A Virtual Interview with Jim LaVilla-Havelin

Jim LaVilla-Havelin will be the featured reader Thursday, June 14, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Jim LaVilla-Havelin is an educator, arts administrator, community arts advocate, consultant, critic and poet. His fifth book of poems, WEST, POEMS OF A PLACE is recently out from Wings Press. LaVilla-Havelin is the Poetry Editor for the San Antonio Express-News and the Coordinator for National Poetry Month in San Antonio.

LaVilla-Havelin retired in 2013 after seventeen years as the Director of the Young Artist Programs at the Southwest School of Art, to write, teach, and consult. He teaches Creative Writing in the Go Arts Program of Bihl Haus Art, in the Writers in Communities program at Gemini Ink, where he teaches at the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Correctional Treatment Center, and in the BFA program at the Southwest School of Art, where he teaches The Image of the Artist in Literature and Cinema.

He has offered workshops, classes, and public programs for the McNay, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Independent School District, Georgetown Poetry Festival, Gemini Ink, and many other sites . He lives in Lytle, Texas, (the “place”,of  “poems of a place” with his wife, artist, Lucia LaVilla-Havelin.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? How did you become interested in writing?

JL-H: My mother read me Robert Louis Stevenson’s A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES and Mother Goose rhymes, Burl Ives and Belafonte/Odetta/Makeba  and Lenya/Weill poem songs, and Odgen Nash and of course, Dr. Seuss. (That I’m not writing doggerel is a testament to William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman.)

I was writing stories and puppet plays in third grade, and from there, never looked back.

CH: When did you begin to identify yourself as a writer? as a poet?

JL-H: Consciously, or probably self-consciously, in high school. It was kind of an affectation,  except I was writing, reading voraciously, listening to Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg. And wrote a novel when I was in high school (that is, thankfully lost forever). Went off to college as an anti-war radical and a writer (pretentious).

CH: I’ve recently been reading your collection, Counting (Pecan Grove Press, 2010). I was struck by the way these poems engage with the larger world, their social consciousness. How has the theme of social consciousness developed in your work over time?

JL-H: Social consciousness has been part of the work forever. Levertov and Piercy, Merton, Gandhi, Whitman, the Beats, Dan Berrigan, Grace Paley – they were all a significant part of my writing life, shaping my sense of the engaged, committed, writer. And while that has changed some over the years – as radicalism has shifted,too. My work is always political.

CH: Tell us a little about your newest collection, West: Poems of a Place. What got you started on this project? How does this book differ from other work you’ve done?

JL-H: WEST, poems of a place, is a book by a city poet who now lives (and has done for fourteen years now in the country. It is about adjusting my eyes. It is different from other work I’ve done in the way that country life is different from city life. It Is much more about the space of the West, the look of a place, the time of it. I think my earlier work was grounded in place and places, and in multi-sensory observation, but I think the country has cleansed my palate (or is it the palette that it cleansed?)

CH: You’ve long been involved in the community as a teacher and an arts advocate, and you’ve been very active as a “literary citizen.” How has this public commitment to arts and to poetry informed your own work?

JL-H: I hear new work. I find great energy and inspiration in teaching, workshops, students of all ages. I listen closely to the sounds of the poems of others and am amazed at how many ways there really are to look at a blackbird. The work gives me hope, sound, courage and often outrage to keep working at my own writing. (It isn’t so different from the social consciousness – in fact it may be my 21st century version of social consciousness.)

CH: What are some of the things you have learned from your students?

JL-H: Given that I work with students across the lifespan – and in a variety of settings, the lessons are varied and rich – from my Golden’s (senior citizens) to my Juvenile Detention kids to Young Women’s Leadership Academy girls, to fellow writers in many workshops I’ve taught –so just a few of the lessons

  • rage and loss fit on the page with the joy in letting them loose
  • memory is a sharpen-able tool
  • every writer will crack it open when they’re ready
  • there are ways to help folks get ready
  • my voice, my poems, my solutions to problems posed in work are generally only about half-right for most students
  • that half is good enough

CH: Thinking back to your early work as a poet—perhaps to your first book, or earlier—what’s changed in your writing? What threads are constant?

JL-H: I love language, words, the sound of words banging against one another. I love the look of a poem on the page.

What’s changed? The scene, my sense of time (both the local-rural time, and aging time). I think I’m more playful now (though that’s up for argument. Probably my definition of the “meditative quality of writing” has shifted some. (again that’s about time.)

CH: What are you working on now?

