Wednesday 30 June 2021

Clayre Benzadón : part four

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

I’m only basing this off of my own experience, so this may depend on each person’s experience, and not on the genre itself (I hate the division of genre and binaries that are placed to categorize different writing forms)—but for me, poetry allows me to write fragments and raw lines that I might not be able to pull of in prose. I also feel like experimentation is a lot more possible in poetry, and the form of a poem lends itself to a bodily or more metaphorical understanding of the emotions laid out (or those which transcend) the page. Poetry helps in the process of trauma, and also reveals the hidden (even if not consciously to the writer yet). The revision process acts as a sort of therapy session (or sessions) that allow a writer to find the difficult truths for themselves.

KIRBY : part three

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

There are numerous poets I return to, Cavafy, Carl Phillips, Genet, Rechy, Rene Ricard, but when I require refreshment, it’s spaces I seek. There’s a room at the AGO I’m fond of, gallery spaces in general, open spaces, a park bench, a brook, a breeze. I require looking out much more than looking in. I re-materialize, connect to my vastness, in such spaces. 

There’s that great scene in DePalma’s Dressed to Kill where Angie Dickinson’s character is seated before a large painting taking notes, which turns out to be a grocery list. That’s very familiar to me.

Larissa Shmailo : coda

How does a poem begin?

With an insistence in my gut that I must write it or burst.

Tuesday 29 June 2021

Alexander Shalom Joseph : part one

It's said in the Talmud that there are three ways to be a good Jew: study, prayer and acts of loving kindness– Alexander Shalom Joseph thinks of his writing and work as a teacher as a mix of all three. Alexander’s debut collection of short stories, American Wasteland, is forthcoming from Above Owl Canyon Press in late 2021 and can be pre ordered here. Alexander's poetry chapbook, Buttons and Bones, was published by above/ground press in 2021. His Novels and Short Stories have been short listed/finalists/or semi-finalists in the 2021 Autumn House Rising Writer Prize in Fiction, the 2020 Orison Fiction prize, the 2020 Paper Nautilus Chapbook Prize, and the 2020, 2019 and 2018 Faulkner Awards for a “Novel in Progress," have been published by Tulip Tree Press, Witty Partition, Zodiac Magazine, Lotus Eater Magazine, Bombay Gin and in Clover: A Literary Rag, and have received four honorable mentions in New Writer Competitions for Glimmer Train Magazine. His poetry has appeared in Blaze Vox, Boomer Lit Mag and in Dusie’s Tuesday poems. Alexander is the host of the podcast of American Wasteland, and writes a weekly prose poetry column in The Mountain Ear Newspaper in Nederland, Colorado. Alexander has an MFA from The Jack Kerouac School, and lives in a cabin in the woods of Colorado with his girlfriend and hundreds of books. 

What are you working on? 

I live in a mountain town with a population of around 2000, in which I write weekly poems for the local newspaper. These poems are brief ten to fifteen line mediations on natural beauty, working class rural life, fear of destruction from climate change as well as other poetic forays into concerns and passions. Over the last year and a half I have written about seventy poems for the paper and am compiling them into a book called “Our Mother the Mountain.” 

Craig Santos Perez : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Since I teach Pacific Islander literature, many Pacific writers from older generations have deeply inspired me, including Albert Wendt, Haunani-Kay Track, Hone Tuwhare, Konai Helu Thaman, Epeli Hau’ofa, Grace Molisa, John Pule, Peter Onedera, and many more. 

Monday 28 June 2021

Heidi Greco : part four

Do you have a social group or writers group that you work ideas and poems with?

Yes, I am part of a poetry group, and I am immensely grateful for the intellectual and spiritual connection it has offered. Oh yes, and the all-important input on the poems, of course! We each send out two poems a week in advance of our meeting so everyone can read and consider the work before the time comes for exchanging edits and ideas. Although the group has undergone a few adjustments over the years, the core remains intact. Especially during the pandemic, these poets have provided a lifeline that feels like sanity. Although Zoom has sometimes felt like it causes a particular kind of fatigue, these sessions nearly always energize me, as they always offer new perspectives on the words with useful feedback on my work. I can think of only one time when the others have told me to leave the poem alone without suggesting changes. And even though they said this (which pleased me immensely) I’ll admit that I still found myself fiddling a bit more. 

Annick Yerem : part one

Annick Yerem lives and works in Berlin. In her dreams, she can swim like a manatee. Annick tweets @missyerem and has, to her utmost delight, been published by Pendemic, Detritus, @publicpoetry, RiverMouthReview, #PoetRhy, Anti-Heroin-Chic, Rejection Letters, Dreich, 192, Eat The Storms podcast, The Failure Baler, Rainbow Poems and Wombwell Rainbow. She is currently working on her first chapbook, St. Eisenberg and The Sunshine Bus, which will be published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in 2022.

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 work in/with a writing group, The Flaming Flower Society. We are five writers from Scotland, England, the US and Germany and a lot of ideas and poems start in this group. It is a safe space and I trust them with everything I write. Am also a member of the German Stanza of the Poetry Society, where we share and/ or workshop poems. Whenever I can afford it, I get feedback from mentors/ writing coaches. I was lucky enough to work with Tara Skurtu last year and this month I am getting valuable feedback from Wendy Pratt on some of my poems. Wendy also facilitates wonderful online workshops and courses.

Sunday 27 June 2021

Karol Nielsen : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I began by writing many long poems about anguishing moments like a gang assault on a teenager in the Bronx and the terrorist attacks on September 11.  I also wrote long poems about how my couch—where I do all my writing--is my favorite possession, how a man made fun of my disheveled appearance while I was training for my first marathon in Central Park, how I thought I was an outsider when I was growing up. I gravitated to narrative poems and still do. But now my poems are shorter, lighter, even funny. My upcoming chapbook contains poems about seeing a young topless woman walking in Central Park, seeing men in underwear as part of the No Pants Subway Ride, and being hit on by homeless men in New York City—one wanted to watch TV and hold hands, another called me Charlie’s Angels. I even have a poem about forgetting my dreams except one: I was trying to remember the name of Ken’s girlfriend. Was it Betty? No she was from the Flintstones. I woke up and instantly it came to me. Her name was Barbie.

