Wednesday 31 March 2021

Elias Baez : part five

How did you first engage with poetry?

The first time I felt a poem immediately change me was when I finished one called “Fever Dream” in 2016. I’d written poems before then, and they’re real poems, but this one affected my body. It’d been impossible to write for months before a breakup, and then a month of grief thereafter. Finally, this weird thing came out of me – I remember, it ends, ‘crystalline and pillowy, / quiet as a coral reef, / Thinking of your eyes / I ate it all’ – and suddenly I was able to get out of bed. Like I’d soft reset my imagination and so could see again. Then I knew that poetry could change things in reality, like magic, and I liked that. 

Michael Lithgow : part one

Michael Lithgow’s poetry and essays have appeared in various journals including the Literary Review of Canada (LRC), The /Temz/ Review, Cultural Trends, Canadian Literature, Existere, Topia, Event, The Antigonish Review, Poemeloeon, The High Window, ARC, Contemporary Verse 2, TNQ and Fiddlehead. His first collection of poetry, Waking in the Tree House (Cormorant Books, 2012), was shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Quebec Writers Federation First Book Award. Work from this collection was included in the 2012 Best of Canadian Poetry (Tightrope Books). Michael’s second collection, Who We Thought We Were As We Fell (Cormorant Books, 2021), will be published in the spring. He currently lives in Edmonton, AB and teaches at Athabasca University.

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

I was asked this question recently in connection with World Poetry Day – poetry shares the experience of being human with language. What I man by this is that poems are intimate events with language. A poem is language in which and through which something happens. I’m tempted to say something is discovered, but I’ve read too much Foucault to believe it entirely. And “fabrication” isn’t quite right either, which can also mire language in routine and cliche. Somewhere between creation and discovery is the urge to make sense and to find it —a sense of self, meaning, understanding— to eek out a defiant sensibility through curiosity. Because the best poems to my mind have no idea where they will end up until they do, and this is the sense of wonder they can share. I said “with language”, but maybe “in language” is a better way to put it — an event in language because that’s how human energy is traced in poetry —mind energy, body energy, spirit energy — through a collection of words tangled together with syntax, grammars and so on, whether or not these regulations are actually followed. Poems capture, and at their very best, make human experience in words. They reveal, create, and discover intimacies of subjectivity in all their complicated uncomfortable contradictions. The very best poems for me share the intimacies and vulnerabilities and outrages of learning to be human. Of course, all art forms are about this very thing! So I guess it’s the medium that sets it apart. Words tangled in rules, both tamed and set free through human desire in the face of all the forces that want to determine what can and cannot be spoken legitimately.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

Jaswinder Bolina : part five

How does a poem begin?

It begins with one phrase—a weirdly described image or meaningful declaration or simple arrangement of words—that I’ve never read anywhere else before. It has to startle me, has to feel crisp, clear, and new. That often takes writing dozens of lines that end up getting tossed, though every once in a while, the good line comes first. Then begins the long, stupid struggle to do anything with it.

Kristy Bowen : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I think the longer I do it and the more I make myself write even when I don't think I can. It gets easier to get a poem or a project rolling.  For the past three years, after a long time of doing it irregularly, I've been writing almost daily, and the results are usually good.  So like running everyday, it gets less painful as time goes on.  You just have to show up at your desk with your running shoes on and you're off. The difficulty may have nothing to do with the writing itself for me, but with connecting those poems with readers.  Or maybe even knowing there are readers out there at all.  You drop a penny down a well and sometimes you hear a little splash but more often, only silence.  So you throw another coin in and hope for the best.  It isn't entirely about publication and acceptances/rejections, but also about the smaller ways you feel someone is actually reading what you're writing. That silence is terrible, and the more excited you are about what you've created, the worse it is. I don't feel this as much with visual art, which I think is an easier sell with a wider audience.  Everyone, even non-creatives, can look at a collage or painting and fall in love with it.  The audience for poetry is so small, mostly poets themselves and there are so many of us writing it. It's sometimes amazing anyone sees it at all. 

Monday 29 March 2021

Ellen Adair : part one

Ellen Adair is an actor, and her Pushcart-nominated book Curtain Speech, published by Pen & Anvil press, is a collection of poems about the theatre. Her poems have also appeared in Clarion, Cypher, Oddball Magazine, and The Charles River Journal. As an actor, she has had recurring roles on shows such as The Sinner, Homeland, Bull, Billions, The Slap and Veep, along with dozens of other television and film appearances, and stage productions Off-Broadway, regionally, and touring the country. She also writes for The Turf Sports, is a guest analyst on MLB Network, and has a podcast with her husband called Take Me In to The Ballgame. They live in Queens, with their dog, Mabel.

Photo credit: Ambe J. Williams.

What are you working on?

I’m currently bending most of my energy towards a novel, although it is a novel that has poetry in it. The poetry partly helps with some exposition, though we do meet the poet, even if we don’t recognize her as such in the moment, and it serves the plot at the very end.

As for that plot, my one line summary is that it’s about a god who has a mid-life crisis—the tension for an immortal in that phrase fully intended. I haven’t been able to come to more-expanded but still-succinct elevator pitch for it, but essentially, my protagonist is frustrated with the current structure for communication between gods and mortals. The arrangement was restructured thousands of years ago, but he doesn’t think it’s necessarily led to the greater enlightenment that was intended. So: he thinks about what he might be able to do. But under the structure of the gods’ universe, he doesn’t have as many options as one might expect, given that is he is, well, a god.

I’m also working on a couple of different TV series, but there’s no passing them off as anything but prose.

Irina Moga : part one

Irina Moga is a Romanian-born Canadian poet, author of five poetry books, and a member of the Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC).

Sea Glass Circe, her fourth book, was selected for an official launch as part of the 2020 Toronto LitUp!, Toronto International Festival of Authors (TIFA).

