Monday 28 February 2022

Simon Brown : part three

What poetry books have you been reading lately?

So many… new and old, good and bad, haha. But mostly very good! One of the books I’ve been really appreciating in the past few weeks is Black Dog Songs (Flood Editions, 2003), an older collection (which I somehow hadn’t read yet) from one of my favourite poets, Lisa Jarnot. It’s a mix of repetitive/collage-y prose pieces, and other short versified poems, almost like nursery rhymes. Very simple, yet containing whole huge dreamworlds within. I’ve also been reading the amazing new collection by Maude Pilon, Blanche Reboot (Éditions Omri, 2022), where she reworks poems by early 20th-century regionalist poet Blanche Lamontagne, transforming odes to the fields and streams of the Gaspé into what you might describe as lyrical hallucinations: sometimes funny, sometimes touching, always strange and beautiful. I’ve also been reading a couple of random missals and prayer books I recently found in the garbage. Oldies but goodies, I guess.

H.E. Fisher : part one

H.E. Fisher’s poetry, prose poems, and essays appear or are forthcoming in Whale Road Review, Novus, The Rumpus, Pithead Chapel, Longleaf Review, Miracle Monocle, Anti-Heroin Chic, Indianapolis Review, and Canary, among other publications. She has twice been nominated for Best of the Net. H.E. is the editor of (Re) An Ideas Journal. Her first collection, STERILE FIELD, a hybrid, (Free Lines Press) and poetry chapbook, JANE ALMOST ALWAYS SMILES (Moonstone Press), are forthcoming in 2022. 

How did you first engage with poetry?

I grew up in a house with lots of books. I remember poems being read to me as a small child. One of my brothers, who is ten years older than me, wrote poetry. It seemed like poetry was always around. I wrote poems in high school and then at Purchase College as an undergrad, which is when I first read Emily Dickenson, the Romantics, Shakespeare’s sonnets. The summer before my senior year in college, I found a book on my family’s bookshelf called The Zig Zag Walk by a beat poet named John Logan. One of the poems in the book is called “Lines for Michael in the Picture”. This was really the first time I read a (fairly) contemporary poem. And it blew my mind. It’s a long poem, but the language was accessible and relatable. I loved the music of the poem. Whatever that thing is that poetry does, really got its claws into me. Though it wasn’t until I began pursuing my MFA at City College of New York and took a class on prosody with the program’s director and poet, Michelle Valladares, that I began concentrating more on writing poetry. There’s a 35 year gap between reading John Logan and being in Michelle’s class. 

Sunday 27 February 2022

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose : part one

Elizabeth Johnston Ambrose’s writing appears in The Atlantic, Rattle, Women Studies Quarterly, Feminist Formations, Room, and McSweeney’s, among many others. She is the author of two chapbooks, Wild Things (Main Street Rag, 2021) and Imago, Dei (winner of the 2021 Rattle Chapbook Poetry Prize), and the co-editor of two poetry chapbooks out of Foothills Press.  Her poem, “After My Teenager Tries…,” was one of 10 finalists out of 15,000 entries for the 2021 Rattle Poetry Prize. Her writing and scholarship focus on literary, mythological, and cultural representations of female identity and gender-based violence. She teaches courses in Creative Writing, Women in Literature, Women in Popular Culture, Female Iconicity, and Girls Studies in Rochester, NY, and was a recipient of the 2015 SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 2017 SUNY Traveling Lecturer Award. Co-founder of the four-woman collective Straw Mat Writers, she also facilitates a writing-as-therapy group for breast cancer survivors. Elizabeth lives in Rochester, NY, with her partner, Brian, their daughters Ava and Christina, and five unruly rescue animals. You can read more about her work at her website and find her on Twitter @libbyjohnston74.

What are you working on?

I have long been fascinated by female icons from literature and popular culture; increasingly, my academic interest in the ways myths about gender and sex are produced, circulated, and cemented has found its way into my poems. And because I am the daughter of two redheads, the daughter-in-law of a redhead, the eldest of four redheaded siblings, and the mother of two redheads, it’s no wonder that I have recently found myself drawn to literary and cultural representations of redheaded girls and women. 

The poetry collection that I’m working on (my first full-length!) meditates on the redhead as a cultural phenomenon, and, in particular, the redheaded girl/woman as a site of longing, fear, and fantasy. Why does Edward Munch imagine Sin as a redhaired woman? Why is the sexually promiscuous woman Gulliver encounters on the island of the Hounhyms a redhead?  How was Queen Elizabeth I's power (or imagined monstrosity?) connected to the color of her hair (the Scots referred to her as “the red hag”)?  What lies behind the Pre-Raphaelite impulse to imagine both the Virgin Mary and the prostitute Mary Magdalene as redheads?  

I also decided on a unique way of organizing the book. MC1R, which is the gene for redheads, maps to chromosome 16q24.3.  This means it is located on the long arm of chromosome 16, in position 24.3 Accordingly, my poetry book (which is still in its nascent stage) will contain 24 poems, split into three sections, with the 16th poem being the longest. Section one will focus on historic redheads from literature and popular culture, for example Orphan Annie, Lilith, Queen Elizabeth 1, Sylvia Plath, and The Little Mermaid. Section two will feature poems which each begin with an epigraph of a scientific “fact” (some examples: redheads have more sex; redheads feel less pain and require more anesthesia; redheads are conceived when a woman has sex on her period). The third section will be narrative poems based in my biographical experience. I have also created a new form based on this science called the MC1R form; a small portion of the poems in this collection will follow that form.