Wayne Mason : part one

Wayne Mason is a writer and sound artist from central Florida USA. He is the author of six chapbooks of poetry, including the most recent Automation, Man! (Bold Machines) from Sweat Drenched Press. He is also the author of the online chapbook I Ching Jukebox (2013, OpCode Press) as well as Subliminal Syntax (2019, Analog Submission Press) a cut-up chapbook of syntactical deconstruction.

His poetry and prose have been published widely in the small press both in print and online. His work has also been included in several anthologies, including Cut Up! An Anthology Inspired By The Cut-Up Method Of William S Burroughs And Brion Gysin (2014 Oneiros Books).

He has also been active in the experimental music scene for over twenty years. He records noise, experimental, and ambient sounds both solo, and as one half of the electronic project Blk/Mas.

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

When I was young poetry was a very external thing, very reactionary to the world around me. Now that I am older I am more concerned with in-ner space than outer space… I want to go so far inward that I leave this body. Like the psychonauts of Tibet I want to access places that are oth-erwise hidden. Poetry as always is a form of therapy, but also it is a form of meditation.

Saturday 26 June 2021

Josh Massey : part one

Josh Massey is a poet and fiction writer living in Nelson, BC. He’s been publishing and performing for over 20 years, with work appearing in The Capilano Review, Rampike, SurVision, Grain, subTerrain, Event, Filling Station, The Minnesota Review, Thimbleberry, Prairie Fire, and other fine journals. His two published novels are We Will All Be Trees (Conundrum, 2009) and The Plotline Bomber of Innisfree (Book*Hug, 2015).

Photo credit: Bob Hall

How does a poem begin?

A poem begins in the sewer waters with shiny worms or near the brown banana flopped in the snowbank. It comes like a vapour spilling off a mountain stage, appears like the rainbow morsel on the wall, and is heralded by a piece of red thread drift-spiralling through corny living room light.

It begins as a desire to communicate with nobody but the Void Mirror Self.

Andrew McSorley : part five

Why is poetry important?

For me, it’s important because there’s nothing else I know how to do that I can give to the world. I always wanted to draw or to paint, but those weren’t skills I had naturally, and I had difficulty finding ways to cultivate them when I was younger. So, at some point I started to write. It’s a way for me to give back something beautiful to the world (I hope) and rename and recapture things and stories that I need to tell. For others, it’s a mode of expression that doesn’t exist in anything else. Poetry can be an act of resistance, an act of decolonization. It’s something beautiful, yes, but it’s ultimately powerful, and that’s why we need to see it thrive, and put poetry in the hands and mouths of as many people as can hold it.

Aaron Belz : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

Music and poetry are inextricable, because each word sounds a certain way. Even printed poetry conveys music as we read it aloud in our heads. In my poetry, I use a lot of echoic language, puns, problematic phrases (that don’t quite make sense), and I do intentionally reread to see where music can be added without compromising a poem’s sense. In the past five or six years I’ve found myself more intentionally end-rhyming. Feels like I’m writing children’s books sometimes. On the natural relationship between words and music, I recommend Kenneth Koch’s Making Your Own Days

Friday 25 June 2021

Gill McEvoy : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

A poem is nothing if it has no music of its own; it needs a rhythm, a subtle musicality. Music, as poetry, can dare to go into the deepest and most difficult terrain of the human experience. It goes hand in hand with poetry. And for the poet, and I mean this particularly for myself, there is music to be heard in so many mundane things: the four notes of a gate creaking open, the notes of a sign swinging in the wind, the swish of tyres on a wet road, the tiny vibrations of a spoon settling on a counter. This all goes back to my joy when my aunt was teaching me about simple words. Sound. I am so grateful for hearing. 

Elizabeth J. Coleman : part three

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

My first response to this question was that there are so many poets to read, I only move forward. But as I’ve thought about it, there are many poems and books I return to for comfort and renewal.

First, slightly off topic but important to me is that I try to read the Academy of American Poets “Poem-a-Day” first thing every morning. That and Tricycle’s “Daily Dharma” are essential to me as I start my day.

I always return to the poems of Apollinaire, particularly “Le Pont Mirabeau.” Nothing is more musical to my ear than that poem in French. And all of Apollinaire’s poetry, which I first studied in college as a French literature major, is a source of comfort and pleasure.

I find inspiration in Jane Kenyon’s “Let Evening Come,” and in its opposite, Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle.” The latter I first read in high school. 

I always feel better when I’ve read a poem of Frank O’Hara’s.

As a mindfulness student and teacher, I often return to Naomi Shihab Nye’s “Kindness,” to Kabir, to Robert Frost’s “Dust of Snow.”

I love haiku, and here’s one that is with me constantly, by Basho, translated by Jane Hirshfield,

    In Kyoto,
    hearing the cuckoo,
    I long for Kyoto.

And, speaking of Hirshfield, I often think about this poem of hers, “It Was Like This: You Were Happy.”

I love Czesław Miłosz, Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda.

I find comfort in my battered paperback copy of Six Centuries of Great Poetry, edited by Robert Penn Warren & Albert Erskine (Dell, 1955, 75 cents), Gerard Manley Hopkins, particularly “Spring and Fall,” which I studied in tenth grade, my Selected Poetry of W.H. Auden, reissued in ’58. I often reread the work of Yehudi Amichai.

I know I’ve left off many poets and poems I admire. Another time! What a pleasure to think about this and look over my bookshelves.

