Saturday 31 July 2021

Rebecca Irene : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry? 

Aside from carving out chunks of uninterrupted time to write, beginning & ending a poem are usually the most difficult phases for me. There are those rare moments when an opening phrase or line suddenly materializes (typically when walking with my dog, in the Maine woods), so I try to always have a beloved Viacro pencil & notebook on me, but more often than not, I have to write a lot of horrible lines in order to arrive at a decent start. Then, the middle gush. The poem takes twists & turns, & usually surprises or horrifies me, but I journal everything down initially. This time is joyful, magical, & mostly destined for the silent chambers of my house’s many trashcans. As I begin to transcribe a working draft to my computer, the poem takes form, & wrestles towards that final blessed line. 

Friday 30 July 2021

David Hadbawnik : part five

How does a poem begin?

A poem doesn’t begin, it just is. I don’t mean that to be flip. I just believe that a poem is always kind of latent in whatever we’re doing as we go about our day, and it’s mostly a matter of being open to it and keeping an eye and ear out and noticing that it’s there. So I suppose you could say it begins in the moment that we notice and pay attention to what’s happening. Very often I’ll have a line occur to me and it goes through my mind and I don’t notice it or barely notice it, and if I have the means and wherewithal to grab a pen and write it down, it begins right there. Otherwise, it’s gone.

Ken Norris : part two

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

Mouse Eggs. When I was a young poet, hanging around with the other Vehicule Poets, we put our poems in a mimeographed magazine called Mouse Eggs. About six months ago, Endre Farkas revived it as an e-magazine. So I started putting the new poems from Hawaiian Sunrise in Mouse Eggs. So it’s an interesting time to be answering this question. In 1975, my freshest poems were in Mouse Eggs. And in 2021, my freshest poems are in Mouse Eggs. Poetically, I’m once again hanging around with the friends of my youth.

Thursday 29 July 2021

Alan May : part three

How did you first engage with poetry?

As a boy, I went to church services at least three times per week. Our songs were sung in a cappella, so everyone had the song book out and was reading all the verses while singing. So I spent a lot of time with lyrics before I was exposed to poetry. And then there was the Book of Psalms, etc., all of the Old and New Testaments in the weird music of the King James Version. I was exposed to poetry at school but nothing really clicked until we got to Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson. Then, soon after, we read aloud "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in class and I thought "This is even better than going to the movies.” 

Greg Hill : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

At one point, many of my favorite poets were all old white guys named William: Shakespeare; Blake; Wordsworth; Yeats; Williams; Collins. Throw in more dead white guys: Percy; Edgar; Robert. I was an academic, a student of the Western canon.

The single book that nudged the way I thought about poetry and writing is the anthology The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. I bought it when I discovered it at a bookstore in San Francisco during a work trip in 2003. Nothing in the book was like any poem I had read in any high school or college textbook for any English or poetry class. Reading those poems felt like I had grown up knowing only classical music and was hearing jazz for the first time. 

So chronologically, the poets in that anthology changed the way I thought about writing.

Later, I discovered Christian Bök, an exemplar of constrained writing. His book-length poem Eunoia is my absolute favorite poem. How could it not be? My MFA critical thesis, detailing my discovery of conceptual poetry, focused a great deal on Bök and on Kenneth Goldsmith. (This was 2013, years before Goldsmith would deliver his now infamous conceptual reading at Brown University which ironically—and maybe inevitably—turned the author into a lightning rod for disdain of a movement that purports to make an author extraneous.)

Wednesday 28 July 2021

Lynne Thompson : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Patricia Smith for her approach to subjects the reader thinks she knows about; her work is revelatory because of the fresh approaches she takes to her material (see Incendiary Art; Blood Dazzler)

Pablo Neruda for the depth of his passion for the grand and simple topics he approaches (see: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair; Ode to Common Things)

Brandi Spering : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

When I first started writing poetry 11 years ago, I wrote short pieces with the intention of humor, stringing words together in silly scenarios. If one were to extract a line from poem, I wouldn’t have been able to explain it. Now, there is intention behind everything, as well as a better understanding of my own style, which borders poetry and prose; I no longer try to force form and I rarely stick to one genre.

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Alexander Shalom Joseph : part five

Why is poetry important?  

I believe poetry is important because a good poem allows a reader to briefly step into somebody else’s world, to see with other eyes, to love with another heart, to think new thoughts. A good poem allows for one to experience a whole new world in a few simple lines or maybe experience the same thing in a new way. Poetry is important because a good poem can show the reader that they are not alone in the world. 

Stuart McPherson : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

I first found poetry through Henry Rollins. I was/am a massive Black Flag / Rollins Band fan and consumed all of his music and books. This then led to Bukowski. I was also involved in some online poetry groups, which whilst a little sycophantic, gave me exposure to other poets, forms and styles, and helped me to branch out. Now I try and read as widely and broadly as possible. I tend to get over excited about everything.