Richard Hamilton : part one

Richard Hamilton was born in 1975 and grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey and Columbus, Georgia. He is the author of Rest of US published by ReCenter Press (2021) in Philadelphia. Hamilton is the recipient of fellowships and support from the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson City, Vermont and the Cave Canem Foundation in Brooklyn, NY. He lives in Washington, D.C. 

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

Pork. Egg. Fair pay. Poetry is a weapon. It’s a bruised vegetable reconstituted. It does what other writing forms, in some cases, take longer to do. It aerates subjects and complicates a given argument. It makes things strange to loosen or tighten the strangleholds on us, real and imagined. It does so to evoke, to arm, to muddy, make clean, hold to account, or leave for witness. My own writing takes the history of race relations and working class replies to exploitation seriously.

Saturday 26 February 2022

Maryann Corbett : part one

Maryann Corbett earned a doctorate in English from the University of Minnesota and expected to be teaching Beowulf and Chaucer and the history of the English language. Instead, she spent almost thirty-five years working for the Office of the Revisor of Statutes of the Minnesota Legislature, helping attorneys to write plain English and coordinating the creation of finding aids for the law. She returned to writing poetry in 2005, after thirty years away from the craft, and is now the author of two chapbooks, five full-length books of poetry, and a forthcoming book. Her work has won or has been shortlisted for the Able Muse Book Prize, the Hollis Summers Prize, the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award, the Morton Marr Prize, the Richard Wilbur Award, and the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and has appeared in journals on both sides of the Atlantic as well as an assortment of anthologies, including The Best American Poetry 2018. Her poems have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry, The Writer's Almanac, and on the Poetry Foundation website.

Photo credit: Mims Photography, St. Paul, MN

How did you first engage with poetry?

I’m not sure how early “first” is, or what exactly “engage” means, so I’m going to interpret those words broadly. I grew up in an era in which poems still appeared in magazines, and I recall that I aped one such poem—rhymed and in tetrameter—somewhere in the early grades and was praised to the skies. My eighth-grade teacher—I think she must have been working on a master’s at the time—exposed us to scansion, the names of the feet and meters, and a lot of Frost and Hopkins, among many other anthology standards.  High school AP English courses probably sealed my decision to study English later on.

I’m not sure why my teenage poems were in free verse, but I hope they’ve all been destroyed. (To be clear, I like to read free verse, but writing it doesn’t come naturally to me.)

Apart from one college-era poem (in iambic pentameter) I then left the writing of poetry alone for decades, earning the usual BA, MA, and PhD, specializing in medieval literature and linguistics, and aiming to be a scholar rather than a writer. 

But a scholarly career was not in the cards, and for about thirty-five years I worked for the the Revisor’s Office, helping to draft bills and create and edit indexes. Because that office was very strictly nonpartisan, I had to avoid saying anything in public that could be interpreted as favoring a political stance. I stayed quiet for a long time.

I think I’ll leave the story of ceasing to be quiet for one of your other questions.

River Elizabeth Hall : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

That’s a tough one. To me, “finished” is sometimes an ephemeral sensation. It happens in so many ways. Sometimes, I agonize until I just can’t polish a poem any further and I have to force myself to walk away. Sometimes, it feels like the tuning of an orchestra— each refinement a twist of the strings until all the words, the line breaks, the punctuation, the shape,  and the title sing together in harmony. Other times, I over-tune my poems and then I have to let them rest until I can see why it feels off. I then go back and loosen them up a bit. 

Very rarely, a poem lands with clear certainty and I know that it’s there. It’s so hard to explain. As well, there have been times that a poem has felt finished, and then I picked it up again much later only to see that something clearly needed to change. I’m not sure if I really believe in finished. “Finished” feels closed and I always want to remain open to the possibility that I can take a poem farther. I will never be done growing and changing as a writer (at least I hope not— that’s terrifying to imagine) and so it makes sense that some poems might continue to evolve with me.

All that said, there are pieces that I can’t stand to spend another second contemplating. I think this is especially true for those poems that evoke an emotion I’d like to move past, or poems that declare things I no longer believe. Those can happily exist forever—just as they are—as far as I’m concerned. They’re sort of like that old lower back tattoo you got in college that you’re relieved you can’t see on a daily basis without a mirror.

Friday 25 February 2022

Matt Robinson : part five

How does a poem begin?

In my process, a poem usually begins with a small thing: a word or a phrase or a fragment of language. Maybe a partially sussed out metaphor. It grows from there. So it begins, and often hones in on and around, bits of detail.

On that note, and I hope this isn’t too much of a tangent: I think there needs to be a level of detail and a certain specificity included in a poem and its language and metaphor to ground it. To make it a tangible thing. (I mean, really, for the artful lying of metaphor to work, I think we need enough detail to be able to grasp that our perceptions and understanding are being stretched or flipped or challenged or interrogated. But maybe I am wrong.)

BUT, and this is a big BUT: I think, for me, there ultimately still needs to be a movement — no matter the direction(s) — between those minute, tangible detail(s) in the poem and some kind of greater idea(s). Otherwise it’s just a list, a catalogue of observations. There’s nothing wrong with strictly observational or list-ish poems, but I want a little more. So, a poem starts with a detail, and then moves on from there.

For me, it’s in that liminal, transitional, osmosis-y-tug-of-war sort of dynamic space where things get interesting. That, for me, is where the energy of a poem gets generated. The tension between those two worlds and ways of thinking is at the core of what makes a poem work, in many ways, for me.

