Monday 31 May 2021

Adam O. Davis : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

I grew up in transit which meant long trips filled with country music and books-on-tape. One of my earliest musical memories was Kenny Roger’s “The Gambler,” which I maintain is a stone-cold classic. As a child, I loved the cadence of the lyric, “he crushed out his cigarette,” and also its specificity. He didn’t put out the cigarette; he crushed it out. Paul Simon’s Graceland was a mainstay during family road trips and his use of repetition fascinated me: “I know what I know/I have said what I said.” I immediately aspired to that rubberband-like fluency and logic. Finally, my hope for every poem I write is that it have the prayer-like intensity and spookiness of Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song.” The song has the bluesman’s skill of making the same lines sound new each time (their initial playfulness giving way to dread), and the atmospherics kill me—there’s something sacred in those acoustics, that pitch-black room in which the singer decries the horrors of his workday knowing the next workday is only a night’s sleep away. All this said, I’m careful to recognize that music and poetry are two separate enterprises—though they can both inspire each other, they can never be each other. As Glyn Maxwell notes in his masterful book, On Poetry, “The other half of everything for songwriters is music. For poets it’s silence, the space, the whiteness [of the page].” Poets have to make the language work double-time to communicate the atmosphere that music does for the song. Plus, a killer guitar solo can make even the clunkiest of lyrics forgivable. Just look at Van Halen.

Jean Marc Ah-Sen : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I went to visit my family in Africa and found all of my cousins’ dog-eared school books from the seventies and eighties. I have thirteen aunts and uncles on my dad’s side, so there was quite a collection of these imposing, dusty hardbacks. The education system there was structured differently, and had a European flavour to it. I found the material to be quite challenging. I took some poetry books back with me and read them on the plane ride home. I started with a compendium of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poems. It was the perfect introduction for someone of my sensibilities. 

Sarah Dowling : part five

How does a poem begin?

My poems begin with obsessions, unanswerable questions, and phrases that I can’t get out of my head. For my last book, Entering Sappho, I began with the title of the collection, which is a phrase I saw on a road sign in rural Washington. I couldn’t get it out of my head, and over the course of six years, the whole collection grew out of those two words.

Sunday 30 May 2021

Neil Surkan : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’m always nosing around in multiple collections at a time. Here’re the ones slung over chair arms and tented on countertops right now:

Henri Cole’s Blizzard. WTF. What a breathtakingly unflinching collection. Wham. Can’t praise it enough. Euphoria. Terror. Grief. Sweetness.

Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas. There’s something about this book. It’s always off my shelf. The opening call to “make room in the mouth / for grassesgrassesgrasses” truly, truly amazes me. 

Julie Joosten’s Light Light. I had never seen the word “Agnotology” before. Agnotology: the study of culturally produced ignorances

Bradley Willow Trumpfheller’s Reconstructions. This chapbook contains a snap bracelet image that I’ll never forget. 

Nick Laird’s Feel Free. The eponymous poem always gives me swoops of wonder. A great dad poem. 

Mark Strand’s Almost Invisible. I don’t know what makes a prose poem tick. But I really like these prose poems. Some feel like riddles that Strand himself never answered. 

Kirby’s forthcoming Poetry is Queer. There’s a wisdom in it that is rare and so, so vibrant (courage). 

Jessica Barksdale Inclán : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

It sounds right with my eye. I can see its wholeness. It resounds, all of it. It’s a feeling, a done poem. A sound and a feeling. So unhelpful! But I think every poet knows what I’m trying to say—it’s the same thing as when we listen to a completely successful poem while at a reading. It’s like a bell ringing.

Saturday 29 May 2021

Lisa Panepinto : part four

Why is poetry important?

I’ve been lucky to hear poet Martín Espada read in person twice. The first time I was in Freeport and he said to a group of us, “Of course poetry matters! The fascists who imprison and kill poets for protesting oppression realize the power of the written word.” And indeed, just recently several Burmese poets were jailed and killed for opposing a military coup in Burma. 

Artist persecution happens in the US as well. Buffy Sainte-Marie was blacklisted in the 60s when the LBJ administration forbade American radio stations from playing her music—even though she was doing nothing criminal. She was probably targeted just for being an Indigenous woman with lyrics that promote peace and tell the truth about American Indian experiences. I’m deeply inspired by the courage of such people who use creativity to fight for liberation. I recently watched an Alice Walker talk on her website. She brilliantly noted how our minds are constantly under attack by the colonizer, so we must actively protect our minds; she suggested meditation as one method of protection. Walker reminded me that poetry can be another way to protect our minds—the page can become a place of sovereignty, light, exaltation, sanctuary, and justice. 

Andrew McSorley : part one

Andrew McSorley is the author of What Spirits Return (Kelsay Books, 2019). A graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Southern Illinois University, his poetry has previously appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as The Minnesota Review, UCity Review, HAD, Birmingham Arts Journal, and many others. You can find him on twitter @andrew_myron, and on the web at He lives and works in Appleton, Wisconsin. 

Photo credit: Holly Tuyls

What are you working on?

For the last couple of months I have been taking up much more prose poetry than usual. I’m finding that the freedom of enjambment and the line allows me to focus more on narrative, which is something my poetry always wanted to focus on. But, the desire to be lyrical and melodic is too strong for me in the envelope of a form like, say, a sonnet. I love how brief I can be in a prose poem, but how much room I have to explore and jump around naturally, too. 

Cora Siré : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Hugely important, both directly and indirectly. I’ve written a number of poems inspired by music, especially the pieces my beloved plays on the clarinet and Andean quena. I play piano and ukulele and if no one’s listening, I might sing. Songs and music have helped me consider the rhythms, tempos and sonorous qualities of my poems, as well as silence, or the absence of sound in the blank spaces around a stanza. When I’m crafting my poetry, I always read the poems out loud. That’s why, even pre-Covid, I rarely work in cafés.

Friday 28 May 2021

Geoffrey D. Morrison : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I almost misinterpreted this question to mean, “how do you know when you have reached the final lines of a poem?” Because it’s not always the same, is it? Sometimes you find the end before you find the middle. 

I will say that the poems I’ve had the most fun writing were often very voice-driven, if in my case usually a weird voice, so that the end ideally comes quite naturally as the end of a conversation or a monologue would, and the middle ideally leads to the end without the need for much fixing, and the beginning to the middle…I wish it was always like that!  

Some poems, the ones I’ve had the least fun writing, are kind of like scabs you pick at when you really shouldn’t. There are so many moving parts at play, and changing one thing has major implications somewhere else, but, ah, you need to change it, and so, but, what if…In that case you can never tell when you’re done. The poem has become like a cursed object and you must put it away and do something else for awhile, give it time to cool down and work out its problems on its own. 

