Saturday 30 April 2022

Conor Mc Donnell : part five

How important is music to your poetry?

Vital. Each book has a soundtrack, one that delivers a style and tone I want to feel while writing. I don’t listen closely I just let it wash and inform the direction my pen sways in. Safe Spaces (Frog Hollow Press) was all about Nick Cave (particularly Skeleton Tree and Push the Sky Away), Recovery Community (Mansfield Press) was all Twin Peaks, David Lynch, Angelo Badalamenti. This Insistent List has been very heavy but also crisp precise and removed so, lots of Tool, Nine Inch Nails, Kraftwerk. Oddly enough, the current work (the long poem) has been written almost entirely without music, likely because it partly deals with silence so, the absence of music has sound-tracked this most recent work (groan). 

Mary Mulholland : part six

How important is music to your poetry? 

Pretty important. I listen to a specific piece on a loop, or something like Ludovico Eindaudi, or Philip Glass, I find this helps my mind stay at a particular frequency. But some days I prefer silence. 

Friday 29 April 2022

Justin Hamm : 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 have a couple of writer friends whose opinions I value deeply. Some of my poems come into the world via emails to those poets. Other poems I can sense are the way I want them to be. Those tend to enter the world by facing editorial judgment more quickly. I’ve also become more invested in reading and performing my poems. So I will occasionally debut poems in front of an audience to see how they work in that setting. I don’t have a set routine. I go with what I feel I need for a particular poem or set of poems. 

Adam Lawrence : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Yes and no. My “beginning” (mid-1990s) fizzled out after a few years… for a variety of reasons, one of which is probably that writing is really, really hard work. And I just didn’t put in the time and effort back then. If I didn’t feel moved, I wouldn’t write. And—embarrassing as it is to say—I really didn’t read much poetry back then (other than what was taught in university classes). Now, I deliberately start the day by reading poetry—sometimes I get inspired to write, sometimes I don’t. I think it’s cumulative: the more poetry you read, the more likely poem ideas will pop up.

On the other hand, sometimes something does whack me in the noggin out of the blue; you can’t ignore that (even if you’re on the toilet, though that can be slightly awkward). 

Thursday 28 April 2022

Saeed Tavanaee Marvi : part eight

How does a poem begin?

a lot of things can trigger a poem, to me is memory.

Kim Fahner : part five

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

I always seem to turn to Seamus Heaney’s poems “Postscript” and “St. Kevin and the Blackbird.” I also love Mary Oliver’s poems, “If I Wanted a Boat” and “Wild Geese.”  I love how both Heaney and Oliver weave landscape and place into their work, but I also really love the way Heaney uses language so that his work comes alive. I’ve always been in love with the way he uses kennings and with how his poetry is so musical. With Oliver, her work resonates with me because I’m often outside walking, hiking, or swimming. I’m elemental, so I find that my sense of spirit and place is most alive when I’m outside with trees, rocks, water, and sky. I crave smaller sounds that come from quieter places, so put me on the edge of a lake at dawn and I will just be in a state of bliss. Whenever I hike, I’m always muttering “Oh, that’s so pretty.” There’s wonder in the world if only we open our hearts and eyes to see it. These days, in pandemic times, it’s been my saving grace, to walk amidst the trees and birds. 

Wednesday 27 April 2022

Matt Vekakis : part one

Matt Vekakis is an MFA student in poetry at the University of Florida. Their recent work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, Atlanta Review, Appalachian Review, Welter, and Up the Staircase Quarterly. Matt serves as EIC of The Lunch Break Zine—the literary companion of Out to Lunch Records.

How do you know when a poem is finished?

If I am still thinking about a poem after it is written on the page—if I am still building images, teasing connections, arranging metaphor, changing words, coloring nuance—I know the poem is not done. 

Rajiv Mohabir : part four

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

I have been thinking about this question since Cutlish came out. This year also saw the release of my hybrid memoir Antiman—which is prose, poetry, translation, transcription, and imaginative speculation. For me poetry calls the reader to explore their own associative mind, to follow how each line connect to the next—and it doesn’t have to be linear. In fact, we can abandon the need for linearity altogether and rely on our affective reservoirs to lead us into realization, and if we are lucky, transformation. For prose the elasticity of time and “story” are different. There is more space for the kinds of realizations that move the characters and so the relationship between representing the abstract through precision feels less heightened.

Tuesday 26 April 2022

David Epstein : part five

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?  

