Category Archives: MFA

A Virtual Interview with Alexandra van de Kamp

Background

Thursday, August 11, 2022 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-alexandra-van-de-kamp-tickets-354850937707

Feature Alexandra van de Kamp is Executive Director for Gemini Ink, San Antonio’s Writing Arts Center (www.geminiink.org), and the author of the full-length collections Ricochet Script (Next Page Press, April 1, 2022), Kiss/Hierarchy (Rain Mountain Press, 2016), and The Park of Upside-Down Chairs (WordTech Communications 2010), and several chapbooks, including A Liquid Bird Inside the Night (Red Glass Books, 2015) and Dear Jean Seberg (2011), which won the 2010 Burnside Review Chapbook Contest.

Her poems have been published in journals nationwide, such as The Cincinnati ReviewThe Texas Observer, Denver Quarterly, Great Weather for MEDIA, Washington Square, 32Poems, Tahoma Literary Review, and Sweet: A Literary Confection. Find out more about her poetry here: alexandravandekampppoet.com.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of reading poetry? How did it engage your interest?

AvdK: Believe it or not, I think Shel Silverstein’s was one of my first poetry books that I remember engaging with in any memorable way—Where the Sidewalk Ends. The humor and rambunctiousness of those poems, and their sense of permission to write on all kinds of quirky topics made an impression on me. There are poems called “Band-Aid” and “Sleeping Sardines,” and ‘Rain,” which begins with this wonderful surreal premise: “I opened my eyes/And looked up at the rain,/And it dripped in my head/And flowed into my brain,/ And all that I hear as I lie in my bed/Is the slishity-slosh of the rain in my head.” And the poem’s surreal logic continues from there! Who could not love a poem that has the word “slishity-slosh” in it? The drawings that go with these poems also created a wonderful and imaginative world that I could revel in.

CH: What’s your first memory of writing poetry? When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

AvdK: I think I was always a scribbler and have distinct memories of these black-covered journals with blank pages that I would earnestly fill up with worries, fears, jottings and more from age 8 and up. I think I started to identify with myself as a writer when I was about 9 or 10 because of an assignment to write on a summer experience, and I ended up writing about a waterfall in Vermont I discovered while visiting a friend’s ski house. The waterfall was massive, and I could stand on a rock ledge beneath it and breathe in the water-house it created with the cascading muscularity of the water all around me. It was like the coolest of hideaways. I wrote a piece that tried to capture the magic of it all. My teacher praised me for it, and the satisfaction I experienced while getting these words down on the page was when I first glimpsed the power of words to capture and save what was precious to me.

CH: I understand you studied at Johns Hopkins University and received an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington. How did your undergraduate work inflect on your decision to go on to receive an MFA? How did you decide on that path?

AvdK: Johns Hopkins University is first known for its amazing medical school, which is in downtown Baltimore, but its undergraduate campus in the northern part of the city has some wonderful humanities majors, and a great English Department, and I was lucky enough to major in “Writing Seminars,” which combined creative writing with philosophy and other humanities areas. I took poetry seminars with wonderful poets like David St. John and Peter Sacks, who later married Jorie Graham and has gone on to become a groundbreaking visual artist, to name just a few of the poetic mentors. This was when I first experienced the writing workshop model. I was brazen enough to ask Peter Sacks if I could enter a poetry workshop in my second semester of freshman year, and this was a class with upperclassmen—much more experienced poets than myself. I was clearly out of my depth but learned so much from hearing the other poets share their work and offer feedback and criticism on their peers’ poems. This was when the language of poetry-making first became apparent to me.

I think another key part of my time at Johns Hopkins was my junior year abroad in London. I had never traveled outside of the country before, and it was a life-changing experience to be at University College University of London for a year surrounded by the sights, sounds and textures of London. I was exposed to all kind of British poets, learned the difference between Ben Jonson and Samuel Johnson, and had to write essays every two weeks for my tutor, Helena Sand, who was Oxford-educated and none too impressed with my essay writing the first few months I was there. (I was far too busy traveling on the weekends to other parts of Britain and enjoying the liberation of a Pass/Fail grade system). However, when I hunkered down to write on Keats and wrote something with my full attention a few months into my year there, she seemed to think I had some potential and was a wry and steadfast intellectual guide for me.

But the travel and time abroad helped me learn so much more about how I wanted to be in the world and gave me my first inklings of the life I wanted to live—one with travel, writing, and creative journeying at its core. I ingested the city of London and loved it. I also took advantage of the Brit Rail pass for students, which allowed me to travel to Spain, France, and Italy relatively inexpensively. I will be forever grateful for that time of discovery and travel. I also think my time at Hopkins cemented my decision to be a poet and helped me see the benefits of the workshop model. I also was able to take a class senior year on poetic form with David St. John that had graduate students in it. Once again, I learned a great deal from writers more seasoned than myself and wrote my first villanelles, pantoums, and more. This showed me how the intensity of a close-knit writing community, and the regimen of a  Master of Fine Arts, could be a path forward for me to learn how to live a writer’s life.

CH: What changed in your writing as a result of your MFA studies?

AvdK: I went to graduate school relatively young, at age 25, and learned a great deal from my peers—some of them who later became revered poets such as the wonderful Joanie Mackowski–but I was lucky enough to have writing workshops with Heather McHugh, David Shields, and David Wagoner, editor of Poetry Northwest. Although Wagoner intimidated me, it was a life-changing moment when he asked me if two poems I had written for his workshop could be published in Poetry Northwest.  It made me think I maybe could do this thing called the poetry life. I also loved learning about the Northwest poets, such as Theodore Roethke, James Wright, Richard Hugo, Linda Bierds, and others. I was fed by the Northwest backdrop itself and wrote many poems that were inspired by the moody tones and gray palettes of that region. I seemed to find my voice in that new world. An East Coaster to the core, I did not know the difference between a Douglas Fir and other pine trees, let alone what a clearcut was and had to learn all about the spotted owl and endangered species. So, overall, it was an education on multiple levels.

CH: Congratulations on the publication of your third full-length poetry collection, Ricochet Script. How did this manuscript come together?

AvdK: I have Laura Van Prooyen, editor of Next Page Press, to thank for the creative spur she provided when she asked me if I could show her my next manuscript for possible publication by her new poetry press, based in San Antonio itself and focused on poets writing their second or third books. I did not really have a completed manuscript at the time—maybe 40 pages done out of a possible book of 65 pages or more.  However, with Laura’s guidance, I honed the book, wrote new poems to fill out the main themes, discovered poems from my last few years of writing that I had not first considered including, and went through a rigorous editing process. Through this process, several people read my book as a whole, and I received  comments from Laura and fellow assisting editors, Sheila Black and Joni Wallace, as well as consultants Tina Posner and Judy Jensen.