JL-H: Many projects – a double-chapbook called Will Be a House / Will Be a Book –

dedicated to my father (house) and my mother (book) is done, looking for someone to love it; PLAYLIST a ten year project, finished, in the hands of two very good readers – a narrative poem about jazz; the second book of a five book sequence of narrative poems which started with SIMON’S MASTERPIECE. So I’m onward to the third book (hoping it doesn’t take 10 years)

CH: Who are some of the poets to whose work you turn, time and again, for inspiration?

JL-H This list is very long. It starts with William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Philip Levine,and Pablo Neruda. But includes local and regional poets, friends.

CH: What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

JL-H: THE LAST SHIFT by Philip Levine; VOICES IN THE AIR  by Naomi Shihab Nye and books or manuscripts by Charles Darnell, Linda Simone, Laura Quinn Guidry, and Michelle Hartman.

A Virtual Interview with Cyrus Cassells

Cyrus Cassells will be the featured reader Thursday, April 12, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Cyrus Cassells is the author of six books of poetry: The Mud Actor, Soul Make a Path through ShoutingBeautiful SignorMore Than Peace and CypressesThe Crossed-Out Swastika , and The Gospel according to Wild Indigo, just published in the Crab Orchard Poetry Series (SIU Press). Among his honors are a Lannan Literary Award, a William Carlos Williams Award, and a Lambda Literary Award.  He is a professor of English at Texas State University and lives in Austin.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of writing? Your first memory of poetry?  

CC: I was asked to write the class prophecy in fourth grade. My first memory of reading poems is rather blurry; I didn’t care for poetry much as a child; I was solely interested in fiction. The first book to interest me in poetry was Sylvia Plath’s Ariel, which I read as a teenager. I also read Ai, Audre Lorde, and Adrienne Rich shortly after.

CH: When did you begin to consider yourself a writer? A poet? 

CC: Only when my second book of poems, Soul Make a Path through Shouting, was published in 1994.

CH: Your first book, The Mud Actor, was a National Poetry Series selection. How was this collection conceived? Looking back, what factors helped you achieve that first success? 

CC: I conceived the book as a three-part meditation on the possibility of reincarnation. I was experimenting with hypnosis and past life regression therapy during the time I wrote the book. Poet and novelist Al Young heard from others who knew me that I was working on a manuscript. He asked me if I could complete it within a three-month period and submit it to him as a judge, and he ended up choosing my manuscript for the National Poetry Series.

CH: Your fourth book, Riders on the Back of Silence, is a novel in verse. What were your inspirations for that project? What are the particular challenges of that form?

CC: I never published the novel-in-verse, with the exception of seven poems that became part of The Crossed-Out Swastika. My main goal with the project was to explore the theme of family secrets. I viewed it, after the fact, as a kind of laboratory for creating characters in verse and as a preparation for my first novel, My Gingerbread Shakespeare, which I completed last fall.

CH: Now you’ve had your sixth book, The Gospel According to Wild Indigo, published. What has changed in your writing practice over time? What remains the same? 

CC: I’d say very little has changed in my writing practice over time—with the exception of working on and completing a novel, which requires a more sustained, even daily practice.

CH: Please tell us a little about The Gospel According to Wild Indigo. How did the poems for this book take shape?

CC: I was in Charleston and the Sea Islands doing research to play Eugene in Dael Orlandersmith’s drama, Yellowman, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; the production got canceled, but then poems about the area began to pour out of me. I visited South Carolina three more times before I completed the title sequence. The Gospel according to Wild Indigo, contains two song cycles. The book’s title sequence is an extended paean to the enduring strength and integrity of the dynamic Gullah culture of Charleston and the Sea Islands; the poems celebrate the legacy of resilient rice and indigo working slaves and their irrepressible descendants (“Who better to define freedom / than slave?”). They also praise the true-life triumph of Gullah people over the systematic repression of their once banned and imperiled language. The second sequence, “Lovers Borrowing the Language of Cicadas,” has a vivid Mediterranean backdrop and explores themes of pilgrimage, erotic and romantic love, classical history, the solace and majesty of the sea, reunion, regret, and loss; this European cycle concludes with elegies to my mother and to the countless men lost in the juggernaut of the AIDS crisis.

CH: You’ve often spoken of the importance of travel to your writing. How would you describe the relationship to place in your work?  

CC: Landscape and history are ever-important in my work—not only the physical but the psychic landscape, as I often write about historical trauma.

CH: How has your work as a creative writing professor influenced your writing?  

CC: It has spurred me, on occasion, to take more chances with my writing, in terms of subject matter and approach.

CH: Who are some of the poets to whom you turn, time and again, for inspiration? 