Monday 26 July 2021

Mel Sherrer : 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 poems make it first into the world by way of readings (my favorite method), and publications. I used to have a cohort around the time I was completing my MFA, but the best and most focused work I have done on my writing has been in the years after that, working from home, in seclusion. I'm sure my friends in writing would extend feedback if I ask them for critique, but I habitually keep my writing, revision, and submission process private until a project is published.

Annick Yerem : part five

How does a poem begin?

It begins with a song or a line in my head, often while I´m out walking with my dog.

It begins with a film, with a photo, a painting, a smell, a sound.

It begins when I am willing to listen.

Sunday 25 July 2021

M.S. Evans : part one

M.S. Evans is a Pushcart nominated poet and visual artist residing in Butte, Montana. Her work has appeared in Black Bough Poetry, Ice Floe Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, Feral, Fevers of the Mind, and Green Ink Poetry, among others.

Twitter: @SeaNettleInk

Instagram: @seanettleart 

What are you working on?

I’m currently working on my first poetry collection, and gearing up to be a Guest Reader for Ice Floe Press

Wayne Mason : part five

How does a poem begin?

A poem usually begins as a simple word or phrase stuck in my head like a song… usually at work where my body is at but my mind is far from. Then eventually the line hits paper with a slew of other words, a mess of words, it is far from a tidy process as the only priority is getting it all out. It is only after some cutting and editing the the poem starts to reveal its true shape.

Saturday 24 July 2021

Josh Massey : part five

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

There’s a sort of meta-book I return to, filled with staring emptiness, a being that pins me in my sleep, a man who speaks in beautiful nonsense that illuminates parts of our experience rational language never can, the old lady who looks after the bar and who sits at the back of the bar on her couch reading Russian poetry, the crow in human voice, the Han Shan poets, the Language poets, the Romantic Poets, the Dub Poets, the Confessional Poets, the Flarf-bestrewn Conceptual Poets, the many contemporary poets spinning such a tapestry all things Poetry — the new and changing — who send their general messages into this hypothetical book I return to whose pages flip faster than eye can keep up with and which blurs into some single motion of authorship.

Rebecca Irene : part one

Rebecca Irene's poems are published or forthcoming in Parentheses Journal, RHINO, Carve, Spillway, and elsewhere. She was named the 2020 Monson Arts: MWPA Poetry Fellow. Poetry Editor for The Maine Review, Rebecca holds an MFA from VCFA, and lives in Portland, Maine. Find her online at or tweeting @cicadacomplex.

How did you first engage with poetry?

My grandmother & mother are poets, so my earliest memories of poetry are intertwined with the cadence of their voices reciting William Blake, A.A Milne, & Edna St. Vincent Millay. I must have been three or four. I started writing poems when I was seven. Of course, also because my grandmother & mother were poets, I decided in my teens that I would be anything but. I wrote plays & fiction before returning to my first love: poetry; a journey that spanned two decades, a near-deadly storm at sea, & irony cackling in the corner like a madwoman. 

Friday 23 July 2021

David Hadbawnik : part four

Why is poetry important?

Because it’s something people need as badly as food or oxygen, though they may not know it until something happens in their lives to make them feel that need. I was just talking with a poet who writes “poems on demand” in public space and this really struck me: the extreme emotional responses people have when they experience a poem created just for them. Now there may be a lot of ways people are filling that need, or encountering poetry in whatever form (music, art… any kind of genuine experience that speaks to something at the core of one’s being) outside the classroom or anthology. But the need exists, for all of us. 

Ken Norris : part one

Ken Norris was born in New York City in 1951. He came to Canada in the early 1970s, to escape Nixon-era America and to pursue his graduate education. He completed an M.A. at Concordia University and a Ph.D. in Canadian Literature at McGill University. He became a Canadian citizen in 1985. His most recent book is South China Sea (Guernica Editions). He currently resides in Toronto.

What are you working on?

I just finished working on a chapbook called Hawaiian Sunrise. It is coming out with above/ground press. It is my “work of the pandemic.” I wrote it in Hawaii in December and January. It’s pretty much all I have to say about the Covid-19 experience-- that is the atmosphere in which the poems take place. Covid-19 + Hawaii. Negative tests and surfing. It was the worst of times and the best of times. 

It is probably the most off-balance thing I have ever written. 

Thursday 22 July 2021

Alan May : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When it stands up on its hind legs and starts to walk away.

Greg Hill : part one

Greg Hill is a writer and an adjunct professor of English in Connecticut, United States. His work has been published in the anthology Myth & Metamorphosis published by Penteract Press, and has appeared in dozens of literary magazines including Past Ten, Atlas & Alice, Otoliths, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Life and Legends, and Cheap Pop. He has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MALS in Creative Writing from Dartmouth College. In the free time afforded to a father of three young children, he experiments with composing music using cryptographic constraints. Twitter: @PrimeArepo. Website:

Photo credit: KJ Hill

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Elementary school teachers read aloud poems by Shel Silverstein and books by Dr. Seuss. I heard song lyrics on the radio. I watched classmates stand and share anagrams they’d written that were based on their first names. I was indoctrinated to a basic definition of poetry as rhyming lines aimed at a youth audience. As a child, I experienced poetry roughly in the same way I was exposed to mathematics or history or science. They were elements of the classroom experience, not lifelong passions ignited by any single moment of action. 