Publishing. There are a tremendous number of superb poets working these days, along with nearly innumerable outlets.  Venues for poetry are taxed with nearly impossible tasks: sorting from among this vast number of submissions to find the gems that will reflect the ethos of their editorial vision. Me, I’d rather just write.  My writing partner is dragging me into the arenas, but what I find most difficult is sending things out.  It’s the drudgery of the art.  And when one does succeed (I had a number of acceptances and won three prizes last year), one finds one’s work among a host of other poems that may or may not provide a useful context for one’s work: publication is a feast: of all one’s least favorite foods.  I have a number of book manuscripts, and material for perhaps eight or ten books in total, but have yet to get a single volume published.  And when I do?  I hear Frost’s Witch of Coos: “…and when I’ve done it, what good have I done?”  

Andrew Hemmert : part two

What are you working on?

Right now I’m writing my forth collection of poems, which at present is a book of sonnets. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t directly a result of reading Diane Seuss’s Frank: Sonnets and being absolutely blown away by it. I say “at present,” because any book I write is subject to massive changes down the road. For example, my third collection is a Frankenstein’s monster of a book, the amalgam of two separate manuscripts I wrote a year apart. It took a year of magazine rejections to break down my stubborn allegiance to the original form. I am thrilled with the new manuscript, so I can’t overstate how glad I am I could get over myself.

Aside from poetry, I’m slowly and clumsily attempting to write my first novel. It’s a story I’ve been turning over in my head for about five years now. In 2020 I was able to write 30,000 words, then came to a standstill. In the last year, all my novel writing has occurred in my head. Characters morphed into new people. Narrative threads were added and eliminated. I’m not convinced I’ll ever finish it, but I’d sure like to. It’s a real challenge.

Monday 25 April 2022

Adam Meisner : part one

Adam Meisner’s poetry has appeared in literary journals throughout North America including Copper Nickel, The Puritan, and Ninth Letter, and this year Adam was a finalist for the Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for the story “Vanity of Vanities.” Adam’s play For Both Resting and Breeding was performed by Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ontario, and the company toured the production to the Adelaide Festival, in Australia, in early 2020. Adam received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia in 2020, and presently lives in Ottawa. 

How does a poem begin?

A poem usually begins for me with a phrase – often something curious I’ve heard or read in the world, something that at first stands alone but that invites me to explore further and add onto. 

If I’m more intentional about writing a poem, a poem begins with a challenge I set up for myself. I might see something in another poet’s work that I want to try in my own way, or I will find several disparate things – an image, a word, and a poetic device, for example – that I decide would be fun challenge to bring together in a poem.

R.J. Lambert : part four

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

I love talking to writers about writing. I love reading writers who talk about writing. This is one of my favorite parts of being on Twitter and getting newsletters like Jami Attenberg’s “Craft Talk.” So, community and talking about writing is a very real and important thing to me. That being said, I’m no longer at a point where I share my work with anyone before submitting it to journals. There is a fragile period when I have to rely on my own intention and self-belief to bring a poem to fruition. I have to trust that I might see value where others might not. I have to know my poem better than any outside reader. So it is not worth risking cold water hitting a poem before it is strong enough to withstand that scrutiny—until its potential has already been realized. Currently, eight poems from my new manuscript are out to several journals and contests, which will be my first gauge. A couple journals have sent positive feedback along with their rejections, which is actually a great sign this early in the process. My hopes are high that some will find a good home soon.

Sunday 24 April 2022

Taylor Gianfrancisco : part one

Taylor Gianfrancisco is an MFA student at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has work published in Dark Matter, Bone & Ink, and Half Mystic Journal. Her book, A Delirium of Flowers, is out now through Ghost City Press. She lives and works in Orlando, Florida. 

What are you working on?

I am currently working on my critical thesis for my Master’s in Fine Arts. This project is hybrid, involving creative nonfiction and poetry, which is a formidable task for myself. I am currently in the process of interviewing poets who also write prose to see if their creative process for each genre is different. When I am not working on this, I am working on a poetry collection about the first time you feel something for someone and how it changes your beliefs in love and joy in relationships.

Nate Logan : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I have a stack of "to-read" books, as the semester puts a headlock on my time for non-school reading. Though I was able to read Customs by Solmaz Sharif over spring break recently. The collaborative Midwinter Constellation edited by Becca Klaver and Sommer Browning's Good Actors are among poetry books in the to-read pile.