Each poet offered their keen eye and perspective on my poems. While I did not take all of the advice offered, I did benefit from much of it and, often, just the experience of seeing how others experienced my poems helped me rethink them in new and earth-shattering ways—all which helped me push the book further. Laura was kind enough to let me know that when she first read my draft manuscript, she counted 40 uses of the word “bird” in the manuscript! Now I had not intended my book to be so “bird-centered,” as much as I love the avian species, so it made me think about what I wanted to write towards as I edited the book. And I realized the key issues for me in this book were aging, our relationships with the body as a life companion, and the slippery fact of time itself, let alone other obsessions.  I also love the title, how it suggests the uncanny and not-always-in-our-control narrative a life becomes, and Laura helped me come up with this after plucking the phrase from one of my poems in the collection.

CH: I so enjoyed reading Ricochet Script and wonder if you might comment on two poems: the ars poetica “Preferences,” and “Ghazal with Birds and Breath,” which astonished me with its fresh take on the ghazal form.

AvdK:

I love that you think “Preferences” is an ars poetica! I have a fascination with list poems and how they allow the writer an opportunity to compile into one space a wide range of thought, imagery, and leaps in imagination. I think of a poem as a mini piece of architecture with all kinds of fixtures and details dangling and working together in one room or space, and list poems are supreme for allowing you to mesh together disparate items. The writer need only come up with a wide enough “reason” or premise for the list and then their poem can take off from there. “Preferences” was inspired by Wislawa Szymborska’s wonderful, wry, and world-weary list poem entitled: “Possibilities,” which truly provides a space where all kinds of ideas and items can live together in one space, from her statement “I prefer cats” to her declaration “I prefer conquered to conquering countries.”  Now there is a lot of distance in terms of registers of thought and emotion between those two items in Szymborska’s list!

About my “Ghazal with Birds and Breath,” it was my first ghazal, and, to be honest, I see it as a very corrupted version of that form. I was trying to end each couplet with the word “bird”—this was an intentionally bird-centric poem. However, I did have to bend the ghazal rules a bit as I found my lines becoming too long or awkward with this prescription embedded into it. And I have my poetry group, the “Little Death Poets,” to thank—we often meet at a wine bar in San Antonio called Little Death! This group is comprised of writers Sheila Black, Jenny Browne, Laura Van Prooyen, Amie Charney and Eileen Curtright, and it was their idea I try to write this poem in some kind of form since it was on the body itself in many ways—the ultimate form we contend with in life.

The earlier draft had hints of writing on the body, human breath, and birds but was a bit all over the place. So, for the first time in a while, I took a stab at formal verse. I was also inspired by Emmy Pérez’s exploded version of the ghazal in her book: With the River on Our Face. I knew there was a precedence for opening up the ghazal form and found this inspiring. Whenever I work in form, it always helps me use language in new and different ways and, therefore, come up with new ideas as I contend with the form’s playful “cage.” So, even though this is not a strict ghazal by a long shot, the use of the ghazal forever changed it.

CH: It seems you’ve had a full-length collection out roughly every six years, with The Park of Upside-Down Chairs (WordTech Communications) in 2010, Kiss/Hierarchy (Rain Mountain Press) in 2016, and now Ricochet Script. How have your interests changed as you’ve moved from book to book? What’s remained the same?

AvdK: I love that you noted this, Cindy, because it is true that my book-making pace seems to be every 6 years. I see myself as a rather slow book-maker! I think, over time, I have become more obsessed with the sound of words and their physicality on the page, and this has guided my writing process more and more. This all kicked in during my writing of the poems that comprise  Kiss/Hierarchy, and I found it very freeing. So, over time, my poems have become less narrative and more overtly associative with this reliance on the sound of words to guide my “poetry logic.” I will now allow a word’s sound to influence the words I use after it in playful ways I do not think I would have been comfortable with earlier in my writing life. For example, in my poem “Noon,” in Ricochet Script, there is a line about this midpoint in the day as a “sugar packet/ of dust crushed by the sun….” I don’t think I would have thought of using “crushed” in these lines if I had not already come up with “sugar” and “dust,” so the assonance helped me find this image. I am not the only poet doing this, for sure, but I find I more deeply trust the unknown in my poems through leaning into sound, and this has allowed for more humor and surprise to enter into my writing process. I also think I am a very visual poet, and this has remained the same throughout my three books.

CH: You’ve been at San Antonio’s Gemini Ink for a few years now, first as literary programs director, and now as Executive Director. Prior to that, you taught at New York’s Stony Brook University. How have the change in place and change of role influenced your writing life?

AvdK: I moved to San Antonio seven years ago with my husband, William Glenn, who had just been hired by UTSA Libraries as Head of Reference Services, and I was all set to continue my career at UTSA teaching writing and rhetoric. I even began to teach part-time in the wonderful writing department at UTSA, but then I met Sheila Black, who was Executive Director of Gemini Ink at that time, and she encouraged me to consider applying for an open part-time position of Literary Programs Director. I accepted after going through an interview process, and that seemed to curve my professional life in a whole new direction.

The key difference between a life in academia and one in the nonprofit world is that I lost my summers for writing. One of the gifts of the teaching life—and believe me it is more than earned by teachers and professors—are those two summer months to dive into projects or life pursuits outside of the classroom. And I do miss that now that I have a job that has no clear summer break. I have vacation time, of course, but not those wonderful two straight months off! I think it has changed me as a writer because I now know not to wait for a perfect “time-off” to write. I have learned to write on the weekends, when I am grumpy or even seemingly rushed by other aspects of my life. I also have found that I enjoy the more “9 to 5” office schedule as well and have acclimated to it more than I ever thought I would when teaching in the university setting. It also helps that I am rarely bored at my job and am working in a field—the literary arts—that I feel a true passion for.

CH: What has been the biggest gift of being involved in arts administration? What would you tell someone who is considering that kind of work?

AvdK: I have met so many amazing writers and that has been a true gift. I have also been able to proctor and enjoy a large variety of Gemini Ink’s public classes on the craft of writing or host authors as visiting faculty and speakers, and this has been a delightful part of my job. My first visiting writer to Gemini Ink when I was starting out in 2015 as Literary Programs Director, was the poet Laura Kasischke, and she taught a Saturday workshop on surrealism, and it was wonderful. I reached out to her a few years later, when I was finalizing Kiss/Hierarchy, and she was kind enough to write a blurb for it, which meant a great deal to me. But, mostly, I remember that workshop and the great gems of wisdom she shared with us on writing and writing strangely in a way that was so freeing and mischievous. She had great prompts, such as writing a poem as if you were a Martian who had just landed on planet Earth and was experiencing everything as if it were utterly unfamiliar to you. She explained it in a fuller, more idiosyncratic way, but the exercise was all about looking at your life as the weird thing it truly was! Other poets I have loved meeting have been Tim Seibles, Brian Turner, Helena María Viramontes, Terrance Hayes, Margaret Atwood and Emmy Pérez, to name just a few.

Another gift has been the San Antonio writing community, which is welcoming and chock full of talent! Getting to know writers like Carmen Tafolla, Naomi Shihab Nye, Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, Sheila Black, Laurie Ann Guerrero, Laura Van Prooyen, jo reyes-boitel, Wondra Chang,  Natalia Treviño, and so many others has enriched my writing life in ways I cannot even begin to calculate. And about getting into arts administration. It is a labor of love and definitely not easy at times. I think someone considering this kind of work should know time management is something they will need to grow in, and continue to master, if they want to do their jobs fully and have time for other pursuits, and their own writing life. The key is to never let your writing life sit idle for too long while working on programming all about empowering writers—find the time to tend to your art. It will make you a better arts administrator.