I wrote poetry in middle school for class assignments, and, somehow and inexplicably, just kept writing poetry after those projects were turned in. In high school, I wrote sonnets for fun—to see how many of the weekly vocabulary words I could squeeze into the fourteen lines (Can I fit “magnanimous” and “pusillanimous” in the same quatrain?), or to try and summarize whichever scenes of Julius Caesar we were reading that week in class. In one year, when I turned fifteen, I wrote more sonnets than Shakespeare. The quality was embarrassing, but quantity—repetition—is important for developing a skill; I was unintentionally training myself to become dedicated to the discipline of writing and to thinking in terms of form.

In college and in the first several years after, I wrote pieces which were bizarre and maybe creative, but which I thought were not poetry. I invented nonce forms with challenging constraints without knowing those terms. I set up conceptual rules and followed them to the poems’ conclusions. Perhaps fortuitously, I was naïve. I had never heard of conceptual writing. The thought did not occur to me that I could invent a form and that the work could be considered poetry. I did not understand that I could help myself to my own definitions of writing. To discover later, on my own, that there was a world of poetry that did not conform to the simplest definitions, was to realize there were communities of poets with whom I knew I was a kindred spirit, but from whom I was still an island, removed. I like being an island. But building bridges to those communities is now an important impulse for me.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

Lynne Thompson : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

Finding the freshest approach to the subject. Everything a writer wants to write about has probably been the subject another writer wants to or has written about. That doesn’t make the subject off limits; after all, aren’t most subjects already written about in the Bible or by Shakespeare?! The key is to find `a way in’ that is unique and original. Ay, there’s the rub….

Brandi Spering : part one

Brandi Spering resides in Philadelphia, where she writes, sews, and paints. Favoring non-fiction and poetry above else, her writing tends to sway between both, carrying a little over each time. Spering’s first book, This I Can Tell You is available through Perennial Press.  Other works can be found in super / natural: art and fiction for the future, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Forum Magazine, Artblog & more. Follow her on Instagram and twitter @brandispering.

What are you working on?

I have a few unfinished chapbooks that have been waiting on the sidelines for quite some time as I recently published my first book, This I Can Tell You, with Perennial Press. I am pushing those aside for now as I focus on writing every day, without intention. Outside of that, I am trying to improve my painting as I slowly learning color theory. I have also been making collages, paper, and hand-made journals. 

Tuesday 20 July 2021

Alexander Shalom Joseph : part four

How did you first engage with poetry? 

I first started writing poetry on the subway in New York City. I had an hour commute each way each day and during this commute I would simply sit and observe the sea of people around me. There was so much life there, so many details that made up those lives and I suddenly starting getting lines and turns of phrase in my head. I bought a pocket sized red notebook and in it I began to write my first collection of poems. 

Stuart McPherson : part one

Stuart McPherson is a poet from Leicester in the United Kingdom. His work has appeared in online journals including Beir Bua Journal, After the Pause, Selcouth Station, Osmosis Press and The Poets Directory Spotlight Series. His debut pamphlet Pale Mnemonic was published in April 2021 by Legitimate Snack/Broken Sleep Books. His pamphlet Water Bearer will be published in December 2021 by Broken Sleep Books.  His work explores the impact of family dysfunction and trauma upon ‘norms’ of masculinity and encourages an open dialogue and openness around this this subject. 

You can find him via twitter @theeabsentee, or via his website 

Why is poetry important?

It’s important because emotion is important. Struggle is important. Change is important. I think that poetry is a way of boiling down complex things and distilling them into something potent that can then be consumed. Poetry to me is best when it feels like a shot in the arm.

Monday 19 July 2021

Mel Sherrer : part one

Mel Sherrer (She/Her) is a poet and performer. She received her B.F.A. from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, and her M.F.A. from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Mel teaches and conducts Creative Writing and Performance Literature workshops. Her work is/will be featured in Storm Cellar, Variety Pack, Platform Review, SWWIM, Interim Poetics, Santa Fe Writers Project, The Racket Journal, Limp Wrist Magazine and others. She currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada.

What are you working on?

I’m finishing up a work-in-progress chapbook, and conceptualizing a full-length manuscript. I completed two other chapbooks this year and something about the brevity and beauty of chapbooks really appeals to me, as a minimalist it just seems to fit. So, I have been predominantly working on chaps.

Annick Yerem : part four

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

As I am chronically ill, I often gravitate towards these poems. I love the hopefulness and strength in them.

Sunday 18 July 2021

Wayne Mason : part four

Why is poetry important?