Saturday 23 April 2022

Conor Mc Donnell : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I find I am reconnecting with my native Irish language as I have now been in Canada 17 years but am no less Irish than I was in 2004, if anything I am more Irish and that is really starting to emerge in my writing. I am reading Ciaran Carson’s Collected Works having devoured his Belfast Confetti. I am re-reading Paul Muldoon’s Selected Works because I didn’t do it right the first-time round. I feel a constant urge to re-read Roxanna Bennett that is somewhat fuelled by an ongoing correspondence with her that has made 2021 brighter and more fun that it had any right to be. I just finished Homie by Danez Smith (HIGHly recommend), and Sorry for Your Troubles by Padraig O Tuama whose Poetry Unbound podcast is the highlight of my 6am daily drive to the hospital. While reading latest novels by Brandon Taylor, Catherine Lacey, Yaa Gyasi and Pola Oloixarac, I have also re-read comic / graphic novel runs of both Locke & Key, and American Vampire. I am currently making poetry eyes at Ilya Kaminsky, Hanif Abdulraqqib, and finally, hopping from toe to toe waiting for a copy of Antonio Lopez’s Gentefication to arrive. Not forgetting, scientific and poetry journals too …

Mary Mulholland : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

Stephanie Sy Quia, Emily Berry.

Friday 22 April 2022

Justin Hamm : part four

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry? 

There are a couple of aspects I find difficult. The first is getting started, especially as the world becomes more and more chaotic and worrisome. Under those circumstances it is hard to remember that poetry has value. It can even be guilt-inducing to think about poetry when there is sickness and war everywhere. Of course, that’s total nonsense--poetry is, among other things, a form of prayer. But it can be hard to remember that.  

Then there’s the matter of going to the heavy places it takes to write good poems, ones that are personal and full of truth. It can be overwhelming to dig through the psyche, like punching the time clock in hell every day.

Adam Lawrence : part two

How did you first engage with poetry?

Hmm. Probably around 1995. I remember deciding I would write a poem. It was just that simple. So I did—on my sister’s very fancy Brother word-processing typewriter! I was impressed that this typewriter had an actual computer keypad. But not so impressed with what I actually wrote. Nevertheless, that got the poetry brainworks going. It took me another year to try writing a second poem, but I found myself writing a lot more. My engagement wasn’t a daily practice but was purely spontaneous: I wouldn’t write unless something smacked me upside the head.

Thursday 21 April 2022

Saeed Tavanaee Marvi : part seven

How important is music to your poetry?

I see them as one thing, they are not divided from each other. Am not talking about rhyme or rhythm am talking about internal music like some images for example I believe they have their own music. 

Kim Fahner : part four

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

I read and review a lot of poetry books. On an annual basis, I’d venture a guess that I read about fifty books of poems, alongside novels, plays, and creative non-fiction essay collections. Lately, I’ve been reading Yvonne Blomer’s The Last Show on Earth and Heather Nolan’s Land of the Rock: Talamh an Carraig. I read poetry every day. The more poetry I read, the more I grow as a poet, so I love doing close readings of other people’s work. I learn from my fellow poets, and I’m grateful for that. I think my editing of my own work, too, has benefited from my deep dive into poetry over the last six years in particular.  

Wednesday 20 April 2022

Ryan Black : 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 don’t have a writers group, but I am lucky enough to work with a handful of truly brilliant scholars who I can flesh out ideas with. Once I realize what a poem is asking for, I know immediately which colleague to go to for a reading list.

Rajiv Mohabir : part three

How did you first engage with poetry?

For me poetry happened through song, dance, and then through the act of translation. I was a religious studies major as an undergraduate and was drawn to Bhojpuri folk music from the Caribbean. I recorded as much as I could, listened to as many songs as I could, and started to translate them in my journals and in my spare time. I then started to wonder what would these folksongs sound like if they were written today. That was my first effort: the up/re-cycling of folksongs with themes and poetics that are largely ignored by Caribbeanists, South Asianists, and ethnomusicologists who fetishize my community. 

I am not deluded into thinking myself an American poet that is an inheritor of classical culture. My Aji had gold teeth. I am proud of this fact and of my ancestors teaching my parents the act of survival. 

Then I started reading poetry by people from aural/oral cultures and was incredibly moved by Joy Harjo’s work. Her poems touched the deepest part of me, that of the ancestral knowing that I was absorbed in, and showed me how to take the original idea and blend it into the poetics that felt like home. 

Tuesday 19 April 2022

David Epstein : part four

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

Poetry provides a reflective and reflexive awareness of a state of consciousness; preservation of persons (cf. Allen Grossman, The Sighted Singer); Think of it this way, as a kind of generalization: We’re not good at relating conceptual-level apprehensions.  We need poets to expand our vocabulary-driven and -limited thoughts. In this way, poets are the geographic explorers of the realms of human experience.  We need poets to go there and report on it: the coasts, the forests, the other beings and states of being.  I’m not a googly ghost-whisperer at all; I’m a very science-based person enthralled with things like space telescopes and subatomic particles.  But people experience the world largely through their narratives and their vocabularies, so that’s where poetry is a vanguard.  