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

AvdK: I am truly enjoying reading Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds. What a stunning, emotionally explosive book! Each poem has riveted me. But I tend to frog leap among poetry books and am also truly enjoying reading about poetry itself through Matthew Zapruder’s Why Poetry. I can find it helpful to step back from poems themselves and read poets’ books on poetry. In fact, I rather nerd out about this! Zapruder has some penetrating stories on his discovery of poetry and, at one point in this book, describes his realization that: “A poem, literally, makes a space to move through. To read a poem is to move through that constructed space of ideas and thinking” (p, 57). I read those lines the other day, and they just lit up a new hope in me that, after not writing poems for a few months, I can get back into my process and just create spaces of thought that can move down the page—it was both simplifying the idea of what poetry-making was, which I found comforting, and then showing its intellectual daring and spaciousness. I have a leaning “Tower of Pisa” comprised of books on my night table—my husband gawks at it in amazement sometimes and he’s the librarian in our house! And this represents one aspect of my reading life: I surround myself with what I hope to read, so there is always an ellipsis in my reading life, the “what will come next.”

A Virtual Interview with darlene anita scott

Background

Thursday, July 14, 2022 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-second-thursday-poetry-and-open-mic-featuring-darlene-anita-scott-tickets-350112464807

Feature darlene anita scott will be reading from her new collection, Marrow (University Press of Kentucky, 2022). Part of the New Poetry & Prose Series from University Press of Kentucky, Marrow honors those who perished in the Jonestown massacre of November 18, 1978 in the Guyanese settlement of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project led by James “Jim” Jones. 

darlene anita scott is co-editor of the anthology Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and has appeared recently in Green Mountains ReviewPen + Brush, and Simple Machines. 

The Interview

CH: Tell us a little about your journey as a writer. What is your first memory of poetry? When do you first remember being drawn to writing?

das: My earliest memories of poetry happened in church. From the time I began attending Sunday School, around 4 years old, I was assigned “pieces” to memorize and recite for every holiday program—Easter, Christmas, Children’s Day. “Pieces” were rhyming verses that spoke on the occasion and Jesus and salvation and you aged into longer and more complicated ones.

I was drawn to practicing verse thanks, in no small part, to my great Aunt Eva who would write and deliver pieces—hers were witty long form rhyming histories—almost like a griot—on the more adult special occasions like Homecoming or the pastor’s anniversary. It seemed almost magical to manipulate words like she did, and as much as anything, I liked stories. Like, my dad’s a very physical storyteller, and I would sneak to read the stories my oldest sister wrote in her spiral notebooks back then. I heard James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation” and Nikki Giovanni’s “Ego Trippin’” at some church function in those early years of my life. And I can’t leave out that hip hop was in the ether at the same time—the neighborhood boys blasting “boom boxes” and popping and breakdancing to its stories. So those are some of my earliest influences.

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer? as a poet? How did your MFA contribute to your development as a writer?

das: The first time I named myself a writer was in a seventh-grade report. In the report we had to research and describe our career goal by answering a series of prescribed questions and illustrating the report. My career choice was to be a writer. Ironically, I remember that I wrote a lot in college, in every genre—screenwriting (I was terrible at it), broadcast journalism, essays of course, poetry. But when a professor asked us—in an upper-level elective writing course no less—to identify ourselves as writers, I was as hesitant as my peers to say—she had us chant the words—“I am a writer.” I stuttered the words with the other girls but in that moment I think it was affirmed. I was a senior at the time and took a gap year before starting my MFA. The MFA bought me time to figure out what “being a writer” was going to look like for me. Because I had no real models. I flailed around a lot but in the flailing, my poetics evolved; I read more widely but still not nearly enough during those three years; I think I began to write more authentically and less with the goal of manipulating language.     

CH: I understand you are a visual artist as well as a poet. How do you see the relationship between these artistic aspects?

das: The relationship for me reminds me of humming and singing. Sometimes you hum whether you know the lyrics or not. I tend to let the occasion or situation choose. Whether I’m humming or belting out lyrics, I’m achieving the goal of feeling, expressing the feeling, and using what best suits the occasion at the time. I’m also very visual in general; my dreams are very involved; they’re like movies. I often see my poems, even the lyrical and less narrative ones that way. So I guess they’re like fraternal twins (I’m a fraternal twin)! The relationship is more intimate than that of siblings but they’re not, I guess, indistinguishable—if that makes sense.

CH: I recall that the media coverage of the Jonestown murder/suicide placed a good deal of focus on the leader, “Jim” Jones, but far less on the individuals who formed the community. How did you become interested in writing about the members of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (popularly known as “Jonestown”)?

das: Yes, the way the historical record focuses on Jim Jones and the lack of focus on the individuals is definitely a touchpoint for me. I generally start writing with a question; something I want to make sense of. I wanted to know who the “people” of Peoples Temple were and not just as the monolith of “the 900+ dead.” I was curious about their interior lives and what lead them to follow this man who was portrayed as erratic, psychotic, egomaniacal. I was especially interested in all the Black people I saw in imagery of the murder-suicide and how they would have chosen the leadership of this white man, especially this kind of white man. They looked like people I knew. That was enough for me to believe they might be like people I knew and as a result I wanted to know how people I knew could be drawn to this man, this congregation, especially in that point in history.

CH: How did you find your way into the many voices of the members of the Peoples Temple? What was your research process like?

das: I spent the most time with images. There is an excellent regularly updated archive of photos, primary documents and ephemera, and creative and critical interpretations of Peoples Temple at a website called Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple. I would spend hours just scrolling through photos there, imagining and evoking the people in the pictures—their personalities, idiosyncrasies, their corporeality. You know, images don’t just preserve a time, place, subject; they make the time, place, subject tangible. So, my process was engaging with those images. I call it invitational (plenty of times it was uncomfortable too all things considered) because I would I summon members to come to me as I scrolled. I also read all the autobiographies I could find and listened to tapes and read primary documents both from the Peoples Temple and from the historical moment with the same goal of kind of disappearing my subjective lens and foregrounding the people of Peoples Temple.

CH: “Rostrum” seems a pivotal poem in the book’s first section, engaging with the effects of the lived history of the Middle Passage and all that has come since on the speaker’s faith. I’m fascinated by its use of repetition and would love to know more about how you approached writing this poem.

das: Amazing reading of that poem—I never explicitly considered the Middle Passage during the writing of “Rostrum” but who can deny the lived history of it and how it was weaponized, really, against the Black membership? Unsurprisingly, Jones used the Biblical story of Exodus that is endemic to Black theology, embedded in Black spirituals, and relevant to Black life in the so-called New World to persuade members to move to Guyana. The “Rostrum” from which he delivered his sermons is a weapon huh?