CC: From the past, Paul Celan, T. S. Eliot, Jean Follain, Robert Hayden, Federico García Lorca, Pablo Neruda, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, and William Carlos Williams; among contemporary poets, Frank Bidart, Martín Espada, Carolyn Forché, Suzanne Gardinier, Louise Glück, Jorie Graham, Ellen Hinsey, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Li-Young Lee, and Jean Valentine come to mind.

CH: What are you working on now? 

CC: Several things at once: a seventh volume of poetry, Dragon Shining With All Values Known, a book about spiritual quest, set partly in a desert monastery: a second novel called A Horse is a Very Big Dog, set in New York, New England, and Greenland between 1897-1918; and The Book of Spanish Mentors, about my experiences as translator of Spanish and Catalan poetry.

A Virtual Interview with Katrinka Moore

Katrinka Moore will be the featured reader Thursday, March 8, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Katrinka Moore comes from a long line of Texans. She grew up in Brazoria County and now lives in New York.  A former choreographer and dancer, she is a lyric and visual poet.

Her poems appear in Dos Gatos Press’ Weaving the Terrain: 100-Word Southwestern PoemsBig Land, Big Sky, Big Hair: Best of the Texas Poetry Calendar; and Milkweed Editions’ Stories from Where We Live: The Gulf Coast.

She is the author of Numa, Thief, and This is Not a Story, winner of Finishing Line Press’s New Women’s Voices prize. Her latest book, Wayfarers, is a collection of poems that are tales told by multiple narrators.

 

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you start to become interested in writing?

KM: I first heard poetry in the Episcopal church when I was five years old—the beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer. Although I drifted away from church as a teenager, I still like to dip into the BCP and feel the musical rhythm of the words. The first poetry I read was in Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I was especially fond of “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” maybe because I loved to eat oysters.

As a child I was more interested in playing outside and riding horses than in the idea of writing, though I did love to read.

My parents were print journalists and they raised my sister and me to consider writing as necessary a life skill as cooking or learning to drive (for which I thank them!). I thought writing was prose that explained something or told a story. Secretly I felt writing couldn’t describe— something, a feeling I had about the mystery in the world—but it took a long time for me to realize that what I wanted was poetry.

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a poet? How would you describe your identity as a poet?

KM: I began to think of myself as a poet once I could purposely work on a poem, either start one or revise one, in whatever time I had available, even if I didn’t know where I was going. And being a poet meant being serious about reading others’ poetry, to delve into a poem without thinking of my own work but to find out what that poem was about.

I think of poetry as a bridge to the unseen, to mystery, something we feel but find hard to know what it is. So as a poet I want to cross back and forth on that bridge, try to discover something on the far side and bring it back over here, where we live. I set many poems in the natural world, which I sense is a way—the way for me, anyway—to try to understand how everything is connected in a non-hierarchical manner. Everything includes people, animals, plants, boulders, earth, stars, galaxies, the universe, and all that is invisible.

CH: Some might say a career in dance and choreography seems at odds with the stillness suggested by the life of a writer. What relationship do you see between dance and choreography and writing poetry? With poetry itself?

KM: The dance I studied, performed, and created was based in stillness. My mentor was Mariko Sanjo, a choreographer and dancer who incorporated traditional Japanese sensibility into her work. She taught her students to wait, to move only when absolutely necessary. We practiced being still, moving slowly, and making honest movements, not trying to look a certain way. It wasn’t that we held still or that we didn’t leap and run and fall, but that we were quiet inside.

I use that same idea of stillness, of quietness, to write, though I may have to go through a lot of words to get down to the honesty, the deep quiet, where I try to go. I do write a lot about movement, use a lot of active verbs, and I suppose that comes from my dance experience as well.

That said, I move when I write, walk around, pour over the OED, sit at one desk, stand at another. (I brought a drafting table into my little writing room just for that purpose.) I can’t sit still for hours and write but I can write for quite some time if I’m able to be active.

I think dance and poetry are very similar. Both are ways of saying what can’t be said directly, of exploring the world in a nonlinear fashion. While I mean for my poems to be clear and accessible, I do sometimes feel they are closer to dance or visual art than to prose.

CH: In your bio, you describe yourself as a lyric and visual poet. Please tell us about how your visual poetry manifests.

KM: Several years ago I took a visual poetry workshop with Jill Magi.  I learned from Jill but also from fellow participants, especially Christine Hamm and Sue Macklin. In that workshop I learned the process of erasure and developed ways of combining text with images such as maps or collages. I use these techniques in Thief.

Later I began making assemblages right on the scanner screen using three dimensional objects like nests and stones. I use this technique for images in both Numa and Wayfarers. I think of placing art next to poems in a book as similar to Japanese haiga, in which the visual work complements, rather than illustrates, the writing.