A collection of poems written in French, Variations sans palais, was published with Éditions L’Harmattan (France) in 2020. 

Irina’s work has appeared in literary magazines in Canada and the US, such as: Canadian Literature, carte-blanche, Cloud Lake Literary, and Poetry Quarterly.

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry has an underestimated benefit:  it has a cathartic effect on our psyche. Its healing effect relies on surfacing emotions in an interplay of meditation and the refactoring of words and meaning. 

We can gain additional insights about ourselves through the reinterpretation of reality mediated by a poem. 

By operating in a realm that’s entirely at the mercy of words, we navigate to greater clarity in how we express ourselves and understand others. 

Sunday 28 March 2021

Michelle Moloney King : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

Poetry was just a part of growing up in Ireland. As a Roman Catholic, Irish farmer's daughter in rural Ireland, I could feel this generational shame at my Irishness. 

We were told in school that before the 1920s our schools used to be hedge schools and teachers used to be considered rebels and that our language and identity was stripped from us and we had nothing but our minds and words to set us free. 

We were told that all the 800 years of indentured servitude, famine of genocidal proportions, all the fighting, bloodshed, risings, civil war and bombs ended when Ireland used words….

John A Costello’s November 24th, 1948 Dáil speech on the Republic of Ireland Bill, available online from the Oireachtas archives. The Act came into force on Easter Monday. And in it Costello simply and formally declared Ireland a Republic and that we had left the British Commonwealth.

And that was it….the response was...yeah, ok.

In school we were told that the UK thought nothing of us, our culture, our language. And that, in their eyes, we were the punchline of Paddy Irishman jokes which were created as a tactic to discredit the Irish. 

We were told the only way to gain back our potential was to grab an education, get a degree and use our talent to be a refutation. John A. Costello's speech bypassed bloodshed and finger pointing and said, thanks we are a Republic now and so long. Sling your hook.

I mean, wow….oh and I'm the decadent of a famous Irish Revolutionary and writer so...

Also, bedtime reading was poetry in place of stories or celebrating Irish poets in school; it has always been a way for the Irish to gain recognition and love on an international stage. I mean, the Irish are loved the world over and known for our wit with words.

My great-great-great grand uncle was Thomas Francis Meagher, the founder of the Irish flag, a writer and revolutionary - in one of his speeches he highlights Ireland's artistic talent and almost tries to convince the foreign listener that we should be considered as an asset and worthy of more due to this very artistic talent. 

And finally, I wrote in my head for years but only started writing about 10 years ago. I wrote in every genre but always knew I'd arrive at my voice from an outsider perspective. 

And that moment arrived during Ireland's first lockdown, I needed a creative outlet from my doomsday thinking and so wrote a poem. That started a journey into poetry, courses, workshops from the comfort of my home.

Saturday 27 March 2021

makalani bandele : part one

makalani bandele is an Affrilachian Poet. He has received fellowships from Cave Canem Foundation, Millay Colony, and Vermont Studio Center. Currently a candidate for the MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Kentucky, bandele’s work has been published in several anthologies and widely in literary journals. The author of hellfightin’ and under the aegis of a winged mind, awarded the 2019 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, poems from under the aegis have been published in Prairie Schooner, 32poems, and North American Review. His latest manuscript, vandals of knock city, consists entirely of his invented form “the unit” and poems from this unpublished collection have been published or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, The Common, Inverted Syntax, and A Dozen Nothing.

photo credit: Andre Howard

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

I love this question because I can give a very straightforward answer. Fred Moten. I was hipped to Moten’s work by a poet named Randall Horton. It was around 2010 and he was editing my first collection hellfightin’ as an editor at Willow Books/Aquarius Press and he suggested I check out Moten based on what he saw me trying to do in my work in hellfightin’. When I tell you it changed everything for me as a poet, I do not exaggerate. I am pretty sure the first Moten poem I read was the salve trade. It completely blew me away, it simultaneously made me want to stop writing and write a poem right then and there. For the first time, I felt like I heard a poet speak in their authentic, complicated black self in multiple ways that intersected with my own voice, interests, and experience. Moten’s use of black vernacular, imagery from black social life, Jazz references, engaging of post-modern philosophy, and signifying on the Western worldview and philosophy resonated on all levels with my own being and poetics. In encountering Moten, I heard myself and yet also what I wanted to be and strive toward. Moten’s work was entirely liberating for me, because I realized that a big problem with my work was that I was trying to curate all the voices and discourses coursing through my work into a coherent, linear meaning. It just ended up being a jumbled mess that made sense to me, but left most readers lost as to what the meaning was. Moten taught me that I am too complicated and complex to pack neatly in a box and put on bow on it. I began to employ parataxis, non-sequitur, and troubling/complicating of meaning in my work. It has created multiple valences in my work and more ways-in for readers to have fun in the playground of possible meanings that I have created. Now I feel like I can get all my complicated selves in a poem, and not intend specific meanings in the work, but instead be attentive to the possible meanings while trying to create space for evermore possible interpretations.

Stephen Jackson : coda

In regard to writing poetry, I have little formal education. Yet I constantly feel as if I’m on the verge of getting it, though this never actually happens. The better part of what I’ve learned comes from reading countless books both of and on poetry. Many of them multiple times, as I have a terrible memory for the written word. So it’s as if I’m having to learn and unlearn everything over and over. Of course, I’d be lying if I said I have no idea what I’m doing. Still, I have no idea what I’m doing. It’s one of the few things of which I’m not afraid to say I am proud. Nor do I have any real desire to tear it apart and see what makes it tick. I write because of this thing that’s inside of me. And I will continue to do so. I’ve tried to stop. At one point I declared, “All I have to do is quit calling myself a writer and it will be over.” Fortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

Friday 26 March 2021

Christopher Merrill : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is the most important element of my poetry, perhaps because I am a musician manqué. It is probably no accident that I married a classical violinist; accordingly, I have had the good luck to spend a lot of time in the company of musicians, who give me new ways to think about the music of verse—i.e., prosody, which is one of my obsessions. My ear is attuned to speech rhythms, which may or may not fall into traditional meters, and my fingers are always tapping out the beats; when I hear something strange or off-kilter my imagination may catch fire. I live for that.