The importance of poets in our society as been spoken about in great length innumerable times, mostly by other poets, and while I’d obvious-ly like to think as poets as speakers of truth, beacons of hope, and the true historians… I don’t know. I can only speak from a personal place, as for me poetry is extremely personal. From being a painfully shy child to an awkward adult trying to reconcile his place in the world, poetry has always been my preferred language.

Saturday 17 July 2021

Josh Massey : part four

What are you working on?

I dealt in surrealism for a while recently and even more recently grunge aesthetics, where a messiness is embraced. Currently I feel locked out of nature, that I am banned from the five springs where I used to go. I hope that I can make good with nature. I feel like I am moving onto something new that I don’t know yet. It will be fun to attempt something wildly new, something uncustomary, unusual, impulsive. I’ve been reading poems for this local radio show, Kootenay Co-op radio, laying down some heavy poems for the community listeners. 

Aaron Belz : coda

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes, I would say it’s changed completely. I started out reading T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens and listening to a lot of 80s new wave music like the Smiths and R.E.M.—watching movies—a typical Gen X’er with a strong Modernist/Romantic inflection. I felt so inspired by the beauty of what I saw that I thought great art should be beautiful and inspiring. To me, Eliot’s Four Quartets was just about the apex of beauty. Since then, I’ve been dragged through a pretty depressing life, experienced a lot of hurt, hurt other people, and seen about 1,000 poetry readings. I just want to turn it all off sometimes. Now I believe good poetry is something new that wakes you up, not something intoxicating that makes you moony. 

Friday 16 July 2021

David Hadbawnik : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

Very important. Much of what I write these days consists of song lyrics for which a melody guides the arrangement of words, and I later get around to hacking together a chord structure on the guitar. Music is my first love and I feel that song, and the songwriting craft, really lies close to the wellspring of creativity for me and it’s what I come back to over and over again for renewal. I love all kinds of music, and most of the time there’s nothing I’d rather be doing than listening to music, thinking about music, and playing music.

Elizabeth J. Coleman : coda

I came to poetry after a long career as a public-interest lawyer, after a life-threatening illness, and after my children were fully grown and beginning to have children of their own. 

I am enormously grateful to have this chance for a second career. Every day I learn something new from reading poems and working on my own.  And I’m also grateful to the many people who have helped me start and continue on this winding, mysterious and wonderful path.

Thursday 15 July 2021

Chris Jones : part five

Why is poetry important?

Poetry is important because it has been a good friend throughout my adult life. I mean this not only in terms of my own writing, but in the 1000s of the poems I have read over the past four decades, pieces that have helped me get through it all. And let’s not also forget the crowd of poets/novelists/artists/musicians it has introduced me to - who I know and talk to - because I decided to sit in a room many years ago and craft words on a page.   Poetry has opened so many doors. My life would have been flatter, more monotone without poems.  I’ve been fortunate enough to end up teaching it for a living. How good is that.  Every now and then, I have entered in correspondences with readers of my work who are interested, moved by what I have to say to them. How humbling is that.  Even when I have bad-mouthed poetry it has never sought to retaliate, punish me back. If you are asking me why poetry is important in the world that we live in… well, I always find it instructive, illuminating even that at key points in people’s lives they always turn to poetry to make sense of what is going on.  Poetry can be forgotten about, marginalised, considered a ‘minority sport’ but it always returns to us: at baptisms, naming ceremonies, civil ceremonies, marriages, funerals, individuals choose poems to speak for them and their situation. Yes, poetry can be more quotidian than this, can fit into every nook and cranny of our everyday existence - but poems have this atavistic quality too. 

Alan May : part one

Alan May works as a librarian in Knoxville, TN. His most recent books are Dead Letters (2008) and More Unknowns (2014). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Hollins Critic, Plume, DIAGRAM, The New Orleans Review, december, The Hong Kong Review, and others. You can read more of his work at

What are you working on?

I’m sending out a new book-length manuscript called Everyday Monster. I’m also writing poems and trying to avoid eye contact.

Wednesday 14 July 2021

Lynne Thompson : part one

Lynne Thompson is the Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles. She’s the author of three collections of poetry, Beg No Pardon, Start With a Small Guitar, and Fretwork. New poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Colorado Review, and Best American Poetry 2020. She sits on the Boards of Cave Canem and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I’ve come to believe that some poems are never truly finished and the good news about that is the poet’s right to make changes to a poem that seem appropriate even years after it was written or even after it’s been published. This has happened for me more than once and I suspect it will happen again. For example, a poem that I published in my first book was not the version I was happiest with; as a result, I republished it in edited form in my second book!

KIRBY : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading? 

I do tend to read ‘professionally,’ manuscripts and forthcoming… that and I’ve been tits-deep in stacks of queer poetry of late. Travis Sharp’s I Am A Corpse Flower is nothing shy of a revelation (yes, I published it at KFB), the new Cavafy translations by Evan Jones (Carcanet Press), Dani Spinosa’s cheeky, spot-on manifesto, Visual Poetry for Women (Anstruther Press), Chad Campbell’s disarmingly elegant Nectarine (Vehicule Press), and I can’t put down Cassandra Troyan’s Freedom & Prostitution (The Elephants) <<< this. 