Andrew Hemmert : part one

Andrew Hemmert is the author of Blessing the Exoskeleton (forthcoming, Pitt Poetry Series) and Sawgrass Sky (Texas Review Press). His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines including The Cincinnati Review, The Kenyon Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Prairie Schooner, and The Southern Review. He won the 2018 River Styx International Poetry Contest. He earned his MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, and currently serves as a poetry editor for Driftwood Press.

How does a poem begin?

My poems usually begin as fleeting thoughts, little observations or images. There’s rarely a larger vision attached to these first impulses. Often I’m less interested in the ideas than I am in the music that accompanies them (assonance, alliteration, internal rhyme). Any metaphors, similes, or other associations that surprise me are good candidates for providing an entry point into a new poem. Frequently I wait months before returning to these fragments. Distance allows me to see more possibilities for revision.

There are certain themes and obsessions I return to again and again. Climate change, work, what it feels like to belong to a place, how distance changes that belonging. It’s the images and observations that naturally elicit these ideas that seem to engage me the most. And this is of course a trap. What I really want are strange notions and associations, avenues for engaging with themes and subjects that I haven’t yet engaged with in poetry.

Monday 18 April 2022

R.J. Lambert : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I think “finished” is maybe not a helpful target. The field of Writing Studies emphasizes writing “process” versus written “product” (after Donald Murray’s foundational work on the topic), and my experience bears that out. My process could go on probably forever—did I mention my first collection took 20 years to write?!—and the product is kind on artificial “end” point at which an editor or publisher sees fit to memorialize a draft by printing it. Maybe my target is more of a threshold than a finish line. If a poem crosses that threshold, if it takes my breath away and forges a curious path, I think it’s ready to start testing the waters with journals. There’s also a lot of value in making final revisions before sending a poem for publication. Sometimes, that last-minute pressure is a source of inspiration and creative spark. I do some of my best editing as I prepare to attach the draft to a journal submission.

Sunday 17 April 2022

Nate Logan : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

James Tate, Mary Ruefle, Michael Earl Craig, Jennifer L. Knox (look up "Hot Ass Poem" if you haven't already). 

Saturday 16 April 2022

Conor Mc Donnell : part three

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t think it ever is. I know when I am in the home straight as that’s when I finally bring it to the laptop. Everything before then is on paper but when I find myself at a keyboard I know the words won’t really change much more and now I am looking at line, space, enjambment, shape on the page etc. That being said, I have long harboured the notion of one poem that re-appears in every book I publish, the latest showing of it reflecting where I am right now, and the cumulative versions tracing a line through my mind’s journey in words. One poem, Study of a Study of a Nurse, seems to fulfil that function as it is now due to appear in its third book; it is also one of those poems I ran out of the room to compose (?transcribe?) in a single setting so, make of that what you will. I do believe they are never truly finished. Even when a reader reads a poem and comes to their own conclusions that’s just one cul de sac of a blind tributary I have no knowledge of, or desire to influence, but the river they stem from flows on and I’m always immersed somewhere mid-stream (drowning in my own BS!) 

Mary Mulholland : part four

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

Like all art forms poetry can convey emotion, commemorate history, expose injustice, overcome problems, connect with spirituality, facilitate understanding, but poetry, the oldest, and the most flexible and artistic of written forms, with origins in spoken and sung verse, does it better and more succinctly. It helps us understand and make sense of the world and our lives, can cause us to question, in a non-didactic way, 

Poetry reveals the beauty and potential of language by challenging syntax and making full use of the flowers of rhetoric. It is language at its most creative. It is for this reason poetry is often used on state occasions, at funerals, weddings, in war etc. It keeps people going when other mediums fail, not least because it also facilitates being memorised, having origins as a mnemonic device. It also shapes us. It is a wisdom language, multi-layered and lending itself to explore injustices and questions of a spiritual nature, or politics, environment, love and personal lives. Finally,  poetry is highly musical, and sometimes it is just the enjoyment of the word and image. 

Scientists have proved that reading or listening to poetry causes parts of the brain linked to our resting states, the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes, to light up. Poetry more than any other art form shows and gives us ways to understand and make sense of ourselves and the universe. 

Friday 15 April 2022

Justin Hamm : part three

What poets changed the way you think about writing? 

Raymond Carver taught me the pleasure of a poet’s voice that feels like it is in the room with you, leveling with you, speaking openly as if to a close friend. His poetry is highly underrated in relation to his fiction. 

Linda Pastan is a master of controlling and addressing the movement of time. Her poems manage to evoke aging and change in such a compressed space. It makes her poems feel large and adds a gravitas. It makes them hard to forget. 

Robert Bly, not so much for his own poetry, though I do love it; his translations introduced me to Transtromer, Garcia Lorca, Neruda, and other poets of the broader world. 

James Wright is a pillar for me. Who else? Cornelius Eady, Frank Stanford, James Wright. Ginsberg. Audre Lorde. My friend Michael Meyerhofer. Adrian Matejka. David Lee. Doriane Laux. Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg. 