Thursday 24 June 2021

Chris Jones : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

My attitude to this has changed over the years. My answer takes into account this notion of to the pace I work at, and the way I revise my poems too.  Because I am a formalist, because I write with rhyme and metre at the front of my thoughts, I tend to write a line or two at a time, securing those rhymes like the footholds on a ladder I am climbing up (or down). Rather than completing a draft then reworking it through to its conclusion, I work on one phrase at a time until I am happy with it, then move on to the next grouping of words in an incremental fashion. Even so, I am likely to continue redrafting a poem after I have finished the first main draft.  I used to rush this process more.  This creative impatience, coupled with a less rigorous approach to formal discipline meant that the poems feel a bit more skittish in retrospect, the rhythms are not as secure or fluent.  I’ve worked on rhythm a lot more over the last ten years.  Now I also let the poems rest for longer.  I revise the pieces to a greater extent.  My quality threshold is higher. I read the poems out loud: if there are no bumps or blemishes in the aural quality of the work then I’m nearer to finishing the poem.  I’m obviously going to ask myself: is this what I want to say? Am I happy with the texture, the feel of the piece? Is the sum of what I have written bigger than its parts?  Some of this might seem a bit ineffable but it’s something I’ve learnt to divine through years of reading my own work. I am more patient with myself, with my quirks and limitations, now.

Alex C. Eisenberg : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I definitely subscribe to the idea that “a work is never completed, only abandoned” (the source of that quote is oft debated, but I go with Paul Valéry since he said it in the 1930s). It’s actually a daunting thought because it means every time I create a new poem I have another “child” to attend to... or to abandon. If that’s true then I have hundreds and hundred of abandoned/untended children waiting in a folder on my computer (I hope that doesn’t sound bad). Some days I feel inspired to go in and try to rescue one or more of them from the well of digital obscurity. This rescue mission happens most often when a call for submissions or another poem I read reminds me of something I’ve written and inspires me to track it down and infuse it with new life.

The submission process has actually been the biggest motivator for me in reclaiming a poem and ushering it to its next stage of life. Hmm, I had never though of poems going through rites of passage before, but that’s kinda what I’m saying. And the process of “submitting,” like a rite of passage, is really a process of surrender for me. Especially when a poem gets picked up to be published I generally find some respite from the “a poem is never complete” idea, because the has to be complete (enough) at that point. The work has reached one stage of completion – at least to the extent that it has resonated with at another person or people, enough that they want to share it too. And once it gets distributed it is beyond my grasp to fiddle with or fuss over anymore – I have to set it down then, surrender, let it be …at least for a little while, until I want give that poem some more life again. 

Wednesday 23 June 2021

Clayre Benzadón : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

For me, starting a poem is the most difficult, daunting part. Once I am able to jump over that hurdle of self-doubt, even if it’s one word, I usually already start to gain a string of ideas running through my mind, whether it be a scene or topic I want to explore, or whether it be soundplay I want to play with, whether it be through etymology or finding words that sound similar and that guide me through an exciting surreal landscape to explore. Another aspect I find to be difficult in my own work is the fact that sometimes, I let language get the best of me—I’ll be so engaged in the sound-heavy features of my poetry, that readers can get lost or confused—this is something I’m always trying to work on, finding the balance between sound and a more complete comprehension of image / subject.

KIRBY : 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?

The first time I read a poem out loud, usually to another poet, it’s entered. 

I’ve been attending poet/teacher Hoa Nguyen’s legendary Sunday afternoon poetics classes at her home for years now, just enough structure reading other poets to get a fair bit of writing done. She holds a lovely space. 

Larissa Shmailo : part five

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

Poetry can capture an idea or emotion in telegraphic form; see Mayakovsky’s “lightning telegrams” in his last poem before his suicide. A poem can confuse its readers delightfully; we are allowed to tell it slant and make people work to understand our meaning as poetic language, meter, and sound values draw them in almost against their will.  There is an immediate connection between a good poem and the reader that is not often captured by other genres.

Tuesday 22 June 2021

Carla Barkman : part five

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

Erin Mouré: be weird, have fun, use all the words, get furious, cut and paste. Hilary Clarke, a professor at the University of Saskatchewan: say everything, leave nothing out. Christopher Dewdney: know the science, apply it, examine it in landscapes, bodies, brains, animals, insects. Anne Szumigalski: be a woman, be domestic, live through your creations. Anne Carson: cut to the chase. It can be hilarious, and powerful, to say exactly what you mean.

Craig Santos Perez : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Instead of trying to know when a poem is finished, I prefer to experiment with different types of endings. Sometimes a poem ends in a declarative epiphany and sometimes in a question. Sometimes a poem ends in clarity and sometimes in ambiguity. Sometimes a poem ends where it began and sometimes a poem ends in a new beginning. Sometime the poem closes and sometimes it opens. 

Monday 21 June 2021

Heidi Greco : part three

How important is music to your poetry? 

I like to think that it’s very important and always read my poems aloud when I’m working on them—or at least when I think they’re getting somewhere. Not long ago I was talking with a poet friend and she suggested a word she thought might not be clear to what it seemed I was trying to say in the poem. The problem was, the word she suggested had three syllables, and I knew the line could only bear a two-syllable word, to ensure the sound would remain true to the poem. I was very glad when she quickly agreed, acknowledging the importance of the sound/rhythm/music. But yes, I managed to find a replacement word, one with the required two syllables, and the poem was happier. 

Jean Marc Ah-Sen : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

What’s funny is that despite my profound respect for it, I don’t really read new poetry anymore. I will take a look at buzz books year round, or the work of my friends, but I still find it pretty daunting. It’s a very intellectually taxing pastime, and the daily grind of life overtook my love of nourishment from abstraction I suppose. Basically, I don’t think I’m smart enough to keep up with it. The poets I tend to return to for whatever reason are the ones who had a very large impact on me growing up, or those who are able to speak to some sort of emotional reality I can share in, but carried to some limit-breaking intellectual frontier. I think that’s why I like Baudelaire and Belli. And I still think Lynn Crosbie’s Liar is just about the greatest thing ever. 