The poem began as a single stanza. Yet, every time I reread it and manipulated the order of the lines, each new iteration felt “true.” So I did that exercise where you print the poem and cut it up and move the words around like puzzle pieces. It seemed worth it to animate the manipulation in a way that reinforced the multiplicity of ways the rostrum was used, the multiplicity of ways people experienced it, and Peoples Temple, and what transpired and transformed over the course of its trip in the cargo hold.

CH: What were some of your greatest challenges in writing and arranging the poems of Marrow?

das: One of my earliest challenges was trying to make the text “like” other texts. I love Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady which corporealizes Susan Smith’s made-up carjacker and I thought I would, to borrow 80s hip hop vernacular, “bite” off of Eady’s approach. (So ambitious and naïve of me to even try!) Luckily, I shared this sentiment with a workshop leader fairly early in the development of the manuscript and was told to stop biting and write my own book. Over the course of its development, I worried over being respectful and honest in my treatment. I worried that I would cause harm in the attempt and frankly, I believe that fear shows up in the text as over explaining sometimes. All I can hope is that it’s not a distraction. Anyway, when it came time to arrange the text, I wanted to arrange the text chronologically but it didn’t make sense for the story of Peoples Temple, which is so not linear or clear-cut. So, really, I guess trying not to be heavy-handed was The Challenge.

CH: Now that you have completed this book, what is the focus of your writing practice?

das: I am currently in the very early writing stages of a collection of poems called Age of Discovery. It’s sort of an off shoot of Marrow because it’s also investigating local, national, and historical moments of my coming-of-age years. But this project is more personal because I’m trying to identify how the moments contribute to my self-hood.

CH: Who are some writers to whom you turn regularly for inspiration?

das: I reread Delana Dameron, Patricia Smith, and Lauren Alleyne. And if I pick up Gwendolyn Brooks or Nikki Giovanni, I will probably be gone for hours.

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

das: Stacyann Chin’s Crossfire.

A Virtual Interview with Leticia Urieta

Background

Thursday, June 9, 2022 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Event Registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-virtual-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-leticia-urieta-tickets-328521957017

Feature Leticia Urieta (she/her/hers) is a Tejana writer from Austin, TX. She is the author of a hybrid collection, Las Criaturas (FlowerSong Press, 2021) and a chapbook, The Monster (LibroMobile Press, 2018). Her work appears or is forthcoming in Cleaver, Chicon Street Poets, Lumina, The Offing, Kweli Journal, Medium, Electric Lit and others. 

Urieta graduated from Agnes Scott College and holds an MFA in Fiction writing from Texas State University. She is a teaching artist in the greater Austin community and the Regional Program Manager of Austin Bat Cave, a literary community serving students in the Austin area, as well as the co-director of Barrio Writers Austin and Pflugerville, a free creative writing program for youth. Urieta is also a freelance writer.

The Interview

CH: I’m delighted to welcome you back to the BookWoman 2nd Thursday series! I know a lot has transpired since we last spoke in early 2018. It was a special pleasure to learn that not long after your feature, your chapbook Monster (LibroMobile Press, 2018) was released. Please tell us a little about it and about getting it published. 

LU: Thank you for having me back! Yes, I wrote this short story, “The Monster,” which is a speculative horror story about a child in a migrant detention facility and the psychological toll that it takes on her to be incarcerated and criminalized to the point where she isn’t sure if she is transforming into a monster or being hunted by one. My friend Ana Leticia de Leon was working on her masters at the University of Houston and asked for a story to print as a small chapbook for their risograph printing series. It was illustrated by the talented Lucero Hernandez. 

My good friend Sarah Rafael Garcia, the founder of LibroMobile in Santa Ana, CA was publishing chapbooks from local Santa Ana poets and wanted to reprint the story as a part of the chapbook series.

CH: Congratulations as well for the publication of your hybrid collection, Las Criaturas (FlowerSong Press, 2021). Please tell us a little about this collection. 

LU: I started writing this collection in 2016 when I was supposed to be working on my thesis, a novel, in my MFA program. I was reading a lot of traditional tales and archetypal folklore and was generally drawn to speculative stories and horror stories that spoke to how the creatures and monsters inside of us emerge in reaction to violence, suppression and trauma. The collection is a hybrid of poetry and prose, because many of the pieces move across forms and genres.

CH: I’m excited to know of the speculative narrative aspect of Las Criaturas. Speculative narrative seems an incredibly powerful vehicle for creating myths that can extend or upend traditional ones. How has your interest grown in this direction? 

LU: I’ve always been drawn to traditional stories from the monsters of Greek myth to the cautionary tales of Mexican folklore in my own culture. Speculative storytelling is so nuanced and can look to the future, but also incorporates all of the what ifs of the present. I love the freedom of creating speculative stories by incorporating horror, cosmic elements and creatures from traditional stories.

CH: We spoke in our last interview about the importance of place in your work, and I know FlowerSong Press shares a deep connection with the borderlands. How did your connection with FlowerSong come about? 

LU: When I was submitting my manuscript for this collection,  Flowersong Press came up multiple times as a small press out of McAllen, TX that had published other poets I respected. I knew that for this collection I would need to find a press that would respect the intent of the work and who would treat it with care, and Edward Vidaurre and his editorial team created that environment for me. I think that they are publishing a lot of beautiful and innovative work by poets and writers both emerging and more well known, and I am happy to be a part of the Flowersong community. 

CH: Since your last feature here, you’ve become the Regional Program Manager of Austin Bat Cave and have continued your work with Barrio Writers Austin and Pflugerville as co-director. How have these literary citizenship roles contributed to you as a writer?

LU: In my work as a community teaching artist, where I lead writing workshops for youth and in my roles as program manager for these organizations, I have the privilege of making space for students to learn new ways of telling their stories and to help them to share those stories. They are truly the most creative and innovative people and they truly challenge me to dig deeper and stretch my imagination in my own work.

CH: How did the COVID-19 pandemic impact your literary citizenship work, and your own practice as a writer? What will you carry forward with you as this public health crisis abates?

LU: The pandemic definitely challenged my connection with our students and my literary community. I did learn however that the way I was working previously was unsustainable as I navigated new health complications, and I learned that I needed to rethink my relationship to work and my capacity to serve others.

CH: How do you create space in your life for your own creative work along side your freelance, teaching artist, and literary citizenship activities?

LU: Sometimes I don’t make that space for a while because of the demands on my time, being chronically ill, or navigating my own energy. Sometimes I am just consuming stories and that in itself can be an important way for me to refill my creative well. But I know when I have been away from my inner self and need to journal, or sketch out a poem, or write for an hour in the middle of the night using the glow of my phone in the dark.

CH: At the time of our last interview, you had a historical novel in progress. If you were to draw a thread through the novel, Monster, and Las Criaturas, what would it be? How do you see your trajectory as a writer?

LU: I am actually working on a new historical young novel about Spiritualism in Austin in the late 1800s.  I see a lot of my work depicting characters who are trying desperately to others and to find their place in a family and community with others when trauma and loss has made them feel disconnected. And much of my work blends history and familiar stories, including ghost stories, into the struggles of these characters.