CH: How does place figure in your work? How had moving from Brazoria County to New York shifted your perspective?

KM: I grew up in a tumble-down house on 15 acres of pasture and woods, located in a bend of Cowarts Creek. I loved roaming the property, riding horses, just being outside.

Living in New York City, living more indoors, I’ve written a lot about my childhood home—the open spaces, the natural world, snakes, oak trees, the creek.

I’ve also had the opportunity to spend time in rural areas beyond the city and I’ve set a lot of poems in the Endless Mountains in Pennsylvania and the Catskills in New York state. My writing within a framework of nature definitely comes from having spent my early life in the rural Texas coastal plains.

CH: Your chapbook, This is Not a Story, won the Finishing Line Press “New Women’s Voices” Prize in 2003. How did you put this book together? How did you move, then, into your first full-length collection, Thief?

KM: I had been working on a full-length book, which was really just a bunch of poems. I finally collected a small group of poems that complemented one another. My decisions were on a subconscious level, I’d say now, but the process later helped me think about how to compose a book. I pulled the poems together in a hurry, to meet the FLP deadline. (Sometimes deadlines are very useful!) Later I realized the chapbook is about my childhood home.

That made me think I might try to write about my early days in New York City, wandering around, lost a lot of the time, slipping into used bookstores to find my emotional bearings. I began to include bits of writing from authors I loved, like Shakespeare and Tolstoy, and those I stumbled across while browsing, which is where I found Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle, a book I’ve made a lot of erasures from. So the theme of Thief developed.

Gradually I set more poems in the natural world and thefts began occurring there, as well. This time I knew I was writing poems specifically to create a book, so I consciously tried to connect different poems to make a coherent work.

CH: Tell us a little about your collection, Numa. What inspired the writing of this epic poem? How did you find a publisher for it?

KM: I wanted to write an epic from the monster’s point of view, a female monster of course. Numa is a shape-shifting numen, or local divinity, who lives in a forest.  She’s part of the environment, but from the outside someone might consider her a monster on the order of Humbaba in Gilgamesh.

Numa grows up in the forest, learns how to be a skillful shape-shifter, mates with an otter, has a cub and begins to teach her to shape-shift.  Then a young man on a quest for glory comes to the forest to defeat the monster.

So Numa is part ecological cautionary tale and part feminist retelling of epic. It’s not written in a heroic style, but in fragmented narratives, though the poems about the young man use Anglo-Saxon alliteration and caesura.

I was very lucky with publishing. My sister, Nancy Jane Moore, publishes fiction with Aqueduct Press, a feminist SF publisher in Seattle, and she suggested I send the manuscript there. The managing editor Kath Wilham designed the book and helped me a great deal with the art I submitted.

CH: What was your process in collecting and constructing your newest book, Wayfarers? Looking back, what are the things that distinguish this collection from the others?

KM: I was thinking about the ongoing refugee crisis around the world. Rather than describe real-life events, I tried to create a sense of mythic storytelling about people uprooted from their homes. From there I leapt to a family story of my grandparents traveling across the Southwest in the 1920s. And gradually I wrote a number of poems about my past and present homes, I think out of appreciation for what I have.

Wayfarers is not a single story, as Numa is, and it’s more cohesive visually than Thief. As I wrote I let the idea of wayfaring broaden to include both traveling in space and exploring familiar ground. I may have been more willing to let the poems go where they wanted than in previous books.

CH: What do you do to nourish yourself as a writer?

KM: Whenever possible I spend time in nature, walk, sit, hike, just be there. I practice tai chi. And I love to get away from poetry and read character-driven novels with great plots—things I couldn’t possible write. I just finished Ursula LeGuin’s The Word for World is Forest and James McBrides’ Song Yet Sung, both wonderful.

But I also read poetry, especially contemporary women poets. And often writing itself nourishes me.

CH: Please share a few of your favorite poets. What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

KM: I especially admire Kay Ryan, Susan Stewart, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Linda Gregg, Deborah Digges. Recently I’ve been enjoying Barbara Hamby’s work and have discovered Jamaal May, Molly Bashaw, Barbara Ras. I always come back to Shakespeare and frequently return to a volume of Japanese poetry, The Country of Eight Islands.

Currently I’m reading and re-reading Alicia Ostriker’s The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog.  She manages to cover a wide range of topics in the voice of each speaker (woman, tulip, dog) and it’s both hilarious and heart-breaking, absolutely true.