I suppose the bottom line is that when I am writing I don’t want a poem or a poetry that deals solely in “big” ideas or issues. I certainly don’t usually “start” there. No matter how important, that seems too airy or ungrounded or something of that sort. Conversely, a simple listing of details or recounting of everyday bits of whatever, seems almost pedestrian. 

There are, of course, writers who do both of those discrete things very well — better than I ever could — but that isn’t how I am wired to compose or communicate. I’m interested, I guess in the ever-shifting relationship between the everyday domestic and quotidian details of things and how the accumulation of them, their interplay, speaks to what we have constructed as larger truths or something. I want, as cliched as it is, the sum to be greater than the (catalogued) parts.

Thursday 24 February 2022

Kenneth M Cale : part two

How does a poem begin?

They come about in all kinds of ways, but I’ll often set a timer and freewrite by hand for 10-15 minutes and see what emerges. From that, I’ll maybe get a couple of lines and develop those, or see if they spark anything with the unused or abandoned work in my notebooks. 

Wednesday 23 February 2022

Douglas Piccinnini : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Music in poetry is the reason that I write poetry, but how a person thinks about music is just as important. How music fits into the why of how I write is not necessarily rhyming or metrical, but perhaps in a certain folkway of clarity in effort, timber, tuning, and audience.

Maureen O'Leary : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem begins with me sitting down with my poetry notebook and a pencil and barely looking at the page, just writing what shimmer to the surface right then. Sometimes I will begin with a concept or an idea or a line that I’ve been tossing around. When I am drafting something surprising always arrives. Often I will read the poem over days or months later to revise and I will be astonished by what I have written. Sometimes I will barely remember the lines at all, and sometimes I will hardly be able to read the writing and I will have to guess at what I meant to say. Poetry is me not saying what I am supposed to say but instead choosing only the truth. 

Tuesday 22 February 2022

Hollay Ghadery : part one

Hollay Ghadery is a writer living in rural Ontario on Anishinaabe land. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have been published in various literary journals, including The Malahat Review, Room, CAROUSEL, The Antigonish Review, Grain, and The Fiddlehead. Fuse, her memoir of mixed-race identity and mental health, was released by Guernica Editions’ MiroLand imprint in spring 2021. Her debut collection of poetry, Rebellion Box, is due to be released in spring 2023 with Radiant Press. 

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem begins with a feeling: a sticky, muddy little feeling that needs to be cleaned up. It's the job of the poem to help me bring that feeling to light.

Monday 21 February 2022

Simon Brown : part two

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

I’m sure it has, though I don’t remember exactly how I considered poetry before! But do I know with certainty that it has changed, because how I consider poetry is always changing. Every day, really! This is one of the things I most love about poetry, the fact that is always changing. Maybe seeing poetry as having a fundamentally changing nature is itself what has changed for me, in a way. When I was younger, I definitely didn’t know what poetry was, but I assumed that someone somewhere did know, and that it was Something, that is, something immutable, or even eternal. Now, I even feel that the essence itself of poetry might be change, whatever (ever-changing) form that this change might take.

Sunday 20 February 2022

Joseph Fasano : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me, a poem most often begins with an image that has expressed itself to me in language with a rhythmic shape.  The image is inseparable from the form of its expression.  I set this piece of language down on the page and follow it where it wants to go.  The work is always wiser than we are.  

E.J. McAdams : part seven

Why is poetry important? 

Everything is important and poetry is part of everything so poetry is something important too, no more or less than anything else, including nothing.

Saturday 19 February 2022

Isabel Sobral Campos : part five

How does a poem begin?

The poem may begin in many ways. A mood, a single image, or sometimes a word is enough. Whatever it is, it beckons. A window, for instance, stands in the mind. It bubbles with semantic unraveling. It is an opening, both suture and wound. An adjective such as ‘abject’ appears in front of a name.  A letter like ‘O’ or the desire to write about a place starts poems. So, a poem starts when it appears before the mind – as an outside spilling into us.

River Elizabeth Hall : part one

River Elizabeth Hall (she/her) is a poet, and naturalist. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Bear Review, Cirque, Main Street Rag, Nimrod, and Tinderbox, among many others. Her chapbook, Call a Body Home, was a semi-finalist in the 2021 Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Competition. She leads generative creative writing workshops through Seattle Writers Circle, an Amherst Writers and Artists inspired community of writers. For more about her writing and other offerings, visit

Photo credit: Tristan Reidford

What are you working on?

My goal is to assemble a full-length collection of poetry by the end of 2022. However, it feels odd to say, “I’m working on a full-length,” because really I’m more focused on building poem by poem, line by line, or even word by word. I am beginning to track emerging themes and subthemes, ideas and motifs, but right now my focus is on making each poem shine as I move along. I’m getting closer to the initial assembly, but if it goes anything like my chapbook process I will probably take it apart and put it back together 50+ times while crying, and then, eventually, one day I will think to myself: 

“Oh my god, I did it.” 

It would be great if it was easier than that, but I’m not banking on it. I am finding that to assemble a collection of any kind requires a great deal of faith in oneself. Faith is something I’m a little short on in general and because of that, this process is an invitation for me to grow as a poet and a person.

Friday 18 February 2022

Matt Robinson : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Thanks for this question. It’s something I’ve been thinking about more deliberately, at least a little bit, more recently. In particular, during the writing of the poems in my latest couple of collections: Tangled & Cleft and Some Nights It’s Entertainment; Some other Nights Just Work. I have had a few conversations recently that centred around this kind of question the other night over a beer or two.