CH: What’s the most recent book of poetry that you’ve read? The most recent piece of speculative fiction? 

LU: I am currently reading Laura Villarreal’s Girl’s Guide to Leaving. She is an extraordinary poet. I’ve also been enjoying the collection of stories, Tiny Nightmare, which is a horror anthology of very short stories by many of my favorite writers.

A Virtual Interview with Margo Davis

Background

Thursday, April 14, 2022 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Register for this event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-featuring-margo-davis-tickets-275801639127

Houston poet Margo Davis reads from her newly-released chapbook, Quicksilver (FInishing Line Press, 2022). Originally from Louisiana, Davis is a three-time Pushcart nominee, and recent work has appeared in ND QuarterlyAmethyst ReviewDead Mule School of Southern LitPanoplyEkphrastic ReviewDeep South MagazineMockingheart Review, the San Antonio Express-NewsHouston Chronicle, and Ocotillo Review. Her work may also be found in a number of anthologies, including Odes and Elegies: Eco-poetry from the Texas Gulf Coast (Lamar University Press, 2020), Untameable City (Mutabilis Press, 2015), and the Texas Poetry Calendar.

The Interview

CH; What is your first memory of poetry?

MD: Early on I discovered the beauty of metaphor by eavesdropping. Interactions seemed freighted with inference. One thing represented another. Our family, well, the males, told yarns, sometimes humorous and playful, or with unnerving undertones. I was rapt, and gullible. Also I’d attribute my hyperbolic nature, my love of embellishment, multiple meanings, my celebration in the face of defeat to Southern excess.    

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer? as a poet?

MD: By four I fancied myself a witness. I’m still told, “Don’t stare!”  When I later realized there were multiple ways of seeing, of being, that what’s recorded or played out is often a larger truth, I wanted to write. I would master the novella. Then I turned to poetry, bite-sized, manageable. Gullible indeed! I revere poetry’s compression. Music. Concision. The power of suggestion.

CH: Congratulations on the publication of Quicksilver (Finishing Line Press, 2022). Tell us a little about your process in selecting and sequencing these poems. 

MD: Thanks, Cindy! Sequencing can be hellish. Does mine flow? A recurring theme in my poems is the slippery nature of Time. You know, anticipating what’s next while awash in flashbacks and  functioning in the present. And illusion fascinates me. So, the poems begin with “I don’t appear” which wrestles with what seems versus what is. Thematically this led me to “Grey Days,” a perspective poem. The viewer realizes this child at play is no reflection in glass but a moment caught on camera and contained within a mirrorless frame. The boy is boxed in. Next, “Backyard Primer” I would categorize as a list poem of close observations. “Dirt Poor” follows, clarifying the narrator’s perceptions. It did seem to fall into place. Or that’s my rationale.

CH: I found the poems of Quicksilver astonishing in their attention to detail, which especially serves poems in which you treat difficult situations and relationships (I’m thinking here of poems like “Picnic” and “Unexpected Guest.”). Would you tell us a little about how the practice of close observation influences your work?  

MD: What is it Faulkner wrote? “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Both these poems felt cinematic in the making. One closely observed detail can embody the whole. And lessen the overall intensity, don’t you think? even if one is within the frame. Telling it slant can diffuse it. Then drama steps onstage. Poetic license enters, stage left.

CH: I know you’re originally from Louisiana, and that you earned an MFA there. What motivated you to pursue that degree? How did you select your program? 

MD: My Creative Writing degree was offered locally, through UNO. It gave me balance and introduced great poets I’d not investigated. I’d been writing poetry seriously since 19, had published a fair amount as an undergrad, and read eclectically. Actually I yearned to study both film and writing at UT Austin, but at that juncture it proved unaffordable.

CH: What changed in your writing as a result of the MFA program?

MD: I was older than most all the students, quirky, disinclined to go the academic route. I came out of the program with “paralysis of analysis,” revising my thoughts before pen hit the page. Couldn’t write for maybe 5 years. Then I was advised to read. Simply enjoy reading. Eventually I wrote in response to stimulating notions. My imaginary dialogues embraced photos, film, paintings, overheard conversations. It was sage advice, don’t you think? My style’s changed over the decades. The earlier work was spare, elliptical, maybe stronger.

CH: I also understand you hold an MLIS degree. What is your area of focus in library science? How has that background influenced your writing?  

MD: Poetry probably fed my day job rather than the reverse. I worked at the LSU Library while earning BA and MLIS degrees. I settled on managing all aspects of law firm research services. This after putting in time at the LA legislature and, before that, drumroll… a prison library. All male, minimum security. Now that would be a novel in itself.

CH: I’m thrilled to have read Quicksilver, and eager to know more of your work. What’s on the horizon for you?  

MD: That means a lot, Cindy, thank you. I’m revising a manuscript focused on ekphrasis. About half the poems respond to art in another medium. The remainder enact that same remove as an observer, a voyeur, generally. I believe a life spent ‘closely observing’ art affects how one moves through the world. Each encourages the other. 

CH: Who are some poets whose work has influenced yours?

MD: Where to begin? Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore.  I remain awed by two amazing TX poet friends. Kevin Prufer’s seemingly casual constructions are flawless (latest: How he Loved Them). Read Sasha West’s visionary, disturbing Failure and I Bury the Body. They make this process look effortless. Purchase their books. My critique group’s work is so strong I can barely keep up!  Priscilla Frake (Correspondence), Rebecca Spears (Brook the Divide: Poems), Sandi Stromberg, and Stan Crawford (Resisting Gravity). Purchase a book, all these! Tony Hoagland was such an astute, humorous poet. His essays, Real Sofistikashun, invaluable. For quirky poems full of surprises, I turn to Mary Ruefle. Spiritual / otherworldly overtone: Brigit Pegeen Kelly. Kathleen Graber and Susan Prospere are must-reads. I’m a lifetime fan of Terence Hayes’ musicality. They must be read aloud. I sometimes marvel then dissect his poems. A. E. Stallings is so dexterous. Order any or all these from Bookwoman!

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

MD: Pandemic Zoom courses underscored the need to revisit several key poets. The Selected Larry Levis and Milosz: New and Collected Poems were marvelous. I’m still investigating poets discovered in Ellen Bass’s courses. I’m reading another strong collection, Anyone’s Son, by a former Austinite, David Meischen. Who else have I read? I’m sure to leave out many…Houston poet Dom E. Zuccone’s Vanishes is a virtual sleight of hand. I loved the chafing of humans and technology in your chapbook, Cindy, Burning Number Five: Power Plant Poems. Bookwoman can order most all of these. Oh, and Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky With Exit Wounds reminded me to lower the pitch. Confide to an audience of one.

A Virtual Interview with Lauren Berry

Background

Thursday, November 11, 2021 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. CST

Register for this event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-virtual-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-w-lauren-berry-tickets-184367276487

The Interview

CH: How would you describe yourself as a reader? What is your first memory of reading poetry?