Gill McEvoy : part one

Gill McEvoy: She wrote and had success with fiction before turning to poetry. Her poetry career has seen three pamphlets from Happenstance Press UK, the 3rd of which The First Telling, about the aftermath of rape, won the Michael Marks Award in 2015. Two collections The Plucking Shed, 2010, and Rise, 2013 from Cinnamon Press. Recent collection Are You Listening? (Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2020). Awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 2012. Joint winner of Hedgehog Press’ competition for a “Selected”, to be published in 2022. Gill lives in Devon, UK where her greatest pleasure is in helping plant wildflowers round the village in an attempt to encourage back some of the insects we’re losing so fast.

What I’m working on:

On a collection of poems selected from my work in the last 20 years. It’s a delight for any poet to have a ‘Selected’, especially as most magazines now only want unpublished work. All those published poems locked up in the cupboard after having had just the one outing!  This “Selected’ will fall into two categories: “Creatures” as many of my poems have been abut animals or birds; and “People, Places and Plants”. It’s wonderful to go back and reconnect with the really good poems, and to be surprised too at how much you’ve written!

Lillian Nećakov : coda

This is such an exciting and explosive time for poetry. There are so many young, diverse voices shaping the future of the literary landscape, breaking down barriers, smashing stereotypes and creating such gorgeous writing. I am invigorated, challenged and inspired by these voices.

Thursday 27 May 2021

Raegen Pietrucha : part five

How does a poem begin?

All my poems thus far have been products of a deeply personal urgency. I am not a prolific writer, nor do I aspire to be; I just want to share what I believe to be essential—nothing more, nothing less. Writing, for me, is the place I go when I’ve had a trajectory-altering experience and there’s something about it I feel I must find the language for in order to transmit it or what I learned from it to others, in the hopes it may help them along in their journey. 

Jacalyn den Haan : part four

What are you working on?

A memoir told through poetry. Right now it’s called ma I/I am, and we will see if that changes. I’ve always been curious about whether or not it’s possible for a person to truly change, so that is the central theme. It deals with such things as growing pains, God, boys, sexual assault, and blackberry bushes. 

Wednesday 26 May 2021

Hannah VanderHart : part five

How does a poem begin?

It begins with time. I have to slip away from my young children, and somehow stay uninterrupted for five minutes. I wrote a poem recently after watching my spouse till our small backyard garden—it reminded me of the red diesel tiller, a monster of a machine, that my father used to drag from the barn and drive through my family’s (very large!) garden. I had that thought while standing in the afternoon sunshine, holding the electric tiller’s cord to keep it from the blades. Later, when cleaning the roots from the blades. In the next day or so, I finally made it to my computer, upstairs and tucked in one of the quieter corners of the house. The poem, “Watching My Love Till the March Garden,” begins:

It’s nothing like the red, diesel-powered tiller
that my father steered each spring—the light,
electric blades in my lover’s hands, beset by roots.
The red tiller roared and flung dirt, trailed a cloud
of blue smoke like an angry god in the garden.

Anna Press : part four

How can you tell when a poem is finished?

I don’t believe art is ever “finished.” You stop where you must or where you can given all manner of variables like time and where you’re at in your life. There is the maxim I believe attributed to Paul Valery, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.” I disagree with that semantically because the hope is that it is more “let go” than abandoned, certainly not forgotten. When I was in college I worked at an arts summer camp that I had attended as a teenager (Idyllwild Arts in Southern California) and one year I was able to go into town for the screening of the film students’ shorts. The teacher, Jared Billings (if memory serves), said, “Films are never finished, only released.” I liked that a lot, and I’ve thought about it many times since. As for me, I need a moment of silence for reflection to echo at the end of a poem. It doesn’t always have to be a heavy moment, it can be peaceful or abrupt! It should occupy the page in the blank space with the weight of additional lines. But I can tell my poems are finished enough if I can imagine a reader willing to sit with them for a moment before they turn the page (so to speak). Usually this means I have been successful in shaping the work to include every element I think belongs.

Larissa Shmailo : part one

Larissa Shmailo is a poet, novelist, translator, editor, writing coach, and critic. Shmailo's most recent novel is Sly Bang (Spuyten Duyvil); her most recent poetry collection is Medusa’s Country (MadHat). A new collection, Dora/Lora, is forthcoming from Salmon Poetry. Shmailo’s poetry albums are The No-Net World and Exorcism, for which she won the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award.  Shmailo is the original English translator of Victory over the Sun performed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Garage Museum of Moscow, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Shmailo also edited the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge Press). Shmailo leads the workshop Writing Resilience for people affected by trauma, addiction, and/or mental illness. For more about Shmailo, see her website at and Wikipedia at

What are you working on?

I am leading a workshop called "Writing Resilience" for writers affected by trauma, addiction, and/or mental illness.  We write our stories to empower ourselves and increase coping and resilience. The workshop has been called "wonderful," "one of the best $99 I ever spent,” useful and motivating" and "generated a lot of good work."

Participants have said:

"Larissa Shmailo is a true warrior of the written/spoken word, as her life and work ignites her. What an honor to be one of her students! Her class is generative and I produced some pieces that were published quickly. We did in-class exercises and read our work aloud. Got excellent feedback from her, as well as the other students. If you get a chance to take Shmailo’s class, jump on it. She is a gift to the writing community. WOW!"

—Meg Tuite, author of five short story collections, two poetry collections, and published in numerous literary magazines, as well as anthologies.

“This course created the space and structure in my life to make writing a regular part of my day. Larissa’s excellent exercises and insightful feedback served as the basis for rich class discussions and workshops. I felt connected to my classmates and found myself feeling at home among them— a rare treasure for such a compact time frame and over Zoom. I would highly recommend this course to any writer who wants to get back on track but is struggling to enact this desire day to day.” 

— Anna Fridlis, Writing Instructor, Parsons

“Larissa Shmailo is astute, discerning, and perceptive . . . Larissa brings to the workshop the rare capacity of true interest in the work and the lives of her students.  She affirms the writing in a way that demonstrates understanding of the content - through specificity and authentic reaction to the piece. This class allows the processing of personal trauma while also freeing it in the direction of publication. One is left realizing that the world does want to hear your story. “

— Sandra Kleven, publisher, Cirque

Tuesday 25 May 2021

Jason Tandon : part three

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

The most read collection on my shelf in the last ten years, the one with the greatest wear and tear on its spine, is Jane Kenyon’s Collected Poems, followed closely by Robert Bly’s Morning Songs and Talking into the Ear of a Donkey (a marvelous title), and all of my collections by Charles Simic, Mark Strand, and W.S. Merwin. I also consistently return to Thoreau’s Walden and R.H. Blyth’s Haiku Volume 1.