Sunday 20 June 2021

Karol Nielsen : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I started writing poetry while working on a memoir about my marriage to an Israeli man and the trauma of the Gulf War. I was also the managing editor of a weekly newspaper in the Bronx, covering drugs, murders, and corruption. I had a lot of intense feeling to process and I turned to journal writing. Then poems began to appear. The poems came without struggle unlike the difficult journey to write and publish my memoir. 

Jessica Barksdale Inclán : part five

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

For years and years (about fifteen) I ordered the poetry anthology 180 More edited by Billy Collins for my freshman composition classes. My department was totally against teaching poetry in composition classes, but I always ended with a poetry paper. My students always loved that collection. They were sometimes stunned by how much they enjoyed the poems. And there are poems in that collection that I see as old friends. Each semester, I’d open up that book and feel relieved to see Hate Poem by Julie Sheehan and On Parting by Cate Marvin and Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy. Old friends who sustained me and my students.

Saturday 19 June 2021

Andrew McSorley : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Extremely important, even when it might seem it’s not. Very often, the sound of something is how a poem begins for me. I often start out with a rhythm, a pitter patter of lines in my head. Sometimes the words make sense, but sometimes it’s just a melody trying to get out. Once I get that on the page I can start writing something with true intention, but, often, that’s the place for me to begin: a series of sounds. 

Aaron Belz : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Close-reading Emily Dickinson in grad school changed my sense of what language can do. She opens doors in the soul many artists try to open but don’t. Of the soul Dickinson writes, “I've known her — from an ample nation — / Choose One — / Then — close the Valves of her attention — / Like Stone —” The poem ends on an emdash. Certain Words are capitalized. There’s a slant rhyme between “one” and “stone.” But mostly there’s this word: valves. It slows the quatrain to what feels like a decommissioned dam. In 18 words, Dickinson creates a world. 

Friday 18 June 2021

Gill McEvoy : part four

When you require renewal, any particular poem or book you return to? 

Yes, Wendell Berry’s poem “The Wild Geese”. There are other poems that I resort to also but this one is especially important. And when I feel a poem is important I try to memorise it. It’s about the end of a busy farming season, a day of relaxing, time to think about departed friends, to look at the “tree in promise, pale, in the seed’s marrow”, and to consider the way the geese that fly overhead hold to their way, trusting to their faith in their direction. And it closes with a prayer “to be quiet in heart, in eye clear”. I think those few words are absolutely essential to a poet’s way of being, to consider carefully, to see clearly. 

Elizabeth J. Coleman : 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?

The way my poetry first enters the world keeps changing and evolving. At the moment, I’m in two peer-to-peer writers’ groups, one has been going for six years. There are three of us, all in separate locations, all graduates of the same MFA program, and every month we send the other participants three poems, sometimes new work, and sometimes revisions, and then each poet sends a letter commenting on the work of the other two, again to everyone. It’s based on the model of study we learned in grad school. We send our poems religiously on the first of the month and respond a couple of days later. It’s been a wonderful source of discipline and support. 

In addition, I’ve recently joined a second peer-to-peer group where four of us meet on Zoom one evening a month for two hours. We send in one poem a day the day before, and the others give feedback. Each poem is the focus of the discussion for thirty minutes. It’s gratifying to give and receive this live feedback.

Finally, I participate in a biweekly three-hour Saturday workshop where we generate poems (also on Zoom). That has been a source of new material and helped me think about my work in a fresh way, revisit my obsessions with new metaphors, and from fresh angles.

Thursday 17 June 2021

Chris Jones : part one

Chris Jones has lived in Sheffield, England since 1990. He was awarded an Eric Gregory Award (a national prize for poets under the age of 30) in 1996. From 1997 to 1999 he worked as a writer-in-residence at Nottingham Prison. He was the Literature Officer for Leicestershire for five years and then spent some time as a freelance writer and poetry festival organiser. He currently teaches creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. His poetry collections include The Safe House (Shoestring Press, 2007), Skin (Longbarrow Press, 2015) and most recently Little Piece of Harm (Longbarrow Press, 2021).

His website is:

What are you working on?

I’ve just completed a long narrative sequence of poetry entitled Little Piece of Harm, published by Longbarrow Press.  It took me five years to write: the text is under forty pages long. I say this partly to show how slowly I work.  I’ve had other collaborations and commissions since my last publication in 2016, but this has been the main focus of my efforts.  Fourteen poems. It is as much or as little as I want to express at this moment in my life and I am very happy with the finished collection. I always find, post-publication, it’s a bit like being caught in the wake of an ocean-going liner. Nothing is settled: lots of ups and downs.  You feel strong movement but you’re not sure you’re going anywhere. However, I am writing short, compact, stand-alone pieces currently, as much to exercise my writing muscles as anything else, before I commit to another extended sequence. I want to develop a set of poems about the American artist/photographer/journalist Lee Miller, but having announced this publicly here, with nothing to show for it, this might turn out to be the kiss of death for my nascent project!

Alex C. Eisenberg : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

So many! Different poets at different moments of my life have changed everything. 

Wendell Berry’s critiques of America were some of my first glimpses into writing as a politically powerful act. Adrienne Rich built on that sense for me, and added the element of rage – how to make a poem seer with anger without boiling over. Then Neruda took all that and wrapped it in chocolate, velvet, and star-scapes. Ooof! 

Most recently Danez Smith has blown absolutely my mind open about what a poem can be, and not just politically. The sheer courage and creativity they allow for and deliver in their poetry is off the charts for me. I read Homie with my mouth on the floor and laughing and cheering and sobbing simultaneously. But that book opened my mind beyond an expansion of my concept of form. It forced me to consider how to engage with the poetry I am not the target audience for. In an interview about the book, Smith made it clear that Homie isn’t for white people, so for me it begged the question of how to engage fully and respectfully as a reader when I’m not the intended reader. And that got me thinking about the importance of audience in my own writing in a way I hadn’t fully considered before, and reconsidering who I am writing for and why. So Smith is definitely rocking my world right now on these levels and others I’m not sure I can even articulate yet.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

Clayre Benzadón : part two

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’ve been in between many books lately, but I finally sat down to read with books from the library (having a deadline to read through a book helps, but I also have a stack of Four Way book titles I’m savoring as well). I just finished Megan Denton Ray’s Mustard, Milk and Gin (I wonderful inspiration for my own collection-in-progress), and just started reading Mia Leonin’s Braid. I’m in the middle of Morgan Frank’s Oh You Robot Saints!, and have Jose Olivarez’s Citizen Illegal at the top of my reading pile.

