Friday, 24 September 2021

Jane Zwart : part two

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Danusha Lameris’s Bonfire Opera. Michael Kleber-Diggs’s Worldly Things. Christian Wiman’s Survival Is A Style. Catherine Pierce’s Danger Days. Nicole Terez Dutton’s If One of Us Should Fall. And two ARCs of two gorgeous books out this fall: Dear Specimen by W.J. Herbert and The Thicket by Kasey Jueds.

Melinda Thomsen : part five

What are you working on?

My forthcoming book Armature searches for the beauty in day-to-day living, but it also touches on my ancestry and family conflict, so my current writing projects go there. My ancestors on both sides of my family owned slaves, so my poems speak to my unease, confusion, and disgust toward their accepted superiority, and how this idea of “being better than others” got passed down through the generations. When I reviewed J. Chester Johnson’s book Damaged Heritage for Big City Lit, I realized that my family’s damaged heritage basically reflected white supremacy, which most likely led to mental illness, arguments, and unhappiness my nuclear family suffered.    

I discovered these ancestors while researching over 15 patriots that fought in the Revolutionary War, so the Daughters of the American Revolution could preserve their stories.   Writing from historical documents is rich for poetry, but it takes me a while to figure out how to enliven people from past centuries. I discovered a slave named Cesar, who was owned by my patriot ancestors Abijah and Enoch Comstock in Connecticut.  Books like Rita Dove’s Thomas and Beulah, Natasha Tretheway’s Monument, Descent by Lauren Russell, and The Anatomical Venus by Helen Ivory have given me examples of how to animate historical figures. I really don’t know how this collection will turn out, but my sense is that Cesar will be a guiding force on my father’s Connecticut side, and the slave owner, James Rollins, will anchor my mother’s Alabama side.

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Bruce Whiteman : part one

Bruce Whiteman was born near Toronto in 1952. His career as a rare book and manuscript specialist began at McMaster University and included McGill University and UCLA. He now lives in Peterborough, Ontario. He has published extensively as a poet, reviewer, and cultural historian. His most recent collections of poetry are Intimate Letters (ECW Press, 2014), Tablature (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015), and The Sad Mechanic Exercise (Gaspereau Press, 2019). He is the editor of Best Canadian Essays (Biblioasis, October 2021). Forthcoming in 2022 are the final book of his long poem, The Invisible World Is in Decline (ECW Press) and a collection of essays and reviews (Biblioasis) tentatively entitled The Live Air: Essays and Reviews, 1978-2020. He teaches part-time in the School of Continuing Studies, University of Toronto.

How did you first engage with poetry?

There were two factors, really. Both took place in high school. The first was unrequited love—a girl in Grade 9 whom I fell for but from whom I got nothing in return. Poetry suddenly seemed a way to express feelings that I could not share with anyone and in part did not understand myself. My first little book did not come out until ten years later, but that experience of teenage attraction invoked my first writings. More importantly, I think, when I was sixteen my brother, Neil, introduced me to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land by sitting me down and reading through it with me, explaining the cultural and literary references as we went along. Until then I had had no idea that poetry could address such various and broad content. I later grew rather to dislike Eliot, and still have mixed feelings about his poetry and criticism. But he was like a sentry at the Gate of Horn for me as an aspiring young poet. From him I passed on to more significant (for me) poets like Pound and Williams.

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

So many! Kenneth Koch and Frank O’Hara – they opened me to the notion that you can have fun and be silly but also profound. Amy Gerstler, Carolyn Keyser, and Sally Rosen Kindred all opened me to fabulist imagery found in mythic yet also deeply personal poems. Amy Gerstler – when I first read Crown of Weeds, which I bought at a second-hand shop, I thought: she writes the way I write, and she is a legit professor and big prize winner, so maybe I am not a total weirdo! 

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Monty Reid : part five

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

My fallback reading these days is Anne Carson, Auden’s ‘In Praise of Limestone’ and the William Carlos Williams of ‘Asphodel That Greeny Flower.’

Sunny Vuong : part five

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

The ingenious Gabriella R. Tallmadge, my mentor from Adroit Journal’s Summer Mentorship, explained once that a poem operates within its own logic: its own universe, almost. A vacuum where every rule went, so long as no contradictions were made.

Which isn’t to say that works in other genres cannot also operate just as surreally within their own atmospheres—just that I find, personally, the most freedom within a poem. Crafting each poem as a new world comes quicker and more practiced to me than doing so would in writing in another form.

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Perry Gasteiger : part one

Perry Gasteiger (they/them) is a queer, non-binary poet and writer from Waterloo, Ontario. Their work shows an interest in the mundane darkness of our everyday world using juxtaposition between the real and the abstract, the beautiful and the deformed, the congruent and the disordered. Perry’s work explores issues surrounding pain, trauma, mental illness, and how these twist perceptions of the human condition. Their work aims to see the easily unnoticeable in an evocative and empathetic way. You can find their words in or coming to Anti-Heroin Chic, Fevers of the Mind, Not Deer Magazine, Warning Lines Magazine, Outcast Press, and others. You can find them on Twitter @sunshineloft

What are you working on?

I just recently queried a chapbook, “Meditations for the Dead and Dying” to a few presses. I am also working on another chapbook I’m hoping to query in November! “Meditations for the Dead and Dying” explores the brutality of existence, looking at themes of birth, death, and the violence found in life. The other chapbook (as yet unnamed) follows the speaker through different hurts we experience in the world, focusing on trauma, isolation, and mental illness. Other than that, we’re dipping our toes into novel writing, so we’ll see how that plays out!

Trish Bennett : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The hard part for me is getting the courage to share my poems with the world. The memoir ones are difficult to let go of. It gets easier the more I read them. I have to take a few deep breaths before I unleash some poems in front of an audience. I have learned to channel that emotion into the performance. I get such a feeling of accomplishment when someone tells me how much my words resonated with them.

Monday, 20 September 2021

Michelle Penn : part four

Why is poetry important?

Poetry asks Why. Poems open up new ways of thinking about life’s questions, both large and small. Poetry makes us reflect on language and how its meanings can change, how it can be straightforward or ambiguous, how it can express ideas on different levels. Reading poems gives us welcome glimpses into other people’s experiences, emotions and ideas — their thoughts on Why.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner : part two

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

I love discussing and tracking the process of The Poem, by which I mean all poems, all things. Interlocutors are crucial for me as I write—if poetry could be a contact collaboration sport I would be totally on board. I always want to talk through The Poem and figure out how it happens, how it morphs and where it wants to poke through the membrane between page and reader. So much arises in the contact with a first reader that I cannot comprehend how people deny themselves the pleasure. Some people can write a piece and send it out to publication without other eyes and ears on it first, but that’s not me. I have a few trusted readers but keep the conversation about a poem with that one reader, as if that one person becomes a godparent of that particular poem. I learn about my own process by talking over pieces I haven’t written, too. That’s a huge and pleasurable learning world for me, and one I have been built into my day through directing Vancouver Manuscript Intensive, a program devoted to literary mentorship that I direct with Rachel Rose.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Alyse Bensel : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Having served as a book reviews editor for several years and as a regular book reviewer for the past decade, I read a lot, and constantly, so much I sometimes wish I could slow down. The problem is that there is so much incredible work to read, especially with books that don’t get the attention I may feel they deserve. I’ll admit that I’ve been devouring more prose lately, since the summer is when I raid the shelves of my local library. But, if I consult my running list, this past year the poetry collections that have struck me most in their treatment of loss in many different ways are Self-Portrait with Cephalopod by Kathryn Smith, If This Is the Age We End Discovery by Rosebud Ben-Oni, Arrow by Sumita Chakraborty, Dear Memory by Victoria Chang, Dialogues with Rising Tides by Kelli Russell Agodon, and Lightning Falls in Love by Laura Kasischke. There are dozens more I could add to that list. 

Shiksha Dheda : coda

How does a poem begin?

No one really knows, I think. When we write (anything, not just poetry), we usually draw from our own experiences to some extent. Some may draw heavily from said experiences (CNF writers/essayists), others not that much, not directly at least (fiction/fantasy writers), yet we find so many little pieces of ourselves in what we write. The catch is, that no one really knows how any particular experience, event or person will affect them, until after the effect has occurred i.e. it can only be viewed, understood and drawn upon in retrospect. So, technically, a poem begins at the onset of said experience. Who can really say when exactly that is?