Carla Barkman : part one

Carla Barkman: I’m a family physician and writer living in Regina, Saskatchewan with teenaged boys and too many cats. My poetry has appeared in nine cloud journal, Vallum, Grain, CV2, Stanzas, and other journals, the anthologies Collected Sex, Line Dance: An Anthology of Poetry, Groundswell: The Best of Above/ground Press 1993-2003, and is forthcoming in Apart: a year of pandemic poetry and prose. I am passionate about narrative medicine, multi-day hikes, swimming, and cats. 

What are you working on?

I have five or six things on the go, mostly to divert myself when one begins to feel cumbersome. Without an assignment and a due date, I find it difficult to bring projects to completion. So, I take university classes (just finished a B.A. in English, though, sadly, and can’t decide what, if anything, to do next) and enter contests. Currently, I’m editing and assembling old poems for submission, culling diaries for a creative non-fiction piece that I hope not to give up on because it’s getting huge, and playing with a group of Erin Mouré’s poems, massively expanding my vocabulary in the process. 

Matthew Lovegrove : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

As a songwriter, the rhythm and syncopation of words has always been very important to me. I often map out the syllabic hits of the lyrics as I write a melody; this is something that has informed my poetic practice directly. In poetry, I find myself counting syllables and paying a lot of attention to those internal rhythms; when I get the right words to hit and stick, I am stoked.

Monday 24 May 2021

Adam O. Davis : part four

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

I ask my students this very question. For me, poetry is an interactive art form—maybe the first—in the sense that it asks the reader to discover themselves in the poem. Poetry isn’t here to dictate but to invite, not to provide answers but ask questions. And because of its emphasis on compression there’s a clarity and precision to its proceedings, meaning that there’s no aspect of the poem that isn’t intentional and so its craft is a careful one—a poem means business from the first word to the last, punctuation included. There is no down time in the poem, no room for slack moments or filler, and I like to think of that intensity as a type of mindfulness, of absolute focus on transcribing the lived moment so that it can endure in ways that we can’t. And for me as a reader, a good poem is like a pause button in my life—it takes me out of the now by connecting me directly to language, returning me to my earliest state when the world was nothing but sound and in doing so provides the purest pleasures our language allows for: wonder born of beauty, wonder born of mystery. 

Jean Marc Ah-Sen : part one

Jean Marc Ah-Sen is the author of Grand Menteur, In the Beggarly Style of Imitation, and a participant in the collaborative omnibus novel Disintegration in Four Parts. His writing has appeared in Hazlitt, The Literary Review of Canada, and The Puritan. The National Post has hailed his work as “an inventive escape from the conventional.” He lives in Toronto with his wife and sons.

What are you working on?

My main focus right now is getting two books off the ground and making sure they see the light of day. One is very airy and superficial. It’s about being in your twenties, dead from the neck down, revelling in a kind of youthful crudity and loucheness. The other book is more typical of the work I’ve done. Maybe it’d be best described as a “Gothic pulp.” The whole book is a dramatic monologue, taking its cues from Camus’ The Fall and Beckett’s Not I. It’s my take on the Faustian devil story. Temptations, broken covenants, eternally willed evils, that sort of thing.

Sarah Dowling : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I think that the last four books of poetry I’ve read were Molly Cross-Blanchard’ new collection Exhibitionist, Kama La Mackerel’s Zom Fam, Tanya Lukin Linklater’s Slow Scrape, and Maxe Crandall’s The Nancy Regan Collection. All of these books were published during or just before the pandemic hit, so I’ve been trying to sing their praises whenever and wherever I can! Everyone reading this should buy at least one of them!! 

Sunday 23 May 2021

Neil Surkan : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

The list will expand till I die. A taster: 

Michael Hofmann, for sourness. How sourness can be productive. The joy in sourness. 

Ange Mlinko, for jubilant complexity. How an image can emerge from the periphery. 

Franz Wright, for the nexus of despair and prayer. How praying can be ominous. 

Susan Mitchell, for savoury precision. How a familiar idea can be breathtakingly refreshed when said just-so.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips, for those tangles of phrase, those double negatives, that make my head feel like there are ants in it. How such phrases must be earned. How such phrases can be earned.


Jessica Barksdale Inclán : part one

Jessica Barksdale Inclán is the author of fifteen novels, including the award-winning The Burning Hour as well as Her Daughter's Eyes, The Matter of Grace, and When You Believe. Her debut poetry collection, When We Almost Drowned, was published by Finishing Line Press in March 2019. Her second poetry book, Grim Honey, was published on April 1, 2021. Barksdale Inclán’s short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in the Waccamaw Journal, Salt Hill Journal, Tahoma Review, and So to Speak. Her work has also been recognized and honored by The Sewanee Review, The Wigleaf, The North American Review, and The Ocotillo Review. A Pushcart Prize, Million Writers Award, and Best-of-the-Net nominee, Barksdale Inclán was an English professor at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, for thirty-one years, and continues to teach novel writing for UCLA Extension and the MFA program for Southern New Hampshire University. She holds an MA in English Literature from San Francisco State University and an MFA from the Rainier Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, she now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.

What are you working on?

Currently I’m writing a poem a day with Two Sylvias Press for National Poetry Month. I love prompts. They take me completely out of my stomping grounds and force me to be original (at least to myself).

In prose, I’m writing a novel that I’ve been meaning to write for decades, but one I could not have written if I hadn’t written a failed novel (for five years!), one that only scratched the surface of the main story I’m writing now. 

Saturday 22 May 2021

Lisa Panepinto : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Walt Whitman’s ‘Song of Myself’ imparted a love of being alive, sense of ecstatic prayer, self-love, and equanimity, “the soul is not more than the body,” early on. Then Joy Harjo, who I first heard through a recorded version of her poem, “She had some horses.” The rhythm and refrains paired with intuitive images and voice of witness was mesmerizing; her style felt similar to some of my favorite Kim Gordon songs or Allen Ginsberg’s spoken word. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek has also been important to me for its poetic acknowledgement of the divine in nature and animals. Trying to listen more to mountains, forests, streams, and friends has impacted my thinking as well—I gain so much from my teachers and kin and hope I can use poetry and art as a gift back to them in some way. Also, I was previously familiar with Federico García Lorca’s plays, but am just now reading his Collected Poems and finding the timeless symbols, visionary beauty, and universal truths in his poems mind blowing. He’s reminding me it’s alright to have recurring themes. For example, Lorca refers to poplar trees in dozens of poems, but it never seems redundant. It feels realistic and celebratory. 

