes an incredible amount of energy and focus to not allow their negative narratives to invade and sour all the creative space in my mind.

Monday 22 November 2021

Magpie Ulysses : part one

Writer, Rabble Rouser, fancy talker; Magpie Ulysses began performing at the age of 17 to save her life. She has performed across North America and is a veteran of the national poetry slam community in Canada where she was a member of two national champion Vancouver poetry slam teams. She was named a Poet of Honour at the Canadian festival Of Spoken Word in the Fall of 2012.

A bit of a witch, a nature freak and an activist at heart, Magpie is known for her visceral, often surrealist writings that extend from the everyday human experience into the depths of natural and inanimate worlds. Magpie has spent much of the past decade heavily involved in the arts while living in and around rural BC and Southern Ontario. Having spent the past few years raising a new human and past many years caring for her grandmother through Alzheimer’s disease, she has become increasingly interested in questions surrounding genetic memory, place, body, grief, aging and how we choose to tell our own stories. She currently lives on the west coast of Canada on the traditional lands of the Snuneymuxw.

What are you working on?

Creating in this pandemic time has been very difficult for me. I have been homeschooling a neurodivergent child and caregiving for my grandmother while my husband finished a professional degree in our basement in a city we didn’t want to be in. It’s hard to have a thought of one’s own in conditions like that. I grew a lot of food and saved a lot of seeds and focused on reigning in my power and energy for the future.

I have been working on a large project about caregiving for my grandmother who lives with Alzheimer’s disease. It has been years of research around memory, genetic memory, her own family history, settler histories, how I interact with the past, how we tell our own stories and understanding the kinetics of homesickness. Hours upon hours of sitting with things my grandma said or did. I have 100 pages of poems I don’t know what to do with now. And then I sat down the other day and just started writing poems with an outpouring of deep grief. The opioid crisis, the last ancient forests being cut down on the west coast in BC, my grandma’s house, endangered species, lost healing herbs, my childhood, my housing instability, other people’s lost children, free things that are no longer free, our inability to connect in meaningful ways, our obsession with categorizing humanity, it’s all in there. Sometimes you have to go back to where you began to be able to continue.

Michael Lee Rattigan : 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?

As a kind of tremor like a shark-fin circling, but aurally. A phrase, a certain rhythm, unexpected coherence if only for the duration of a line. There’s usually a hook, a narrative through which various impacts can take place and fruitfully deflect a piece, carry it forward. One starts with one’s own fixations and if you’re fortunate to have one or two friends, along with a highly attuned editor, then this certainly helps. I’ve been fortunate on both counts. 

Sunday 21 November 2021

Charlie Petch : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

For me, poetry and music will always exist together. When I published Why I Was Late, I made sure to notate what sounds the reader should be hearing for each poem that has musical accompaniment. It’s funny to publish just words when you’re used to being able to create the atmosphere you’d like to perform the poem in. For my 4 part long form poem/dance/music collaboration “Daughter of Geppetto” I listened to Chopin’s nocturnes non-stop, since they were a real hit in the 1880’s, when the original Pinocchio was published. When I finished the opening poem, I tried reading it out along with Chopin’s Opus 9 no.2 and it fit so perfectly, I had to keep it in the show. 

Right now I am looking for the perfect strained relationship poem to go along with Chris Isaac’s “Wicked Game” to be played with ukulele and singing saw on a loop pedal. I might already have it, but we’ll see how it all blends. Poetry really is one of the best collaborative mediums, I’m so lucky it found me. 

Neil Flowers : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Selected poems of Apollinaire. Christopher Logue’s translations of Homer’s Iliad, i.e., Kings and All Day Permanent Red. Bob Hogg’s Cariboo poems. I want to read George Bowering’s Kerrisdale Elegies but I can’t find a copy to borrow in Los Angeles, where I currently live.