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part five

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

My first crushes occurred when I read Sleeping with Houdini by Anais Nin and Maggie Nelson’s Bluets. I haven’t re-read these in a while because the feelings they evoked, well, I still carry those feelings within my body, if that makes sense. Also, I give away most of poetry books I read  because I feel they need to be out in the world—what good will they do on my shelf? But the few books I have, I keep because I’m studying them, admiring them: Taneum Bambrick’s Vantage, Diannely Antigua’s Ugly Music, and Jill Osier’s The Solace Is Not the Lullaby. Somehow I just can’t seem to part with them yet. I’d rather surrender my favorite comforter than not be able to open these pages as needed. 

J. D. Nelson : part one

J. D. Nelson (b. 1971) experiments with words in his subterranean laboratory. His poetry has appeared in many small press publications, worldwide, since 2002. He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Cinderella City (The Red Ceilings Press, 2012). His first full-length collection, entitled in ghostly onehead, is slated for a 2021 release by mOnocle-Lash Anti-Press. Visit http://www.MadVerse.com for more information and links to his published work. Nelson lives in Colorado, USA.

What are you working on?

I am currently working with my publisher, mOnocle-Lash Anti-Press to finalize the layout and design of my first full-length collection of poetry, in ghostly onehead, which is slated for a 2021 release. The 75 never-before-published poems in this collection were written over a period of 2,000 days, from July, 2015 to January, 2021.

I am also editing a chapbook manuscript consisting of 30 new poems I’ve written in the past year. I am always submitting poems to small press publications, both print and online.

https://monoclelash.wordpress.com/

Friday, 17 September 2021

Jane Zwart : part one

Jane Zwart teaches at Calvin University, where she also co-directs the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and Poetry, as well as other journals and magazines.

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins with a seed or a crumb or a grain of sand--that is, a poem begins in particularity, at least for me. It begins with the image or the object; with a gesture or words lined up, already, into a little train. That particular thing doesn’t always stay at the beginning of the poem, of course, but it’s what begins the poem. 

For a long time, I could only write poems that started with a seed, poems whose particularity was ready to germinate, already, before I even arrived. I did also keep a folder of “poem crumbs.” Sometimes a crumb will change into a seed if you’re patient. 

But only in the past couple years have I learned to build poems whose cornerstones are grains of sand. The poet (and novelist) Amit Majmudar pushed me to try that: to take a granular something and improvise a poem from it and, far more often than I would have believed, the poem does happen. I’ll always be grateful to Amit for that.

Melinda Thomsen : part four

Where does a poem begin?

My poems usually result from an image that haunts me.  Recently, I went outside and saw on the side of our house a blood colored stain that swept off to the north in a spotted trail.  Another time, my husband was using a chain saw to cut logs into firewood, and it freaked me out.  These glimpses I collect and either write about them shortly afterward or keep them in a notebook.  Once I start writing, I try to describe what happened in detail.  I basically overwrite the scene until I notice phrases that shake with energy.  This is the messy place where my poem really begins.  Sometimes I use a form to help find those places. Shakespearean sonnets come to me fairly easily, and if I have a mess of a draft, I try to see if containing it in a form helps. If it doesn’t, I break the form apart again.   

The poem begins when it surprises me.  It’s like the poem’s spirit starts speaking from its images and vocabulary. I love to find the “flow” like when reading poems such as Ada Limon’s “How to Triumph Like a Girl.” Her poems have an inevitable “flow,” which makes them so satisfying. When my poems begin, it feels like I am channeling what the poem wants to say.  Actually, it looks like the beginning of the poem is also where it starts careening towards its end.  

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Deborah Rosch Eifert : 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?

I get a lot of tips and emotional validation of experience at a Facebook group I belong to, Binders Full of Women Writers. Jodi Paloni runs some workshops, and is a Maine writer who has been encouraging to me. I have gotten a lot of encouragement from a community of writers and artists, Local Writers Read, that often use Quiet City Books (owner, Courtney Schlacter) in Lewiston Maine as an event space. I have a dear friend and coworker, Jason Grundstrom-Whitney, who is the author of Bear, Coyote, Raven published by Resolute Bear Press: we call ourselves a writers’ group of two. We are poet-brother and poet-sister and we often run things past each other.  At a recent reading we gave we talked about having that kind of relationship with another poet, how we found it, what it means and does for us.  You can see a video of the reading and that discussion, here.

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Monty Reid : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I read a lot of poetry, at least 200 books each year.  Sometimes they engage me deeply, sometimes it’s just a quick scan. Partly it’s my job with VerseFest, where I’ve been largely responsible for the programming for the past few years.  Most of those books are Canadian, but I’ve been reading quite a bit of work in translation as well, and that’s some of the work that moves/provokes me the most these days. I also curate the translation feature in Arc Poetry Magazine and I’m really proud of the range of material we’ve been able to attract.  I also read genre fiction (mostly spy novels) and non-fiction (history, biography, theory, etc). As a result, I’ve had to abandon literary fiction, which remains a serious gap in my reading. 

Some of the work I’ve enjoyed over the past little while are Ursula Andkjaer Olsen’s Third-Millenium Heart (tr. Katrine Ogaard Jensen), Alice Oswald’s Nobody, Forrest Gander’s new material, Bhanu Kapil’s How to Wash a Heart, and the Martinique poet Monchoachi.

Canadian books I’ve enjoyed recently include Donna Kane’s Orrery, Rob Winger’s It Doesn’t Matter What We Meant, Lillian Necakov’s il virus, Debris du Sillage from Gilles Latour (although my French is um, somewhat imprecise) the brand new Masses on Radar, by my Ottawa colleague David O’Meara, and some old work from Anneharte Baker.

Sunny Vuong : part four

What are you working on?

Over the course of the summer, I participated in a workshop, led by the brilliant Angie Sijun Lou, that focused on the story in fragments. While I do have a fiction piece born from that workshop currently in the process of seeing light, I’ve applied what I learned from the workshop to my poetry specifically.

Playing with interlinked prose fragments, and experimental, hybrid poetry, in short. I’ve started to explore fragmented prose poetry, and I would attribute my current works-in-progress’ experimental nature to having gained inspiration from works such as Yanyi’s The Year of Blue Water and Diana Khoi Nguyen’s “An Empty House is a Debt.”

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Trish Bennett : part four

How does a poem begin?

Poems begin in my daydreams, watching the play of light on the leaf of a plant or my daughter collecting shells on the beach. The image sticks and sparks a word or phrase that rattles about in my head. A pure annoyance until I write it down. When I start to write, the rest of the poem pours out, heads off in all directions like a spilt basket of blackcurrants. I let it spill on the page, then leave it a few weeks to tackle later and see where it wanted to go in the first place. Often, what looks like one poem is actually three.

Monday, 13 September 2021

Michelle Penn : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been re-reading Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, as well as Gregory Pardlo’s Digest and Nathalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem. I’m also reading a translation of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poetry.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner : part one

Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of two poetry books, Trauma Head, winner of the Cogswell Award for Literary Excellence and nominated for the Souster Award and serpentine loop, also nominated for the Souster Award. She is the editor of the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living, a finalist for the Montaigne Medal and Hoffer Grand Prize, and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, a City of Vancouver Book Award finalist. She founded Thursdays Writing Collective, a beloved non-profit organization, and through its ten years she edited and published nine of its anthologies. Originally from Boston, Elee lives on the traditional and unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Peoples, where she works at Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. eleekg.com

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Once, before I had published poems, I was talking to Fred Wah about his work. He was prepping his archives and gathering versions for Scree: The Collected Earlier Poems, 1962-1991. He made reference to how different the lineation and punctuation was in several iterations of the poems in various books, journals, or pamphlets. And he was fine with it—which opened my eyes to the inconstancy of poems. I thought publication fixed the poem, but Fred’s easiness with and curiosity about the mutability is mine now, too. Aren’t poems like people? Always changing and moving?

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Alyse Bensel : 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?

The way a poem enters the world keeps on changing for me, but generally it starts as a fragment or series of fragments in a notebook, then a rough digital draft that I will ask a friend to read, or, if a friend is busy, I will return to in a few days or weeks. By that time I’m far enough away from the initial drafting of the poem that I can begin to notice things that I haven’t before, to ask questions of the poem. I will keep drafting and redrafting and perhaps reshare again, usually with my husband who will read the poem aloud, which is a wonderful gift, being able to hear the poem in someone else’s voice than my own. I often find that speaking the poem aloud is when it truly enters the world. 