Cora Siré : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I generally alternate between classics and contemporary. I’m currently reading a new translation (from the Russian by Antony Wood) of Pushkin’s poetry. Pushkin was 37 when he died of a gunshot wound inflicted during a duel, yet he left behind an astonishing number of poems. But my greatest thrill is reading the poets in our community. I marvel at their ingenuity. I’m thinking of Greg Santos, for example, and his latest poetry collection, Ghost Face. Also, Klara du Plessis, author of Hell Light Flesh. Everyone interested in Canadian poetry should read their books. Another poet who inspires me is Gloria Macher. We recently co-wrote and directed I Want More Life to Love! a short film featuring our poems about another pandemic – femicide.

Friday 21 May 2021

Geoffrey D. Morrison : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

There are two Japanese poets from the seventeenth century I hugely learned from - Nishiyama Soin, and Ihara Saikaku. It’s the free associative leaps of logic, the almost joyous way they place images side by side, sometimes in ways that are really funny.  

There’s a beautiful book called Birds Through a Ceiling of Alabaster that translates poets of Abbasid-period Iraq. Everyone in there is amazing but especially Abu al-'Ala' al-Ma'arri, a pessimist freethinker and early vegan, almost existentialist in his outlook. He’s a poet of the mind moving, and so I think of him alongside the contemporary poets I probably learned from most, W.S. Merwin and Dionne Brand. 

I value the alliterative and punning lessons imparted by the typically anonymous poets of Old English verse, especially for me the riddles, but also the exilic laments – “The Seafarer,” “The Wanderer,” “Wulf and Eadwacer.” I value the Pearl Poet for the same reason. 

Of the Metaphysical poets, Herbert more than anybody else, and especially “Prayer I.” I urge everyone to stop reading this interview and Google it now. Now that’s what I call parataxis. 

I cherish Gerard Manley Hopkins hugely, both for the obvious sonic reasons and for his integrity and care. Emily Dickinson for her brilliance and her lineation and her always-perfect choice of words.   

Dylan Thomas, H.D., Pablo Neruda, and Nicanor Parra round out the crew. 

Lillian Nećakov : part four

What are you working on?

Right now I am working on promoting my new book il virus (A Feed Dog Book, Anvil Press) that just came out a few days ago. I am also working on a couple of projects that might turn into full poetry manuscripts. One is kind of Joe Brainard inspired “I remember” undertaking, a kind of nostalgia project. Writing these poems is so cathartic, especially since I am writing about a lot of folks who are no longer with us.  I have also written several really crappy, short stories, which was a heap of fun and a nice break from the poetry. 

Thursday 20 May 2021

Raegen Pietrucha : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

My mentor and advisor Larissa Szporluk taught me to always follow and trust in sound, and when I surrendered to that notion—specifically over saying what I thought needed to be said—I found the doors opening to new directions I never imagined my work might go in. A single word in a line echoing the sound in another has changed the whole trajectory of a poem for me, and by the time I feel the version I have in front of me is solid, I often find that I’m also actually saying what I thought needed to be said anyway, but doing so in a much better way than I would have without having trusted in and followed the sound. So it ends up being a win-win. 

Here’s an example: In section four of “Letters Between Medusa and Poseidon,” published by Juke Joint, the word “sea” is later echoed by “seeks” and later “keys” and “keeps,” which opens the door to the word “concede”—which was formerly “surrender” in an earlier draft. The concept of surrendering/conceding is pivotal in this poem, but had I stuck with the word “surrender,” it would’ve slowed the poem down and drawn attention to itself at a critical point where the poison of both the word and the concept must be dulled for Poseidon to succeed in what he’s asking of Medusa. The repetition of sound carried throughout and including “concede” instead enacts the quasi-hypnosis he seeks to put her under and at the same time draws attention away from the individual word’s meaning and its implications—or, at least, that was my intention.

Jacalyn den Haan : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I was scrolling Twitter in January and I found this sweet little deal of 20 poetry books for just $40 from Canadian publisher Brick Books, and I also recently stopped sleeping, so it’s been fun reading these collections between 2 and 5 AM every night. Since poets like to name drop, I’ve specifically been loving Dennis Lee’s Riffs and Anne Carson’s Short Talks

Wednesday 19 May 2021

Hannah VanderHart : part four

Why is poetry important?

In the recent podcast episode of Between the Covers, David Naimon interviews Jorie Graham, who talks about the possibility of “the awakened reader.” Poetry wakes us up. I think it especially wakes up the writer, and the reader can experience the writer’s wakefulness as an asynchronous contact-waking. I’m grateful now to several years of not writing poetry—when I was having my children and finishing my PhD program—because it allowed me to experience the transition from not reading contemporary poetry and writing poetry to doing both again. I remember I was bewildered by one of the first books I read, Robyn Schiff’s A Woman of Property, but I knew I loved it, even if I couldn’t say why or put my thoughts into coherent order. So I kept reading, and six months later reread the book, and the world and the language seemed to fall into place. There is a literacy of having a reading practice that is undervalued sometimes, I think. Similarly, taking up writing again made the whole world a poem—everything I saw, I suddenly noticed I was noticing. This was right after the 2016 presidential elections in America, and it was a devastating time. I felt like I would explode if I did not write. Poetry saved my life then.

Anna Press : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about sonnets so I must mention Dorothy Chan, who is doing incredible things with sonnets. Her double and triple sonnets blow me away. 

The honest answer to this question is that the way I think about writing changes the more I read, which I think is a beautiful thing! So here is a very incomplete list of additional writers whose work excites me and makes me think (I have not limited this to poets, but most of them are): Linda Gregg, Chen Chen, Aria Aber, Ilya Kaminsky, Danez Smith, Kaveh Akbar, Rebecca Solnit, Virginia Woolf, Jeanette Winterson, Ross Gay, Kathy Fish, Ocean Vuong, Ada Limon, Mary Oliver, Mary Ruefle, CD Wright, and Brendan Constantine (a former teacher of mine who I am now lucky to call a friend).

The first writer who really changed the game for me in terms of what writing could make possible was Anne Carson. I read Autobiography of Red in high school and it completely changed my life; it’s become that book I re-read about once a year, and it was the first book I started setting aside in a place of honor on my bookshelf, where I now collect writing that I learn from or notice something new about every time I return to it. Some of the others in that stack are Carmen Maria Machado’s short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties (In the Dream House would be there too except my husband has claimed our copy for his desk), Patricia Highsmith’s The Price of Salt, Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts, and Bluets, James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (my copy from college, annotated), Alexander Chee’s How to Write an Autobiographical Novel and Edinburgh, and Garth Greenwell’s Cleanness

I’m also currently reading Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water, and Mathew Salesses’ Craft in the Real World, both of which will join that collection when I’m done.

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Jason Tandon : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I find myself often at odds with poetry, or what people might consider or assume to be poetic. Sonic devices such as alliteration, for example, or figurative language, the move to compare two things, thereby detracting from the original thing itself. 