A Virtual Interview with the Editors of Red Sky

 

The poets and editors of Red Sky: Poetry on the Global Epidemic of Violence Against Women will be the featured readers Thursday, February 8, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Red Sky, edited by Melissa Hassard, Gabrielle Langley, and Stacy Nigliazzo, was born as a response to the murder of Houston nurse Caroline Minjares as a vehicle for making the voices of victims of violence heard. Readers for the evening will be contributors E. Kristin Anderson,  Dr. Katherine Durham Oldmixon Garza, and Dr. Andrea Witzke Slot, and editors Gabrielle Langley and Stacy Nigliazzo. Here, we interview editors Gabrielle Langley, Stacy Nigliazzo, and Melissa Hassard.

The Interview

CH: Tell us about the inspiration for Red Sky, and how you began this collaboration.

SN: The project was launched after the death of my colleague, Caroline Minjares. She was murdered by a former boyfriend, who then took his own life. Gabrielle Langley and I discussed the possibility of creating an anthology project to honor the voices of those impacted by such acts of violence after I crafted an erasure poem in Caroline’s memory. Melissa Hassard of Sable Books read the poem and approached us about making the anthology a reality. Thus, Red Sky was born.

GL: Stacy Nigliazzo and I became friends through poetry. I have always admired her work tremendously. I had also been trying to write a poem dealing with war crimes against women; these are the types of crimes that affected both my grandmother and my aunt, as well as thousands of other women who were living in Berlin under Russian occupation at the end of WWII. These crimes had been kept secret for so long, at both the macro and the micro level. But when you investigate medical and hospital records from Berlin at that time, the rates of female suicides sky-rocketed disproportionately under Russian occupation. Not surprisingly, there were also reports of sky-rocketing abortion rates as a result of the unwanted pregnancies that came from the rapes. I saw so much psychic damage in my own family from holding on to these secrets. Something inside of me needed to give voice to this.

Subsequently,  after I returned back from a trip to Berlin (a pilgrimage of sorts), Stacy lost a friend and colleague who had been stabbed to death by her husband. When Stacy sent me a draft of her amazing erasure poem that she had crafted from a newspaper article about the crime, the rage that pulsed in the lines of that poem really grabbed me. And you have to understand that Stacy is an emergency room nurse, so she is no stranger when it comes to facing violence head-on. At the same time, she is one of the kindest spirits I have ever met. Her intense compassion has always been a hallmark of her poetry, but this piece (“Triptych”) was something else entirely.  The absolute rage was palpable. It was like a light flashed inside of me, and I thought women need to have a special place for these poems, an anthology.

CH: How did you find the work that you published? How long did it take this book to grow from inspiration to publication?

GL: We put out a call for submissions, through Sable Books.  We also posted on poetry boards through social media. I think all three of us were pretty certain that this topic was going to capture the attention of many poets. What we NEVER expected was to receive close to a thousand submissions coming in from poets all over the world. When they began pouring in, we knew we had struck a nerve.

SN: I am immensely proud of the poems in Red Sky. They were culled from a general submission call, word-of-mouth, and personal invitations. It took the better part of a year to receive, read, re-read, and select the pieces for this work. Gabrielle, Melissa, and I poured over each submission, often two or three times, sharing our impressions and recommendations with each other. We felt a great sense of privilege to read these words. Each story was a gift.

CH: What was your process in organizing this work?

GL: Well, first of all, thank goodness for Dropbox! With Melissa living out of state, and Stacy and I both keeping really crazy schedules, this project could not have been possible without this technology. Melissa Hassard at Sable Books is also eminently qualified when it comes to organizing a project like this.

SN: For me, this was the hardest part, logistically. In my personal collections I have always relied on the expertise of a skilled editor for direction and guidance in framing a book. In the case of Red Sky, Melissa filled this role to perfection. The sequence is incredibly apt and inspiring. Each poem folds into the next. I am awed and humbled by her creative vision.

CH: What was the greatest challenge of this project? Its greatest gift?

SN: From the start, I was worried about re-traumatizing victims of violence through this collection. There is a quote by Margaret Atwood: A word after a word after a word is power (from the poem Spelling). I was determined not to allow my sense of fear to overpower the spirit of the book—the good I knew it could do. Yes, we offered works of harrowing violence, but also of survival and recovery.  And these stories need to be told.

GL: Well, as you can imagine, reading close to a thousand poems that speak so honestly and intimately about violence against women was, both spiritually and emotionally, a huge challenge.  I had to find something very resilient and tough within myself; it became my own determination not to back down.  More to the point, it was my determination not to let the perpetrators dominate, yet again. Something inside of me was compelled to stare these bastards down, and to do so without blinking.