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Alexander Shalom Joseph : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

I had a mentor named Dobbie Reese Norris who passed away about three years ago. I first met him at a public library’s open mic night at which he and I were the only two people pretty much every week for almost a year. At first I was embarrassed to be reading poems to just him each week, embarrassed that nobody showed up for the open mic, and I would show this by not putting all my energy into reading my poems. He pushed me on this, showing me that poetry is powerful no matter if one is reading it to an audience of thousands or to an empty room with just one old man sitting in a single chair. He taught me to read and write with as much passion and care as I could muster, for myself and for the sake of the writing first and then for the world after. This changed my relationship with writing deeply and gave me some permission to not be nervous or embarrassed or quiet in the way I engage with my own work, to always give it the emotion and energy it deserves. 

Craig Santos Perez : part five

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

The book I return to for renewal is Ka Makani Pa’akai by Hawaiian author Brandy Nalani McDougall. Even though this book was published in 2008, it still resonates in its moving portrayals of Pacific culture and ecologies. 

Monday 12 July 2021

Heidi Greco : coda

What poetry books have you been reading lately?

Michael Dennis. Curtis LeBlanc. Billeh Nickerson. Hmm. All males. But this is probably more owing to the fact that I was needing to write reviews for new books by each of them. Oddly, because I’ve been trying to clean my office space, this has meant sorting, rearranging, and giving (not enough) books away. During this process (and probably one of the reasons it’s taken me so long to accomplish) I’ve encountered some wonderful anthologies that had managed to lose themselves on a hard-to-reach shelf. As a result I’ve discovered or rediscovered a number of writers including such amazing poets as Lucille Clifton, Elizabeth McCallister, Donald Justice, Susan McMaster, and Edward Hirsch. This, of course, then leads me in turn to finding their books—often on my own shelves, where they may not have been read for a while—but sometimes sending me to the library or my local independent bookstore. 

Annick Yerem : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Naomi Shihab Nye. She has a very special way of looking at little things and lifting them up. Caroline Bird, who is hugely inspiring. Kate Clanchy, her own work and the work she does with her outstanding students. Christina Thatcher, whose collection How To Carry Fire showed me there is a way to make something astonishing and nurturing out of pain. 

Sunday 11 July 2021

Karol Nielsen : part five

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Rimbaud’s lyricism and free spirit inspired me to write some of my first poems. Later on, Billy Collins introduced me to the short, humorous poem. I read him a long time before I found my own humorous voice in poetry. I also discovered Mary Oliver’s nature poems and was moved to write my own. I have several poems about my love of spring, even though it is a fragile beauty in the end. 

Wayne Mason : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

Vastly important! As a poet and a sound artist, music and poetry have always been intertwined for me. As as someone who makes experimental music with everything from synths to pieces of scrap metal, I hear music everywhere. I hear music on the streets, I hear music in the machines at work, and I hear music in my poems… even though most of my poems are far from traditional, there is almost always a certain rhythm or musi-cality. My poems, usually born at work, are infused with the musicality of hydraulics and gears.

Saturday 10 July 2021

Josh Massey : part three

How did you first engage with poetry?

A Mother sits with her Son, on the couch, and she has the boy interpret with her help "The Sick Rose". The boy will often recall that poignant realization that the worms were there in the petals, and that there was something else, a deeper layer even to the worms in the words... into a vision...

And the boy listens to the poet singers of the 1960s and feels the feeling of writing in the first journals is the uplifting feeling of looking at all the lights underneath the quilt. That is someone, like me, first engaging with poetry.

Aaron Belz : part five

How does a poem begin?

I work incessantly on words, wordplay, invented words, word combinations and inflections that delight me. Most of them don’t become poems. They’re too dumb, and I’m just a tinkerer. But sometimes a word combination sparks a new unfolding thought which leads to a new way of seeing something I’d maybe taken for granted. When then happens, I begin to craft more carefully. Even then, most of the time I arrive at something unworkable. Poems are rare! Sometimes I arrive at nothing more than the first two lines. For me, that happens relatively often.

Friday 9 July 2021

David Hadbawnik : part two

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

There are so many other ways of documenting things, thanks to technology, but I still feel that poetry is the best, most portable and universal way of simply telling us “what happened” and capturing the particular language of the tribe, as Lew Welch said. When I say “tribe” I mean one’s immediate group of peers in a particular time and place. Social media has exploded and commodified so much of this process – see, for example, the way local urban dance moves get co-opted and pushed out to the masses via TikTok – but poetry can act as a low-profile, organic means of tracing the way people talk and what happens to them, circulating the findings without flattening them out into something slick and commercial.