LB: I would describe myself as a fleetingly obsessive reader. I get hooked on a genre and submerge into it for a couple months and then the wind will shift and I am onto something else. In the past year, I’ve leapt from children’s literature to erotica to biographies to Russian literature and now Lauren Groff’s new historical fiction novel, Matrix, which has absorbed my imagination.  

CH: How did your interest in writing develop? When did you begin to think of yourself as a poet?

LB: I knew even as a child that I wanted to write. For fourth grade career day, I dressed up like an author – black velour turtleneck, black leggings, black beret. Also, my elementary school had a “Young Authors” program and if you wrote a story by each Friday, you earned an orange button that said, “Young Author,” and had a drawing of a quill on it. Once you collected so many, they framed your school picture in the library. I remember when I made it to the library wall. It was my first real milestone as a writer.

But I didn’t think of myself as a poet until I was a teenager. I used to ride horses but when I got mono in tenth grade, I missed six weeks of school and was told it was too dangerous for me to ride, so I signed up for a poetry workshop at a fine arts center a few miles from my house. I loved it. Sitting there at sixteen, in the middle of a group of retired women, I felt a flicker inside me. My teacher, Timothy Juhl, saw that light and encouraged me to get a degree in Creative Writing. I still think about him often, and I’m so grateful for his influence in my life.

CH: What motivated you to pursue an MFA? What changed most about your writing practice as a result of the experience of the MFA?

LB: The MFA felt like a natural step for me. I loved being a student and I just felt hungry for more knowledge. There was never a point when I considered not getting an MFA.

My time in the MFA program at the University of Houston changed my discipline as a reader more than my practice as a writer. Since I was young, I wrote constantly, but I was not as dedicated of a reader. However, when I got my first apartment in Houston, I discovered a wonderful stillness in living alone for the first time. I would sit on my porch for hours, curled up with a book.

CH: I understand you held the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellowship at the Wisconsin Institute. How did you become aware of the fellowship? How did the fellowship impact your writing?

LB: The fellowship at Madison was one of the best years of my life because I taught for two hours a week—and that’s it. The gift of time to write made it possible for me to really get lost in my writing and reading. As a Floridian, I had also never seen snow and the winter wonderland that is Wisconsin opened a new realm in my imagination.

CH: Your first book, The Lifting Dress (Penguin, 2011), was selected by Terrance Hayes for the National Poetry Series in 2010. Tell us a little about how that collection came together.

LB: One of my favorite quotes about art is Michelangelo’s “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” When I began The Lifting Dress, I started with a scene that features the Just-Bled Girl the day after she endures sexual assault– and then I started “carving” my way through her narrative journey until she found her power again.

CH: The poems of The Lifting Dress contain a strong sense of place, as well as the gendered impacts of that place on the poems’ speakers. Please tell us a little about the role of place in your work.

LB: For me, there is no place in the world as inspiring as Florida. I love its swamps and its beaches and its forests. It is the most intriguing landscape because of its tension between beauty and danger. It sets my imagination ablaze. When I am home, I feel more alive and more anchored in who I truly am.     

CH: The use of epithets for characters (“Big Man,” “The Just-Bled Girl”) in The Lifting Dress felt to me as if it moved them into the realms of archetype and myth. How has myth influenced your writing?

LB: For me, there is no place in the world as inspiring as Florida. I love its swamps and its beaches and its forests. It is the most intriguing landscape because of its tension between beauty and danger. It sets my imagination ablaze. When I am home, I feel more alive and more anchored in who I truly am.     

CH: Tell us a little about your most recent collection, The Rented Altar (C&R Press, 2020). How does it compare thematically with The Lifting Dress?

LB: Both collections are invested in portraying the experience of a female speaker in conflict with her own body. In The Lifting Dress, the speaker struggles to find her own voice in the aftermath of sexual violence. In The Rented Altar, the speaker searches for validity as a new wife and stepmother who cannot conceive her own child. I find the female body endlessly fascinating, and this intrigue has carried me into my third collection which is a book of persona poems from the point of view of Typhoid Mary.

CH: Both The Lifting Dress and The Rented Altar came to publication on winning a contest. What advice would you give to poets preparing manuscripts for contests?

LB: After sending your book out into the world, be patient. Trust that your readers are out there, excited for your book to come along. Be kind to yourself while you wait.

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

LB: I undertook the Russian literature marathon that is Anna Karenina in August and September, and I am still digesting its lessons. Tolstoy’s ability to capture the emotional interior of a character and communicate their point of view in such a believable way was an absolute gift to me as a reader.  

A Virtual Interview with Bree A. Rolfe

Background

Thursday, October 14, 2021 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Register for this event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-virtual-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-w-bree-a-rolfe-tickets-168042019203

Bree A. Rolfe will be reading from her new collection, Who’s Going To Love the Dying Girl (Unsolicited Press, release date September 30, 2021). 

Bree A. Rolfe lives in Austin, Texas, where she teaches writing and literature to the mostly reluctant, but always loveable, teenagers at James Bowie High School. She is originally form Boston, Massachusetts, where she worked as a music journalist for 10 years before she decided she wanted to dedicate her life to writing poetry and teaching. Her work has appeared in Saul Williams’s poetry anthology, Chorus: A Literary Mixtape, the Barefoot Muse anthology, Forgetting Home: Poems about Alzheimer’s, the Redpaint Hill anthology, Mother is a Verb, and 5 AM Magazine. She holds an MFA from the Writing Seminars at Bennington College. Who’s Going To Love the Dying Girl is her first chapbook. http://breerolfe.com

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

BAR: My earliest memory of poetry is probably in elementary school. I don’t know if I even remember what grade it was, but we read Shel Silverstein and I was completely in love. I think it’s interesting because I started with poetry from a place that was very funny and lighthearted, and I think, in a lot of ways, I ended up back there.  In the middle, there were a lot  of dark poems written, but I think now my work has a hint of the Silverstein I loved as a kid. I am not sure when I began to think of myself as a writer. I mean I am not even sure I even think that now, but I guess I became more serious, or rather too serious, about writing poetry in middle school. I had a wonderful teacher, Bonnie Staiger, who inspired me to write poems. In fact, I dedicated my book to her because it really was in her classroom that began a “writer’s life.” Since middle school, the poems have always been there for me. Obviously, not as a profession or anything like that, but as a practice or in the spiritual sense. Some people have religion. I have poems. 

CH: In addition to your poetry, I’ve had the pleasure of reading some of your non-fiction articles (“Imposter,” published in the journal Lunch Ticket), is just knock-out amazing, imho). How would you describe yourself as a writer? Do you have a “primary” writer identity?

BAR: I’d say primarily I am a poet. Most of the writing I do that feels close to my soul is poetry. I don’t have the attention span required for writing essays on a regular basis. I have done journalism work in the past and I like that work, but it’s not part of my identity. For better or worse, I am a poet, which is frustrating at times because, let’s face it, poetry is not that lucrative or popular. 

CH: I understand you were a music journalist before you turned to poetry. How did that experience help shape the work you create as a poet?