After one of my readings before the pandemic, a woman complimented my work by saying that she was going to use a poem of mine in her classroom as an example of anti-climax, or anti-poetry (I did not ask if she was referring to Nicanor Parra’s poetics). I appreciated her comment, because I think I am inclined to practice a kind of anti (lyric)-poetry. My work does not strike me as explicitly emotive, meditative, or linguistically dazzling. Perhaps this is why I have always loved Charles Simic’s description of his early style from his “Art of Poetry” interview with the Paris Review: “I wanted something seemingly artless and pedestrian to surprise the reader by conveying so much more. In other words, I wanted a poem a dog can understand.” Not that I am comparing my work to Simic’s! But I was certainly encouraged to read such a statement from a Pulizter-Prize winning Poet Laureate (please forgive the alliteration). 

Matthew Lovegrove : part four

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

Poetry has offered me an interesting freedom from the limitations of songwriting. For one thing, I don’t have to think about melodies and song structure, which takes some energy. Thematically, I feel much freer to explore absurd, humourous, and political themes in poetry – it’s this thematic freedom that has been really creatively reinvigorating.

Monday 17 May 2021

Adam O. Davis : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Mercenary as it may sound, I think of what Macbeth told his hired assassins on the eve of Banquo’s murder, “always thought that I require a cleanness…to leave no rubs or botches in the work.” When I’ve moved past cleverness and fancy and ego to arrive finally (or sometimes, if I’m very lucky, immediately) at the unvarnished imagination the poem demands, then I feel that I’m done. The work to finish a poem demands a kind of winnowing, exhausting all options until only one—the poem’s—remains and it stands firmly in its own intelligence rather than mine. The best way to test this? First, if what I’ve written surprises me, then I know the poem is working beyond me. Second, if I can read the poem in front of a crowd of strangers without feeling embarrassed then I know I’m on to something. 

Sarah Dowling : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

The poet who has most changed the way I’ve thought about writing is Divya Victor, who has just published a new book, CURB, with Nightboat Books. Divya has shown me so much about embracing the density of language—it’s amazing how many meanings every word condenses, and Divya’s capacity to draw these histories to the surface is really unparalleled.

Sunday 16 May 2021

Neil Surkan : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Shelving a sense of purpose, a specific idea to say. If I go in wanting to do or say a particular thing, I’m doomed. What I find most difficult about writing poems is also what I find most difficult about living: the relinquishment of control over the outcome. 

For me, letting go is the discipline.

Michelle Moloney King : part nine

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins when I get that flash of the poetic potential from a word, colour or object and knowing I've the wherewithal to bring it to life and hopefully do it justice.

Saturday 15 May 2021

Lisa Panepinto : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is a source of sustenance to me in how it’s energizing, comforting, and euphoric. I like to keep up with new releases from my favorite artists and continually learn about older undiscovered albums, and I play guitar myself. I feel my best poems have a cadence that brings momentum and meditative breath. I was a college DJ and indie rock lyrics have definitely influenced my writing and been a model of creativity more concerned with being true than being popular. My book where i come from the fish have souls has a poem called “in allegheny national forest” about walking past oil drilling and logging roads through a flooded stream made by beavers to the purity of a place “where cars don’t go.” Arcade Fire sings about a similar place on ‘Neon Bible,’ and that song was in my head as I was writing about that scene. Lately I find myself drawn mostly to folk, blues, and soul music; some of my favorites include: Elizabeth Cotten, Fruit Bats, Greg Brown, D’Angelo, Jeremy Dutcher, Rhiannon Giddens, Valerie June, Los Lobos, JS Ondara, Gregory Porter, Ranky Tanky, Alice Smith, Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, and the Wood Brothers. 

Cora Siré : part three

How does your work first enter the world?

I belong to a group of phenomenal Montréal writers who give me critical feedback. We’re six authors and artists including Su J Sokol, Sharon Lax, B.A. Markus, Sivan Slapak, and Deanna Radford meeting twice a month (virtually these days). They’re all brilliant with deep writerly instincts.  I test-drive my poems with them and their insights are hugely important to me. They call me out when I’m too obscure or the words don’t fall together as they should, but in ways that are helpful rather than discouraging. 

Friday 14 May 2021

Geoffrey D. Morrison : part three

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

I think poetry is on a spectrum with other forms rather than completely separate from them. I think certain forms “aspire to the condition of poetry,” to crib from Walter Pater, and that some do so more ardently than others. And I don’t always think poetry’s near cousins are the ones we would necessarily assume. So for instance I think one such near cousin is the visual aspect of film – much more so than the dialogue in film, even if the script is self-consciously “poetic.” I especially mean the rhythm of cuts and the selection of shots; they have a scansion as poems do, they imply the movement and the juxtaposition of emotions and ideas in a special way.    

So by this reasoning Orson Welles’ hallucinogenic film-essay F for Fake is more like a poem to me than his Chimes at Midnight, even though the latter is an adaptation of Shakespeare and so by default features poetry. I don’t totally know if I believe this. I’m trying it out. 

I think Dziga Vertov’s early Soviet film experiments are poetry. I think anything paratactical is in the extended poetry family. This means nearly all lyric-forward music, collage, found footage, assemblage in sculpture, and all old folk tales and myths and stories with weird logics and sudden transformations.

Parataxis, defined broadly to include montage and so on, seems really crucial to what poetry is to me – the ability to jump from idea to idea, image to image, feeling to feeling, without necessarily requiring some sort of overbearing connective tissue. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why Verlaine didn’t want to write about the count walking into the room! It’s a transition from one scene to the next, a connector. He would rather show the count swimming, the count watching lightning strike a church, the count drinking vodka with his grandmother, and leave aside how he got from one to the other. 

Lillian Nećakov : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

It’s bloody hard work! The most difficult part, for me, when working on a poem, is that I am continuously thinking about it even when I am not actually sitting down and writing.  Whether I am out for a walk -which is when I do much of my thinking/composing- or washing dishes or watching a film, that poem just won’t leave me alone, it is all consuming. Until it is down on paper and finished, there is constant battle in my head. Sometimes I get up in the middle of the night to write down a line or a word, just so I won’t forget it. It’s like having a thesaurus-carrying monkey on you back. Sometimes you love the monkey, sometimes you hate them. 

Thursday 13 May 2021

Raegen Pietrucha : part three

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

I return to the poem that first inspired me to write poetry, “Mock Orange” by Louise Gluck, all the time, though my favorite book of hers is actually Averno, which came later. There’s also something special for me in James Tate’s “Today I Am Falling”; that last sentence—“Today I am falling, falling, / falling in love, and desire / to leave this place forever.” —is one I’ve connected with ever since I first heard it. And to me, Robert Pinsky’s “Samurai Song” can be considered a mini-manual on how one might approach life, so I revisit it when I need to remind myself that when it feels like something is lacking, it’s time to rethink and re-see how the thing I feel is lacking may actually be available yet, with a little recalibration of belief and of self.