What I can say with regard to the form of the poems in Tangled & Cleft is that with these poems, there was a deliberate choice I made, in addition to my usual interest in metaphor as the engine that acts as the driving force behind the lyric. I really wanted to pay closer attention to the sonic and the aural—the possibility of the music — as pretentious as that may sound, of these particular pieces. I wanted the rhythms and whatever sort of rhymes or echoes or assonances that were occurring to be centrally involved — to be an important piece of the overall experience of engaging with these poems. I wanted the sounds of this particular chunk of poetry — whether read aloud or quietly in one’s head — to be as much of a driver and central concern as the metaphors.

For context: in terms of sound and musical language and concision of ideas I really value poets like Hopkins (yes, a Victorian). I also return to John Thompson over and over again for what I hear as his stripped down, but muscular, evocation of complex emotion through stark images and metaphors. Those are key traditional poetic influences for me, in addition to poets like Stevens and Creeley and Plath (nothing super original there, I don’t think). 

But, truthfully, the biggest influence on the sounds of these poems were the songs and songwriters and records I was listening to while I was reading and writing and revising the last few years. The real influences on the sound of this most recent collection are Ben Nichols (and his band, Lucero), Matt Mays, Adam Baldwin, and early Uncle Tupelo. These are poems that owe as much to dirty old alt country songs and rootsy garage rock as they do Hopkins and Thompson and other poets. The cadence and phrasing and parsing of ideas that clang and bang about in some of these is almost homage to those lyrical models as much as anything. I’m not a songwriter, but the breath work and delivery of these poems (when I read them aloud), their use of juggling slant rhymes and clunky echoes is more Texas & Tennessee and No Depression and 1372 Overton Park and That Much Further West than it is At the Edge of The Chopping There Are No Secrets.

I hope that makes at least some sense?

Beth Mulcahy : part five

When you require renewal, is there a particular poem or book that you return to? A particular author? Authors that I return to when I need renewal are Anne Lamott, Dani Shapiro, Mary Karr, and Elizabeth Gilbert. All of these authors have wonderful books about writing and creativity that encourage and inspire me so I return to their books often. 

Thursday 17 February 2022

Kenneth M Cale : part one

Kenneth M Cale lives in Oregon. His chapbooks include Greater Vegas Bleeds into the Dreams of My Cryogenic Slumber (Steel Incisors, 2022) and Midnight Double Feature (Sweat Drenched Press, 2020) and recent work can be found in Where is the River and Train. You can find him on Twitter: @kmcale81

What are you working on?

I have a new chapbook of poems and collages coming out in March through Steel Incisors called Greater Vegas Bleeds into the Dreams of My Cryogenic Slumber, so I’ve been getting that ready to go. I’m about 70% done with the follow up to Vegas, and I’m writing a few more pieces to pull that one together.  I have another project too, but that’s at an early stage, and I can’t say too much about it. 

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Douglas Piccinnini : part four

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

Rae Armantrout, John Ashbery, René Char and Jalāl ad-Dīn Mohammad Rūmī all give me a good brain rub when I need it. 

I find myself returning to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, in unfruitful times to hear the sound of “With what I most enjoy contented least” ring in my head or Char’s great poem “‘Restore to Them…’” to hear the resounding lines: “And for the one who can see the earth’s fruitful end, / Failure is of no moment, even if all is lost.”

Maureen O'Leary : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

The poets that inspire me the most in this moment are Dexter L. Booth, Jericho Brown, Alina Stefanescu, Vanessa Angelica Villareal, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, and Aria Aber. These poets change the shape of my brain when I spend time with their work. I understand from them more about the possibilities of what poems can accomplish. There are upcoming young poets I’ve had the privilege to teach that make me know this too. I am in awe of the student poets I’ve worked with. They teach me more than I ever taught them and that’s the truth.

Tuesday 15 February 2022

Kathleen McCoy : coda

On Twitter recently a writer wailed that she was about to give up writing because an editor had put down her work in rejecting it. I made a plea to her not to give the editor that kind of power over her and her ambition and her work itself. While I have no idea whether a general reader or poetry editor would consider her work valuable or not, I have learned to separate self from work. Sometimes the work stinks, and all the scrubbing in the world won't fix it. That doesn't mean you're a bad person or even a bad writer. It means it's time to turn to something else, to try another direction, to play or revise or resend to an editor with a very different set of literary priorities. 

So whoever reads this, take heart. It can take a long time to find your readers, but if you're serious about your need to communicate in poetry for the sake of the poetry, don't give up until you do. Craft can improve, but it takes time to find your voice and resolve to get to publication.

Richard Capener : part three

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

It’s helpful for poets to find working definitions. These don’t need to bear the weight of academic scrutiny, but act as a personal point of orientation. I tend to believe fiction offers tools to think about, and through, narrative. Furthermore, theatre can provide a grammar for space and movement. Poetry articulates language itself. 

I’m very attached to Charles Bernstein’s distinction between the physical and social materiality of language, that poets don’t just engage with the sight and sound of words but have the opportunity to resonate its social and ideological aspects. I’d argue this is the purview of all poetry, not just experimental writing. What is rhyme and metre, assonance and alliteration, if not to sound language’s physicality in relation to a social imperative, even if that imperative is as personal as, “I’m recently bereaved”? Poetry’s ability to solely revel in the artifice of language, while simultaneously highlighting that artifice as a social construction, sets it apart from other literary practices. 