As I kept moving with the editing process, I realized that each and every poem was a triumph for the person who wrote it. As tough as these poems can be to read, I began to understand that, in addition to the sheer physical and psychological trauma that the victims face, there is yet even another damage, too. It is the way that perpetrators effectively hi-jack the entire story of the woman’s life.  He robs her of this, seemingly forever.  However, in being able to write about it, the woman takes back her story! The story is told her way, She decides what gets put in and what gets left out. Where the poem is concerned, the perpetrator falls powerless at her feet. This victory, for me, has been the greatest gift.

CH: With the rise of the #MeToo movement and the large-scale Women’s Marches that have been taking place in the U. S., feminist issues have risen in prominence in the national conversation. How has the book been received? Have you seen any change in its reception in the last year?

SN: This book has been very well received, and I suspect, would have been regardless of the current social/political climate. This is because violence against women is not a new thing, as Red Sky compellingly illustrates. There are poems from people of all ages covering a myriad of historical periods—personally, generationally, and metaphorically. And there are so many stories yet to be told.

GL: We felt amazingly fortunate that Red Sky has had such support and interest from the beginning. Obviously, it came out before the #metoo movement. Even so, on the same  day that it came back from the printer, Michelle Obama blew us all away with her incomparable speech in response to the “just grab em by the pussy” story. For me, there was a real synergy in that moment. It felt like it was the herald of something really big.

CH: What advice would you offer to someone who is thinking of compiling an anthology around social justice issues?

MH: One of the things we saw as a priority with Red Sky was to make sure we were constantly self-critiquing and -evaluating to make sure we were reaching and encouraging marginalized communities to send work so that their voices would be heard as much as we could.

During this project, there was value in moving deliberately and slowly through the process. Delving deeply and authentically into these injustices or crises or failures of humanity is important, difficult work and one can be triggered by some of what he/she/they is/are reading. I didn’t realize this could or would happen, and sometimes it would absolutely bringing to me a stop for at least a few days. People are beautiful and experiences are terrible and there is nothing one person won’t do to another.
Reading the work aloud holds enormous value. After a while, the poems began to call out for one another — but only after we’d had some time to sit with them and really listen — to hear the moments and places where they resonated with each other.
Before launching into any next project, I continue to stop and ask myself if I am the one who should do the work, or if it would be better to center and support others who are already doing this work.

GL: Try to find a publisher with the experience and resources that you may lack. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask really well=known poets if they will consider contributing a poem to your project.  Support can come from the most unlikely places, but only if people know what you are up to. So many of us who are poets tend to be really introverted and even shy. Where social justice is concerned, it becomes important to step out of that quiet space and speak up.

A Virtual Interview with Leticia Urieta

Leticia Urieta will be the featured reader Thursday, January 11, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Leticia Urieta is proud Tejana writer from Austin, Texas. She works as a teaching artist in the Austin community. She is a graduate of Agnes Scott College and holds an MFA in Fiction writing from Texas State University. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cleaver, Chicon Street Poets Anthology, BorderSenses, Lumina, The Offing and others. She has recently completed her first mixed genre collection of poetry and prose and is currently at work completing her novel that tells the story of a Mexican soldadera caught up in the march to Texas during Texas’ war with Mexico.

The Interview

CH: What brought you to poetry? What is your first memory of it?

LU: My grandma was a poet who wrote in English and Spanish, but was unpublished. As I got older, she gifted me several books of poetry by Pablo Neruda, and encouraged me to write in both languages. Because of this, I became more interested in experimenting with poetry and reading more in the genre at school.

CH: Do you have a primary identity as a writer? How would you describe yourself?

LU: I don’t like to limit my writing to labels or genres per say-it makes life unexciting if I feel I can only identify with one genre or style. However, much of my writing is a hybrid of genres and styles, and I explore Tejana identity and womanhood in my work because that is what feels vital to me right now.

CH: You recently completed your MFA in Fiction writing at Texas State. What was this program’s greatest contribution to you as a writer? its greatest challenge?

LU: I think what I took away from that experience was the mentorship of other graduates and friends, such as Sarah Rafael Garcia, who brought me into the community at Resistencia Bookstore and provided me with the opportunity to become the program coordinator in Austin of the youth writers workshop that she founded called Barrio Writers. I also sought out support from professors like Jennifer DuBois and my adjunct reader and friend Natalia Sylvester, who always met my work where it was and worked with me to make it better.

CH: How does your work in fiction intersect with your work in poetry?

LU: Studying poetry and its forms has helped me to think about the structure of stories and how I enjoy emphasizing images and experimental language in fiction to the points where I think the genres merge, and some stories feel like extended prose poems and some poems feel like ongoing narratives. I think that often these distinctions are arbitrary. I want to write something engaging, that feels meaningful to me, and ultimately the form will be dictated by the content of the piece.