Shiksha Dheda : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

What I find most difficult about writing poetry is how to take a subjective and/or personal experience and somehow, make it objectively relevant to the reader. For example, trying to make a poem about my specific mental illness relevant to readers that may not have experienced or even witnessed something similar, is rather tough. 

We find however, as we go through life, that we are more similar to one another than we initially think; that somehow, our experiences or rather, the feelings we experience are similar. Trying to effectively communicate this is where the challenge lies, I think. 

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part four

What are you working on?

I’m working on a novella-in-flash. I committed to Jami Attenburg’s 1,000 Words of Summer, and I just finished the first draft at 41,000 words. It’s about the discrimination of the Okinawan silk factory girl workers in Osaka at the end of the Meiji Period. It’s also about sisterhood, filial piety, superstitions, myths, and dreams—both aspirational and nightmares. In my poetics, I’m working on musicality and colors; I’m studying Rick Barot’s “interrogation of the lyric and what it’s supposed to do;” I’m studying Kevin Prufer’s timestreams, “side by side, collapsing an instant of time into lyric meditation.” I also make it a point to read and support tomorrow’s poets, too. Poets, like Gaia Rajan and Lydia Wei, are magical poetry unicorns! They’ll be writing and shaping the future of poetry and its community for the next thirty, forty years! You should definitely keep your eyes on their art!

Klara du Plessis : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Poetry doesn’t finish. A text solidifies into different drafts and iterations—even into the book object—just to become malleable again to transform and reshape itself. I do usually read my poems out loud and if the text feels sustained over the course of that reading, I let it go for a while.

Friday, 10 September 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part five

What are you working on?

Mostly my dissertation is consuming my time as of late. I have one more year to defend and graduate, so a lot of my energy is being poured into writing the best document I can and paying homage to these amazing Black artists and their works that I find myself critically engaging. In terms of creative work, I’m slowly but surely putting together a collection of speculative fiction pieces that take the form of prose poems and short stories.

Melinda Thomsen : part three

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry is an art form that needs little to no materials. A pen and paper is about it, so it’s accessible to all income brackets.  It’s also a neat, portable art form. You rarely have to clean up after yourself or require a large place with a furnace to create your poems. All your materials inhabit your brain. Every time I teach a class, I tell the students that their stories are important. Everyone needs to tell their story, so others will listen.

Poetry is the way I tell my story, and how my soul speaks to the world. We live in a harsh world, and so we’re seeing an influx of diverse voices in contemporary poems, and it is about time. George Floyd’s murder definitely affected our poetic landscape, and Amanda Gorman’s poem at the Biden’s Presidential Inauguration gave a voice to those who have been ignored for so long.   

Getting an audience for poetry has always been difficult, but Ross White, the Executive Director of Bull City Press, pointed out at the North Carolina Writer’s Network Online 2021 Spring Conference, “if more people write poetry, we all rise together.” For myself, when I find new poets with vibrant voices like Taylor Byas, Tiana Clark, and Lukas Ray Hall, I am excited because they teach me ways to hone my own voice. The world needs each of us to make it a better place. We inhabit our planet for some reason, and poetry speaks that reason to the world.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Stella Lei : 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 always show my work to friends before submitting it. The online writing community is incredibly talented—I learn new things all the time—and I can count on my friends to tell me whether something is effective or not. It can be so hard to see my own writing objectively, so I treasure their outside perspective, and my work always improves for it.

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part two

How does a poem begin?

Sometimes with a random phrase that pops into my mind where there is a melody to the sound, almost song-like. Sometimes there is an image, either imaginary or something I see in the woods or at the shore, and I find I must describe it. Often some science article or video I have run across, like one about trees having heartbeats, may trigger a poem. If I am running dry, I try exercises – create as many non-cliché ways to describe a color as possible; describe an act or feeling but not by saying it in any direct manner, attempt something in form. I will write lists of other people’s lines I love, or just words that have an appealing or interesting sound and something may grow from that. Jericho Brown did an exercise in a workshop of taking a short poem and copying it down but using an opposite of every single word – that got me the line “Today’s glitter pours out tomorrow’s death.” Whoa! There is also an exercise of generating a word pool by going through an anthology or a long poetry collection, turning pages, writing down the last word on the page until you have 25 or so words, and then including them all in one poem. All those strategies or events are ways to lower my net into the river of unconscious words and images that flows bubbling along in my brain. Oh, and reading – reading is vital for priming the pump.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Monty Reid : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The writing part.

Sunny Vuong : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I would describe my writing style as tending to fall more on the conversational side. Finding a balance between making sure that particular lines work sonically, have a proper internal rhythm, and serve to carry the momentum of the piece can sometimes be a challenge. 

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Trish Bennett : part three

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

Poetry can punch you in the gut faster than any other genre. It can bring tears of laughter (or sadness) in a few short lines. A picture of life can be painted with words in a stanza. There is a rhythm and economy to poetry that I love, no padding with wasted words. Everything in the poem is of importance, especially the white space.

Monday, 6 September 2021

Michelle Penn : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

There are so many… For starters, I’d say Anne Carson for experimentation, Terrance Hayes for his American sonnets (and more) and Gertrude Stein for how she plays with language and repetition. But every poet I read offers a different way to think about writing. 

Thomas McColl : part five

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

I always find myself returning to the first poet I ever got into, Stevie Smith. I’ve always loved how her free verse poetry is quirky and light in tone but, at the same time, very profound and moving. 

In terms of a particular poem, my favourite of Smith’s is I Remember, where the narrator is an old man, during the Second World War, on his bridal night, in bed with his young bride (‘a girl with t.b.’), listening to German bombers flying overhead when, just at that moment, British bombers have chosen to set out for Germany. The young bride asks him, ‘Harry, do they ever collide?’, to which he answers, ‘I do not think it has ever happened / oh my bride, my bride.’ The two sets of bombers never colliding appear to be a metaphor for this couple’s relationship and generational difference, and it’s an 11-line poem that says so much, and made a lasting impression on me in showing what could be achieved in just a few lines.  

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Alyse Bensel : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Until college I did not have any formal training or instruction in reading and writing poetry besides what was needed to be successful on an exam or standardized test (and a few informal writing groups). When I began to write poems in earnest in college, I carried a lot of fears about what I could and could not write about. My professors would point out how I tended to write around a subject or concern rather than directly at it. Their encouragement, and reading poetry widely and often, unlocked different ways I could consider and write a poem. I once thought of poems as static, concrete things. Now I find a poem slippery, amorphous, shifting in its power and influence within time and context. 

Shiksha Dheda : part four

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

I feel that, somehow, poetry manages to be emotive, compact and layered without taking up much space – both literally and figuratively. Yes, there are long poems (looking at you T.S. Eliot), but I feel that even when reading those poems, there are usually just a few lines that really stay with the reader (and continue looping in their minds). I feel that only poetry can do that, without the foundation of any character background/development (as compared to fiction, for example).

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part three

How does a poem begin?

I fall hardest for poems that have an intriguing first line, then I’m compelled to follow wherever it leads me. I was reading José Olivarez’s “Mexican American Disambugation,” where he’s describing his parents, who are “Mexican who are not to be confused with Mexican Americans/ or Chicanos,” and I’m like, “Yeaaahh.” The narrative of cataloguing diasporic people changes depending on if you’re in-in or in-out or just plain outside. Sometimes it’s the title that gets me as well. Jill Osier’s poem “September” unfolds a tragic farm scene which becomes a temporal marker in the speaker’s memory or landscape of the year. Sometimes when I write, there’s an image I can’t get out of my head, and I don’t want to turn it into a metaphor. I try to translate the moment into a compelling wondering—maybe relatable, maybe epiphanic. Oh, and I learned from William Nuʻutupu Giles, an afakasi Samoan writer, that sometimes people don’t remember titles, but they remember the subject, like his “Deodorant” poem or Gabriella Bates’s “The Dog” poem. Unforgettable poems. So, I try to begin a poem with that idea in the corner of my mind.