Monday 14 February 2022

Simon Brown : part one

Simon Brown (he/they) is a self-taught poet and translator from the traditional territory of the Peskotomuhkati Nation, in southwestern New Brunswick, now based in Wendat and Abenaki traditional territory, in the Quebec City area. His poems have been presented in interdisciplinary artworks and collaborative performances, and in journals such as Lemon Hound, Vallum, Mœbius, Estuaire, and the Fiddlehead. Simon’s latest chapbook, oh the iffy night, was published by above/ground press in fall 2021.

Photo credit (pictured with La Mouche): Mimi Lebuffe

How did you first engage with poetry?

That’s a good question… there wasn’t much around when I was a kid. I only recall one book of poetry in the house, it was called “The Absolute Best Poems of All Time”, or something like that, probably published in the 50s or early 60s. Of the poems in it, I only remember Because I could not stop for Death —, which I loved. In rural New Brunswick schools, poetry was never mentioned (Ministry of Education policy?), except once by my grade 3 teacher. She was obviously a fairly unhappy person, and was usually quite mean to everyone. The only time I ever recall her being excited, or even remotely happy, was during an apparently impromptu lecture (or sermon?) on poetry where she proclaimed, “anything you want can be a poem!”, and wrote the words FUDGECICLE STICK IN THE MUD on the blackboard. Despite my terrible memory, these words have remained with me ever since, and for this I do feel grateful towards her.

Sunday 13 February 2022

Joseph Fasano : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Music is tremendously important to me, but although I’m also a songwriter, I think of poetry and songwriting as very distinct forms of expression.  While the lyrics of a song have the music against which to counterpoint, the words of a lyric poem have only themselves to create the rhythmic paradigms against which to counterpoint.  Of course there were moments in history (and pre-history) when these forms were closer to one another, but they have emerged as two different disciplines, and I think that adds to the richness of our human creation. 

E.J. McAdams : part six

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I am reading THE THREADBARE COAT by Thomas A. Clark and SWEET ON MY LIPS: The Love Poems of Mirabai by Louise Landes Levi.

Saturday 12 February 2022

Isabel Sobral Campos : part four

How important is music to your poetry?

Writing poetry is like scoring the page, at least that is how I understand the writing process. Poetry’s affinity with musical composition has been on my mind since my first chapbook. It became more dominant thereafter as I tend to write book-length poems. Spaces between words, line breaks, inflections, and word-shapes carefully match a particular flow and rhythm that drives the writing. Words appear as a product of this rhythm. Sonic relations are as important as the semantic connections between words. The page is a chorus of utterings that needs to be silenced to create the pauses and sounds that make a poem. The white page is abuzz with sound—which is both organic and the music of abstraction, the lineation of concepts.

Kate Siklosi : part five

Why is poetry important?

In a world where we’re constantly being bombarded by and confronted by limits—whether they be environmental, personal, political—poetry is important because it provides a space for us to imagine beyond, to push boundaries, to brush up against im/possibilities. It doesn’t require us to have all the answers, but challenges us to move beyond the need to have those answers in the first place, and proliferate the possibilities instead. It does not rescue us from the discomforts of the world, or the trials of being human, but it does offer us critical tools to survive it all: namely, resistance, love, play, and community. 

Friday 11 February 2022

Matt Robinson : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Over the course of the pandemic I have slightly shifted my reading patterns, it turns out. I always read a fair bit of both poetry and fiction, with the odd bit of non-fiction peppered in. Fiction-wise, I read a TONNE of short fiction. I love short story collections. That said, from the onset of the pandemic, I have been reading poetry overwhelmingly. Almost entirely. I suspect that might be related to the fact that I am also doing a fair bit of non-literary reading about all things COVID, etc., but my “pleasure” reading has become almost entirely poetry collections. 

In terms of specifics: I’ve been plowing through Ada Limon, Jericho Brown, Natalie Shapero, Bob Hicok collections in terms of American poetry. 

I’ve also re-read one of my favourite collections of all time a couple times recently: John Thompson’s At The Edge Of The Chopping There Are No Secrets

And in terms of Canadian poetry I’ve basically read everything Gaspereau Press has put out in the last few years. Particular Canadian poets I’ve been reading lately include Annick MacAskill, Virginia Konchan, Chris Banks, Jacob Lee Bachinger, Rebecca Salazar, and Triny Finlay. Right now, I have Canisia Lubrin’s latest collection and Robert Bly’s Collected Poems on the go. I have forthcoming rob mclennan and Jim Johnstone collections pre-ordered. I am always looking for recommendations. Any suggestions?

Beth Mulcahy : 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? Yes, I have trusted readers. I belong to a few different writing groups which are facilitated through virtual meetings and correspondence. The groups include generative writing, meditation, coaching, workshopping, and generally bouncing around ideas. Community and connection with other creatives is invaluable to my process and my favorite parts of my week!

Thursday 10 February 2022

Ankh Spice : coda

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I’m a chronic ‘dipper in-and-outer’ who has dozens on the go at any one time, in various bags and stacks and in the car, so I’ve chosen to answer this by emptying one backpack, looking at the smallest (I swear) of the bedside stacks, and at what’s in my most recent downloads for e-versions.