Elizabeth J. Coleman : part five

How does a poem begin?  

A poem can begin so many ways: an overheard conversation on the street, a memory, good or bad, an obsession. A poem can begin with learning a new word. A poem can begin with seeing a painting, a piece of music, a dead bat on the street, a live seagull landing on a Manhattan sidewalk, the sound of a vireo at dusk in the forest, something your mother said to you fifty years ago, your father’s death, a newspaper article. A poem begins with summer noon silence in the Catskill mountains, someone’s eyes on a subway, someone’s tattoo, someone else’s poem. A poem begins with paying attention, being awake to the world around us and our lives.  A poem begins with joy, with sadness, with outrage. A poem begins in our dreams, and in the space between sleeping and waking. 

Thursday 8 July 2021

Chris Jones : part four

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

One of the reasons why I am sitting here writing this is that I was persuaded to write a literary PhD after completing my degree, a venture that occupied me through my early twenties.  I chose to write about the Anglo-American poet Thom Gunn.  Gunn occupied a strange position in contemporary poetry (perhaps he still does): he was lionised by some key critics and supporters but still felt/feels like a marginalised figure.  I think Gunn appealed to me because he was an outlier, a formalist, influenced by modern fashions/culture it seemed to me much more than his (British) peers.  I was also interested in the trajectory of his career from stuffy post-war 50s England to find a more liberal, experimental version of himself in San Francisco.  I didn’t find the process of writing about Gunn an easy one (I nearly quit) but I’m pleased I carried the project through.  I am also pleased I went to visit Gunn in Haight Ashbury in the mid-90s. I interviewed him (badly) but he was gracious, kind - an attentive host. Books of Gunn’s I return to?  Perhaps controversially, I think Gunn only really hit his straps as a poet in his late thirties (he published his first collection in 1954 - aged twenty-five).  So I would look to Moly (1971) which melds together rhyme, metre and Gunn’s experiences of taking LSD. Anything released after this date is worth returning to - but The Man with Night Sweats (1992) stands out as a work of exceptional quality and emotional depth.  I have just bought The Letters of Thom Gunn which I am going to read over the summer. I’m sure I’ll find new things out about him while going through his correspondences - he had this public persona that he liked to tout around but he was very much a private figure. 

Alex C. Eisenberg : coda

What are you working on?

I honestly feel like I am “being worked by” certain projects more than I am “working on” anything. 

One example is a long term project that just won’t release it’s hold on me called What Grows at the Gates of Death. This is an exploration of the Shoah (or Holocaust) through photographs, poetry, ancestry, and dreams. My 2017 trip to Poland and Auschwitz, inspired mainly by a series of Shoah dreams and nightmares, as well as my ancestral connections to Poland, opened up a world of questions, fascination, pain, and exploration. But right before I left on that trip someone gave me an article claiming there was no poetry left to be written about the Holocaust – it had all already been said and any further attempts to say more were self-serving. I was open to that as I embarked on my trip, but my own experience quickly made me realize that the Holocaust is an infinity of interweaving stories that will never be fully unraveled or rewoven. We are also still living within the legacy of that history, which ripples through our societies in myriad ways, conscious and unconscious. As long as that is true, as long as we remember what happened there and engage with it, there will be more poetry to be written about it. 

So I have been slowly letting my own writing and reflections from that experience through me – though often they force their way out. It has been a lot to digest. A lot to grieve. And I would not be able to do this work without the grief tending circle I have been co-creating with my community which, along with poetry, is how I approach feeling and healing. 

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Clayre Benzadón : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I feel like this is a trick question; perhaps this questions can’t be fully answered, or others may find my answer an incomplete one. I don’t really know when a poem is finished, but I think I determine my piece land on two extremes of this process : Many times, once I write that last line, because I went through the mere process of writing a full poem, I revel in the newness and confidence of writing a whole draft, and automatically think, I finished! On the other hand, my perfectionism gets in the way of allowing me to finish a poem, so I’ll have a poem, with words on it, or with a part of it done, that I hesitate to come back to. I’ll give it days, then I get more and more discouraged with it the longer I give it time. In worse cases, I’ll doubt a poem to its entirety after all the time I spent on it.

KIRBY : part four

What are you working on?

I’m currently pouring over the galleys of my newest, Poetry Is Queer out this fall from Palimpsest Press, prepping for a reading later this month called, “I Am a Professional Homosexual,” editing the next issue of KFB’s Not Your Best Series, and I’ve returned to my  work-in-progress, She, which feels about half-way there. 

Mostly, I’m tending to, enjoying my balcony.

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Alexander Shalom Joseph : part two

How does a poem begin? 

I was recently reading Songwriters on Songwriting in which hundreds of songwriters speak to their process. I was struck by some of what Neil Young had to say in that he detailed how the difference between him and other people is that no matter the situation, not mater the time or place or conversation, when he feels the urge to create, the split second of glory and heat, he stops and leans in. This resonated with me as I can’t say where the poems come from but I to try to lean in whenever a line seems to materialize out of nowhere. I’ll stop mid conversation, pull over a car, even find a pen and write on my own arm if paper is not available and let the first line take me where the rest of the poem needs to go. It is rare for me to have an idea of what I am trying to do, I simply stat with the line or turn of phrase which comes to me and let the rest flow through. 