Saturday 20 November 2021

Robert Hogg : part three

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

Poetry is unique. It has an incisiveness that prose seldom attains. I have never abandoned the lyric, despite the battering it has had over the past several decades. I have written numerous narrative poems as well, but in essence, the lyric underpins even these poems, and hopefully gives them their immediacy. And that, perhaps, immediacy, is the second thing poetry can accomplish. We owe much to Pound and his Imagist accomplices for their recognition of this great value in poetry, and particularly the short, imagistic poem. It is no accident, I don’t think, that Imagism had its heyday not long after the invention of photography, and the two, along with motion pictures, rose to prominence coincidentally. When Pound ‘invented’ what he called the Ideogrammic method of composition, he set the stage for a poetics which would try to capture not just a vivid picture of life, but the leaps and bounds of activity which we might now, since Whitehead, subsume under the term Event. Olson, of course, sought to take this processual approach to nature a step further with his Projective Verse, a perspective which placed the poet not outside, but smack in the middle of the physical world, participant, player, and recorder all at once. When poetry is that engaged in the moment—however long a duration that may span—then there is an urgency to find a language commensurate with that world in flux. We can of course revert to more comfortable modalities. But there is now and forever that pressure of reality, to steal a phrase from Wallace Stevens, which demands our recognition. By adhering to that the poet can, as Olson says, be “contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share.” To me, that is the most profound statement in Olson’s Projective Verse essay, and points unequivocally to what poetry alone can achieve. 

Ae Hee Lee : part four

Why is poetry important?

What drew me to poetry was the value it placed in each individual word. Poetry reminds me that every tiny thing matters. In a world so vast and often cause of much loneliness, this thought is of great consolation to me.

Friday 19 November 2021

Sara Moore Wagner : part five

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins with time. I am a mother of three. For me it’s always time. I have so many ideas that never reach the page. I try very hard to make space for my writing life, but the day gets away a lot of times. If I have time I can force a poem to begin. 

I used to say I needed a spark, but now a poem begins when I tell it to. I try to collect images in my mind and when I sit down to write (when I have a small space to write), I will start with one of those. If I hit a wall, I will read until it generates a unique thought or image.  This is true especially for my work on Annie Oakley. I will listen to “Annie Get Your Gun” or read about her or look at pictures of her until an idea forms. 

Kevin Prufer : part one

Kevin Prufer’s seventh book How He Loved Them (Four Way Books, 2018) received the Julie Suk Award and was long-listed for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize.  His eighth book, The Art of Fiction, was published this year by Four Way Books.  He teaches in the graduate Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston where he also curates the Unsung Master Series, a book series devoted to bringing great, forgotten authors to new generations of readers.

Photo credit: Emy Johnston

How did you first engage with poetry?

I went to a classy boarding school—ivy-covered red brick, wealthy kids, grave faculty masters who doled out punishments for dress code violations and other misbehaviors.  We ate dinner in our green school ties beneath ancient portraits of faculty masters of the past.  I had one teacher who required that we memorize a poem each week.  Every Saturday, we sat in class and wrote the poem out longhand.  For each error—a missed comma, a forgotten word—we lost a grade.  And every poem he gave us was longer than the previous one.   I’m not sure what the objective of all this was.  Perhaps we were meant to learn comma rules this way, because no one could memorize the placement of every comma in “My Last Duchess”; one had to know the rules.  I don’t think these assignments awakened any interest in the other students, most of whom seemed to me to be destined to go on to great jobs in banking, medicine, or law.  And I complained like everyone else, though the poems took root inside me and grew there.  The rhythms, the odd rhymes, the wonderful pair of ragged claws scuttling across the silent sea floor.

Peter Vertacnik : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Three very new books (all published in 2021) by poets whose previous work I enjoyed immensely: Popular Longing, by Natalie Shapero; Prometeo, by C. Dale Young; and Caki Wilkinson’s The Survival Expo.

I’ve also been revisiting older books that I’ve only ever read as part of a poet’s collected poems, except now (with the help of an excellent university library system) I’m encountering these books as they were first published, in individual collections. Some recent examples would be Elizabeth Bishop’s Questions of Travel, Theodore Roethke’s The Lost Son, Louise Bogan’s Dark Summer and Robert Francis’ Like Ghosts of Eagles. Seeing these poems surrounded by more space (aren’t collecteds and selecteds always filled with crowded pages?) often helps me see them differently, more fully. There’s also surprises, such as realizing Bishop included her story, “In the Village” at the beginning of the ‘Elsewhere’ section in QoT.