Black Bough Poetry -  Christmas/Winter Volume 2 Anthology (Amazon KDP 2021)

Jenny Mitchell -  Her Lost Language (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2019)

Taylor Byas – Bloodwarm (Variant Lit 2021)

Glenn Colquhoun – Letters to Young People (OldKing Press 2020)

Short Poems of New Zealand – edited by Jenny Bornholdt (Victoria University Press 2018)

Linda Pastan - Carnival Evening (Norton, 1998)

Wislawa Szymborska – Poems new and collected (Harcourt 1998)

essa may ranapiri – ransack (Victoria University Press 2019)

Jane Arthur – Craven (Victoria University Press, 2019)

Anindita Sengupta – Walk Like Monsters (Paperwall 2016)

Mary Ford Neal – Dawning (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2021)

Serge Neptune – These Queer Merboys (Broken Sleep Books 2020)

Lynn Valentine – A Glimmer o Stars (Hedgehog Press 2021)

Kyla Houbolt – Tuned (CCCP Chapbooks, 2020)

Kari Flickinger – The Gull and the Bell Tower (Femme Salvé Books, 2021)

Lee Potts – And Drought Will Follow (Frosted Fire 2021)

Anna Saunders – Feverfew (Indigo Dreams 2021)

Danielle Rose - The History of Mountains (Variant Lit 2021)

Han VanderHart – What Pecan Light (Bull City Press 2021)

G. B Clarkson – Crucifox (Verve Poetry Press 2021)

Beth Gordon – The Water Cycle (Variant Lit 2021)

Isaura Ren – No Heroes (Gumroad 2021)

Matthew M.C. Smith – Origin: 21 poems (Amazon KDP 2018)

Carol Krauss – Just a Spit Down the Road (Kelsay Books 2021)

Elisabeth Horan – The Mask (The Broken Spine 2021)

Here’s a few extras I’ve pre-ordered or ordered or am about to blurb that I’m really looking forward to (once the sea-snail post to Aotearoa catches up):

Robert Frede Kenter – Eden (Floodlight Editions 2021)

Stuart Macpherson – Waterbearer (Broken Sleep Books 2021)

Sarah-Jane Crowson – Stories from the Eyes of an Owl (Rare Swan Press 2021)

Kari Flickinger – Ceiling Fan (Rare Swan Press 2022)

Stuart Buck – Hypnopony (Independent 2021)

Katy Naylor – Postcards from Ragnarok (Alien Buddha 2021)

Wednesday 9 February 2022

Douglas Piccinnini : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I am looking forward to reading Path of Totality by Niina Pollari. This past month, I’ve been reading:

Artforum by César Aira (trans. Katherine Silver)

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Triptych by Iris McCloughan 

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White 

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk

The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller

Paris Notebook by Tereza Riedlbauchová (trans. Stephan Delbos)

Selected Poems by Michael Gottlieb

Maureen O'Leary : part three

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

It’s difficult to be faced with the strength of my own feelings sometimes. There are poems I’ve written that I cannot read aloud without weeping and it’s not because they are sad necessarily. We go through our days at work and in the world with filters on. We can’t walk around with our clearest, most distilled emotions in our awareness all of the time. We would go mad. We would annoy people. After I have revised and polished a poem to angle the light in just the truest way, however, that piece can be difficult for me to face. It can be painful for me to read aloud. There are poems of mine coming out in various publications this year that are pretty funny but I can’t read them without getting upset because they are exploring feelings that are really intense for me. That’s the difficult thing about writing poetry. It would be easier to go through life ignoring these intense feelings and thoughts, but poetry forces you to look into the sun.

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Kathleen McCoy : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

In most of my poetry, music is as central as the image and the well-wrought phrase. Even vers libre demands attention to rhythm, consonance, and assonance. There is great joy in trying out, sounding out, even occasionally singing a poem to see if the best words have found their best order, to quote Coleridge. Often I fail and return to the line, the strophe, the whole poem. Sometimes I work from a prose paragraph before breaking it like brittle and arranging the lines in multiple modes across and down the page. That's when music is absolutely the deciding factor, when the visual and the aural coalesce to help create a pleasing and a logical--or mind-bending--form. 

Joy Harjo says that in Native cultures, there is little to no difference between and among poetry, song, and dance. The arts flow naturally from one form into another. Our Western minds are a bit too stiff for that fluidity, but I appreciate the underlying centrality of music to each of those three forms of art. The song must be heard; the dance is both heard and seen. And so is the poem. It is literature; it is music; it is performance. In its printed or digital form, it can be carried down for generations the way we used to do with song and oral history. 

Music is key to memory, and both memory and music are keys to poetry, to poetry that resounds, that's resilient, that resists and refines and revises our thoughts, our knowledge, our stringent proprieties. Music breaks boundaries, so it's an element of poetry I will always pursue. It can't be restrained but it can be courted. It makes a poem dance into the imagination. 

Richard Capener : part two

How important is music to your poetry?

I can’t overstate it’s importance enough. My first chapbook, Dance! The Statue Has Fallen! Now His Head is Beneath Our Feet! began as an exercise in which I sought to construct a text the same way the Canadian experimental rock ensemble, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, constructed their older albums. That is, through a montage of emotional passages, social documentary and drones, the last of which were explored though timestamps within my text (of course, following the exercise, I needed a ridiculously long title too). My forthcoming chapbook, The Voice Without, began as a response to the early experimental radio of Swiss-Canadian artist Christof Migone, especially his project, Hole in the Head, which originated from a broadcast series called Danger in Paradise. 