Craig Santos Perez : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I have been returning to a book by Hawaiian poet, Joe Balaz, entitled Pidgin Eye. This book explores Hawaiian culture, environment, politics, and history and is written entirely in Pidgin (Hawai’i Creole English). 

Monday 5 July 2021

Heidi Greco : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t. Though really, does anyone ever know this for sure? Isn’t that just one of the ways that words on the page take on a life of their own, leading us to places we might not have considered when we started the piece? While there certainly have been times when I’ve thought a poem was finished, going back to it later will often reveal an unintended repetition or some ultra-weak image. Even when I’m reading from my published works (in books, no less), I sometimes change or delete a word. For lack of a better way to say it, the way a poem can continue to squirm on the page long after it seems to be finished will always be one of life’s great mysteries. 

Annick Yerem : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

That is such a good question, it really made me think about the whole process. I don´t find it difficult. If anything, I find the process of getting it out in the world difficult, but I am slowly learning that there are so many ways of doing just that. To me, it´s a thing of beauty when a ´gift-poem` is suddenly there, when all I have to do is catch the words before they leave. Some poems are hard work, some are rubbish, some I love even years later. The difficult thing may be to not define your self-worth by it. But that would a very different question and a very long answer.

Sunday 4 July 2021

Karol Nielsen : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I draw on life experience to write poetry. I have always been inspired while living in New York City. But I have spent the pandemic working remotely at my parent’s house in Connecticut. I had to draw on memory to come up with poems: I wrote about my childhood, old boyfriends, travel, even social media! I am running out of things to write about. But I will be moving back to the city once my office reopens at the end of summer. I hope to once again be inspired by random encounters in the city. 

Wayne Mason : part two

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

There is a certain democracy in poetry that you don’t often find in other forms of expression. Most everyone has at least dabbled in poetry at some point in their life with little regard to technical know how. This is before we “learn” how to write. At this point we limit ourselves and where we can go within the narrow parameters of traditional writing. How can one discover new places that are not on any psychic map if they are following a very strict road map that dictates rhythm and form? 

Saturday 3 July 2021

Josh Massey : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

The brimming music falling from the sluicing poem burbling on the murmuring lips inscribed. 

Oh poetry! She hollered out while creating blue fireball in her arms, oh poetry they said as they sang into the glittering mic oh poetry as the frogs reintroduced to the urban pond oh poetry as they rub their genitals against the bed oh poetry as the fist breaks through the tv tube oh poetry oh poetry you are the fairest art-form of the bathroom stall.

So music does have a certain centrality, the rhythm, chime, dissonance of everyday or chamber sounds. The incredible practice and rehearsal of musicians I think can inspire us when it comes to preparing for readings.

Aaron Belz : part four

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry is increasingly important, because, with the proliferation of general opinion and subreddits and comment threads, we increasingly take language and its possible meanings for granted. Poetry has the ability to hold words up to the light and see what colors refract through them—what memories and connotations, anxieties and images. Poetry stops words cold, and reading good poetry can make you feel as though the whole world is stopping. It’s like the old Sinatra song: “The music stopped, / but we were still dancing.”

Friday 2 July 2021

David Hadbawnik : part one

David Hadbawnik is a poet and translator whose books include Ovid in Exile (Interbirth Books, 2007), Field Work (BlazeVox Books, 2011), and Holy Sonnets to Orpheus and Other Poems (Delete Press, 2018). His translation of Aeneid books 1-6 was published by Shearsman in 2015, with books 7-12 forthcoming; selections have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Chicago Review, and Blackbox Manifold, among other journals. 

What are you working on?

Right now I’m proofreading books 7-12 of my translation of Aeneid, which is forthcoming from Shearsman Books. This has been a ten-plus year project that began as a homework assignment, essentially, during my graduate studies, and just sort of ballooned from there. When the first half of the Aeneid translation was published in 2015, I received my box of contributor’s copies the week before my wife and I moved overseas for a job. That job – assistant professor at American University of Kuwait – was incredibly demanding, and then we had our son, Elliott, in 2018. So it was tough for me to match the intensity and dedication that had gone into books 1-6, and tough to build up a rhythm with the translation that would carry me through. I have to thank my collaborator, Kuwaiti artist Omar Al-Nakib, for really spurring this project to completion. His illustrations – not to mention his hard work and enthusiasm – were really an inspiration to keep the faith and keep going.

Elizabeth J. Coleman : part four

Why is poetry important? 

There are many angles from which to look at the importance of poetry.