CH: Tell us about your recently-completed mixed genre collection. How long did it take you to write? How did you decide on the mixed genre expression?

LU: The collection is called Las Criaturas. It took me about six months to write all of the stories and poems in it. All of them explore the word “criaturas,” which in Spanish has several meanings roughly translated as “baby”, “animal,” “monster,” and “creation.” Most of the stories, both in traditional structures or poetic forms, explore traditional storytelling influenced by fairytales, fables and the indigenous stories of the feminine across multiple cultures. As a mixed woman, this representation of hybridity feels very right to me. I was reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ seminal work “Women Who Run With Wolves” and that work greatly influenced the subject and structure of the stories.

CH: How does place figure in your work?

LU: My novel, which is still in progress, is heavily influence by place because it is about a Mexican woman marching in Santa Ana’s army during the Mexican-Texas war in 1836. That physical movement of the characters across space and time is central to the narrative, as is the spiritual space that the heroine and narrator inhabits in the afterlife. I have completed, and plan to complete further research on the subject. What is challenging about this process is that so little is written about these women, called “soldaderas” who travelled with the male soldiers during the war. This, however, also gives me quite a bit of freedom to invent and play with space and time as I imagine it, which is energizing.

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets and fiction writers?

LU: I both love and hate this question. There are those writers I go back to over and over: Sandra Cisneros, Leslie Marmon Silko, Toni Morrison. I try to read widely. I am a multifaceted person, and want to read multifaceted books across many genres.

CH: What is the last book of poetry you’ve read?

LU: I am currently reading “Lessons on Expulsion” by Erika Sanchez, which is fantastic. I read a little every day. When I read collections of poetry, I want to take my time with each poem.

A Virtual Interview with Christia Madacsi Hoffman

Background

Christia Madacsi Hoffman will be the featured reader Thursday, December 14, 2017 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Christia Madacsi Hoffman grew up along the banks of the Mystic River in Mystic, Connecticut. Her poetry collection, Intent, was published by Hedgehog & Fox in 2017.  A longtime Austin, Texas resident, Hoffman’s work has appeared in the Texas Observer and the annual anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival. Through her company, CenterLight Media, Hoffman works as a marketing and editorial writer, graphic designer, and actor. Her early career adventures included antique furniture restoration and leading treks in the high Himalaya.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry?

CMH: Shakespeare – and winter readings in a close upstairs room above the Captain Daniel Packer Inne bar in Mystic.

CH: When did you become interested in writing? When did you begin to think of
yourself as a writer?

CMH: In my early work as a graphic designer, I found I was incidentally
writing and editing on most projects that came my way – developing ad headlines and
copy; discovering copy errors and suggesting changes; writing company communications
and marketing materials. About 10 years into my design career, I got certified as a copy
editor in AP style. While I’d been writing all along, it wasn’t until I submitted my first
feature article to a travel magazine that I felt the title officially applied.

CH: You grew up along the Mystic River in Connecticut, but have long lived in Austin.
How have these two environments helped shape your perspective? How does place
figure in your work?

CMH: I moved to Austin sight-unseen. I hadn’t planned to stay more than a year, but, well, love… Some 12 years in, just as I was planning my departure, a tap on the shoulder on the dance floor at the Broken Spoke held me here. Score two for love. My heart is with the sea (see “I Belong”), but over the years, I’ve learned to appreciate and integrate the openness and friendliness I’ve found in Austin, which is something I believe I needed to learn. While I’ve lived in some stunning cities, I find it’s the people here who give this city its beauty. Austin is young yet and developing unevenly, but each time I leave, I’m encouraged by the dynamism I feel upon returning. At home, in Mystic (it will always be “home”), nature and the seasons define the sense of place. Here, it’s so much less about the landscape and the greater environment. In Austin, the energy of the people and change itself define the sense of place for me. (See “An Age for Innovation.”)

CH: Tell us a little about your collection, Intent. How did you arrive at this collection?
How long did you take to write it? What was your process in sequencing its poems?

CMH: I began writing when my daughter was an infant. A photographer friend of mine, Sarah Bork Hamilton, had challenged herself to post a photo to Facebook every day for a year. While she’s a professional with full kit and gear, she elected to limit herself to her
iPhone. Sarah unwittingly inspired me to set a challenge for myself: to write two lines of
verse a day.

While it doesn’t sound like much, the commitment to two lines seemed significant in
combination with caring for an infant. And the accountability factor was key: I made a
commitment to post those lines each day to Facebook. Very quickly, two lines turned into
complete, usually short, poems – the length being both a function of time and natural
style. Most of the poems in “Intent” were completed in 15 minutes to an hour, with
editing taking place in-line, so to speak, as they were developed. Working in Microsoft
Word, I could iterate quickly – faster than I could write longhand, which I do only if
inspiration strikes out of range of a keyboard.