Klara du Plessis : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The lack of apparatus. Volunteer culture lends itself to the hobbyist. Limited structures of support, paid opportunity, and the non-existence of a sustainable career as a poet forces the serious writer to split their attention in order to survive. By default, a poet has at least two careers; if lucky, they can feed into each other and support each other, but the luxury of being permitted, through the systems of self-reliant capitalism, to prioritize poetry for more than short periods of time is a fantasy. I listen to friends working in other creative fields and they have unions that insist on certain, realistic payment rates, overtime compensation, mental health time off, and so on. The reality is that were one to enforce certain rates onto the poetry community, a lot of the most interesting projects wouldn’t be able to function. That said, though, valorizing poetry as relevant social discourse and not normalizing free labour would be a huge step forward.

Friday, 3 September 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part four

Why is poetry important?

I can’t say unequivocally and universally why poetry is important, or why it should matter for everyone. I just know for me; poetry has really taught me to care about language on the most minute, almost microscopic level. It’s made me conscious of how and why and when the best time is to say something. I really think that poetry can teach people to be careful with language, to be precise and nurturing. Poetry makes me think of how to say the most impactful and honest thing with a few words as possible. It’s really about the economy of language, of paring things down to their most beautiful, evocative, and honest expression. For me, all poetry is about is care and using words with discretion and precision. To me, that’s why poetry is important, for the way it makes me slow down and be careful, to be mindful of what I’m saying. 

Melinda Thomsen : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

Bill Matthews was my professor at City College in the late 1990s. I applied to City College because I loved his poetry. However, I found a brilliant teacher, too. His vocabulary and knowledge of literature blew me away.  He taught me that writing was not just throwing it up on the paper, but being well read was equally important. I had that creative spirit in my poetry, but without the analytical ability of a well-read mind to craft it, the poem was limited in its reach.  As my reading grew, I built a toolbox of resources I could use to connect more events, people, stories, images, and vocabulary within my poems. 

At our first class, Bill referenced at least twenty major works, which made me realize the extent of my literary ignorance. So, after that workshop, I set a goal to read fifty books a year.  My library card melted.  I read classic novels from Middlemarch to Anna Karenina and poets from John Donne and Phillis Wheatley to Allen Ginsberg and Sylvia Plath. Any writer he mentioned in my classes, I checked out their books from the library.  

I not only read to expand my vocabulary but to discover poets who resonated with my way of writing and made me feel less alone in the world.  Poets like Bill Matthews, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, and Richard Wilbur taught me how to accurately describe images and address the more difficult subject matter I wrote about.  

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Stella Lei : part four

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

Past Lives Future Bodies by K-Ming Chang: There are so many amazing, quotable lines in this chapbook, my favorite of which is “My mother says / women who sleep with women / are redundant: the body symmetrical / to its crime.” The line breaks are genius, and Chang’s use of language reframed my understanding of poetry and continues to inspire me every day.

Crush by Richard Siken: This is the book that made me fall in love with poetry—it fully deserves its reputation as a cult classic. There is such gorgeous rhythm and visceral emotion throughout, and several poems consistently make me cry.

Space Struck by Paige Lewis: I adore how human and tender this collection is, and so many lines deliver gut punches that leave me reeling days later. One I always come back to is “The moment I saw a pelican devour / a seagull—wings swallowing wings—I learned / that a miracle is anything that God forgot / to forbid.”

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part one

Deborah Rosch Eifert (@EifertPoetry) is a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet and the author of the newly released chapbook Sewn from Water, from Uncollected Press. Her work has appeared  in Whiskey Island Quarterly, Constellations, Cathexis Northwest, Persephone’s Daughters, as well as other literary presses, and is forthcoming in Anti-Heroin Chic and Feral: A Journal of Poetry and Art. Her work also has been published in several anthologies. She has received an Editor's Choice award from Formidable Woman Sanctuary Press, was named Poet of the Month by Flying Ketchup Press, was a semifinalist in the 2018 Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition and was First Runner-up in the 2018 Esthetic Apostle Chapbook Contest.  

How did you first engage with poetry?

I started reading and writing poetry as a teenager. I had some very chaotic aspects to my home life including various kinds of violence I experienced throughout my early years. I was consumed by a constant tension between feeling compelled to communicate and being desperate to keep my reality secret. There was also a constant push-pull between the beauty I saw in nature and kind people against the ugliness and cruelty in humanity’s constructions and in people who bully, abuse, violate. Another dichotomy I lived out was that I was partly wild and reckless (I didn’t care what happened to me from anything I did) and partly an extremely timid ‘good girl.” I think poetry is dramatically well suited to showing and reconciling dichotomies, in indirect and startling ways. The first poets I really had much exposure to were confessional poets – Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, Anne Sexton, Maxine Kumin. I felt like it gave me permission to write, particularly Plath. Oddly, the things I loved by Plath 40 years ago I don’t care for as much now, and the things I disliked then, I really feel admiration for now – like “The Moon and the Yew Tree.” In college, I read “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” and “Her Kind” compulsively. Then I mostly stopped writing for 35 years while I went to grad school in clinical psychology, went through a first marriage and raised my daughter. Moving back home to New England, frequently writing again, publishing my poems and hitting my mid-fifties all happened at about the same time.

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Monty Reid : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I’m afraid I don’t know. They never seem finished to me, but part of that ongoing conversation/argument you have with yourself.  Sometimes you just have to shut up and let them talk.

Sunny Vuong : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I used to view poetry as a rest stop, of sorts—a liminal space with endless potential for catharsis and soothing stagnancy. A way to make something alive that didn’t have to be anything other than what I needed it to; there couldn’t be any harm found in exploring the self in an already familiar terrain of stanzas.

My relationship with poetry has changed since then, more so reflective of viewing it as a vehicle: something that aids in exploration beyond the self. A means of discovery and experimentation, rather than just reimagining of the familiar. Something that could be anything—perhaps even more than what I needed it to be.

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Damien B. Donnelly : part five

How does a poem begin?

Very often, for me, a poem begins when a fleeting visual image triggers that box of collected words in the mind, immediately forming an opening line or repeated phrase from the poem that's about to unfold. Most of these triggers for me are intimate, personal starting points that later leap out into a more generalized expression in order to draw the reader in, as if revealing a secret before letting the reader take hold of the lines so as to connect the poem with their own personal experiences. I am a constant picture-taker, always snapping photographs wherever I go, possibly trying to capture these moments of visual beauty in the same way that I capture later a poem on the page, everything is fleeting and sometimes poetry is my way of just keeping up and reminding myself of what I've seen before it's gone. The poem begins just before the visual fades. In the same way that sometimes I take a break from writing and paint until I’m inspired to write again, it is a constant circle of one thing ending and another taking flight.

Trish Bennett : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I did not engage with poetry at school. As a teen, I wrote poems under duress and never identified with the poetry of the Irish Intermediate and Leaving Certificate syllabuses. I completely switched off, although I did submit something to our school magazine. The Chaplin, Fr Charlie, singled it out to read at assembly and said it was brilliant. I was 16 or 17, sunk down in my seat as I was absolutely mortified! When I was approaching forty, I joined a Creative Writing class ran by Ruth Carr at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast. Ruth was the first person to show me a world of written poetry far removed from what was enforced at school.

Monday, 30 August 2021

Michelle Penn : part one

Michelle Penn’s debut pamphlet, Self-portrait as a diviner, failing (2018), won the Paper Swans Prize (UK). Recent poetry has appeared in The Rialto, Perverse, MIR Online, B O D Y and Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal. New work is forthcoming in The London Magazine, The Interpreter’s House, PN Review and Stand. Michelle plans innovative poetry/art/music events in London as part of Corrupted Poetry. michellepennwriter.com

Photo credit: Andy Tobin

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 share poems with a few small groups of poets. We know one another’s work well and have honest discussions about a poem’s strengths and weaknesses. (We also laugh a lot.) I tend to show a poem to at least one of these groups before revising it (and revising again and again and again…).

Thomas McColl : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I wouldn’t say I’m a great judge of when a poem is finished, but then I don’t think many poets are, and that’s why it’s good to have an editor. 

In terms of my latest book, Grenade Genie, it was the title poem that needed an editor’s input the most. By the same the manuscript was accepted for publication by Fly on the Wall Press, the poem, Grenade Genie, had already gone through dozens of drafts over a number of years, and each time I’d think it was finished and send it out to magazines, and then, each time it was rejected, I’d belatedly realise it needed further editing but, still, I couldn’t get it quite right or sometimes simply made it worse. So, having Isabelle Kenyon, the book’s publisher and editor, look over it, and identify what she thought was the crux of the problem, helped immensely. She came up with various suggestions regarding the poem’s middle section, and once we sorted that out between us, everything else then came together. At any rate, since the book’s publication, the poem Grenade Genie has turned out to be the one that people often mention as being the piece they like very much or even the most, and alongside that, the poem has now, finally, got published in a magazine – the legendary counter-cultural publication, International Times, no less – so I guess I can say, with a fair degree of certainty, that the poem, Grenade Genie, is, at last, after many years, finished. 