BAR: Well, to be honest, music journalism sort of came to me after poetry. I wrote poetry first as a young person. I think I developed the passions for both simultaneously in high school. When I decided on a college major, I decided to major in journalism because I thought it was more practical, which is kind of hilarious as neither pursuit is actually all that practical. However, I took upper level poetry workshops all through college. I just so happened to get paid for writing about music and so that was more of a professional focus. However, my music writing and my love of music has always fed my poetry. My interest is mostly tied up in lyrics, which are a kind of poetry. I love how connected and comforted I have felt over the years by the artists I love. Music is kind of always in the background  of my life. I have a lot of musician friends and their work continually inspires me and my own poetry. I use music in writing exercises when I am stuck.  It’s shaped my work by being a point of access and a thread that I think reaches out to others who know and connect to the music I love. It creates a common ground. Also, it’s something that is integral in some of the relationships I write about. Growing up, the music of the sixties and seventies was like a religion in my house. My happiest childhood memories involve listening to music with my parents. I feel like when we couldn’t understand one another, we could always connect through music. That was deeply important to me and so it ends up in the poems. 

CH: What motivated you to get your MFA? How did you choose Bennington?

BAR: So, when I decided to go to Bennington, I was in a dark place mentally and professionally. After undergraduate school, I sort of just worked corporate jobs and wrote about music on the side and after doing that for like almost a decade, I was over it. I’d been working in the marketing department of a company that manufactured police uniforms and outerwear. It was awful and I worked with a lot of really conservative people and the job was just kind of soul crushing in many ways. I started taking poetry workshops at the Boston and Cambridge Centers for Adult Education. I just got more serious about poetry again to keep from going completely insane. I needed an outlet. Then I had, believe it or not, a LiveJournal friend who had applied to Bennington and gotten in. I didn’t even know what a low residency was at the time, but when I learned about it, graduate school became an option for me. I needed to work full time, so traditional grad school was not even feasible. I went to visit that friend during a summer residency. I met a lot of people in the program and I went to some faculty readings. I chose Bennington because I had experienced the program and I saw Jason Shinder read and he blew me away. I wanted to work with him and so I applied there.

CH: What has been the greatest gift of the MFA? Its greatest drawback?

BAR: The greatest gift of my MFA has been the friendships and connections I have made. Look, MFAs are not cheap and I am not sure if I can say it was “worth” the money in any practical sense. However, you can’t put a price tag on relationships. Also, without it, I wouldn’t still be writing and publishing and I am certain of that fact. I needed the structure. The major drawback for me is that apparently local community colleges don’t like my low residency transcript and won’t let me teach composition classes (even dual credit at the high school I taught at) despite the fact that I have a graduate degree and decades of experience publishing journalism. 

CH: Congratulations on the publication of Who’s Going To Love the Dying Girl? Tell us a little about the book.

BAR: It’s a book that is grappling with, what at the time, was a life threatening illness. It is mostly about trying to figure out how to navigate life and relationships when faced with the possibility of dying. That sounds a bit more dark than I think the book is, but it’s essentially about these issues. I think, even more so, it’s about how you decide to carry on and how it changes you as a person. 

CH: What did you learn in the process of writing and sequencing the book? What was your process in finding a publisher?

BAR: I learned that I don’t like sequencing books and I have no idea how to do it. I did sequencing by taping it to my walls in my living room and physically moving poems all around. When I finally came up with an order, I decided I needed help. So, I then passed it on to my poetry sisters Judy Jensen & Tina Posner who were gracious and kind and more helpful than I deserved. So, they both gave me some orders. I had longer, full length versions of the book and they helped me cut it down to a chapbook size for a few contests that I, of course, didn’t win. But the “order” was largely their doing. So, I learned to get help from friends. As for a publisher, I sent it to a few contests, but being a high school teacher, fees are a barrier, so it wasn’t a ton. It got rejected. A lot. I was actually about to just give up on ever getting it published. So, I stopped sending it out for a while and then started actively looking again. And honestly, I have no idea how I found Unsolicited Press, but I clicked on their website and it said, “No bullshit. Just Books,” and I knew that was the home for my book. Their submission guidelines and how they presented them were just so much the way I write and think about poetry. I just felt like “these are my people.”  I am just so freaking grateful they saw something in my work. I am really proud to be alongside all of the other stellar work they’ve published. 

CH: I know your “day job” is as a high school teacher of English and creative writing. How has this work influenced your writing? What have you learned from your students?

BAR: I learn from my students every single day. Their resilience and their strength is often overwhelming. I have had students over the years who have had lives that have been filled with more challenges as teenagers than most people experience in a lifetime. They have reminded me to shut up and stop complaining and live the best life I possibly can even when it’s hard. I have also learned that processing through writing is so very important and so often vital. Working with my students and guiding them through their journeys has been the greatest gift of my life. Helping them find their voices has strengthened my own writing voice.  They also have helped remind me that writing should be collaborative and fun. It doesn’t always need to be serious. And to quote my former teacher Jason Shinder, “find what brings you joy.” My writing developed so much more humor and joy since I became a teacher. High school students are always good for making me laugh at myself. I appreciate them so freaking much.

CH: It often seems that by the time a book is published, other items are in the works. What are you working on now?

BAR: Well, I have a full length collection titled The Best Bad Idea You’ve Had in Months (a title stolen from a line from a poem by Jill Alexander Essbaum) that I’ve submitted to a few places. I am still waiting on collecting more rejections for that one. It has a lot of poems that again deal with my fumbling through life making mistakes and there’s an even more obvious thread of music throughout it. After it gets rejected from everywhere it’s currently out at, then I will rework it and just keep trying. I also want to do some found(ish) poems based on this How to be a Lady book by Candance Simpson-Giles. A friend of mine bought it from Brooks Brothers and showed it to me when I was visiting her and I was just so amused by it. So, that’s one of those fun projects that I think I need to get into soon because times are really hard right now for us teachers. I need something to bring me some lightness. 

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

Eileen G’Sell’s Portrait of My Ex with Giant Burrito (note: PDF access generously provided by BOAAT Press). And it is incredible. Everyone should go read it now.

A Virtual Interview with Rebecca A. Spears

Background

2nd Thursday Virtual Poetry Reading and Open Mic

Thursday, September 9, 2021 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Register to attend this virtual event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-virtual-poetry-reading-open-mic-w-rebecca-spears-tickets-165695089473

Rebecca A. Spears is the author of Brook the Divide (Unsolicited Press, 2020), and The Bright Obvious: Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2009). Her poems, essays, and reviews have been included in TriQuarterlyCalyxCrazyhorseBarrow StreetVerse DailyArs MedicaField Notes, and other journals and anthologies. She has received awards from the Taos Writers Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, and Dairy Hollow House. Brook the Divide was shortlisted for Best First Book of Poetry (Texas Institute of Letters). Spears is also a Pushcart nominee.

“The gorgeous poems in Brook the Divide reverberate with change, following the speaker through seasons of luck and loss. Along the way, Vincent van Gogh becomes an intimate mentor for the hard joy of making. We see how artists transform the world into pieces of art that then transform us: “you ablaze in my eye / and I in yours.” Throughout, Rebecca Spears’ memorable writing invites us into looking, then lingering…. What a beautifully written book.” — Sasha West

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? Did you write poetry during childhood?