I fall in love with poets and books; so much of what I read ends up changing the way I think about writing, at least for a while. Then the next obsession comes along and alters that a bit. I like that there’s always another poet to discover. 

Adam Lawrence : part one

Adam Lawrence’s poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Train: A Poetry Journal, SurVision Magazine, Vastarien, FreeFall Magazine, and Carousel Magazine. Adam is currently working on his first full-length book of poetry. He works as a freelance copyeditor and writer in Florenceville-Bristol, the French Fry Capital of the World.

What are you working on?

Several projects. A book-length one. And a handful of chapbook ideas that keep growing and changing (and sometimes overlapping with or mutating each other).

Thursday 14 April 2022

Saeed Tavanaee Marvi : part six

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

Baudelaire, Rimbaud, O’Hara and Nima Yoshij, almost every day I have to read them or at least take look at the book cover or touch them in order to breath and Lorca too and Pessoa, a lot of poets circling in my brain, so many poets Pushkin for example, Hart Crane.

Kim Fahner : part three

What poets changed the way you thought about writing?

Bronwen Wallace was an important influence on my notion of what topics women poets could write about. I discovered her work in a grad school seminar class on Canadian feminist poetry, at Carleton University in Ottawa, back in 1995. I was in my early 20s then. Her poetry, so rooted in the everyday world, made me think about how you can find the extraordinary moments in the ‘ordinary’ rhythms of a life. Sometimes, oftentimes really, the most beautiful experiences are ones that are unexpected and quiet. Wallace’s work gave me permission to write about my experiences as a woman. Her narrative lyric poems, especially her collection The Stubborn Particulars of Grace, changed my life. I return to that book often for inspiration and for schooling in how best to write a poem that is rich and alive with narrative detail and imagery.

Wednesday 13 April 2022

Ryan Black : part four

How do you know when a poem is finished?

I don’t think I ever know when a poem is finished. Or if it’s finished, at all. I do recognize that I’ve taken a poem as far as a I can when it’s no longer demanding my attention, when it settles down a bit, feels content in itself, warts and all.

Rajiv Mohabir : part two

Why is poetry important? 

Poetry is important because it is the go between for humans and the divine. It also lets the writer and the reader have immediate expression for their situations or the slow burn of realization tempered by time and consideration. The dreamers of a different world are poets. I think of the Guyanese poet Martin Carter and his poetry that helped to bring about the independence of Guyana through the poem’s protestation of colonial rule. There are political stakes for the poem that can change the world. In the United States it feels like we have forgotten this, or at least the academy has. There are many people who are currently working at dreaming up a more just world and poetry is the space for that.  

Tuesday 12 April 2022

David Epstein : part three

Has your consideration of poetry changed since you began?

Absolutely.  As a younger person, I used it primarily as a mode of self-expression, to have something that was about myself.  As it is now, I’ve noticed that the public life of Poetry, with its political declarations and its sense if itself as an offshoot of justice, is something I’m not very suited for.  I rarely write overtly political poems, or if I do, I keep them to myself.  I grew up in a home where it was dangerous to be the youngest child and have an opinion: I was always wrong, or naïve, and so I learned to just be quiet. I’m like that with politics.  As for everything else in the realm, it’s all there for me: nature, people, the cosmos; and, of course, a whole subgenre of what I call “AM Radio,” which consists, basically, of love poems.  I figure that if musicians can do that as much as they want, so can I.  Poets have people they love, and there’s a close cross-over to muse-figures, and it’s delicious to surrender to that affection and make declarative poems that try to capture what it’s like to be a person expressing closeness toward another person. 

Monday 11 April 2022

R.J. Lambert : part two

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

Maybe what poetry accomplishes is it breaks down (or through) narratives. Narratives are so important for making sense of the world and of ourselves, but narratives are mostly not to be trusted. The stories we attach to are deceptive, and limiting, and they can be kind of a trap. Queer and feminist approaches have shown us this. And anyone who has ever seen a therapist or counselor quickly realizes the limits of their own perspective. What poetry does so well is hit on something visceral and universal, transcending the individual, and shattering the facts and logics that we cling to and hang our narratives on.

Sunday 10 April 2022

Nate Logan : 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?

It usually starts on a Friday, headphones on and coffee drink nearby, poem in a Word doc. Then sometime in the afternoon it is copied and pasted into a shared document where a writer friend and I share drafts and make notes on each other's work.

Saturday 9 April 2022

Conor Mc Donnell : part two

What are you working on?