Sunday, 29 August 2021

Alyse Bensel : part one

Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things: A Poetic Biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, 2020), and three chapbooks. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Southern Indiana Review, and West Branch. She serves as Poetry Editor for Cherry Tree and teaches at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference. 

Photo credit: Mercedes Lucero

What are you working on?

Lately, I have turned to hybrid essays and fiction writing. My poems have taken more prosaic, elongated turns, and so I have followed that turn in my latest focus: the dead and the missing in my life and familial history. My paternal grandmother was killed before her 30th birthday in a traffic accident. Her death and her very existence have existed on the periphery of my family since I can remember. And friends have died from overdoses or made terrible decisions that have effectively cut them off from society. These subjects continue to morph in how I approach writing about them, as they border the line between poem and essay and speculation. It’s both uneasy and exciting to not know what final shape this new work will take.

Shiksha Dheda : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Well, to be really honest, I’ll admit that I was blissfully unaware that poetry has so many rules. In my ignorance, I had always assumed it was as Hemingway said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed”. I always thought of poetry as this comforting mistress when life was the embittered spouse! As it turns out, though, there are innumerable poetry forms, rules, writing methods  processes and so forth. I think, however, that I am going to stick my head in the ground and just pretend like those don’t exist. 

Saturday, 28 August 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t know if a poem is ever finished because when I step back and squint a little, looking at a poem’s form, its bold strokes or highest point of contrast—sometimes even years after it’s been published—I tell myself to keep walking backwards, preferably out the back door, and maybe no one will remember I wrote this one. In fact, now I’m wondering if I’m rewriting the same poem, obviously using different words or scenarios, to replay-rewrite-finish new or arrive at a different landing in order to express what I feel compelled to share. Mechanically, I also feel like the poems need to be read out loud, claiming space (or not) as needed. Every turn or color or metaphor should be intentional or intentionally whimsical or exemplify some type of economy (or not). 

Klara du Plessis : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I used to work according to the idea of a self-contained poem. Now I’m no longer sure whether I write poems at all. It’s one of those (pretentious) slippages perhaps, but I find it useful to think of poetry as not quite being poetry and yet still inhabiting that space which is curious about and builds with language. The idea of the poem is a bit stifling, for me. There’s something adjacent, overlapping, and more expansive which is both simpler and much more interconnected with other disciplines—currently this mode excites me.

Friday, 27 August 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been mostly working on my research for my dissertation, so I sadly haven’t had enough time to read a lot of poetry this year. But my two favorite poetry collections that I read in the past year have been Nikky Finney’s Love Child's Hotbed of Occasional Poetry and Teeth Never Sleep by Ángel García. Both of these books are so open and honest and raw in their explorations of each poet’s life and how they have processed their experiences. Both also have such a grace to them, how they turn grief and uglier emotions into so much beauty. They really know how to incisively balance anguish and affection in their writing, to speak to both the hurt and all the wonder that happens simultaneously and that exceeds the pain.  I truly can’t imagine surviving 2020 without either of these works. They are both such possibility models for me.

Melinda Thomsen : part one

Melinda Thomsen’s full-length poetry collection, Armature, was an Honorable Mention in the North Carolina Poetry Society’s 2019 Lena Shull Book Award and forthcoming in 2021 from Hermit Feathers Press. Finishing Line Press published her chapbooks, Naming Rights and Field Rations. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Rattle, New York Quarterly, Poetry East, Stone Coast Review, Tar River Poetry, The Comstock Review, and North Carolina Literary Review, among others. Other awards include 2019 Pushcart nomination from The Comstock Review, First place in 2019 Robert Golden Poetry Contest, and semi-finalist in the 2004 "Discovery" / The Nation poetry contest. She teaches at Pitt Community College and lives in Greenville, NC with her husband, Hunt, two cats, and one chicken. https://www.melindathomsen.com/

How did you first engage with poetry?  

In my late twenties, I worked as a fashion designer in New York City. I went into clothing design because I loved drawing and sewing, so I figured design would be a good career. Unfortunately, working for a fashion company was not as creative as I expected. Although my designs sold well, the owners stayed with the best selling designs season after season. They offered them in different colors and patterns until sales slowed down. As a result I spent most of my time in meetings with salespeople on what to keep in the line, checking the specs when the designs went into production, and confirming changes by fax (I know I’m dating myself here!) with our factories in Hong Kong and Macao.    

Because I needed to be more creative, I turned to writing. William Matthews says it all (except I wasn’t 17) in “Mingus at the Showplace:”  

I was miserable, of course, for I was seventeen,
and so I swung into action and wrote a poem, 

and it was miserable, for that was how I thought
poetry worked: you digested experience and shat

literature….

William Mathews, Time & Money, Houghton Mifflin Press, 1995.

I scribbled my first poems on pages in my Bible. They were not good, but they let me pour out the disappointment that had been building over the years. Poetry also gave me a voice that I’d never used before. When speaking, I couldn’t verbalize my opinions quickly, and so others ran over me during a conversation. My role became listener, but writing gave me time to craft my words, so when someone read what I wrote, they got a clearer idea of what I was trying to communicate. Without poetry, I would lose the ability to express myself, and I’d shrink back into the background. 

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Stella Lei : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It’s hard to say. Paul Valery said that “a poem is never finished, only abandoned,” so I guess the question is: at what point do I let myself abandon a poem so it can live on its own? Final lines/images tend to come quickly to me, whether they be a shift in a primary image or a conclusion of a thought. From there, I return the poem’s body to make sure the rest of it builds toward this ending—pruning redundancies and irrelevant lines to keep the piece moving forward. Once I feel like each line has earned its place, I put the poem down.

Greg Hill : coda

Read Patricia Smith. Read Anthony Etherin. Read Douglas Kearney. Accept that pineapple can be a pizza topping. Read Jody Gladding. Read Sydney Lea. Read Jonah Mixon-Webster. Black Lives Matter. Read Nasser Hussain. Read Luke Bradford. Read someone you never heard of. Read the truths women write. Read trusted news sources. Read recipes you won’t follow exactly. Read Mary Ruefle. Read Li Po. Tracie Morris. Tracy K. Smith. Read to children. The world exists behind you. Read your favorites again. Ammons. Saroyan. Frost. Read Eunoia. Paradise Lost. Heaney’s Beowulf. Whitman. Dickinson. Hughes. Read Su Hui if you can. Read new poetry. Read someone else’s list.

Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Monty Reid : part one

Monty Reid is a poet based in Ottawa. His books include Garden (Chaudiere), The Luskville Reductions (Brick) and Crawlspace (Anansi) as well as recent chapbooks from above/ground press, corrupt press, postghost press and others.  Segments from his current project, The Lockdown Elegies, have appeared in The Quarantine Review, Train, Noon, Guest and other journals in print and online.  He is a contributing editor for Arc Poetry Magazine and the Director of VerseFest, Ottawa's international poetry festival. 

What are you working on?

As usual, I have a few projects on the go.  There are several book-length mss getting some touch-ups after their latest round of rejections - a lengthy book on espionage, since CSIS lives just across the street from me, with the usual themes of in/visibility, secrets and betrayals, and a book on parasites, which many poets seem to find profoundly distasteful as actual organisms but charming as metaphor.  And my squeaky little non-parasitical collection of Lockdown Elegies is nearing completion and getting some airplay currently.  And there’s a mistranslation of Nicolas Guillen’s El Gran Zoo still getting its annual upgrade. Plus unrelated poems now and then, songs occasionally, lots of gardening, and putting together the program for VerseFest2021.

Sunny Vuong : part one

Sunny Vuong is the founder and editor-in-chief of Interstellar Literary Review, and a poetry mentee of the 2021 Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship program. Her work is featured or forthcoming in Diode, Strange Horizons, and Kissing Dynamite, among others. Find her on Twitter @sunnyvwrites.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

If poetry is the act of making something alive, then a finished product reflects this: does every question posed point to something else? Is the reader surrounded by the poem’s truth, or are they made to sit with it? How could an audience recontextualize themselves within the poem’s logic? How does the poem interact with itself as a body, a whole, made of parts? A final draft, to me, is dynamic—it breathes in every way that it can.