Robert van Vliet : part one

Robert van Vliet is a poet, designer, and teacher who lives in Minneapolis. His poems have appeared in The Sixth Chamber Review, Autumn Sky Poetry Daily, The Eunoia Review, Otoliths, and elsewhere. He eavesdrops on Twitter here, and his blog is here.

Photo credit: Ana Morel

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

Is every poem trying to accomplish the same thing as every other poem? Is each poem trying to accomplish only one thing, or several things at once? Are all artforms trying, each in their own way, to accomplish the same thing, or are they trying to accomplish different things, and therefore manifest themselves in different ways? Is art even trying to accomplish anything in the first place? If I intend a poem to accomplish one thing but it doesn’t, and instead it accomplishes something else entirely — something I couldn’t have predicted — is it still a successful poem? What if a reader expects my poem to accomplish something, but I expect it to accomplish something else? If I write a poem which I hope will accomplish absolutely nothing whatsoever, and I succeed, is it still a poem? And what if I fail, and it accomplishes something anyway?

Thursday 25 March 2021

Jessi MacEachern : part five

How does a poem begin?

As Frank O’Hara writes of process in “Why I Am Not a Painter”: “a / whole page of words […]. Then another page.” In the poem, O’Hara describes the process of writing as one of days going by. My process is very similar. An idea may occur to me (a tiny architect in the palm of my hand) or I may go searching for one (in books, on a walk, by looking quizzically at a stray popcorn kernel on a velvet couch). It begins with words, then pages, written in a notebook. “Days go by.” Sometimes, years go by. Eventually those words, then pages, are typed up and form comes into it. And then it’s begun. Then it’s a poem, or it will be.

Wednesday 24 March 2021

Elias Baez : part four

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

I made a Patreon in October ( that I’ve since sent over sixty pages of new poetry. At a minimum of five poems a week, the volume is really high, but that keeps me productive and focused no matter how the daily variables of a week might interrupt my writing. At this point, I guess it’s like how people who work out go to the gym every week? Accountability forces me to make it happen, and Patreon is great for that. I don’t submit to publications as much of late. I like sending poems to my friends, for now.

Jamie Townsend : coda

How does a poem begin?

I’m not always sure and tbh the idea of poems beginning and ending has always challenged me. One thing I really love about John Wieners is that he continued to work on his poems ever after they were published, so you can look through his various selected/collected and sometimes find different versions of the same poem. This has definitely alleviated a certain anxiety of the “finished” piece and has led to a more honest and less fraught life in reading/writing.

That being said, I think that a lot of poems start themselves – an overheard phrase, an odd line that appears in your head, an itch that can’t be scratched. I feel like I’ve conceded to the fact that poems have their own lives and pace outside of my desires and that I can’t force one into being; I’ve never been a disciplined writer in the sense of scheduling time to write, I just need to be ready to write. But, in another sense, I’m always writing or at least trying to always stay attentive to what’s happening outside my own head. The mystery of writing a poem and the journey of working through one, the give and take, the oscillations of clarity and opacity, and listening and speaking, still thrills me even after doing it regularly for the last 20 years. 

Tuesday 23 March 2021

Jaswinder Bolina : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

It feels crucial, though I wonder if others think of my poems as musical. I absolutely compose by ear. The arrangement of the poem on the page matters too, but the lines have to flow right; they need a rhythm and pacing to them first. The shape of the poem is secondary to the way it sounds. I have a feeling the same is true for a ton of poets. Maybe we all have the same obsessive compulsion towards music. It’s just that our instrument is language.

Kristy Bowen : part four

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

I think its spareness allows an entire world to be contained in a line---sometimes even a single image. Something like fiction takes more words to get to the same place. You also have to follow certain paths in narrative and suspense-building that an audience expects. You can break the rules, but only a few writers can do that well without losing your reader. With poems, your reader kind of expects to get lost.  For things to never be what they seem. Obviously poems rely more on rhythm and sound, what in the old days, obviously made memorization easier, even in free verse. We have any poem at our fingertips now via technology and don't need to commit them to memory, but musicality is still very much a part of the experience. Also, poetry has that power to take abstract ideas or moods and make them solid flesh I realized lately that I communicate so much just everyday conversation in metaphors and sometimes people find it annoying--how I explain everyday things, but I also how those metaphors are how I think things out. See this is like this, and it makes sense to me, but sometimes is confusing for the person I'm talking

Monday 22 March 2021

Erik Fuhrer : part five

How does a poem begin?

As a phrase or an image—something that gets stuck in my head and forces me to go to the page or the computer. It usually blooms in the midst of things and gets caught, making me repeat it over and over until I can jot it down— this repetition helps me further visualize the image or form the sonics of the phrase in my mouth, so that consistently becomes more vivid. That’s not to say that the poems themselves always occur spontaneously, though they sometimes do, as I often engage in a version of automatic writing, with the initial phrase or image as a conduit to the rest of the poem. Sometimes, however, the poems come painfully slow, with each line of the poem following the process of the first line—caught, repeated, written down, rinse and repeat, until the next phrase or image that murmurs feels like it is starting a new poem. I usually trust the sound of the poem to guide me as to whether a line is the start of a new poem or the continuation of one that is already building. 

Alicia Wright : part five

What are you working on?

