Friday, 24 September 2021

Jane Zwart : part two

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

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

Melinda Thomsen : part five

What are you working on?

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

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   Writing from historical documents is rich for poetry, but it takes me a while to figure out how to enliven people from past centuries.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

Thursday, 23 September 2021

Bruce Whiteman : part one

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

How did you first engage with poetry?

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

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

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

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Monty Reid : part five

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

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

Sunny Vuong : part five

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

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

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

Tuesday, 21 September 2021

Perry Gasteiger : part one

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

What are you working on?

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

Trish Bennett : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

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

Monday, 20 September 2021

Michelle Penn : part four

Why is poetry important?

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

Elee Kraljii Gardiner : part two

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

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

Sunday, 19 September 2021

Alyse Bensel : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

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

Shiksha Dheda : coda

How does a poem begin?

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

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part five

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

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

J. D. Nelson : part one

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

What are you working on?

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

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

https://monoclelash.wordpress.com/

Friday, 17 September 2021

Jane Zwart : part one

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

How does a poem begin?

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

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

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

Melinda Thomsen : part four

Where does a poem begin?

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

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

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part three

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

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

Wednesday, 15 September 2021

Monty Reid : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

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

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

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

Sunny Vuong : part four

What are you working on?

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

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

Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Trish Bennett : part four

How does a poem begin?

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

Monday, 13 September 2021

Michelle Penn : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

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

Elee Kraljii Gardiner : part one

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

How do you know when a poem is finished?

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

Sunday, 12 September 2021

Alyse Bensel : part three

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

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

Shiksha Dheda : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

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

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

Saturday, 11 September 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part four

What are you working on?

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

Klara du Plessis : part five

How do you know when a poem is finished?

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

Friday, 10 September 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part five

What are you working on?

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

Melinda Thomsen : part three

Why is poetry important? 

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

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

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

Thursday, 9 September 2021

Stella Lei : part five

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

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

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part two

How does a poem begin?

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

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Monty Reid : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The writing part.

Sunny Vuong : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

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

Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Trish Bennett : part three

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

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

Monday, 6 September 2021

Michelle Penn : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

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

Thomas McColl : part five

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

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

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

Sunday, 5 September 2021

Alyse Bensel : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

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

Shiksha Dheda : part four

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

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

Saturday, 4 September 2021

Shareen K. Murayama : part three

How does a poem begin?

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

Klara du Plessis : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

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

Friday, 3 September 2021

Nathan Alexander Moore : part four

Why is poetry important?

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

Melinda Thomsen : part two

What poets changed the way you thought about writing? 

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

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

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

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Stella Lei : part four

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

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

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

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

Deborah Rosch Eifert : part one

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

How did you first engage with poetry?

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

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Monty Reid : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

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

Sunny Vuong : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

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

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