It isn’t unusual for poets to emphasise the sonic dimensions of text, well known examples being Pound referring to “cadence” and “rhythmic structures”. My primary interest, however, has been contemporary aural practices, originating from my love of free improvisation and extreme noise. What are the poetic equivalents? I’m by no means the first to raise this question, or note that comparisons can be drawn between, say, bebop and the Beats (who were themselves aware of this) or postwar composition and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry.

Monday 7 February 2022

Bára Hladík : part five

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

I always come back to Jorge Luis Borges. There is something about his work that is so layered and magical. Ficciones is a huge inspiration to my work and I will come back to those stories my whole life. The labyrinths of meaning and mystery that he creates leave you feeling whole and empty at the same time. His work does what literature should do, it reminds you of the magic of everyday life. 

Aysegul Yildirim : part five

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

The most recent example is when I saw Carol Ann Duffy’s adaptation of ‘Everyman’ performed by Miracle Theatre few months ago in Cornwall. I was blown away by the seamlessness of the contemporary rendering of the old text, the stage design and the performances. That night I read the script. It was such an experience at a time when I was already thinking a lot about the intimate dialog between poetry and playwriting. Having said that, for me, any author has the credibility to change how I think about writing at any time. We need to expose ourselves to as much work as possible. And that’s not only that of the literary but also many other realms of creative endeavour. 

Sunday 6 February 2022

Joseph Fasano : part three

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

Poetry is the pure word, the most distilled language that uses its rhythms and images to be the mystery rather than to convey it.  As long as there is language, poetry cannot be replaced by any other medium, as it is the human voice stripped down to its essential, abiding song.

E.J. McAdams : part five

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Moscow Conceptualism and Charles Reznikoff.  When I was in college most of the poets were English majors, but I was a philosophy major. One of my best friends, the poet Phil Metres, also translated Russian and he introduced me to the Moscow Conceptualist poets, Dmitri Prigov and Lev Rubinstein.  I was very turned on by this poetry and how little personality there was in it, compared to English and American mainstream contemporary poetry.  (In this way it reminded me of the Japanese haiku poets.)  They gave me hope there might be this different possibility in poetry, a possibility that I couldn’t even find in my MFA program at Columbia University, where I didn’t exactly fit in.  I actually found this other possibility after graduate school on a sign in a NYC subway. It was a Charles Reznikoff poem, “If there is a scheme…”:

If there is a scheme,
perhaps this too is in the scheme,
as when a subway car turns on a switch,
the wheels screeching against the rails,
and the lights go out —
but are on again in a moment.

I read more Reznikoff which led me to the Objectivists like Oppen and Niedecker and then I was off on an alternative path that foregrounded process as much (or more) than product/publication, an off-the-rails path where your lights may go out.

Saturday 5 February 2022

Isabel Sobral Campos : part three

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Here are some excellent poetry books that I have recently read:

Cody-Rose Clevidence – Aux/Arc Tryptich (Nightboat)

Ian Dreiblatt - Forget Thee (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Aja Couchois Duncan, Vestigial (Litmus Press)

Jeremy Hoevenaar – Our Insolvency (Golias Books)

MC Hyland - The End (Sidebrow Books)

John Paetsch, --of shapes off-shore (H’d’ng Press)

This December I also revisited Bernadette Mayer’s Midwinter Day and The Collected Songs of Han Shan (published by Copper Canyon Press).

Kate Siklosi : part four

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Oh gosh—I wouldn’t have even been remotely interested in reading, studying, or writing poetry without the influence of four poets early on: M. NourbeSe Philip, Dionne Brand, bpNichol, and bill bissett. From each I learned a different and particular way of practicing the craft of poetry. From Philip, I learned how to use poetry as an interrogator of authority but also as a source of resistance, love, and regeneration. From Brand, I learned how to see and gesture toward a world of gorgeous complexity using everyday, mundane, human things. From Nichol, I learned how to just have fun and play, and not take the thing or the act too seriously. From bissett, I learned how to use language and its parts as shapes—much like how a painter uses a palette knife, letters and phonemes and fragments can create texture and form, also sound and dissonance. 

Friday 4 February 2022

Matt Robinson : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished?

First off: for me, I am not sure that a poem is ever really finished, per se. I think poems get to a point where they get a release into the world (to a readership / listenership) via publication or performance of some kind OR they get abandoned. But I am becoming more and more convinced that a poem is never really finished. They continue, or should continue, to change and morph and grow and age and settle and fracture.

That is, no doubt, related to the fact that I am a notorious serial reviser. I always have been. I have also always had a really keen interest in the drafting and revising process—really the growth and evolution—of poems, as a writer and a reader. (Some context: the one critical article I actually ever published, years ago, was essentially an examination of how certain poems on Jeffrey Donaldson’s “Waterglass” morphed from their initial journal publication form to the pieces that appeared in his actual book.)

I’ll frame it this way: I have poems that were published in books 20 years ago that I still revisit and tweak in terms of shape and line breaks and overall construction. Some lines or fragments disappear and some get added. But there is always opportunity there. And even if a poem gets abandoned, I think it will eventually get returned to in one fashion or another: even if that takes years.

In a more finite sense, for me a poem is “done” or ready for its initial intro to the world once it passes the recording test. I draft through various stages but always get to a point where I am mostly reading the poem aloud (and recording it to listen to that recording) so I can hear whether it is doing what I had thought it was. That reading, recording, and listening process is maybe the poetic equivalent to using various fine grades of sandpaper in finish carpentry. I’m mostly listening for flow and rhythm and sound and such at that point. The logic and rhetoric and overall sense is usually already sorted at that point. What is really being figured via recording and listening is whether there are rhythmic hiccups or quirks that need to be figured out / corrected. 