Namely, the work now is my dissertation. For that I’m working on resuscitating my writing spirit, which means attending to feeling-projects connected to writing, such as letting a manuscript go, finding my footing for new poems, and reviving my love for poetry that might not show me something new, but remind me of things that are important. Adjacent to all that, I’m reviewing several recent poetry collections, editing Denver Quarterly, F I V E S: A Companion to Denver Quarterly, and assembling pieces for my own online journal, Annulet: A Journal of Poetics, coming to the world this spring. In many ways, I think, I’m working on waking up.

Sunday 21 March 2021

Michelle Moloney King : part one

Michelle Moloney King {she/her} neo-postmodern poet, visual poet, asemic poet and editor of Beir Bua Journal. Degree in  computer science, post grad in education & Master Hypnotherapist. Work published in Streetcake, a glimpse of, The Pi Review, Spillwords, Artistic Differences, Babel Tower Notice Board amongst others. Pushcart Nominee 2021. Visual Artists Ireland member. Website: and @MoloneyKing 

What are you working on?

I wish I was polishing my poetry for a pamphlet or collection, I also wish I was putting together a collection of my visual poems but I follow a mischievous sense of play and so I'm creating redacted poetry and subbing them to journals, it's lots of fun. 

And the journal, Beir Bua, takes a lot of time even when submissions are closed. So, more work to do on the design of the website and maybe seeing what I can learn about business models I could use to make it a print issue or a print anthology and printing avant-garde poetry pamphlets….. But I'm not about efforting or trying - I imagine something, see it clearly and then if info comes my way I recognise that potential and dive in.

Saturday 20 March 2021

Stephen Jackson : part five

What are you working on?

In January of 2020 I began work on a new project, writing a series of constrained poems late in the evening while listening to music: mostly jazz, ambient, avant-garde. This is unusual for me, as I normally write in the morning, in complete silence. With nearly 150 of these pieces, I’m currently in the process of selecting 20-25 for a chapbook. While the form is constrained, the subject matter is not, as I tend to let the music guide my thoughts. I may end up writing a handful of pieces to give it more connective tissue. Other than that, I’m writing every day, working on revisions of recent poems (three months out) while constantly tweaking older ones, putting together submissions, categorizing poems for other chapbooks, and always, always reading. There’s no end to the work that needs to be done. And I’m grateful for the time to do it.

Friday 19 March 2021

Christopher Merrill : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

The books on my desk are Seamus Heaney’s District and Circle, Ellen Bryant Voigt’s Kyrie, Pierre Joris’s translation of Paul Celan’s collected earlier poetry, Memory Rose Into Threshold Speech, Paradise Lost, Saint-John Perse’s Amers, Paul Merchant’s translation Twelve Poems About Cavafy by Yannis Ritsos, and Ani Gjika’s translation of Luljeta Lleshanaku’s Negative Space.

Nathanael O’Reilly : coda

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

When engaged in writing a new poem, I think it’s difficult to force oneself to try something new and abandon techniques and approaches that have been successful in the past. I used to write a lot of poems in the past tense using the first-person plural voice. I decided that approach was becoming too predictable, so I’ve been trying to write more poems in the present tense. I read an interview with Nick Cave in which he claimed that he doesn’t write songs about the past and tries to only write about the present. I’m not sure that’s really true, but I thought it was interesting and that I should try it, especially because I’d spent many years as a homesick expatriate trying to come to terms with the loss of my homeland, almost always writing about the past. I needed to accept my status as an immigrant and start writing about my current situation and future plans. Probably the most difficult part of being a poet is not the actual writing, but all the waiting and rejection that comes with being a publishing poet. One is always waiting to hear back from journals and publishers, and due to the sheer numbers of poems that are submitted to each journal for each issue, the statistical fact is that most poets will have most of their work rejected most of the time. I co-edited a special issue of Cordite Poetry Review with Lachlan Brown; we received almost 2000 poems for the issue, but only had space to publish 40. We had to reject a lot of great work by many excellent poets, including people whose work we had been reading and admiring for years. One develops a thicker skin over time, but the rejection still hurts. I think the worst part is that usually one isn’t given a reason for the rejection, just a simple “no,” so that’s not useful in terms of revision and making the poems better. I’ve written a lot of literary criticism, and with that kind of writing one receives detailed feedback from two or three reviewers that explains how to make the piece publishable – poetry publishing is not like that, which makes it a tougher and more mysterious process. 

Thursday 18 March 2021

Jessi MacEachern : part four

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

I meet with a group of writers — once in parks and living rooms, now online. It’s always an immense pleasure to receive a query by e-mail or text: “writing group this week?”. They’re an assortment of Montreal poets and fiction writers, fantastic individuals I am honoured to call friends, whose work I absolutely adore. Fortunately, they are also generous readers and sharp editors. Many of them appear in the acknowledgements of my book, for the poetry would not have taken shape without their insistence that there was, in fact, something there. 

In my advice to other writers, I am constant in this: you must have someone with whom you can exchange work. I have been fortunate to have so many kind individuals, in and out of university workshops, with whom this exchange has been mutual and thrilling. It is crucial that another pair of eyes helps you separate the good from the bad, the almost from the absolute, the pristine from the garbled. 

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Elias Baez : part three

Why is poetry important? 

Because it can be written on a sheet of toilet paper.

Jamie Townsend : part five

Why is poetry important?

I think poetry has perhaps the most freedom of any art form because it is least beholden to the system of predatory capitalism that runs all our daily lives. Obviously there are tons of issues around cultural capitalism, gatekeeping and lack of representation in the poetry world, but with such low economic stakes poems are more open and less accountable to validate their abstract worth. In my experience, this had always led to a sustained and joyful relationship with poems and the people who write them. Also, externalizing anything internal, whether it’s narrative, conceptual device, lyric, or visual arrangement on the page, or any combination of, presupposes an audience, even if it never gets published. The intention is relational. Poetry is very intimate and wound up in our complex relationships with other people, as well as maybe most importantly our multiplicity of selves. 