Jacalyn den Haan : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I first got into poetry because I figured that short = easy & quick to write. My first real commitment to poetry was in my first year of university. I wanted to write every day to improve my craft, but I wanted to take the path of least resistance. So I made the arbitrary goal of writing a poem every day for a year. Figured I could pound out a decent poem in about ten to twenty minutes. 

During my undergrad, I was a big proponent of never reading. I had this whole theory that the only way to become a good poet was to have a lot of life experiences, so I’d read the first seven lines of the poems in my assigned readings and then head to the bar. 

I’m still a young little shit, but I’ve developed somewhat of a respect for the art of poetry since the beginning of the pandemic. There are no bars to go to anymore. I have hours of uninterrupted time to spend in front of a book of poetry. It doesn’t bother me so much anymore to have to reread a poem to really get it. In fact, I almost enjoy it. 

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Hannah VanderHart : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

In the abstract, I usually find conversations about music and poetry aspirational rather than practical (and of course many of us have heard the expression “poetry aspires to the condition of music,” which is a lovely axiom, but hard-earned in any poet’s life—the full quote, from Walter Pater, acknowledges this difficulty: “All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music. For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it.”) But also, three of my poems (confession: I wrote “songs” first, so Freudian slips are calling me out this morning!) in What Pecan Light steal their titles from Alabama songs: Song of the South, Dixieland Delight, and High Cotton. And soon I’m leading a workshop titled Digging up Bones: Writing Your Past (a nod to Randy Travis), so country music is a source text for me, and runs deep.

Anna Press : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Knowing the parameters of a poem: what belongs, where it ends, what exists on the periphery that I would like the reader to think about, or what I would like to conceal. The line between the poet and the poem, perhaps. I also find it difficult, while also inviting to find new ways of saying what I want to say. There are words and phrases I like a lot and return to, and I’m a little afraid of inadvertently plagiarizing myself. It also makes me feel limited, or stuck, when that happens. I start to worry: am I just telling the same stories again and again? Do I have nothing new to say? Have I said this the best way I can, and yet, I’m still snagged on it? 

I also struggle with strict forms… so I rarely attempt them. ;) 

Tuesday 11 May 2021

Jason Tandon : part one

Jason Tandon is the author of four books of poetry including, The Actual World (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) and Give Over the Heckler and Everyone Gets Hurt (Black Lawrence Press, 2009), winner of the St. Lawrence Book Award for a first collection. His poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Beloit Poetry Journal, North American Review, AGNI Online, and elsewhere. He is a senior lecturer in the Arts & Sciences Writing Program at Boston University. 

Photo credit: Kishan N. Tandon

How does a poem begin?

A poem for me most often begins with something I have observed in the natural world. In his essay “Dull Subjects,” Bill Matthews lists a “short but comprehensive summary of the subjects of lyric poetry,” the first one being: “I went out in the woods today and it made me feel, you know, sort of religious.” I don’t know about religious, but spiritual, yes—poetic, almost always. 

Matthew Lovegrove : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

As a new poet, my perspective on poetry is changing all the time! I feel like I just climbed up into a high alpine valley and I am so excited that I want to run off in all directions, climb that summit, walk on that ridgeline, and then chill by that waterfall over there. All aspects of poetry are so fresh to me, I am really just enjoying the process and the journey of discovery. 

Monday 10 May 2021

Adam O. Davis : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

Legend has it my mother read poetry to me every night I was in her womb, so I’d like to think verse was with me even in those unconscious, twilit months. Once in the larger world, nursery rhymes, song lyrics, and poetry itself stoked my interest in the fires that language made possible. I moved around a lot as a kid, sometimes to places where I didn’t speak the language (France, for example) or practice the dominant religion (aka Utah), so being foreign became familiar and I was allowed to listen without expectation of speaking. This meant I got to get sensitive to language, to spend time with its tones and focus on its physicality, the way we move words through us—the stomach, the lungs, the throat, the tongue, the teeth, the lips—until they arrive, if you understand them, at meaning or if you don’t, at music. And that’s what keeps pulling me back to poetry—the way that music and meaning mirror and mar each other and how I can push that process forward. 

Sarah Dowling : part two

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

One important difference between poetry and other forms is that poetry doesn’t require that we follow the rules of grammar. It doesn’t require that we adhere to sequential logics, and it doesn’t even have to “make sense.” What I think is important about poetry is that it asks us to think about the process of making sense—how does it happen? Who decides what is sensible? Sometimes other genres ask these questions too, but they are raised especially often in poetry. 

Sunday 9 May 2021

Neil Surkan : part two

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

My hunch is that poems are often suggestive (some poets would say “associative”) in a way that requests a unique form of attention from reader and writer alike. Some of the poems I find most exhilarating have such miniscule tensions and/or echoes running through them that they could seem – AHH – boring. I have many awkward memories of times I read a poem to someone I love and then looked up to realize that they were completely unmoved. Take Jamie McKendrick’s’ poem “Ill Wind,” which ends with the lines “And though the leaves were still I heard the wind / snicking the links with its casual shears”: I lose it over the word snicking. I think it’s gobsmackingly apt. But you can’t heave the poem “Ill Wind” at someone who is in the middle of texting their mom, or trying to center a photograph in its frame, or enjoying a memory of having sex outdoors. Maybe the “accomplishment” of poetry is also its fault: it waits so patiently to grab the attention, to suggest, that for some it never does.

Michelle Moloney King : part eight

Why is poetry important?

Because it's the essence and vessel of language and helps us question mark making and the symbols of symbols of symbols language feeds us as reality and it very well could have the potential to break down the biased narrative of life into threads and we can free our minds.

Saturday 8 May 2021

Lisa Panepinto : part one

Lisa Panepinto is the author of where i come from the fish have souls (Spuyten Duyvil) and on this borrowed bike (Three Rooms Press). She lives near Bangor where she makes arts and crafts, gardens, and works as a freelancer.

What are you working on? 

I’m working on some odes to people who have been meaningful to me, like my adopted grandmothers, writer heroes, and celestial bodies. The sage Vasistha is said to reside among the seven stars of the Big Dipper, which reassures me. Most my poems start as journal entries: stories from life, poetic phrases I hear other’s say, ruminations on the state of the world. 

I’ve also been combining text with visual art using collage and paintings. Last week I took some words from my poem “living prayer” and painted them on tile along with some evergreens. Textile and sculpture artist Bonny Gorsuch referred me to the artwork of Corita Kent—and I admire how Corita uses calligraphy as art in a way I’d never seen before. She explores spirituality, literature, and issues of fighting for equality through combining text with images. 