KIRBY : part one

KIRBY’s work includes POETRY IS QUEER (Palimpsest Press, 2021), WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BE CALLED? (Anstruther Press, 2020), THIS IS WHERE I GET OFF (Permanent Sleep Press, 2019), SHE’S HAVING A DORIS DAY (KFB, 2017) and editor of GUEST #16 (above/ground), NOT YOUR BEST No. 2, (KFB, 2021). They are the publisher, purveyor of fine poetry at knife | fork | book and can be found at 

How does a poem begin?

By sitting down to it. 

I take notes, write lines throughout each day, but it’s only when I sit down to it that the work gets done. Most mornings. 

Deadlines work quite well for me, because I'm a workhorse, and when I know something has to be done, I sit down to it.

I’m also really good at titles, strangely, they’ll often come first. Or a phrase, something I might’ve heard, seen, smelled, tasted, or read. Springboards. My poems can be quite conversational. 

Larissa Shmailo : 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 have a brilliant poetry partner in Michael T. Young, an accomplished poet who reads my work and comments on it. 

Tuesday 15 June 2021

Jason Tandon : coda

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

As I have grown older, gotten married, had children, and paid far more attention to the world than when I was younger, I see poetry as an “unmixed attention,” to quote Simone Weil, and when “taken to its highest degree, [it] is the same thing as prayer. It presupposes faith and love.” To quote Weil further, I see a poem as a space where if I can “turn [my] mind toward the good, it is impossible that little by little the whole soul will not be attracted thereto in spite of itself.” This is, of course, an ideal.

Carla Barkman : 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? 

My work usually enters the world in ink on paper, my bedside journal. Often I record a mess of images and phrases first, stream-of-consciousness style, then start a poem. Sometimes I go back through old journals and find half-written poems there. Digging through the muck to find useful bits, assembling and reassembling, can be very satisfying. I feel fortunate to be meeting online once a month with Regina writers Bernadette Wagner and Shayna Stock to workshop new poems. Because of the pandemic, I’ve also been able to participate in sessions hosted in faraway lands that would otherwise be inaccessible, such as Columbia University’s narrative medicine series, which involve responding to a piece of literature as a group, then writing to a prompt, under the shadow of the text and in the company of writers and medical professionals from around the world. 

Craig Santos Perez : part one

Craig Santos Perez is an indigenous Pacific Islander poet from Guam. He is the author of five books of poetry and the co-editor of five anthologies. He teaches at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. 

What are you working on?

I am currently working on my sixth book of poetry, entitled from unincorporated territory [åmot], which is part of an ongoing series of books about my homeland of Guam and my indigenous Chamoru culture. The book explores themes of colonialism, militarism, environmental injustice, migration, and healing. 

Monday 14 June 2021

Heidi Greco : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

If you’re really asking when this ‘first’ occurred I’d have to respond by blaming my love of poetry on nursery rhymes. The esteemed (at least in my  mind) writer, Philip Pullman, contends that there’s no greater language experience we can offer children than to expose them to the sounds/songs/rhythms of these traditional rhymes—that they help forge syntax, vocabulary and sentences patterns onto the brain (and, I contend, onto what many might call soul). I was lucky in that I not only heard these when I was very young, I learned to read before I went to school and enjoyed reading (and re-reading) illustrated books containing such verse. To this day, I can picture illustrations that accompanied some of these, so maybe that early engagement contributed to my seeking visual imagery in poems too. 

Jean Marc Ah-Sen : part four

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

I quite like the built-in expectation that poetry has to be arcane and obscure to succeed; that it’s seemingly telegraphed from Mars. I realize that this understanding has been challenged by poets before, but I think the reputation as an outlier form—something only the cognoscenti are disposed to understand—prevails for better or for worse. Richard Hell said, and here I’m paraphrasing, that “poetry is as rarefied and specialized as polo or astronomy.” This may be couched in the idea that poetry is about maximizing redundancy in language, whereas day-to-day discourse seeks to reduce it. I like that conceit a lot, and have attempted to incorporate it in my writing—it’s a challenge to render superfluity, or maybe it’d be better to say garrulousness in my case, as a virtue. When you have a lot of people down on a form, or at minimum unversed in its workings, it can be a really fertile ground for experimentation and exciting innovations in the arts. Poetry in my lifetime has certainly never been viewed as a populist medium of expression, and I don’t see that changing, even with the voguish explosion of Instagram poetry. This indifference outside of the academy can be a prison, and it can breed pomposity and hostility in its practitioners, but I’m more optimistic in thinking that it is one of poetry’s strongest qualities—this ability to endure against all odds and maintain its fortitude in the face of aesthetic pursuits that are culturally dominant. 

Sunday 13 June 2021

Neil Surkan : coda

How important is music to your poetry?

If I accidentally overhear even a sliver of a tune in the morning, I often lose those dream shreds that are vital, at least for me, to writing poems. So in some ways music is fatal to my poetry. 

But sometimes someone in one of my poems is listening to a particular song in order to create an associative or suggestive effect. I love overhearing strangers’ song choices and thinking about whether they’re actually into what they’re listening to, or whether it’s happenstance. For example, a few years ago when I was buying a turntable off Kijiji the seller put on Bryan Adams to demonstrate the sound quality. Was that his favourite? Or did he take one look at me and think, “Cuts Like a Knife”?

There are certain albums that light my brain up and make me want to write poems the next day, though – Lyra Pramuk’s Fountain, Amen Dunes’s Cowboy Worship EP, Moss’s Sub Templum, anything by Arthur Russell, Florist, Francis Bebey, Floating Points, ANOHNI. Also, Phil Elverum’s old songs (and tweets) were very influential to my first book, On High.