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Jaswinder Bolina : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

There are several. So many. Maybe every poet changes the way I think about writing. Actually, that feels perfectly correct. Every single poet I read changes the way I think about writing. But if you mean the big list that helped make my work whatever it seems to be, it includes O’Hara and Ashbery—who were my entry points into poetry when I began writing it in earnest in college—H.D., Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg, Lucille Clifton, James Tate, Mary Ruefle, Dean Young, Ross Gay, and Wallace Stevens. I’m tempted to add more here than that even, but I’ll stop by saying at least one chamber of my heart belongs to David Berman’s one and only book Actual Air.

Kristy Bowen : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I think the way I compose poems has changed from when I first began, and there are probably different stages in my writing life in terms of  process--the sort of moves I make to get something going.  In my 20's, poetry was this difficult thing, which needed to happen when the winds were right. I would sit down with my ideas and hammer something out as an attempt at getting to something already fixed in my head. I either succeeded or failed miserably and had to start over. At the time, there was a lot of poems that were persona-driven.  My first chapbook is filled with pieces about historic, literary and mythological figures. I myself, didn't have all that much to draw from, or if I did, I didn't know how to harness it. In my 30's, I was simultaneously starting to work visually in collage and book arts, so much of my writing took on sort of cobbling together of things. I didn't have a defined idea to begin, more that the pieces would form the whole, and the idea would be formed and finessed from the raw materials--sometimes found texts and random threads, I didn't know, starting out and assembling a poem from random bits,  what it would end up about and I really liked that--writing as a way to discover. Also, I began writing more and more narratives into my poetry and wordbuilding, which isn't something poets talk about as much as fiction writers and visual artists., but it's there. Also, working in tandem visually and with words, so many of my projects began to incorporate visual elements--collages and paintings. In recent years, I still do this, but I also have been letting sound--rhyme and rhythm--form what I'm building when I'm stuck. I realized at some point I had eschewed lined verse entirely for prose poems, but have been circling back a little. Whatever the form, sounds plays a greater role in my composition than it did a decade ago.  I still don't know where a poem will go necessarily, but this is part of the fun.

Monday 15 March 2021

Erik Fuhrer : part four

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

Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler. Over and over again. This painful multi-vocal symphony of a book, which explores the unspoken, as well as gives voice to those who have not always been afforded one, has stuck with me since I first heard Smith read from it at The Dodge Poetry Festival in 2010. As someone who is often thinking through the relationship between the nonhuman and the human, I am particularly fascinated by Smith’s personification of Hurricane Katrina and other hurricanes. I think what makes the book a powerful renewal for me is that it comes at topics that are important to me (climate change, the representation of the nonhuman, the way individual and collective bodies and personal narratives are elided by official narratives) from different angles than I normally do, which helps me think more expansively about content, representation and style. 

Alicia Wright : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

One night when I lived in Brooklyn I drew a hot bath and read C.D. Wright’s Steal Away from cover to cover, and I’m pretty sure I emerged a different person and poet. Natasha Trethewey showed me that the lyric present could also be in the historical past. Later, Ellen Bryant Voigt’s perhaps now legendary shift from form into wilder lines and rhythms also broadened my brain. Poets like M. NourbeSe Philip, Susan Howe, and Myung Mi Kim drew me closer to fragment’s power. The poets who are also your teachers change your thinking about writing, even if it’s just for a phase or course’s length: there’s that handful who never leave your inner dialogue. And my poet friends from my MFA changed everything about how I thought about writing, as they each think differently about it. To be in a writing program with others is to study, and if you’re lucky, love almost everything about each other, as your thinking and writing merge into living simultaneously. Some readings I’ve heard at Naropa have also deeply affected my thought. If you study anyone’s work enough, it changes you.

Sunday 14 March 2021

Ren (Katherine) Powell : part five

How does a poem begin?

Something concrete. 

I try to never begin a poem with an idea, or a theme. Never a concept. I feel like when I have done that the poem doesn’t speak back to me. It’s just me dumping my preconceived ideas on the page and there’s no opening – not for me, not for the reader – to hear what the world has to say. If I want to make a statement, I’ll write an essay. 

When my oldest son was four, I was planted in front of the computer on a typical afternoon, and he brought me a dandelion in a cup to put on my desk. As if that weren’t dangerously precious enough – there was a friggin’ inchworm on it. I still haven’t written that poem, because the memory overwhelms me in a way that won’t allow the inchworm to just be an inchworm. 

Yesterday I noticed several of my flowerpots had cracked when the water in them had frozen. I began there, and let the flowerpots lead the way. Don’t get me wrong, I’m mostly a lyric poet, so I may very often land in my own naval, gazing - but I don’t begin there.

Saturday 13 March 2021

Stephen Jackson : 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?

For me, as I’m sure it must be for many, it’s been a rather lonely process. I’d written poetry for decades before my first attempt at publication, which was in 2017. I had no one to take a look at my work or offer me feedback. I just read through a lot of magazines until I found one I liked, searched through my work to find something the magazine might like, and then sent off four poems. To my surprise they accepted one, and then to my astonishment, later nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. I had a handful of other poems published that first year and then took a little break, as submitting can be time consuming. I began a regular submission schedule in 2019 and currently send out about two or three per week. I have a slightly better idea of what I’m doing now, as I search for magazines that might be a fit for the poems I myself would like to see published.