So, I suppose a poem’s most recent or current iteration is close to “done” when it starts showing up as multiple voice memos on my phone.

Beth Mulcahy : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished? I know when a poem is done when I feel satisfied that I have completely expressed what I want to convey in a way that I find satisfying. It’s a gut feeling but it doesn’t always come easy and I often struggle with endings.  

Thursday 3 February 2022

Ankh Spice : part five

How does a poem begin?

Often with something the world throws at me, colliding with something I didn’t know was already germinating inside. I have a particularly strong urge to look very closely at detail, and I believe it’s a powerful thing to be able do that. For me there’s synaesthesia at play too – the small details of the natural world in particular are like sirens, I am physically unable to ignore a broken shell hit by the light in a certain way. And often it feels like there’s a reason for the ‘need to notice’ that very thing at that very moment – it’s subconsciously connected to a concept or experience my brain’s been gnawing away at. There’s this wonderful ‘click’ when the two converge, very-conscious and very-not, the ‘Oh!’ moment, and if I can catch the feeling of that I think the reader feels it, too, therapeutic and satisfying. More literally, moving begins the poem – running or swimming puts me into a state where phrases coalesce and arrange themselves as if by magic in my head. As someone with ADHD, my brain a lot of the time is a skittery, leaping, crowded thing, but both being drawn in deep to detail and moving have the same effect – everything goes held-breath, slows down, grows quiet and floaty-clear. In those states, poems are born. They layer and sort and make sense of all the vast noise of our navigating in a way I can’t ever explain, except by writing them, and hoping other people feel it inside the lines.

Wednesday 2 February 2022

Douglas Piccinnini : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

The most difficult thing about being a poet and writing poetry is explaining to people what poems are about – not because poetry is difficult but an explanation of a poem usually requires another poem.

Maureen O'Leary : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

When I was four or five years old and announced that I wanted to be a poet my dad ran out that day to buy me notebooks, paper, a folder, and pencils. My parents were serious about supporting my poetry from the jump. I was really lucky. I won a prize for a poem I wrote about sheep in first grade. I didn’t know anything about sheep but everyone really liked that poem. It was a people pleaser for sure. Most of my poems haven’t been read by anyone but me yet whenever a magazine or anthology editor picks a piece of mine for publishing I always get that same good feeling that someone liked my sheep.  

Tuesday 1 February 2022

Kathleen McCoy : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I've been reading Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz, EDGE by Barbara Ungar, Loving in Truth by Jay Rogoff, and An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo. I skim some of the major journals, of course, particularly American Poetry Review, Poetry (if you can overlook the recent scandal), Image, Rattle, and a lovely one out of Cambridge I recently discovered, la piccoletta barca. I'm also drawn to the great Americans we've lost recently or in recent years-- the incomparable bell hooks, the bicontinental Eavan Boland,  Robert Bly, and of course Adrienne Rich. In the past couple of years I've been enjoying poems by Jane Hirshfield, Kazim Ali, Honoree Jeffers, David Graham, James Crews, and Ellen Bass on this side of the pond, and on the other, many from Northern Ireland, poets like Medbh McGuckian, Leontia Flynn, Sinead Morrissey, Nick Laird, Stephen Sexton, and Paula Meehan from Ireland. There are so many really fine poets publishing now, both locally in upstate New York and around the English-speaking world. It's humbling and energizing and awe-inspiring. If you like your poetry to be provocative--aesthetically, spiritually, or socio-politically--poetry is a rich minefield these days.

For anyone looking to sample more contemporary poetry, I'd suggest they start at the local bookstore with a contemporary journal of poems. Then jump on Twitter and look for poetry that turns you on. It's as near as breath, and as life-affirming.

Richard Capener : part one

Richard Capener's pamphlets are KL7 (The Red Ceilings, forthcoming 2022) and Dance! The Statue has Fallen! Now His Head is Beneath Our Feet! (Broken Sleep Books, 2021). The Voice Without will be released by Beir Bua Press in August 2022. He is launching a press in May 2022. 

How did you first engage with poetry?

It was somewhat spontaneous. I grew up in a house which had books, and my sister was an avid reader, but I took to films and TV more readily. These fed into how I viewed literature, in that BBC adaptations of famous novels felt underwhelming to me. As I entered my teenage years, I became more and more obsessive about music. At this time, download culture was still illegal and it wasn’t unusual to buy CDs, which contained inlay cards with lyrics. I felt a tremendous emotional resonance towards the visual arrangement of text, and the space between lines, and began writing what I considered song lyrics. Eventually, probably compounded by the fact I can’t play an instrument, I became comfortable with the idea of poetry and accepted that these “lyrics” could be a creative expression in and of themselves. This led me to go to a chain bookstore and pick the two poetry books with the best covers (I was a teenager) which happened to be an edition of collected poems by AE Houseman and an edition of Lewis Carrol’s poetry, neither of which had any influence on me. I’m still fond of them, though, as an introduction. 

My love of visual media and music had already led to a precocious interest in the historical narratives and creative practices bannered under “avant-garde”. My passion for literature took off when I found its literary equivalents. Foremost were poets such as Frank O’Hara and Bernadette Mayer, novelists such as Kathy Acker and Burroughs, as well as that seeming golden era of concrete poetry exemplified by Henri Chopin, Brion Gysin and Bob Cobbing, who I found a little later.