Cora Siré : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

That’s such a tricky question. I have a hard time letting go of a poem or manuscript. Even after it’s published, I’m prone to working on it some more. Most artists, I think, are never entirely satisfied with their work. There’s a famous story about Bonnard who had a painting in the Louvre which he considered incomplete. He went to the museum, asked a friend to create a diversion, and when nobody was looking, Bonnard whipped out his brush and paints to fix the work. I identify with that impulse.

Friday 7 May 2021

Geoffrey D. Morrison : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

It must have been early. My mother read to me from books of nursery rhymes, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verses, that kind of thing. As a family we kind of put a premium on memorizing snatches of poetry, old sayings, rhymes. My mother grew up in Aberdeen in Scotland, where the Doric dialect of Scots is spoken. There are a number of poems and ballads in Doric, jokes, funny sayings. The agricultural historian Ian Carter correctly points out that the dialect is “particularly rich in vituperation.”  

When my grandparents came to visit us, my grandfather would just start declaiming poetry out of nowhere. It was strange and wonderful. I particularly remember these lines from “The Battle of Otterburn,” a ballad chronicling a medieval battle on the English-Scottish border:

But I have dreamed a dreary dream,
Beyond the Isle of Skye;
I saw a dead man win a fight,
And I think that man was I.

This was a man who was born on a farm, for most of his life drove a lorry, and ended up as a porter in the University of Aberdeen medical library. I believe he had been given poems to memorize at school. Years after he died, my mother showed me a sheet of paper in his handwriting. It was a poem in Doric about a boy who made a whistle out of a twig. It was so good. I thought he wrote it! It turned out it was by a poet from the early 1900s. I don’t know if he wrote it out completely from memory or copied it from a book but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the former.

Anyway, all this to say that I felt a connection with poetry really early on – and not only a connection. A reverence. But I didn’t dare write it for my own enjoyment until I was a teenager.

Lillian Nećakov : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When you want to add a stanza, a word, an image, tinker, but the poem just doesn’t let you. The music simply stops. You read the poem out loud and there is a natural “final note” if you will. With a finished poem, I often come back to it a few days later and re-read it to make sure it really is finished. Most of the time my instincts are right. I suppose after writing for decades, you know, on a gut level, when a poem is done. The great thing about finishing a poem is that there is always another one on the horizon.

Thursday 6 May 2021

Raegen Pietrucha : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Focusing strictly on aesthetics, I still find myself drawn to the urgent, gut-punching writing of female poets, for the most part, though I find myself quite curious these days about work that has headed off the well-worn path of how poets are trained to write (presuming they’ve attended writing programs). Unless I’m returning to work that has always resonated with me, I want to be surprised, to feel something or see something unique structurally that I wasn’t expecting to when I read others’ poetry. Put another way, I want to read poems that don’t remind me of all the other poems I’ve read before. Nowadays, more often than not, I’m finding the type of edification I seek in work I simply can’t pin down, work that’s so different from anything I’ve read or written that I find myself wanting to return to it, with the goal or hope of unraveling its mysteries. 

Jacalyn den Haan : part one

Jacalyn den Haan is a poet and teacher from Langley, BC and currently living in Montreal. Her poetry has appeared in Walled Women, Savant Garde, and EVENT magazines. A chapbook, Selected Leavings, is forthcoming through Cactus Press later this year. 

How important is music to your poetry?

It's essential. I come from a musical family and my first foray into poetry was writing song lyrics when I was six years old. My childhood and adolescence were governed by music – piano, French horn, choir, etc. Music’s in my blood, and I make sure that it finds its way into my poetry as well. 

There’s a whole host of poems in my chapbook Selected Leavings, which will be out this summer through Montreal’s Cactus Press, that are crafted after the rhythm and flow of certain songs. For instance, I listened to Ludovico Einaudi’s “Fly” at least 382 tiemes while writing the first poem of the book.

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Kelly Weber : part five

How does a poem begin?

My poems almost always begin by accident…it’s hard, unless I’m trying to write into a specific gap in a manuscript, for me to try to just sit down and write a poem. But if I give myself a craft exercise or technique to practice, a poem might just show up. Often one poem leads directly into the next, and then I have to go back through a word blob and figure out which parts are one poem, which parts are another, which parts are vestigial and can be released. But that’s what I really enjoy. The pressure is off to face a blank page and Write a Poem. Instead it’s more of an excavation of what’s already there, once I’ve generated big chunks of words. The poem and I discover each other in the process. In a sense, I begin each time, rather than the poem—because each time I’m discovering what poem could be or what I think a poem is.

Hannah VanderHart : part two

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

I’m a temperamental reader, and often wander through the house holding a stack of books. Jean Valentine has been renewing me lately—she is a poet who lets the gaps and the windows of logic into her poem, so that there is always room for the reader to wonder and think. Iris Murdoch’s novels are a great source of mental vacation for me, when I need to change genres. Or criticism/philosophy can function the same way for me: Wittgenstein, Simone Weil—recently, Robert Hass’s A Little Book on Form and Carl Phillip’s The Art of Daring. Interviews, too, are a great resource for reminding me how and why writers live and work in the world—I love The Paris Review’s interviews (the Toni Morrison, Kay Ryan and Geoffrey Hill interviews are three of my favorites), and podcasts with writers (Between the Covers, Commonplace Podcast, the Iris Murdoch podcast). We live by way of conversation.

Anna Press : part one

Anna Press is a queer writer and high school English teacher. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband (also a writer) and their errant dachshunds. Her work appears in Perhappened, Porcupine Literary, The Hellebore, Daily Drunk Mag, and Emerge Lit Mag, and elsewhere. Talk to her on Twitter @annaepress.

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

I feel like poetry is the genre of possibility. Often when I sit down to write (that makes it sound like I have a structured writing routine, which I certainly do not!), poems begin with a “what if?” kind of thought. I think many people feel freer experimenting with language in poetry than they do in prose. I do. Poetry feels like the most compelling manifestations and variations of language, almost a kind of ekphrasis of life at times. Poems “do” a lot in a relatively short space; that fills me with wonder, and there is no better feeling than being awed by words. Poetry does transformative things with language. Grammar and syntax become tools more so than rules. A teacher I had in high school warned us that poetry isn’t necessarily “about” anything, which I found bewildering at the time, but I think it was an invitation to experiment. What can you do, what can you make, what can you give, when you’re not limited to anything? I think for me personally, right now, those verbs, “do,” “make,” and “give,” get at what I am trying to accomplish with poetry, especially if you allow them to be synonyms for “explore.”

Michael Lithgow : coda

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

How To Avoid Huge Ships, Julie Bruck

Hard Child, Natalie Shapiro 

What we Are When We Are, Cvetka Lipuč

Arias, Sharpon Olds 

Tuesday 4 May 2021

Lauren Bender : part five

What are you working on?