Friday 12 March 2021

Christopher Merrill : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Michael Benedikt’s anthology, The Poetry of French Surrealism, which I discovered as a graduate student in a used bookstore in Seattle, decisively shaped my thinking. The practice of automatic writing freed me to follow the language wherever it might lead, exploring subjects and themes I might otherwise have avoided. Then I co-translated André Breton’s Constellations, a collection of prose poems based on a series of gouaches that Joan Miró made during World War II, and a book that Breton wrote with Paul Éluard and René Char, Slow Under Construction; the first inspired my book, Necessities (White Pine Press, 2013), and the second gave me the idea for 7 Poets, 4 Days, 1 Book (Trinity University Press, 2009), which I wrote with Marvin Bell, István László Geher, Ksenia Golubovich, Simone Inguanez, Tomaž Šalamun, and Dean Young. The joy I experienced in making that book led to a nearly-decade-long collaboration with Marvin Bell. We published the first volume of what we imagined to be a trilogy in 2016, After the Fact: Scripts & Postscripts, completed the second volume, If & When, at the start of the pandemic, and were about a third of the way into the final volume, Here & Now, when Marvin passed away in December. Working with him was a pure joy, and the grief I feel over his death has left me reeling.

Nathanael O’Reilly : part five

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Seamus Heaney showed me that poetry could be about place, the local, family and farm life, while simultaneously engaging with spiritual, cultural, historical and political concerns. His use of dialect, verbs, nouns and enjambment affected my writing in a fundamental way. His language seemed to come directly out of the earth and convey both universal and personal truths. John Keats’ poetry, especially the odes and the sonnets, showed me how a poet could combine romance, passion, beauty and wonder with technical virtuosity. His concept of negative capability has had a tremendous influence on my approach to both writing and teaching. Li-Young Lee’s poetry showed me how to approach subjects like exile, expatriation, diaspora, homesickness, loss and unbelonging, as well as how to write a great love poem. 

Thursday 11 March 2021

Tom Harding : part five

Why is poetry important?

I read poetry for pleasure, it relaxes me. However more fundamentally it is one of the few sober pastimes dedicated to illuminating all aspects of the human experience.  Poetry reveals absurdity and disrupts the imagined order. 

It reminds us that there is another reading to life beyond the laundry list of chores and concerns that embattle us daily, that there’s a life behind life that can be glimpsed if however fleetingly. 

Jessi MacEachern : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

My consideration of poetry is still changing. I’ve always been drawn to reading and writing about women’s lives, but my early education had led me to believe there was a singular avenue for that and it was melancholic at best, suicidal at worst. In graduate school, my writing teachers (Stephanie Bolster, Sina Queyras, and Gail Scott) pointed to new and bold examples of how to master the craft, interrogate feminist politics, and mobilize the line or sentence for radical means. Today, as the teacher, I find my students reorienting my attention toward the emotional centre of a poem, or its story. I am often deeply resistant to narrative, but perhaps the classroom will make a storyteller of me yet. 

Wednesday 10 March 2021

Elias Baez : part two

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

Part II of the poem “Altitudes” by Richard Wilbur has Emily Dickinson resolve the tensions laid in Part I. I usually only read Part I, cause I think it’s truer. It goes:

Look up into the dome:
It is a great salon, a brilliant place,
Yet not too splendid for the race
Whom we imagine there, wholly at home

With the gold-rosetted white
Wainscot, the oval windows, and the fault-
Less figures of the painted vault.
Strolling, conversing in that precious light,

They chat no doubt of love,
The pleasant burden of their courtesy
Borne down at times to you and me
Where, in this dark, we stand and gaze above.

For all they cannot share,
All that the world cannot in fact afford,
Their lofty premises are floored
With the massed voices of continual prayer.

He went to Amherst College, like I did, and I think he was as alienated by its extravagant sacralized wealth as I was. The same is true of Johns Hopkins, where I earned my MFA last year. I hear a lot of scathing sarcasm in these peaceful sounding lines, and that brings me actual peace.


Jamie Townsend : part four

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

I never walk away uninspired after reading anything that Bob Gluck has written. His novels are the clearest emotional models for my poetry – intimate, simultaneously spiritual and profane, and gorgeously arrayed with sensual detail.

Tuesday 9 March 2021

Jaswinder Bolina : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When the ending feels like a surprise to me. When the beginning feels like a surprise to me. When all the lines in-between have a kind of jangly music, a varied texture that keeps me from getting bored or glossing them over. 

Kristy Bowen : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

If you go way, way back, I was fascinated with Mother Goose, which I guess is is a type of poetry.  Before I could even read a word about it, I carried around this very battered (and stained with applesauce) black and white checkered book of it and "read" it via the pictures. Otherwise, poetry wasn't something that lived in my world as a kid outside of nursery rhymes and the sort of chants you did while jump roping in elementary school. I was really into to horror and spooky things, so when Poe came around in junior high, I was smitten. While I easily would have told you I was writing a horror novel as a pre-teen, poetry was something firmly in the past and not something people--real people--actually did anymore. Poe. Shakespeare. Longfellow. Chaucer. All the fodder of high school textbooks. I wouldn't have been able to pick a contemporary poet out of a lineup, and probably would have argued, like a unicorn, they didn't exist. Our freshman year English teacher had us write poems, though, and I remember wowing her with one about flamingos. Somewhere there's a high school diary, bedecked in a rainbow and with a tiny lock, filled with poems about unrequited love and kittens. So I just kept going, but it still felt like something I had no idea what to do with or if there was even an audience for it. If you fast forward post-adolescent poems that at first were very spare and about societal issues, then later, Dickinson rip-offs about what my 20 year old self thought were VERY BIG IDEAS. I actually got to a space where things were improving. At the time, I was moving past the idea that poetry was this old, dusty, archaic thing and actually starting to read contemporary poets--at first Louise Gluck, Anne Sexton, Carolyn Forche, Sharon Olds. I had long been a Plath fan, but more for her prose and journals,  and less for the poems, which I don't think I was skilled enough yet to appreciate in those years. For all my strong feminist woman poet models, I always laugh that it was the deadest of the dead white men that broke things open for me and gave me a kind of permission to write the poems I wanted to write. I was in a graduate lit program and we were reading The Wasteland and it broke something open. In the months after, after years of writing on the side and making other plans for my life, I decided that poetry was what I needed to be doing.