The book is the culmination of work from 2013 through the early months of 2017. I
wrote each day for the first two years, and have written regularly, though not daily, from
2015 through today. At this point, the practice feels almost essential. As with exercise, I
feel grumpy and muddle-headed if I don’t take time for writing poetry. And while I write
most every day to earn a living, the practice of poetry clears my mind and contributes to
my overall sense of well-being and purpose.

CH: You’ve had a very interesting career trajectory, from restoring antique furniture
and leading treks in the high Himalaya to leading your own company, CenterLight
Media, and working in writing, graphic design, editing, and acting. What do you see
as the trajectory of your literary life? Where would you like to be in five years?

CMH: I’m laughing reading this. I always have a challenging time answering the question,“What do you do?” The answer depends on the context, but I’ve always felt that each pursuit developed something else in the other. Especially now, with a focus on writing and designing for business, acting for both business and art, and writing poetry for art, I see the complementarity in each component. But that’s not what you asked about…

My goal at present is to find residencies so that I can discover what it is to write within a
greater span of time, in contrast to the few hours I devote over the course of a week. In
particular, I’m interested in exploring and capturing sense of place in my poetry as an
artifact – a leave-behind for the people who inhabit a particular locale now, and for future inhabitants. A snapshot in time of culture and character – character of both place and people. Especially now, as we see traditional skills and crafts being overshadowed and lost to new ones, and as climate change alters our landscapes and traditions, I want to assist in capturing what is fading and how it’s being replaced, or in fact, saved or
reclaimed. I might say I want to practice cultural anthropology through poetry –
ethnographic poetry. (I just looked that up. Turns out it’s already a thang!)

CH: How has your work as a voice actor influenced your approach to poetry and its
performance?

CMH: I like that you referred to the “performance” of poetry, because in fact, I’ve discovered that’s indeed what’s happening, even outside of a slam. When it comes to
poetry, the term “reading” is something of a misnomer.

I’ve observed that the work is most effective, the event most enjoyable, when story is interwoven into the delivery of the pieces, and when the poet is fully committed to the words on the page – just as in acting. Depending on the nature and character of the author, this can take different forms, but the audience knows whether or not you’re genuinely invested in your words and your “role” as a performer. (This can be especially
challenging if you suffer at all from imposter syndrome, which I’ll admit to experiencing
at some point in just about every facet of my career.)

I’m still discovering the differences between VO (voice-over), on-screen, and poetry performance. With VO, the trend these days is for a “natural” read. That means clear articulation but no over-enunciation, while still hitting the key words – not to mention the emotion and meaning that needs to be conveyed in the copy, and getting the pacing right for time (:15-, :30-, :60). On screen, in certain instances you can “throw away” a few lines here and there – intentionally give them less emphasis – and articulation depends on your character. And of course you have the benefit of the camera to pick up what you’re saying with your eyes.

With poetry, I’ve found I have to slow myself down and allow words and phrases to land
– both on me and on the audience. Clear articulation is especially important because the
audience usually isn’t reading along, but you also want to let your genuine voice come
through. It’s an interesting balance to try to strike, and I’m still learning. I’ve also
discovered that poems that tell a story, which rely less on word play that might only be
realized on the page, are more successful in “performance.”

CH: . How do you balance the many demands of entrepreneurship with your writing life?
How do you make room for poetry?

CMH: I have a regular writing practice. During the week, I typically get up at the same time each morning – 6 a.m. Three of those mornings I work out; the other two are for writing.

CH: What are you working on now?

I’m writing poetry regularly – two days a week. Some of my work is trending more political these days, given the current climate. I’ve begun researching residencies and feeling out ways to spend more time writing. I’ve observed that the more you do what you want to do, the more you get to do it. I believe the more time I can give to poetry, even if it’s in small increments, the more I’m likely to be able to spend time within that realm.

CH: Who are some poets that inspire and influence your work?

CMH: I don’t know that I could point to one poet whose work has directly inspired my own; influence is so often subconscious. I would say instead that I feel most inspired by seeing other poets at work. My local (Austin) influencers are Joe Brundidge, Aimée Mackovic and Jim Trainer.

CH: What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

CMH: I just picked up Aimée Mackovic’s newest release, “Love Junky,” which is rather tremendous. I’ve been balancing out “Darkness Sticks to Everything” by Tom Hennen with an international anthology edited by Czeslaw Milosz entitled “A Book of Luminous Things.”