As for the technical process of getting there—I fine tune the symbols I use, make sure the poem’s form is supplementary to its content, and take recordings of myself doing a reading to make sure that each line’s rhythm is natural and that every line break serves a purpose.

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Damien B. Donnelly : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

For me, the musicality of poetry is essential. Since I started Eat the Storms, the Poetry Podcast, back in July 2020 and have been sharing my own poems along with my guests and have also been reading much more at spoken word events, my poems have become more like songs to perform. And with that, I have come to understand they have certain breaks, refrains, choruses that come back again. Each has its own rhythm, not only in their sound, but also in their structure, in their visual form on the page. The sound of how the words are spoken for me is vital to get across the emotion, to demonstrate the force, to be as the clear as the break of the last line. I was a very shy child and took a long time to find my voice. My poetry has equally taken many, many years to come out and find its confidence but slowly it is finding its place on the stage and its lyricism under the light. 

Trish Bennett : part one

Trish Bennett spent her youth changing jobs, careers, and cities, building a lifetime of shenanigans to tap into later on when she gave in to the urge to write. In 2021, she was a Winner in the Dedalus Press Local Wonders Poetry Postcard Competition, Runner-Up in the Roscommon New Writing Award, Shortlisted in Trim Poetry Competition, and Longlisted in the National Poetry & Mslexia Poetry competitions. She's working on her debut poetry collection. trishbennettwriter.com

Photo Credit: Sheerin Photography

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is art. Art is of great importance because it helps us express ourselves in a way that others can enjoy. Like many forms of art, poetry brings comfort and pleasure. We identify with the emotions of the story that the poet expresses. In my own case, poetry changed my life. I began to write to help heal mentally after a missed miscarriage. I still write to get tortures out of my head. 

Monday, 23 August 2021

Mel Sherrer : coda

The forms in which I write are minimalist, and the tone sentimental. It seems necessary to me in an age of brevity to make a poem say something that affects the reader, and say it without much ado. My hope for my poems is that they turn on a dime, sucker-punch, and teleport through great distance and time in mere moments.

Thomas McColl : part three

How does a poem begin?

For me, it’s usually some unusual, arresting image that provides the spark. For instance, the origin of a poem from my book, Grenade Genie, called The Evil Eye – that’s about how controlling social media is – can be traced back to when I saw a cobweb stretched across the amber signal of a traffic light (a cobweb that could only actually be seen, complete with captured insects, when the amber light was momentarily lit).

On seeing that, I was inspired to write the following section, which employs the word ‘amber’ twice, in one sense representing something fleeting and in the other representing something that preserves – to illustrate how social media gives the impression that our lives will be preserved forever but, instead, is simply creating an illusion which is actually a very sophisticated trap:  

You’ve made a pact with the digital devil,
not even to be an insect preserved in amber,
but simply an insect that’s landed on a cobweb
stretched out directly in front of an amber signal
and as soon as you’re lit up, no-one hangs around.

You’ve allowed yourself to get caught in a cobweb
spun by a social spider that sucks you dry of information,
then leaves your hollowed-out exoskeletal frame
to rot on its website.

Anyway, like a lot of the initial sparks that begin my poems, that section ended up in the middle of the finished piece. But that’s the thing: once I’ve got that first bit written down, I’m usually on my way, and wherever it ends up getting placed, will very soon have a finished poem of sorts built around it.

Sunday, 22 August 2021

M.S. Evans : part five

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

Poetry gives you a chance to jump right into a moment. There’s no need to explain, or rationalize what led up to it. I’ve found this particularly helpful when writing about trauma.

Shiksha Dheda : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t think I know when a poem is finished. I don’t think a poem is ever truly finished. There is always something new that could be added (or removed/omitted). Poems are never finished; they’re always a work-in-progress.

Saturday, 21 August 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part one

Shareen K. Murayama is a Japanese American, Okinawan American poet and educator. Her first chapbooks, HEY GIRL, ARE YOU IN THE EXPERIMENTAL GROUP? by Harbor Editions and HOUSEBREAK by Bad Betty Press will be published in 2022. She’s a 2021 Best Microfiction winner as well as a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal. Her art is published or forthcoming in Pilgrimage Press, SoFloPoJo, SWWIM, Flash Boulevard, The Willowherb, and elsewhere. You can find her on IG & Twitter @ambusypoeming.

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

I’ve heard poets say, “I worship at the altar of poetry.” Love that! But I’m not that monogamous or rather I have faith that poetry’s the lover I run to when I need to feel special, feel love. It’s not that poems hold answers, but they inquire or shift your stance to see a part of the world differently. Poetry’s also intimate, like you’re stumble into bed with pillows fluffed, you turn to your partner, or in this case, a poem or book, and ask, “So, what’s on your mind?” And then you listen. 

Rebecca Irene : part five

Why is poetry important?

Poetry holds that rare ability to be simultaneously vulnerable & fearless. Poems can cause people to cry, fall in love, anger, or forgive. Poetry has exposed personal & political injustices, re-examined history, & almost always imagines a better world.

Klara du Plessis : part two

What are you working on?

I just finished a collaborative residency at Artexte with the U.K.-based artist, Kadie Salmon. We co-created a sculptural artists’ book in three parts, entitled, Incipit, Scree, Explicit. And so, over the past few months, I’d been writing a set of 20 experimental sonnets which belong to this work, pushing the project further, but also responding to Kadie’s visual work—a dialogue in creative growth. We’re hoping to exhibit the artists’ book in-person next year, if COVID19 allows, and while my writing process is mainly completed, I’m thinking of ways of publishing documentation surrounding the work or sharing it beyond the presence of the artists’ book itself. Otherwise, I’m working on three manuscripts. One is written translingually, also in collaboration, with Khashayar Mohammadi in English, Afrikaans, and Farsi. An excerpt was just published in Collusion Books. It hinges on the shared g fricative sound prevalent in both Afrikaans and Farsi, our respective first languages. This is a very playful work, but also has a lot to say about the interconnectivity of language and culture. It’s tentatively forthcoming in 2023. Independently, I’ve been working on a collection of long poems informed by my current doctoral research on poetry reading recordings and their archives, as well as my active practice of literary curation. Finally, I’m slowly compiling a book-length version of Unfurl—a collection of essays or informal literary criticism.

Friday, 20 August 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It’s really just a feeling. Just like how poems start for me is how they end. A poem will rush into my life and linger for a while. So, I know a poem is finished when I feel like the immediacy of it is over, when I feel like all the noise and heat has receded and I can see what beauty is left behind. That’s at least how a first draft goes. In terms of editing and revising, I know a poem is done when I can read it out loud without stumbling over a line. I’ve found voice is really important to me as a poet, so I pay attention to how the poem sounds spoken aloud, how it flows sonically. So, for me, I always read the poem out loud and when I feel like the flow is there, when it rises and falls, and dissipates naturally, then that’s the end for me. 

Ken Norris : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’m standing in the doorway of Jack Spicer’s After Lorca. Peter Gizzi just brought out a new edition of it with NYRB. To me, it’s the most important book of the twentieth century. It has taught me more than anything else. So now I propose to reread it for the first time in twenty years. Will it blow my mind again? Quite possibly. Here’s hoping.

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Stella Lei : part two

How does a poem begin?

Most of my poems start with a line or a strong sense of image that I feel an urge to explore. In the past, I wrote a lot more narrative poetry, and I would usually attach this line/image to a character to follow through the poem. However, I’m currently playing more with metaphor and incorporating personal experiences, so I like to use this initial image as an anchor point to circle back to through the piece.

Alan May : coda

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

A good poem can be multiple things at the same time--a cave painting, a sculpture, a silent film, a ditty, an opera, a message in a bottle... Other art forms seem to have a more limited range as to what they can do.  

Greg Hill : part five

Why is poetry important?

Hmm—I don’t… I don’t know… that—I don’t think… I don’t… Um… Mmm—Well, it’s… not… I mean… It isn’t… It’s not… important… really. Right? It’s not important… I don’t… think… No… No—I don’t know.

Wednesday, 18 August 2021

Brandi Spering : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I am a little rusty with poetry as of late but am trying to strengthen that muscle again, which is difficult. Poetry is most therapeutic for me when I writing to process intense emotion, which is evident through my old work, which was written through anger and anguish. I am trying to find a way to write without negativity though, as I learn to be more positive as a person.