A bunch of things. I have finished my second manuscript and am not really tinkering with that anymore, it’s a done thing now. I’ve been working on my third MS which is a long poem, which I didn’t really realize was a book idea until speaking with my editor in recent weeks. I’m about 60 pages in and feel almost done. Even though I read voraciously I was unaware that book-length long poems are the in-thing right now so that kinda pissed me off but, I know myself this is what needed to come out of me this year and I wrote it in a vacuum so, by the time it comes out in a few years, trends will have passed on to something newer and cooler than my dumb ass. Otherwise, I have taken the summer to rest and write because that is my academic ‘time-off’. Come September, I will be re-engaging with my research program at SickKids Hospital, writing-rounds for physicians at University of Toronto, and chairing Canadian Committees for Safety & Quality in pediatric anesthesiology and adult anesthesiology, respectively. It weighs heavy to realize that’s just the tip of my non-poetry non-clinical iceberg.

Mary Mulholland : 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 belong to several poetry groups: Red Door Poets, the Crocodile Collective, the Covent Garden Stanza group, a Faber group and the Canada Water group. I believe community is vital to poetry. I also have a couple of people I 'swap' poems with monthly. I find these platforms the perfect testing ground for my poems. Sometimes the hardest part can be working out what to do with feedback. Time is usually the best solution, and reading the poem aloud. Getting a good mentor can also be a brilliant way forward, especially if you want to challenge your writing.

To enter my poems into the world more generally I submit to magazines and competitions. The qualities required for this are quite different, competitive rather than creative, requiring a highly organised, disciplined approach and a robust attitude to rejections. Often I have to force myself, but it is very satisfying once done. 

Friday 8 April 2022

Justin Hamm : part two

What is poetry important?

Nobody would ask why sign language is important. And I’d guess most people who never use or even think much about sign language would still agree the whole world is better from its existence. Poetry is much the same. It’s a language that, to mis-paraphrase Jim Harrison just a little, allows souls to speak--souls with so much truth and fire and experience and power in them,  souls that would otherwise be trapped in a frustrated silence. And the world would be without their beauty and insights too, without poetry. 

Jessica L. Walsh : part five

How does a poem begin?

For me, poems come from a moment when I go a little bit askew—I can literally feel a vibration in my body that resembles how you feel after the sound of a low, resonant gong. Anything can prompt it—a phrase, sometimes a single word that just sounds different to me than it has before, the emotion I pick up from others, my own ridiculous abyss. I always have a notebook or my phone with me, and rush to write a line when it comes to me. Later, if I see the line and the feeling is still there, I know it’s worth pursuing. I rarely start a poem by sitting down and saying “Now I will write a poem.” My writing time is about finding those fragments and seeing what they become. The origin stories of my poems are moments when life breaks through and tells me to listen. 

Thursday 7 April 2022

Saeed Tavanaee Marvi : part five

What other poetry books have you been reading lately?

In a time of violence by Eavan Boland, Red Suitcase by Naomi Shihab-Nye, Pleasure Dome by Yusef Komunyakaa

Kim Fahner : part two

What do you find most difficult about writing poetry?

I find that writing poetry is, for me, the most intimate genre of writing. So much of me is present in each poem and, even though I try to convince myself that I’m not that much in a poem, I usually am. It is the genre that is closest to my heart, mind, and body. It’s the most visceral, alive, and heart-beaty kind of thing. Writing with honesty is something I strive for, but I also feel very vulnerable and a bit naked when reading my work in public. Maybe that’s because it’s so important to me, so it takes a bit of courage—always—to submit poems to journals and contests, but also to rise and read in front of others. 

The other part that always challenges me is editing, as I learn to become a better editor of my own work with each book of poems that I read and review, and with each poem that I write and revise. With age and practice, at 51 now, I can say that I’m a stronger editor of my own work, but still love to learn from poetry editors I’ve worked with over the last few years. I never want to stop learning how to become a better poet.

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Ryan Black : part three

How important is music to your poetry?

I remember reading Richard Hugo as an undergrad, who claims, “truth must conform to music,” and I was so utterly convinced by his argument I haven’t thought otherwise. Recently, I’ve become more and more drawn to spareness in poetry. A quieter, subtler music. More Chopin than Liszt.

Rajiv Mohabir : part one

Rajiv Mohabir is the author of three poetry collections, the latest of which is Cutlish (Four Way Books 2021, Finalist for the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award, longlisted for the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry), and translator of I Even Regret Night: Holi Songs of Demerara (1916) (Kaya Press 2019) which received a PEN/Heim Translation Fund Grant Award and the 2020 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. His memoir Antiman (Restless Books 2021, Finalist for the PEN Open Book Award, and the 2022 Publishing Triangle Randy Shilts Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Memoir), received the 2019 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. Currently he is an Assistant Professor of poetry in the MFA program at Emerson College and the translations editor at Waxwing Journal.