And, of course, I’m always dipping into old favorites, one poem or sequence at time: Auden, Brooks, Frost, Hardy, Hecht, Merrill.

Thursday 18 November 2021

Kerry Ryan : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

I’m tone deaf and have zero musical ability, but I love listening to music, especially singer-songwriters who really work their lyrics. Listening to music, especially live, makes me itch to write, but I can’t actually write while there’s music playing. I get too caught up in listening and can’t hear what’s on the page. My work doesn’t have a particularly musical sensibility, but I like to work with sound, especially consonance and assonance, subtly repeating and recombining sounds. 

Douglas Cole : part one

Douglas Cole has published six collections of poetry and The White Field, winner of the American Fiction Award. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as journals such as The Chicago Quarterly Review, Poetry International, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Chiron, Louisiana Literature, Slipstream, as well Spanish translations of work (translated by Maria Del Castillo Sucerquia) in La Cabra Montes. He is a regular contributor to Mythaixs, an online journal, where in addition to his fiction and essays, his interviews with notable writers, artists and musicians such as Daniel Wallace (Big Fish), Darcy Steinke (Suicide Blond, Flash Count Diary) and Tim Reynolds (T3 and The Dave Matthews Band) have been popular contributions He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart and Best of the Net, received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry and recently won the Editors’ Choice Award in Prose from RiverSedge literary journal. He lives and teaches in Seattle, Washington. His website is

What are you working on?

I’m working on a collection called The Cabin at the End of the World that is made up of mostly prose poems. It’s a fun way to approach the poem, formally. I’ve always felt that there really is not a big difference between writing poetry and prose. I love them both: the challenge of working with language, the music of language, the play of meanings and the creation of a visual as much as an intellectual experience are essentially the same. Certainly “narrative” poetry has a prose quality in the sense that it has a sort of story in it. And I love the way the line of a poem can be a poem, as Theodore Roethke says. So the fun of working on pieces as prose poems has been a new freedom in terms of the line, but I’ve also been secretly trying to play with the line yet still have the appearance of a paragraph, the prose poem, this block of language.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Abigail Wender : part one

Abigail Wender’s poetry collection, Reliquary, was published in February 2021 (Four Way Books). Her translation from the German of The Bureau of Past Management, Iris Hanika’s award-winning novel, was published in October 2021 (V & Q Books). Poetry and translations were published or are forthcoming in Asymptote, Bodega, The Cortland Review, Disquieting Muses Quarterly, Epiphany, Kenyon Review Online, Massachusetts Review, New Orleans Review, No Man’s Land, SWIMM, Tupelo Quarterly, among others. She lives in New York City.

Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

What are you working on?

I’m working on a translation of a new German novel by Iris Hanika called Echo’s Chambers. Our first effort, The Bureau of Past Management, was published in the Germany and the UK in October 2021. Hanika is a poetic fiction writer, and there is a lot of poetry in her work. This book begins, for example, with a 1937 poem by Daniil Charms. It floored me—I’ll be looking for more of his work. The poem begins:

“Is there anything in the world that has meaning and might even change the course of events, not only on Earth but also in other worlds?” I asked my teacher.
“Yes,” answered my teacher.
“And what is it?” I asked.
“It is…” began my teacher and suddenly fell silent.

Angelo Mao : part three

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

I love the energy from reading young, contemporary poets. To somehow respond to each other, whether stylistically or in terms of poetic subject, is, I think, a healthy and energizing challenge.

Partly because I was in her workshop for many years, I revisit Jorie Graham’s poems, if only to remind myself of her voice—not just the voice in her poems, but her “real life” voice reminding us in workshop to attempt what really matters. The challenge is never: write a poem. Instead, try to create a document of being human. I feel it’s a liberating and democratic attitude to take, and opens the space of what texts and shapes of texts to consider.

I also derive a strong sense of renewal from Yeats’s poems, especially those from the second half of his career. I probably have a lot of sympathy with his sensibility, and—although certainly the situations were different—his poems of the Irish Civil War were helpful to me during the Trump presidency.