As someone who spent much of my career as a public interest attorney, I love thinking about how poetry can open hearts and minds. Taking into account W.H. Auden’s great saying that “poetry makes nothing happen,” on the other hand, I’m struck that Percy Bysshe Shelley, called poets “the unacknowledged legislators of the world, “in freeing our imaginations, our profound sense of what’s right, our visceral connection to the world around us.” Or as Audre Lorde put it, “poetry is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.” I don’t think you can quite say that about any other form of writing. I like to think poetry can help galvanize readers to address issues like the environmental crisis or the crisis of racism in our society head on, with enthusiasm and without the paralyzing fear that leads to indifference and inaction. As the Malaysian poet Cecil Rajendra put it, “…I want the cadences of my verse to crack/the carapace of indifference/prise open torpid eyelids/thick-coated with silver...” 

As to the importance of poetry, the great Kiowa poet N. Scott Momaday said: “I believe poetry is the highest form of verbal expression.” And in the words of the poet Vievee Francis, in “A Small Poem,” “…a single word/ can set the world turning from one moment into/the next in startlement.”

A poem can say what has never been said before, at least in that way, and by that person. That possibility of a wild freshness of language is unique to poetry. And like music, like art, poetry is “play.” As the poet William Matthews said, “Content is often unsettling or painful in poems, but form is play, a residue of the fun the poet had while working.  Of course, like form and content, pain and fun want to be each other.” 

Poetry can be a source of comfort. When the philosopher Richard Rorty was dying, he talked about how he found no consolation in religion or philosophy.  The only thing he found of use was poetry, finding consolation in the images and the rhyme and rhythm. “In lines such as these,” he writes of Swinburne and Landor, images, rhyme and rhythm “conspire to produce a degree of compression, and thus of impact, that only verse can achieve.” 

Poetry is a way to declare our freedom. The great Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, imprisoned for his beliefs, wrote of his love of life from prison, in his “Letters From a Man in Solitary,” “Sunday today./Today they took me out in the sun for the first time./And I just/stood there, struck for the first time in my life/by how far away the sky is,/how blue/and how wide./Then I respectfully sat down on the earth./I leaned back against the wall./For a /moment no trap to fall into,/no struggle, no freedom, no wife./Only earth, sun, and me…/I am happy.”

Poetry helps us remember not to take life for granted, reminding us, as the secular Buddhist philosopher Stephen Batchelor says, “How extraordinary it is to be here at all.” Poetry may be the closest thing we have to prayer in a secular world.  It can bring solace to the poet, and also to the reader.  A poem that is to me very much like prayer is Lucille Clifton’s “blessing the boats”: “may the tide/that is entering even now/the lip of our understanding/carry you out/beyond the face of fear/may you kiss/the wind then turn from it/certain that it will/love your back     may you/open your eyes to water/water waving forever/and may you in your innocence/sail through this to that.”

As secular prayer, poetry can celebrate, mourn, inspire. And maybe, ultimately, the most wonderful thing about poetry is that it says the unsayable. As poet laureate Joy Harjo put it, "I think of poetry as a place beyond words... you know, the paradox is, we use words to get there." 

Thursday 1 July 2021

Chris Jones : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I began reading and writing poetry when I was fourteen so my initial grey-haired response would be: yes! However looking back at my teenager writerly self, there are plenty of things I still recognise in those formative attitudes and approaches to versifying.  One: the first poems I got published were rhyming quatrains and sonnets. Two: I am trying to be both formal and conversational at the same time in the tone of my work.  Three: the poems are driven by trying to capture feelings, however nebulous that might sound. Of course, I have a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of poetry now, but have I really gone that far from my original impulses and designs?  I would say the fact I’ve been teaching creative writing for over twenty years, to a fundamental degree, has changed my consideration of the art form. I’ve had to think how poems ‘work’ (or don’t work) - and different kinds of poems at that. I’ve always tried to read widely and try not to be too prescriptive about what is good or bad, engaging or dull etc.  I increasingly regard poetry as an outward facing form of entertainment - that my poems should tell a story, move my readers, talk about the stuff that really matters to me (and them, I hope).   Maybe I’ve always felt that - it’s just that I have more perspective now: I can reach forwards and backwards and keep my balance in a more sure-footed way. 

Alex C. Eisenberg : part five

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

Aside from being such a diversified and shape-shifting form of expression, poetry is also the perfect medium for approaching soul. Soul is something real but undefinable, infinitely unique but also universal, mysterious, elusive, and somehow ever-present. But it isn’t something we can approach head on, or it will scurry back to the shadows like a possum in the night. If we want to touch the soft skin of soul we have to court it; we have to seduce it – sometimes with just the silhouette of something, rather than the thing itself fully illuminated and available. Soul is mysterious and seeks mystery. And poetry, at its best, provides. Poetry allows us to approach soul sideways and meet it in on its own terms, in the realm of mystery and the subconscious. If we want soul to take a seat at the table, we have to make that beauty and mystery available for it to feast on. Poetry is both the feast that calls it forth, and the beasts themselves who come to eat.