Monday 8 March 2021

Erik Fuhrer : 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 think it depends on the book. For the Buffy poems, I have been sharing them with some people who I trust, and who know the show well, because I am interested in seeing how well the source material is working in the poem. Since I am also working in a more narrative mode than I am normally comfortable with, having other people’s opinions on clarity and structure is helpful. At the moment, it feels safer to be able to choose the people who read these poems, rather than being in a workshop environment, since they do feel a little bit raw right now. 

My book not human enough for the census was born in my MFA workshops and I owe a lot to the feedback I receive there. Workshops really help me find new ways of thinking through what my work is capable of. I don’t think not human enough would have looked quite the same if it wasn’t developed alongside a group of people who helped push me toward the strange, which is what the book was always kind of gravitating toward naturally but didn’t completely have the language for yet.

Alongside the above communities, my partner, Kim, is always my beta and final reader. She has helped shape, organize, and finalize nearly all of my poems. It is because of her close proximity to my work that her and I were able to develop collaborations with one another. Both not human enough and in which I take myself hostage feature full-color paintings by Kim that engage in visual dialogue with my work.  

Alicia Wright : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

It takes me a long while to identify the subject of a poem. I’m not exploratory; I’m specific. And then comes consideration and internalization of the subject’s conditions, implications, and connections, which takes place on a preverbal level, close to language’s moods but not yet in any of them—I have to wait and make sure I’ve paired the correct feeling and language with kind of vision. Then I form the poem through the appending of language to meaning in a moment, so I have to also be able to focus my physical body on its production, which is a whole other nested process that usually involves sleep deprivation, caffeine, and an immense bout of anxiety. Basically my answer is: writing a poem.

Sunday 7 March 2021

Ren (Katherine) Powell : part four

Why is poetry important?

I think this is an interesting question. 

I believe language is a tool that allows us to transcend the limitations of our bodies, and therefore ourselves. Bees inherit the dance steps they perform to communicate vital information. Bees have a kind of language. Birds sing, handing down bits of language that came from those who lived before them, each generation altering them slightly.

Even before written language we sang our stories beyond ourselves. We are social creatures, not only in our present, but with connections to our past. We can commune and collaborate with the dead.

I believe poetry is the most enduring form of language. Language can communicate information, yes, but only poetry recreates life in a way that allows us to leap into one another’s shoes and show us the unchanging condition of being human, even while the cultural norms shift over distances or through time.

Sorry to get academic about it, but I like the distinction that Aristotle wrote about in terms of mimesis. Poetry recreates life. It doesn’t instruct us, it invites us into someone else’s world so we can see through their eyes and understand. We don’t even have to agree to an object truth to understand another human being’s experience. Novels can do this, but poetry (as a form) does this in a way that is communicated in small, memorable jewels. As the Arab poets have described lines of ghazal: pearls on a string. Poems are our heirlooms.

Poetry gives us the ability transcend ours little individual selves. It allows us to comfort one another when we can’t physically embrace. 

I think poetry is vital. 

Saturday 6 March 2021

Stephen Jackson : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I think over time I’ve come to trust my own judgement about when a poem is ready to stand on its own. It requires a little faith and trust in what has been given to me. A poem, through revision, is vulnerable to losing that mysterious something that imbued it with a life of its own in the first place, though a trace of it may still have flickered there after the third or twenty-third draft. One can’t always be like the parent who says, “You will not leave this house dressed like that!” Sometimes you just have to let them go, allow them to be themselves. As a general rule, I do consider a poem that has been published finished. An acceptance is a sigh of relief, like the kid finally got their own apartment, now I can focus on the ones (I believe) still need me.

Friday 5 March 2021

Christopher Merrill : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I was born in Amherst, Massachusetts; hence I wish I could say that Emily Dickinson was my first tutelary spirit. But as a teenager I was drawn to Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, and Herman Hesse, and then I began to fall in love with one poet after another, including W. S. Merwin, Elizabeth Bishop, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Strand, John Berryman, Charles Wright, and so on. Marvin Bell liked to say, “Read a poem, write a poem,” and that is what I still do.

Thirty years ago, I published Norman Dubie’s collection of aphorisms, The Clouds of Magellan, one of which is central to my thinking about the nature of a literary apprenticeship:

If you are a young writer who admires the work of a single older writer, then you are in great danger. Admire the work of two older writers, or more. Give your mind a problem and your mind, without permission, will solve that problem.



Nathanael O’Reilly : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is tremendously important to my poetry. First of all, as inspiration. I’ve been a big music fan for more than thirty years and have always been drawn to music with great lyrics. Of course, the connection between music and poetry goes back millennia, and in some ways it doesn’t even make sense to think of them as separate art forms. I don’t write poems that are direct responses to particular songs or artists, but I deliberately listen to particular artists and albums in order to get into a creative mindset. Some albums that help get me into the creative mood include Nick Cave’s The Boatman’s Call, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, The Decemberist’s The King is Dead, Tori Amos’ Little Earthquakes and Florence + The Machine’s Ceremonials. Although I don’t read music and am a terrible singer, I pay a lot of attention to the musicality of my poetry. I use a lot of internal rhyme, consonance, assonance and alliteration, and always pay close attention to the sound effects created by my diction, rhythm, repetition and line-breaks. Unless I’m writing a villanelle or a sonnet, I don’t use a lot of end-rhyme, but I’m always closely attuned to the music in every line. I read my poems aloud while drafting and consider sound and music to be fundamental to poetry. 

Thursday 4 March 2021

Tom Harding : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Music came first and was my gateway into poetry. I discovered Bob Dylan at a seminal age and through him discovered Ginsberg and the Beats, all of whom were influenced by Jazz. 