Tuesday, 17 August 2021

Damien B. Donnelly : part three

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

Poetry, for me, gets to the essential quicker than any other form of writing. I'm currently working on a fictional novel and have written many short stories but the excitement of poetry, its uniqueness and also perhaps its greatest challenge, is to cut away all that is decoration and retain only that which is necessary. I'm a big musical theatre fan and know that some people question why they have to sing in the middle of a Play but, for me, the singing comes because simply speaking is not enough to convey the emotion, singing takes it to another level, accompanied by the music. Poetry, in a similar sense, is an extension of prose, a way of catching the light, of drawing attention, of saying look at me, both my beauty and my fragility, the shimmering way the words flow when contrasted against how few words there are to protect. A poem stands naked on a stage, there is no cover up, it simply is. We may not always understand it but it's definitely hard to ignore it.

Stuart McPherson : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

For me, the process is can be obsessive and that is sometimes difficult, in that I can’t focus on anything else until a poem is done, or at least the first draft is done. This can mean sleepless nights, lack of concentration on other things. This sounds like I don’t enjoy the process, I do, its just sometimes all consuming! I have a fairly obsessive personality!

Monday, 16 August 2021

Mel Sherrer : part five

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is important because it is the only art from which must, by certain definitions, seek to evaluate the human condition. Poetry cannot simply narrate, fascinate, propose theory or philosophy. Poetry has to show us something about human nature that is worth keeping. I like to imagine that during the origination of language the first things we attempted as a species to say to each other were identity, but the first things we attempted to say about each other were poetry. Poetry is important by nature, because we will always need language for perceiving each other, and poetry is one of those languages.

Thomas McColl : part two

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

It’s the ability of a good poem to get to the emotional core of something in just a few lines. A good poem can essentially say as much (or maybe even more) in 40 lines than some novels can in 400 pages, and that’s why poetry will always retain its value as an art-form (even if it increasingly appears to be the case that less and less people are consuming it in any kind of sustained and meaningful way). 

Sunday, 15 August 2021

M.S. Evans : part four

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I have more faith in poetry, and respect for poets. It’s hard to write something good, truthful. For the most part we’re doing this for free, but it is work.

Shiksha Dheda : part one

Shiksha Dheda is a South African of Indian descent. She uses writing to express her OCD and depression roller-coaster ventures. Sometimes, she dabbles in photography, painting, and baking lopsided layered cakes. Her debut poetry collection, Washed Away, is forthcoming with Alien Buddha Press

She rambles annoyingly on at Twitter: @ShikshaWrites. Her website is: https://shikshadheda.wixsite.com/writing

What are you working on?

Right now, as I have my debut poetry collection coming out soon with Alien Buddha Press, I’m feeling a little lost. An entire bunch of my poems have been placed in that collection, which is an extremely personal collection for me. As it focuses on my struggles with OCD and depression, I’m finding it slightly tough to kind of write about a)other topics or b)the same topics but in a vastly different manner, without the writing seeming like it should fit into the debut collection. 

So, I am actually trying something completely different and trying to work, or rather venture into the amazingly vast world of visual poetry.

Saturday, 14 August 2021

Rebecca Irene : part four

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

Two books that are always close: Lois Dodd, Catching the Light, & Explode Every Day: An Inquiry into the Phenomena of Wonder

The former celebrates the life & art of one of my favorite artists. Like me, Dodd was influenced by time spent in NYC & Maine. Her paintings reflect both an urban grittiness, & adoration for nature that many of my poems strive towards. 

I stumbled across the second book, a breathtaking curation of photography, writing, & interviews, whose pages never cease to astonish, when I was devouring everything Mary Ruefle had written. (She has several pieces in the anthology.) 

Also—the Portland Museum of Art is a balm for the burnt-out creative. When I can spend an hour wandering through the galleries, I always leave rejuvenated & eager to write again.

Klara du Plessis : part one

Winner of the 2019 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, Klara du Plessis’ debut collection Ekke was published to critical acclaim. Her newest book is Hell Light Flesh, shortlisted for the 2021 Raymond Souster Award and released from Palimpsest Press. Klara is a PhD English Literature candidate at Concordia University, a researcher for SpokenWeb, and currently expanding her curatorial practice to include experimental Deep Curation poetry reading events, an approach which places poets’ work in deliberate dialogue with each other and heightens the curator’s agency toward the poetic product. Klara writes in English, Afrikaans, and translingually, and lives in Montreal.

Photo credit: Dean Garlick

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry is language and thinking. Poetry is a way to be critical without discourse, to make more organic connections, to leave room for the flourish within the linear. This implies, in turn, that poetry allows for vast possibility, is a constant opening into the generative. All of this, while abstract, is crucial, on the individual level of expression, but even more so on the more collectively human level of speaking reality. 

Friday, 13 August 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part one

Nathan Alexander Moore (she/they) is a Black genderfluid transfemme writer, scholar, and dreamer currently based in Austin, TX. They hold a master’s degree from SUNY Buffalo where they studied creative writing and Black literature and cultures. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin in the department of African and African Diaspora Studies. Their work has previously been published or is forthcoming from Pulse/Pulso: In Remembrance of Orlando from Damaged Goods Press, P-QUEUE, ode to Queer and Peauxdunque Review. Her poetry chapbook, small colossus, is new from above/ground press

How does a poem begin?

Usually with a random flash of inspiration: I’ll get fixated on an image, or even a feeling. Sometimes it’s a memory or experience that I can’t shake, that keeps floating around my skull. If whatever it is lingers long enough, I can hear the first line of the poem and then I just want to write the rest of it to see where I end up.

Ken Norris : part four

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

I like this question a lot. First of all, because it recognizes that writers require renewal. That is absolutely true—that is absolutely the case. Sometimes you’re just completely tapped out, and writing is just over. So . . . how do you recharge your batteries?

The two books I always go back to are Neruda’s Residence On Earth and Creeley’s For Love. And, often, I will take just a peek at HD’s Trilogy.

Thursday, 12 August 2021

Stella Lei : part one

Stella Lei is a teen writer from Pennsylvania whose work is published or forthcoming in Four Way Review, Okay Donkey Magazine, trampset, and elsewhere. She is an Editor in Chief for The Augment Review, she has two cats, and she tweets @stellalei04. You can find more of her work at stellaleiwrites.weebly.com.

How important is music to your poetry?

I’ve found that I write in a very rhythm-based way, even though I don’t usually use meter. I like to find an internal rhythm that powers the piece and dictates my phrasing. For example, when drafting, I might put “[three syllables]” or “[fragment here]” as placeholders if I know the rhythm but can’t think of the exact line.

Another aspect to consider is the resonance between different sounds and how this affects the reading experience. Every word has a unique sound, and I love to play with how they bounce off each other to create certain textures or moods. Predictably, I adore alliteration.

Alan May : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The rejection. Seriously. My poems have been rejected over 98% of the time. 

Greg Hill : part four

What are you working on?

I don’t have a publisher, so I don’t have the benefit of someone threatening me with deadlines. But I am working on finishing and formatting two book-length manuscripts, one entirely experimental, one less so. I can’t even decide whether it’s really two manuscripts or one.

At the same time, I’m also working on a smaller project—I suppose I could make it larger—and which is conceptual in nature, about aleatory poetry.

I’m also more than half a decade into rewriting all of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under the constraint of using only five-letter words. (My best, most fervent, piece of advice to writers is: never start a project like this—complicated, consuming, frustrating, futile.)

I am working on a project of visual poetry. I’m not set about in what format I want these works to exist. This project is the least pressing but often the most fun.

Also, every year I have a goal to collect 100 rejections from literary magazines for poems I have submitted. I was on track for a while, but I have to refocus on that priority to meet the goal for 2021.

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

Lynne Thompson : part five

How does a poem begin?

Almost any provocation can result in sitting down to start a poem: an overheard conversation, a billboard, a piece of music, another poem. If I can sit down in the moment of illumination, I’ll start writing lines or even just doodling. If I can’t put pencil to paper when the spark strikes, I might write a note in my phone or phone home and leave myself a message to ensure I don’t forget the inspiration. WARNING: if the inspiration comes in a dream, don’t ignore it; grab your journal and write it down—it will disappear by morning!