As of late, I’m mostly editing and submitting existing pieces. That also includes working to construct a chapbook of poems that focus on appearance, clothing, and fashion, and the way those intersect with personality development and mental health. When I use the word fashion, I mean in the broad sense, because I am definitely not a person who is “fashionable” or in touch with what is “in fashion” at any time. But I am very drawn to certain styles and to the idea of using clothing as a form of speech; I think everyone does that, to an extent, but perhaps more so those who are introverted or socially anxious and struggle with directly speaking to others. There are so many ways clothing can send clear, loud messages about what you want, need, like, and/or feel. I really got into this about a year ago after reading Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton. That book was a pleasant surprise, as I was expecting it to be a light, casual read, but it ended up truly fascinating me and generating a ton of poetic inspiration.

Matthew Lovegrove : part two

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

My good friend Jenn Johnson and I have been doing the poetry penpal thing, so she will send a batch of awesome poems in the mail, then I will write response poems and send them back. We’ve been doing this for about 2 years or so, and it has been really great challenge to take on new forms and topics. Every letter we send is addressed to a new imaginary organization like The League of Self-Important Poets or Association of Crokinole Poetry, so it’s always fun to see what wacky name is written on the envelope. 

Monday 3 May 2021

Adam O. Davis : part one

Adam O. Davis is the author of Index of Haunted Houses (Sarabande, 2020), winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Poetry Prize. The recipient of the 2016 George Bogin Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, his work has appeared widely in journals, including The Believer, The Paris Review, Poetry Review, The Southern Review, and ZYZZYVA. He currently lives in San Diego, California, where he teaches English literature at The Bishop’s School. 

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on a second collection of poems that began as a departure from the style Index of Haunted Houses established (these newer poems also served as a way of keeping hope alive when my first book was going through the contest process without much luck). With the first book, I was looking for absolute precision and compression, trying to see how much I could condense a poem without losing any of its power. With the second collection, I’ve challenged myself to write longer poems by letting more air in so that the poems can sprawl out, the thinking being lightning strikes are more common in wide open spaces. 

One of the pleasures of having a book out in the world means that other opportunities open up as a result (such as this interview) and I’m really excited about a podcast I’m working on with Colin Waters of the Scottish Poetry Library about the intersection between poetry and film. I’m also working on what I hope will be the final draft of a novel set during the Great Depression that I’ve been working on for the past seven years. And, of course, there are photographs to take, cactuses to plant, push-ups to be done… 

Sarah Dowling : part one

Sarah Dowling is the author of three poetry collections, Entering Sappho, DOWN, and Security Posture, which received the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. Sarah teaches comparative literature and critical theory at the University of Toronto.  

Photo credit: Paul Terefenko

What are you working on?

Unfortunately, I’m not working on any poetry right now! I just published my book Entering Sappho last fall, and any time I finish a big poetry project it always takes me a long time to figure out a new one. I am working on a book of literary criticism, though, which is about lying down—I am interested in all the different novels, poems, plays, and so on where there is a person lying on the ground at an important moment. I tend to tack back and forth between poetry and literary criticism. 

Sunday 2 May 2021

Hannah Rousselot : part five

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is accessible. When I taught second grade, I taught a poetry unit. My students who had the most trouble with writing loved poetry. It provided an “in” for writing that didn’t necessitate complete sentences. They could just write what was important to them.

That's what's incredible about poetry- it’s life, distilled to its most evocative parts. It is a moment, a feeling, a person, refined into its most essential form. Every word is carefully chosen. Everything you read has been curated to describe something indescribable. I am constantly amazed by poets and language- despite it being such a precise art form, it always evokes something different for each person.

Neil Surkan : part one

Neil Surkan is the author of the poetry collections Unbecoming (forthcoming Fall 2021) and On High (2018), both from McGill-Queen’s University Press, and the chapbooks Their Queer Tenderness (Knife-Fork-Book, 2020), and Super, Natural (Anstruther Press, 2017). He lives in Calgary.

Photo credit: Luca Surkan

What are you working on?

Since my second collection, Unbecoming, comes out this fall, I’m still dwelling in that book (copy edits, etc). But I’m starting to feel a weird stomach-flutter again, which mostly comes from reading with an eye for craft/sequencing (for instance, John Elizabeth Stinzi’s chapbook Plough Forward the Higgs Field, one brilliant long poem, gave me such a rush. The way it accumulates contexts, spans theory and family, and churns through so many registers got me wondering what it would feel like to write a chapbook-length poem in a similar way. And that got me savouring the fact that I may never know how that feels.). 

I’m also currently mulling over the feeling of running on empty, how a poem might explore that feeling, whether poems always explore that feeling.

Michelle Moloney King : part seven

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The admin side of it all: Who did I sub to, what was the response, which poem is published and where, when is it published, did I update my website with the latest journal, should I be sharing more on social, am I boasting on social, what is social!  

And also, life is overwhelming for me due to understanding asemic poetry and postmodern poetry of using found text….and loving poetry objects...I can see the poetic potential of everything. 

I've simplified it down to leaning into my heart and knowing what to work on and make a poem and what to admire and let go.

Saturday 1 May 2021

Jackie McManus : part five

Why is poetry important?

It’s important because it can be a gateway to other things, so be mindful! It can open one up to empathy, to understanding, to learning how language works for both English and nonEnglish speaking people. It teaches punctuation, calls on intuition: to feel where a line ends or does not end or how to extend a metaphor or recognize a brilliant simile. I think most importantly it teaches us to live in the uncomfortable space of that poem, of whatever that poem means to us because in it we have something to reach for, to grow from. The discomfort of figuring that out is fearful but we must fight for it. Poetry is the only medium we have that doesn’t ask for a happy ending, doesn’t require closure and we can let things stand as they are. Our culture likes to pretend closure is possible, even necessary, and that’s a myth based on fear. Poetry’s importance is primal.

Cora Siré : part one

Cora Siré is the author of two novels and two poetry collections. Her first book of poems, Signs of Subversive Innocents, was published in 2014 by Signature Editions. The second collection, Not in Vain You’ve Sent Me Light, is just out with Guernica Editions.  Her poetry, essays and short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. She lives in Montréal.

What are you working on?

I’m preparing for the launch of my new book, a collection of poems published by Guernica Editions this spring. Not in Vain You’ve Sent Me Light is a high-voltage portrait gallery, with provocative depictions of lovers, heroes, artists, and mothers. It’s got a playful quality that I hope will resonate. The creation of this book was an adventure for me, and I’m very grateful to my publisher (@guernica_ed) as well as Elana Wolff whose astute editing and brilliant poetics were instrumental in helping me polish the collection.