Karol Nielsen : part one

Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018) and Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and the poetry chapbooks Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020) and This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Black Elephants was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012. Excerpts were honored as notable essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005. Her full-length poetry collection was longlisted for the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award in 2021 and selected as a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. She teaches creative nonfiction and memoir writing with New York Writers Workshop.

What are you working on?

I am working on a collection of poems that explores what it means to be a New Yorker. I often am told that I don’t seem like a New Yorker even though I have lived in Manhattan for more than 30 years. I was born in Oklahoma while my father was in the army and our family moved to Nebraska, then Ohio, before settling on Connecticut. My father took the commuter train to his office in New York City where he worked as a businessman. I was drawn to the city from a young age, inspired by my grandmother’s experience as a Rockette who performed at Radio City Music Hall. I wanted to be just like her, but I didn’t dance.  I became a journalist, memoirist, and poet instead.

Jessica Barksdale Inclán : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I don’t think anything is difficult about writing poetry, but I think writing really good poems is rare, a miracle, a gift. Writing good poems is hard. I would say maybe one in twenty poems is really worth beating into shape. But it’s the writing of those pretty terrible poems that leads to the good ones. So every day, I keep flexing my poetry muscles, waiting for the one worth keeping. 

Saturday 12 June 2021

Andrew McSorley : part three

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

The answer is different depending on what I need at the time. When I need to be rejuvenated to the act of writing itself, and pressure myself along to keep doing the work, I can come back to “Song” by Brigit Pegeen Kelly, and be reminded of what a poem should strive to do. When I need to be rejuvenated to the absurd, to allow myself to take more risks and do things in a poem I normally might feel uncomfortable with, I can go back to James Tate and Tomas Transtromer to find the unexpected.

Aaron Belz : part one

Aaron Belz has published four book-length collections of poetry, most recently Soft Launch, which D.A. Powell described as “a delicious set of inside jokes.” He posts new poems at and daily observations at He lives with his wife and dog in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit for more information about Aaron and his work.

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

What I find most difficult is that I want too much validation for my work. Even after an evening of reading or performing at a festival or something, after which people talk excitedly to me, and I feel sated with good response—even then, it’s not enough. I go to bed feeling hollow. This becomes a practical difficulty for my poetry if I’m writing to be validated instead of writing to create something new, a new way of speaking or thinking that hasn’t happened before. That space is very different from the public space. It’s frustrating, and I feel vulnerable there. 

Friday 11 June 2021

Gill McEvoy : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

There is no one answer to this. I have read that it took Elisabeth Bishop 23 years to finish her poem “Moose”.  Which seems astonishing but it’s not really. I’m sure most poets could go back through their published and unpublished work and find many ways of improving it with judicious editing. The only poems I would consider finished are those that arrive like a sudden gold coin dropped by the gods in front of you, poems so rightly themselves that it would seem like travesty to change anything. They’re very rare. Most poems, including my own, require a good deal of work to get them ‘right’. And even after that they could still be improved. And I am never sure when any of my poems are ‘finished’. I’ll be working on them until I’m finished myself! 

Elizabeth J. Coleman : part one

Elizabeth J. Coleman is the editor of Here: Poems for the Planet (Copper Canyon Press, 2019). She is the author of two poetry collections, The Fifth Generation (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016) and Proof (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2014), which was a finalist for the University of Wisconsin Press’s Brittingham and Pollak prizes, as well as two poetry chapbooks, and she translated Lee Slonimsky’s sonnet collection Pythagore, Amoureux into French (Folded Word Press, 2016). Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Colorado Review, Rattle, and Bellevue Literary Review, and in a number of anthologies. Elizabeth’s career for many years was as a public interest attorney. An environmental advocate, Elizabeth has also taught mindfulness for twenty years.  A 2012 graduate of Vermont College of Fine Arts, she can be visited on the web at

What are you working on?

I’m working on three new writing projects, the first a feuilleton of photographs and poems about fall, 2020 in the Hudson Valley, with the photographer, Michael Palmer. 

I’ve also had a third full poetry collection in the works for several years and find myself replacing older poems that no longer feel quite strong or fresh enough with new ones I’m excited about. I’m struggling with this collection more than I did with the first two. The intertwining of the vastness and indifference of the universe with the minute, precious, and heart-breaking details of our small lives feels like my current subject, a variation, I suppose on two great subjects of poetry: life and death.

Finally, I’m collaborating with another poet on a chapbook of modern crowned sonnets, where we alternate lines in an email correspondence. Things are turning up on the page that neither of us would have imagined on our own. 

Thursday 10 June 2021

Alex C. Eisenberg : part two

How does a poem begin?

I love the quote “writing isn’t waiting for the lightning to strike, it’s sticking the fork in the socket.” (If anyone knows who said this please tell me – I’ve searched everywhere!) For most of my life that’s what I’ve been doing – sticking my nose into things that are gonna hurt me. I gravitate toward intensity and am always digging into something electric or toxic or dying or on fire. And poetry was the natural outcome of that for me. So I just thought: poetry is made of that intensity. 

But now I am finding the softer sides of poetry where my process actually does look like just sitting and waiting for the storm to gather, hoping the lightning will strike. It might even look like laying in the grass and watching frogs in the pond, hoping they tell me something secret. Thankfully, that’s quite a bit easier on my adrenals. I’m finding sticking forks into sockets as a pastime is not super sustainable. Plus I live off grid so outlets are harder to come by. Maybe I should stick a fork in a frog? I’d definitely cry if I did that, and poems often come after I cry. 