What are you working on?

Currently I am working on editing my book tentatively titled Whale Aria (Four Way Books 2023) that will be out in almost a year and a half. This looks at the bioacoustics of humpback whale song to use what humans understand as its aesthetics to make a form (or constraints). The themes that I have held loosely in my mind while putting this collection together was the world of 1838-1917: the height of the whaling industry as well as the exact period of South Asian Indenture. Happening during this time also is the active colonization of the Pacific, of the Philippines, and of Puerto Rico by the United States. 

As in all of my obsessions queerness, Brownness, and a postcolonial critique take on ecocritical dimensions and frameworks for understanding the sangam, the intersectionality, of these issues.  

I am also at work on a collection of poems that I am calling “deviant translations” for their multiple crossings in and out of Guyanese Bhojpuri, Creole, English, and Hindi. I have taken five chutney songs and performed at least twenty translations in and out of these various languages looking to extend my (very elastic, deviant) interpretations as broadly as possible that they are no longer translations. 

Tuesday 5 April 2022

David Epstein : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished? 

Being finished is the question of “closure” which means that one has to balance the opening, the reason for the poem’s conditions and the work the poem attempted.  One can have openings where the closing is in an entirely different mode. This is very hard to respond to abstractly.  At the simplest level, closure is accessible in rhymed couplets.  Frost: 

Whose woods these are I think I know,
His house is in the village--    

And if one stops there, anyone can fill in the end-rhyme: though.  

At the conceptual level of an entire poem, there are any number of methods of closure, and what closure means or how it is enacted changes, across time, across cultures.  What we get for ancient Chinese poems is usually highly eidetic; ditto Haiku.  We are left with an image, and our own emotions and associations are the closural aspect of such image-based evocations.  

What I am looking for in terms of finishing a poem is a point where a circle of textual mirrors reinforces the tropes of meaning within the poem.  That is highly abstract, and I don’t want to punt and use the cliché of knowing it when one sees it.  This is craft, at its highest level, and being able to finish, a poem should combine insight, homily, image, all in such a way that we feel satisfied, even if we’re finished off by a rhetorical interrogative.  The best questions reveal the conditions of the world. In terms of the poem being completed, I’m looking for a poem that has both open and closed doors.  If the ends are all tied up and there are no open questions, that’s no good.  Leave me pondering and exploring, not putting on my coat and going home.  

Here’s an example of a poem that I find fulfilling in all these aspects, by Angela Shaw.  It’s called “Children in a Field,” a poem of seventeen lines (from The Beginning of the Fields, Tupelo Press: 2009).

The opening line is so good: “They don’t wade in so much as they are taken.”  And the poem describes the grasses in animation, how the field draws in the children.  And about a third in, the poem, which, by drawing the reader in, positions us like the wading children, the poem declares: “It is the way of girls. It is the sway/ of their dresses in the summer trance-/ light…”  And we’re in the realm of youth, of generativeness of both fields and of women.  Then the poem questions: “What songs will they follow?”  The poem answers, but I won’t spoil it for you.  And then the poem admonishes: “Let them go. Let them go traceless…”  into this realm of beyond the field, beyond what we can know, “…to the long dark bodies/ of the conifers, and over the welcoming/ threshold of nightfall.”

Reading this poem at the level of metaphor, the field is time, and the threshold of nightfall is the end of our apprehension.  It is a poem of imagery, of generations, and what it means to be a member of one, and not a member of another.   It is evocative, moving, instructional without pedantry.  Closure, in this poem, allows us to grasp the possibility of accepting one’s place in a scheme of mortality.  It is ineluctably sad in a most luscious way. 

Monday 4 April 2022

R.J. Lambert : part one

R.J. Lambert (he, him, his) is a queer writer and writing teacher in Charleston, SC. He survived the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and has since published and presented on the ways communities and individuals respond to crises through writing. He was chosen by Kaveh Akbar to receive the 2021 Patricia Cleary Miller Award for Poetry from New Letters and is currently nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Worcester Review. His debut poetry collection, Mind Lit in Neon, is newly available from Finishing Line Press. Tweet him @SoyRJ.

How did you first engage with poetry?

A high school assignment directed me to comb the library for published poems and analyze 20 or so literary techniques like alliteration, metaphor, and simile. I was a TV child of the 80s/90s, and I procrastinated too long. I ended up writing half the poems myself, then “analyzed” my own use of the poetic devices alongside poems by the likes of Richard Wilbur and Elizabeth Bishop. The ego of it! I still keep this project in my box of school files, and while the topics I wrote about were understandably pedestrian, the technique holds up. So, came first out of necessity, and it still does, but it feels even more necessary now, and I am driven internally instead of checking someone else’s boxes.