I suspect a lot of poets are frustrated musicians, I know I am. Many poems in my recent collection Afternoon Music were named after John Coltrane ballads. 

There's a place where one and all these things are the same. 

Leonard Cohen wanted to be Garcia Lorca. Lorca of course wrote in musical forms and was a troubadour of the heart.

Jessi MacEachern : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

The only poem I’m certain is finished is the long one encompassed in my book A Number of Stunning Attacks. It is the result of an assortment of lyric poems I began writing nearly fifteen years ago. These were drastically expanded in order to become my Master’s thesis. Though the process of writing that creative thesis was hugely enriching, I was dissatisfied with the final product and spent nearly a decade un-weaving and re-weaving the poems therein. (I hope my next book won’t be fifteen years in the making.)

I recently had the experience of releasing another suite of poems as an online chapbook: Ravishing the Sex into the Hold (Model Press). I had thought they were finished until the publisher, Ryan Fitzpatrick, showed me the horizontal layout he was considering. Thrilled by the landscape available to my already long lines, I immediately reshaped the poems to luxuriate in the length of the page. So, I guess, given the opportunity, I’ll remake the poem to fit the occasion. Ultimately, I do not know when a poem is finished, but I do know I’m willing to finish it differently at different points in time.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Elias Baez : part one

Elias Baez is a poet, programmer, and pop journalist living in Baltimore with his husband Alex. His website’s, and so is his Instagram handle. Twitter’s baez_us. All he wants is a friend.

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

My first poetry workshop, when I was nineteen, was taught by Richard Wilbur and David Sofield, when both were soon to retire. Sofield insisted that poems should have wit, and snap in places like a rolled-up towel. He also used the phrase “by my lights” a lot, which I stole remorselessly. Wilbur showed me that accomplishment and humility are not mutually exclusive. He also liked a funny line. Most of all, I learned from him that language is all hyperlink, and anything can be sampled or referenced if you place it rightly. Later, James Arthur taught me how to make my references actually make sense. And how not to hide, or strip the humanity from my writing. Of poets I never had as a teacher, Djuna Barnes taught me a poem could build my own personal God. Amanda Berenguer performed immaculate geometry on fruit. Hilda Mundy split the atom of metaphor, and proved that it is the strongest bond. Jericho Brown taught me I’m not excluded from the traditions I was raised to know and love and work and carry.

Jamie Townsend : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

My current poetry reading habits are varied and sporadic (I’ve actually been reading a lot of queer theory and sci-fi/fantasy over the last few years). Current favorite poets who working today that I didn’t mention in my previous response are: Marie Buck, Vi Khi Nao, Chris Nealon, Lisa Robertson, Steve Orth, Lindsey Boldt, Gracie Leavitt, Brandon Shimoda, Aisha Sasha John, and Joshua Jennifer Espinoza.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

Jaswinder Bolina : part one

Jaswinder Bolina is author of the essay collection Of Color (McSweeney's 2020); three full-length collections of poetry, The 44th of July (2019), Phantom Camera (2013), and Carrier Wave (2007); and a digital chapbook, The Tallest Building in America (2014).

What are you working on?

I’m working on a fourth collection of poetry and am just about finished with it, I think. It’s called English as a Second Language and Other Poems (or The Usual Entertainment). After several books with short titles, I decided to go long on this one. We’ll see if anyone wants to publish it soon enough. I hope so. It took a lot of work on very little sleep. Of course, that makes me worry it’s an incoherent mess, but I’ve had the very best time of my writing life putting it together.

Kristy Bowen : part one

A writer and book artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of many artist books, chapbooks, and zines, as well as several prose/poetry/hybrid collections, including the recent sex & violence (Black Lawrence Press, 2020.) Her poems have appeared recently in Pretty Owl Poetry, The Account, and Pedestal Magazine.  She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio.

What are you working on?

Right around the holidays, I stumbled into my brother-in-law's comment string on a Facebook post from someone he'd been talking about a few day's prior--a guy who was pathologically into conspiracy theory and had some crazy thoughts about current events (at that moment it was the Nashville bombing). What caught my attention was not so much what he was saying, but HOW..this strange sequence of cause/effect and pattern-forming that had no basis in fact or reality and yet was captivating nonetheless. It occurred to me that in our own histories, we often make meaning and substance out of  our own lives and experience in a similar way. And if I could capture that diction and flowing way of talking about things--my own things--it might be an interesting experiment. I have a handful of pieces that I'm liking and hope to write some more. At my day job at the library, we are planning programming and exhibits around the subject of urban legends this semester, something I've written about quite a bit before,  and those ideas are also turning some similar wheels and creeping into the poems.

Monday 1 March 2021

Erik Fuhrer : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

My partner is a painter, and her methodology is to continuously overpaint a piece that she does not feel is working. I am always astonished at her boldness, since I can get so precious about what I write, and have the luxury of being able to paste words that are “not working” into another document for quick recovery later if necessary. Due to the nature of her medium, her revisions literally efface the original attempt, and sometimes she decides the finished piece was the one she has already replaced with new strokes of paint. It makes me feel grateful that my art form is more malleable, because I often go back and forth, swapping and cutting, but this also means I lack the resolution she has to stop messing around with something. She stops because there are no refunds in her practice, and she likes it enough to live with it, for now. Since I can always go back, I sometimes continue to do so, in a loop. That said, there is always a point where the sound of the poem, the spacing of the poem, the way it feels on the tongue, just clicks. I’m not sure I can quite describe it, but it is a bit like the poem itself is an active object asserting its own finality. I used to be skeptical of writers that described their work as speaking to them, as if the work was a separate entity, but now that I have been writing for a while, I realize it kind of is like that—writing is kind of witchy in that way, as I’m sure much art is. 

Alicia Wright : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

The poem’s resonance touches the end of my feeling. Then the momentum in my brain shifts, and I fall forward, back into present consciousness.