Wednesday 9 June 2021

Clayre Benzadón : part one

Clayre Benzadón is a recent MFA graduate alumni at the University of Miami, former managing editor of Sinking City, and Broadsided Press’s Instagram editor. Her chapbook, Liminal Zenith was published by SurVision Books. She was awarded the Alfred Boas Poetry Prize for "Linguistic Rewilding" and has been published in places including MudRoom Magazine, 14poems, SWWIM, Fairy Tale Review, ANMLY, and forthcoming in Grist Journal. You can find more about her at

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on my MFA thesis project, which is a manuscript-in-progress, titled “Moon as Salted Lemon”. This collection This collection of poems explores the transcendental, imaginative realms of identity, culture, family (including the mapping of Sephardic Jewish family history) and the self’s longing to connect more with them. The self also begins to find herself more empowered and coming to terms with queer desire and sexuality in general throughout the progression of this work. The constant delving of linguistic experimentation within the poems also allow for each theme to transform into more mythological, unconscious, and psychological entities that hold within them more subtle aspects of surrealism and wordplay. I am specifically interested in the concept of experimentation, especially with regards to messing around, translating, and including Spanish into my work.

Larissa Shmailo : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I agree with WH Auden’s paraphrase of Paul Valéry that a poem is never finished, only abandoned. That said, when each line adds something to the poem and the coda brings us to a new place than where we started, it is okay to send it to my poetry partner and begin another poem.

Tuesday 8 June 2021

Jason Tandon : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

To paraphrase Auden who famously paraphrased Valéry by saying a “poem is never finished; it is only abandoned,” I might suggest the poem is never finished, it is only ongoing. My ideal is that the poem ends with a space or an emptiness for it to resound, reverberate, or to inspire something within the reader’s mind, which then becomes part of the composition—the poem continues to be composed each time it is read, and in different ways.

Carla Barkman : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

Like in a sonnet or a romantic relationship, once there is a reversal or a twist, it’s over. Like an essay, once the thesis has been restated in a different way and wider implications considered, it’s over. Thesis / antithesis must both be there in some form. Sometimes a powerful image merely threatens to take down what has been set up, and readers are invited to decide whether it will fall.  This is what I aim to do; I know I’m not always successful. Some poems are stories, with a protagonist and antagonist, climax and resolution, but I don’t seem to write these sorts of poems. 

Monday 7 June 2021

Heidi Greco : part one

Heidi Greco writes in many genres—poetry, fiction, essays and reviews. Her most recent book is non-fiction, a non-academic semi-critical response to Harold and Maude, a film she loves. She lives on Canada's west coast on territory of the Semiahmoo Nation, and land that remembers the now-extinct Nicomekl People. More details can be found on her website,

Photo credit: Jeremy Baisch

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem begins in its own weird way, via no particularly recognizable route. Often, it’s a line or just a phrase that presents itself. Frequently, this occurs in the middle of the night and results in my scribbling as well as I can in the dark on paper which I keep by my bedside. Sometimes I get nudged by something I see (or hear) in the world, like maybe a news story that lingers in my mind. The details might ride around in the back of my head for a while before something pops out as a way of making a comment or encapsulating it. And, of course, dreams (usually only fragments) have a funny way of opening doors to words that turn into poems. Unfortunately, I can think of only two poems in my life that have arrived nearly whole and complete. 

Jean Marc Ah-Sen : 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 form very strong attachments to books I admire, or writers to be more specific. Usually it’s a relationship of unwavering constancy on my part. It can be towards elements of books, but more often than not it’s in relation to a work taken in total that I view to be exemplary in some regard. My last flirtation was with Stephen Potter, the English satirist, whose influence bled over into three of my books. I ask myself if I can justify adulterating these texts by bringing an ersatz version into the world, and one that is, to add insult to injury, gussied up with my pet obsessions and fears. My reservations about writing in such close proximity with another text usually gives way to my compulsion to just write the damned thing. I work in isolation, but often ask my friends for advice, especially if I am facing a barrage of rejections. 

Sunday 6 June 2021

Neil Surkan : part six

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

Tranströmer’s Baltics. For its meshwork of place and memory. The way a landscape/seascape might guide a form. I love comparing translations of it (I think the Samuel Charters is my favourite). It’s also the perfect length: you have to buckle in, but no stretch breaks are required. 

And it’s evocative af.

Jessica Barksdale Inclán : part three

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

Poetry can tell it all, often in one shape, on one page, even. Poetry can also take huge risks with sentences, words, and layout. Poetry can also hold so many things in one small container: voice, imagery, sensory detail, narrative.

Saturday 5 June 2021

Lisa Panepinto : part five

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

As Roque Dalton said, “poetry, like bread, is for everyone.” Poetry is an art that is open to most anyone who has something to say, a pen, and something to write on, or even just their body/spirit and a good memory—for those rooted in oral traditions like the many Indigenous cultures who pass on poems orally. I’ve taught poetry workshops to groups that didn’t consider themselves poets such as youth in foster care; it’s beautiful to see profound and musical verses emerge quickly out of people given a little inspiration, supportive community, and fifteen minutes of free writing. If they stick with writing poetry, the therapeutic value of documenting feelings and images can be very rewarding. I’ve found it’s best to write first for myself then think about sharing it with the world later, if at all. William Burroughs said, “all words heal”—art, music, and literature help sustain the human spirit, and poetry is a condensed, accessible form of creativity that can give meaning and medicine to diverse groups of people regardless of language or location. Words, stories, and poems can feed us just as much as bread.  

Andrew McSorley : part two

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

I’m not actually sure that there’s a form that can’t capture the same things a poem can. But, a poem’s mission is different from other forms. Anne Carson said, “If prose is a house, poetry is a man on fire running quite fast through it.” I think that metaphor captures the essence of poetry’s “otherness.” It’s more often allowed to be tangential, microscopic, or verbose, than a short story, piece of flash fiction, or a novel or play. If those forms try to do what poetry often does (say, capture the meaning in a seemingly meaningless or ephemeral moment) we often think of those works as “avant-garde.” For a poem, that’s just another day at the office.