Sunday 3 April 2022

Nate Logan : part one

Nate Logan is author of Inside the Golden Days of Missing You (Magic Helicopter Press, 2019) and the chapbooks Apricot (above/ground press, 2022) and Small Town (The Magnificent Field, 2021). He teaches at Marian University.

What are you working on?

National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo)! Attempting to write a poem a day on my website:

Saturday 2 April 2022

Conor Mc Donnell : part one

Conor Mc Donnell is a physician & poet. He is Staff Physician at SickKids Hospital, Toronto, and Associate Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto. He is a funded researcher in opioid safety and stewardship and the current Canadian Chair of Patient Safety & Quality Committees for both the Canadian Anesthesiology Society and the Canadian Pediatric Anesthesia Society. His debut poetry collection, Recovery Community (Mansfield Press), was published in 2021.

This chronological bio is to demonstrate what anyone can do with lots of reading, graft and the right people around you

2012: Wrote first poem

2015: First published poems (The Fiddlehead)

2016: First Chapbook (The Book of Retaliations, Anstruther Press)

2017: Second chapbook  (Safe Spaces, Frog Hollow Press)

2018: Short-list & Honorable Mention, The Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize 

2019: Short-list: RawArtReview Charles Bukowski Prize; Runner-up Vallum Prize in Poetry 

2021: Reader with longconmag   

2021: First full Poetry Collection: Recovery Community (Mansfield Press) 

2021: Third Chapbook (In the Museum, above ground press)

2022: …

How does a poem begin?

In stardust, like everything else around and inside us. I suppose there are two ways I know I have sat down and begun to write a specific piece: 1. I constantly write down words, word combinations, lines, long sentences into a notebook or the notes app on my phone. Every so often I run through these and pick at things that grab me and at some point, I begin to transcribe these fragments into a second notebook. All of this is done on the run whether on a break at work, waking up early, whatever. At some point I’ll notice a particular fragment is coalescing, maybe even cozying up to another fragment. Once these make it past another round of notebook trawling and culling, I’ll realize something is starting to happen and give it its own page and a working title. 2. On rare occasion I will jump up from watching a film or whatever random thing and run to pen and paper with an idea that is basically fully-formed that seems to write itself. After first run through I’ll know it’s done. These are always the poems that are accepted first offer for publication and/or get shortlisted; I wish it happened more often.

Mary Mulholland : part two

How do you know when a poem is finished? 

It's that feeling thing: that point when musicality and spareness of language can meet; when the poem says all it wants to say; when you don't tire of reading it, when you don't want to fiddle with it anymore. Perhaps the best way to check your thoughts on a poem is to put it away for a bit, then look at it with fresh eyes. The most fool-proof way of finding out if a poem is finished is to read it to an audience: if I do this, intuitively I can feel if anything is still not quite right - or if it is. 

Friday 1 April 2022

Justin Hamm : part one

Justin Hamm is the author of four collections of poetry–Drinking Guinness With the Dead: Poems 2007-2021, The Inheritance, American Ephemeral, and Lessons in Ruin–as well as a book of photographs, Midwestern. He is the founding editor of the museum of americana. His poems, stories, photos, and reviews have appeared in Nimrod, Southern Indiana Review, The Midwest Quarterly, Sugar House Review, and a host of other publications.

What are you working on?

Spartan Press in Kansas City just released a retrospective of the last fifteen years of my poetry. It’s called Drinking Guinness With the Dead, Poems 2007-2021. It includes my first three collections plus new poems. I thought this would be a great time to explore a new challenge, so I’ve been collaborating with singer/songwriter Greg Dember on a series of songs. It has been a really fun and educational experience. Sometimes Greg sends me a melody and I write lyrics, sometimes I send him lyrics and he creates the melody, cleaning up phrasing or reworking lines as he goes. On one song I finished a tricky lyric for him. In another he put together two completely different sets of words, one by him and one by me, and brought the song to life that way. I really enjoy working with an album in mind, and collaborating with a partner so knowledgeable and adept at songwriting pushes my writing and thinking into new places. We’ve probably got a half-dozen songs now. Hearing them come to life when Greg puts the melody to them is exciting in a fresh way.

Jessica L. Walsh : part four

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

This will sound stodgy and canonical, and I promise I read loads of new poetry, but a poem that endlessly engages me is Tennyson’s “The Lotos Eaters.” Every time I read it, I’m thrown. And I get different messages from it—at times, I find it full of despair, but at other times it seems like a glorious permission slip to just be. The way the lines begin to lengthen and lose track of their own meter, the rolling and confused rhythm of the final stanza, the debate over whether worry and hustle have any merit at all, the ultimate question of what our lives are worth…everything in it absolutely knocks me over. More people need to read it today.