Brandi Spering : part four

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

When I write poetry, I feel that I am without boundaries. Poetry can extend beyond the words on the page, such as through the structure—knowing what breaths to take when reading, by the white space on a page, for example. With This I Can Tell You, I was able to address the reader within the text, as well as comment on the narrative. These aspects felt crucial, as the book discusses memory, perception, and reflection.

Tuesday, 10 August 2021

Damien B. Donnelly : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

For me, personally, writing is constantly a work in progress, looking for the voice and realizing that even that voice itself, when found, changes quickly. When I was younger, I had the impression that I had to write like others, like classic, beloved poets, I had to follow their style and their frame. The older I get, the more I realize the world is big enough for many types of frames and individuality is so much more exciting than conformity. When you grow up adopted and looking for the handle of sexuality’s closet, you learn to give yourself time to figure out who and what you are. My poetry is developing in the same way. Right now, in my 40s, I'm interested in the development of my own voice, where it has come from, what has altered it and where it is heading. Today, I am trying to be less of a control freak and this applies also to my writing of poetry. I now realise that a poem doesn't have to have a beginning, middle and an end. Sometimes a burst from the light midway through the first half is all that is needed and the rest of the poem can be edited back from overdone to just enough to attract attention.  

Stuart McPherson : part four

How does a poem begin?

A poem usually begins with a feeling, an image, a flashback. I then take that and apply some kind of frame of reference as in ‘what am I trying to say’. I then search for those crucial first lines, and just let it go from there. Sometimes the feeling can last for days, until I’m ready to write it down. I don’t scribble or riff or try different lines. I just wait until its ready and then it happens. I don’t have notebooks full of writing. It just doesn’t happen that way for me.

Monday, 9 August 2021

Mel Sherrer : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I find the attitude surrounding writing as a career to be the most difficult aspect about writing poetry. There is a scarcity mindset (and perhaps real scarcity as well) amongst writers which makes the career climate around poetry absolutely cutthroat. There is a lot of pressure in this socio-economy to capitalize on one's writing, and that response to fine art is exhausting. It makes creation difficult. I have to put a lot of intriguing ideas away for later, simply because they may not be marketable. 

Thomas McColl : part one

Thomas McColl lives in London, and has had poems published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, London Grip, Atrium, The Poetry Shed and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and in anthologies by Hearing Eye, Eyewear and Shoestring Press. He's had two collections of poetry published: Being With Me Will Help You Learn (Listen Softly London Press, 2016) and Grenade Genie (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020).  

How did you first engage with poetry?

There were only two books of poetry in the McColl family household when I was growing up: ‘Poetic Gems’ and ‘More Poetic Gems’, both by William McGonagall, so unfortunately, I had no choice but to first engage with poetry via an author widely regarded as being the very worst poet in the English language. But despite (or maybe because of) me being exposed at a very young age to McGonagall’s unintentionally funny dreadful doggerel, I got into writing poetry myself, and at first it really was even more dreadful than McGonagall’s and not even unintentionally funny. Eventually, though, my writing began to get good enough that, by my mid-twenties, I was starting to get poems accepted in reputable poetry magazines, such as Iota, Purple Patch and Psychopoetica, and though no-one was prepared, at the time, to publish my work as either a pamphlet or collection, I persevered, and now, 42 years on from when I first discovered William McGonagall’s books of poetry, I have a book of poetry out with Fly on the Wall Press, called Grenade Genie, that even includes a poem which references McGonagall by name, a poem ironically called The Greatest Poem, and while I do regard it as very possibly being my greatest poem to date, it’s actually about writing the worst ever poem.

Sunday, 8 August 2021

M.S. Evans : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I let it sit for a few days or weeks, sometimes longer depending on the length or intensity of the piece. If I’m just tinkering with line breaks after that, then it’s ready to be offered up. 

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Rebecca Irene : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

So many! Top ten: Denise Levertov, Louise Bogan, Muriel Rukeyser, Claudia Rankine, Akhmatova, Mary Ruefle, Jane Kenyon, Elizabeth Bishop, Wislawa Szymborska, & Anne Carson.  

Friday, 6 August 2021

Ken Norris : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Oh, the way I think about writing gets changed all the time. It’s just a question of what have I fallen in love with lately. I loved Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry when I was thirteen. I loved Leonard Cohen’s poetry when I was seventeen. I loved Robert Creeley’s and Pablo Neruda’s poetry when I was eighteen. The list goes on and on, and now I’m seventy. Lorca was important. Artie Gold was important. Frank O’Hara, Jack Spicer. bpNichol as an editor was extremely important.

If I stay open as a reader, then everything I read changes me as a writer.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Alan May : part four

How important is music to your poetry? 

Pretty important, I think. Music led me to poetry. And sometimes I get ideas from songs. In my book Dead Letters, there’s a longish poem called “Juke Box Gothic.” Each section in the poem is mimicking a country song. 

Or maybe this question is about prosody, etc? I usually start out writing in meter with a certain set number of feet per line. When I’m at my best, I usually throw in internal rhyme and puns and keep riffing like that as I go. 

Greg Hill : part three

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

Like the nutritious dinners I make and serve to my young children, poetry has the ability to evoke disappointment, dislike, and disgust, even before it is experienced.

Wednesday, 4 August 2021

Lynne Thompson : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

frank: sonnets, Diane Seuss

& more black, t’ai freedom ford

DMZ Colony, Don Mee Choi

Under the Capsized Boat We Fly, Gail Wronsky

The Essential June Jordon

Brandi Spering : 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?

I usually read all first drafts to my fiancé, as he is always just a room or two away. He’s my live-in editor. But I also share my work with a group of writer friends to workshop. Their critiques and line edits improve my writing, tenfold.

Tuesday, 3 August 2021

Damien B. Donnelly : part one

Damien B. Donnelly, 45, returned to Ireland in 2019 after 23 years in Paris, London and Amsterdam, working in the fashion industry. His writing focuses on identity, fragility and connection. His daily interests revolve around falling over and learning how to get back up while baking rather delicious cakes.

His short stories have been featured in A Page from My Life from Harper Collins Ireland, Body Horror from Gehenna & Hinnom and Volume 3 of Coffin Bell. His poetry has appeared in many publications online and in print including Eyewear, The Runt, Black Bough, Barren Magazine, Impspired, Neurological, The Adriatic, Fahmidan Journal, Prismatica, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fevers of the Mind, Bealtaine and 2 Metre Review. His debut poetry pamphlet Eat the Storms was published by The Hedgehog Press in Sept 2020 and he followed that up with a Stickleback micro poetry collection Considering Canvases with Boys in January 2021, also from The Hedgehog Press. He is the producer and host of the weekly poetry podcast Eat The Storms on Spotify, Apple, Podbean and many other podcast platforms. His pamphlet, co-written with Eilin de Paor, In the Jitterfritz of Neon will be published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press later this year. He is currently working on his 1st full collection which will be a poetic/photographic diary of his years living with Paris.

His poetry and photography blog is https://deuxiemepeaupoetry.com/ where you can buy his poetry collections

His podcast website is https://eatthestorms.com/

His Instagram handles are @damiboy and @eatthestorms 

His Twitter handle is @deuxiemepeau

His Tiktok is @eatthestorms and his YouTube channel is https://www.youtube.com/user/deuxiemepeau

What are you working on?

I’ve just finished working on a conversational poetry pamphlet, a poetic duet with fellow Irish poet Eilín de Paor. The collection is called In the Jitterfritz of Neon and will be published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press later this year. We wrote this collection during Covid, 20 poems sparked by memories of nights out, recalled at a time when we were asked to stay in. I'm very proud of this collection, which we emailed back and forth to each other and expanded on over zoom meetings, each session igniting something in the other person so it became a game of creative tag. Right now, I am working with a mentor, Anna Saunders, acclaimed poet and Director of the Cheltenham Poetry Festival, to finalize my first full poetry collection called Enough, inspired by my years living in Paris. The collection is supported by The Arts Council Ireland. The collection is divided into 6 parts as I look upon the city of Paris as if we were in a relationship, exploring all the glitter and the guilt that slipped in, later. At the end of the year I will focus on a collection based on my experience of returning to live in Ireland after 23 years abroad, triggered by thoughts of other countries, other cities, other streets I found rooms in while trying to retrace my former footprints here, in my home country where I still feel like a foreigner. The collection will be loosely titled Back from Away and will be supported by the Fingal Arts.