Cora Siré : coda

Thank you so much for your poetry interviews! It’s a fraught time for many artists. I miss our live events and meeting poets at readings. Your project helps to keep us connected. When the pandemic started, I had a really hard time writing at all and accepting the sudden isolation. Then I was asked to write some reviews of poetry collections. Reading other poets, engaging more deeply with their books brought me around and eventually I was able to come back to my writing.

Friday 4 June 2021

Gill McEvoy : part two

How did I first engage with Poetry?

I think when I was about 3 and an aunt began to teach me to read: she wrote simple sentences, with a rhyme in all of them. And I loved it, relishing the sounds as if they were a special box of sweets given to me. I played with the words too, I remember, trying to read them in different orders. They sounded so good on the tongue: dog, frog, cat, mat. All very simple but to me as a child they were as elaborate and wonderful as anything I might come across as an adult. She evoked in me a love of rhyme, and I still have that, really enjoying, in particular, internal rhyme in a poem and many of my poems have that. I also take huge pleasure in reading Japanese and Chinese poetry, in translation; I appreciate its subtle and skillful simplicity.

Thursday 3 June 2021

Alex C. Eisenberg : part one

Alex C. Eisenberg is a child of the western high desert and the pacific northwest rainforest, with ancestral ties to Eastern Europe. Her soul is rooted in these wonderful landscapes and her writing springs forth from that connection. Alex currently lives by candlelight with her partner, their 5 cats, and an ever-changing number of chickens in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. To read more of her work, follow @alexceisenberg on Twitter or visit

Why is poetry important?

Poetry stirs the heart. I devoutly believe we need to reconnect to our hearts, over and over again, in order to even begin addressing most of the problems we face as a species, from the personal to the existential. Conveniently, a poem can ring both personal and existential bells in the same stanza so I think poetry is a perfect ally in the work ahead.

As one of my benefits for my patrons, I write typewritten custom poems where they can tell me about something that is moving and important to them and I will write them a poem in reflection of what they shared. So many of these pieces have moved people to tears. They’ve expressed feeling seen and like their story was valued in a new way. I think poetry, or any sort of sustained attention, has the capacity to mirror things back to people – sometimes things they didn’t even know they felt – and help them feel it more fully. When we feel fully, and especially when we are met, held, lovingly witnessed in that feeling, that opens so many doors to the heart. It increases the possibility of compassion, forgiveness, understanding. It helps us remember and realign our lives with our deeper truths. Poetry can and so often does facilitate this. That’s what I’ve witnessed, and part of what I hope to achieve with my writing. I want to reach the center of people’s hearts as often as possible. 

Jacalyn den Haan : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When I’m like “dang that’s good” or when I forget about the thing for a few months and come back to it and think “oh shit I’m a writer.” More concretely, when I, in my extreme subjectivity, think that each phrase is next to genius, or when I am surprised by how beautifully I managed to craft the flow of ideas. Is narcissism really a bad thing, or that just how Western puritanism interprets things?

Wednesday 2 June 2021

Anna Press : part five

Why is poetry important?

As writers, I think poetry lets us be declarative and explorative without being interrogated while we speak. Personally I find that very important, both as a writing practice and for myself as a human being in the world still trying to figure out how I think and feel. 

An anecdote that feels connected: once on a college trip, I had the opportunity to meet in person the internet friend of my then-boyfriend, who he had never met in person. That friend said, of his practice of writing margin notes while reading, “Reading a book is like having a conversation; if you don’t participate, you’re not contributing to it.” I think poetry lends itself to a conversational practice of reading - which is in part why I opened with how much I value being able to write declaratively and with exploration without being cut off. There is the workshop effect that many people experience in school—feeling pressure to conform their work to the wants or feedback of the workshop or professor—and there is just the pace of information in the world right now, which is overwhelming to me a lot of the time. So perhaps it’s not “interrogated,” as I originally thought, but interrupted. I am not advocating at all for a practice of leaving one’s thoughts unquestioned (I question almost everything I say and do before I say or do it), but rather submitting that the practice of writing poetry gives the writer the time and space to let thoughts unfold fully and completely. 

Poetry is instructive without being didactic, we learn from it, as readers. What language can do is terribly exciting to me on a craft level and I love the practice of naming or noticing craft moves in brilliant work, either to emulate, practice, or just enjoy. Poetry also blows me away with the range of voices and life experiences I get to meet; it makes me feel connected to others in the world. Art doesn’t have to be autobiographical either. Sometimes it’s just important to watch other people play with language and allow yourself to enjoy what happens.

Larissa Shmailo : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was 36, I discovered that there were open mics in New York City where you could read your poetry almost any time of the day or night. I took up the six poems I had written to date and went and read on an open. A veteran open miker told me that I had “the forearms of a poet.” I was hooked and wrote so as to have new work to read to my new community.

Tuesday 1 June 2021

Jason Tandon : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Reading other poets always prompts me to consider and re-consider the ways I think about writing. When I began writing poems, I wanted to write like every new poet I read. What I did not realize was that I was essentially saying: I want to write like anyone but myself. I still experience this want from time to time, the desire to imitate out of love or admiration for someone else’s style, but I learned that “finding my voice” meant getting comfortable with not reading or seeing poems that looked like mine. “Finding my voice” meant accepting that I write what I write, and the poets I read write what they do! If they did not, we would not have the rich diversity of poetry that exists. 

Carla Barkman : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

Books were certainly important in my household - my mother was a high school English teacher, my aunt a professor of children’s literature - but I don’t recall that we read much poetry. Novels, definitely. I always had a sense that reading could transport a person to new worlds and lead to a deeper understanding of the self. During junior high, my friend Nadine Rae and I made up stories about boarding schools, riding academies, murders, witches, fairies, which led me to start writing things down. Another friend, Erin MacDonald, introduced me to poetry - that of the Romantics and of bands like Duran Duran. We wrote in tandem, finished each other’s poems, spurred each other on. After high school, a letter writing relationship with Reinhardt Heinrichs kept me going, generating words to share, trying to match his strangeness. During medical school, I often wrote during class, inspired by the scientific language and what I was learning about the mind and the body and how they are connected.