RAS: My first memory of poetry is of my mother reading to me from A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I was three years old. She read to me and my siblings nearly every day when we were all quite young. I remember several of the poems even in adulthood—“The Cow,” “Happy Thought,” “The Swing,” and “Time to Rise.” Of course, many of the poems are dated and out of sync with my thinking now. But my mom reading these poems to me helped me to developed an “ear” for poetry at a pretty young age.

As a young kid, I was more interested in drawing, painting, making collages. I never wrote poetry unless prompted by a teacher for a very specific reason—like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day. I did begin writing poems as a teenager—really angst-ridden stuff, yet there are also some poems where I look into the landscape and observe life with a close eye.

CH: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer? A poet?

RSA: When I was in my 30s, I worked in educational publishing as a Language Arts editor. That’s when I began to think of myself as a both editor and writer. Not only did I recruit writers, but I worked closely with many of them, collaborating, writing, and editing. I used to remark to friends, “I get paid to read books and work with writers!”

Not until I was in my 40s, did I begin to think of myself as a poet. I hadn’t paid much attention to poetry for many years. A friend invited me to a reading by Naomi Shihab Nye, and I was so engaged in hearing Naomi’s poetry that I later read everything she had written. Shortly after, I began to practice poetry. For a while, I “just wrote poetry.” Then I began attending Creative Writing workshops at the University of Houston, and during that time, I started to think that I might be a poet.

CH: I understand you received your MFA from Bennington College. How did you end up deciding to pursue an MFA? How did you choose Bennington?

RSA: Working on an MFA became important to me when I realized, from those classes at UH, that I needed to undertake some serious study of other poets and learn some new techniques to become a better poet myself.

To get an MFA, I knew that I needed a low-residency program because I was raising adolescent children at the time. I checked out the top low-residency programs and applied to five of those. At the time, Jane Hirshfield was teaching at Bennington, so that ultimately drove my decision to go to Bennington. I worked with her during my second semester at Bennington. Curiously, while I treasure the time I spent in her workshop, I learned more from the faculty whose style was quite different from mine. I suppose that is because I was entirely challenged in my thinking and writing. Another important reason that I chose Bennington was because of their motto: Read 100 books. Write one. That made a lot of sense to me, that we need to read the writers who have given us our poetic background.

CH: How did your writing change as a result of participating in this program? How did your experience in the program align with your expectations prior to starting?

RAS: The program at Bennington exceeded my expectations. I loved the writerly friends I was making, the reading I was doing, the formal annotations I was submitting, the poems I was challenged to write every month. The faculty were varied in their thinking and writing—and that engaged me. Many top poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers read and lectured at every semester gathering. It was astonishing, really. The research I did for my graduating lecture on poetry of the Vietnam War still influences me as I continue to make connections between trauma and poetry. (And by the way, the creative manuscript that I wrote for the MFA, has not been published—though I still have aspirations for it.)

CH: Laurie Kutchins describes your chapbook, The Bright Obvious (Finishing Line Press, 2009), as constructing “narrative moments converging with a larger collective story.” Tell us a little about this chapbook, and about your process of composing it.

RAS: The larger collective story of The Bright Obvious (2009) is the basis for my full-length collection published in 2020. In the chapbook, I was attempting to link the art of Vincent van Gogh with the way that I view the landscapes around me. You’ll also see my fledgling explorations of his personality, as well as a writer’s personality. Some of the poems were composed specifically as a sequence of van Gogh poems. Others were revisions (and retitling) of some poems that I had already written.

CH: Your first full-length collection, Brook the Divide (Unsolicited Press, 2020), came out just last year, and was shortlisted by the Texas Institute of Letters for Best First Book of Poetry. Tell us a bit about the book and its journey to publication.   

RAS: By the time I put together Brook the Divide, I had thoroughly immersed myself in van Gogh’s letters to his friends and families. Many of those letters contain his thoughts about the way he saw landscapes and people and the methods he used to create his art. I tried to connect the poems I wrote about van Gogh with my own translations of the world around me. And I also, more closely linked the emotional landscapes of my world and van Gogh’s.

The poet Sasha West first helped me see that I might have a worthwhile project, and I worked with her advice to help me sequence a manuscript. I kept writing and adding poems where I saw “holes” in the manuscript. After a few years on my own and with critiques from my writing group friends, I felt I had a finished manuscript. I sent out the final version to maybe five publishers (during open submissions, not contests), and it was accepted in 2018 by Unsolicited Press in Portland, Oregon.

CH: The life of Vincent van Gogh is a through-line for both The Bright Obvious and Brook the Divide. When did you first encounter Van Gogh’s work? What do you see in your work that resonates with his?

RAS: I first encountered van Gogh’s work in high school art classes, and later at a large exhibition of the Impressionists (at the Kimball, I think). At the exhibit, my young son tried to touch a van Gogh painting, and I was panicked as I tried to stop him. Later, that incident made me think of how we can reach into and inhabit the work of artists.

My early experiments in the visual arts trained me to view still life paintings, portraits, urban and natural scenes as impressions of the larger world. This carried over into my writing. Good grief, it’s hard for me to not employ landscapes—fields, mountains, roads, woods, gardens—in my writing. I suppose looking at the scenes outside my head keep me anchored.

CH: You’ve received awards from the Taos Writer’s Workshop, Vermont Studio Center, and The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. How have these workshops / residencies informed your work?

RAS: At the Taos Writer’s Workshop, early in my creative writing life, I workshopped with Laurie Kutchins. She is a generous, energetic person, and she had many writing activities planned that really gave me more courage to keep doing what I was doing—and to try some new techniques. By the time I was awarded a scholarship to the Vermont Studio Center, my life had changed drastically, and it was difficult to find the time to attend. So ultimately, I let that opportunity slip away. My stretch at Dairy Hollow was solitary but productive. The residency occurred at a time when I felt a little stagnant with my writing. The solitude helped me to rely on my instincts again and take on  the challenge to do more reading and writing.

CH: Tell us a little about your writing practice. How has that practice evolved over time?

RAS: When I first began writing poetry as an adult, I wrote nearly every morning. When my life changed, after the break-up of a long marriage, I only had the energy to write on weekends and in the summers when I wasn’t trying so hard to make a living teaching. I still seem to follow this second pattern, depending on summers and other breaks to come up with new ideas and drafts. When classes are in session, I typically spend a few hours on the weekends writing and revising the work I did in the summer.

CH: Are there books to which you find yourself returning from time to time? What are you reading now?

RAS: Yes, there are a number of books and poets that I keep returning to. Let me say, though, that I read a lot of popular novels and stories at the end of a work day. Currently, I am reading, The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Murray, and I’m about to take up Once There Were Wolves by Charlotte McConaghy. Yet this past winter, I read the new biography of Sylvia Plath, Red Comet, and I was just immersed in her life and Ted Hughes’ life for quite a while. In fact, I ordered Plath’s letters and journals, along with Hughes’ Birthday Letters—I’m still working my way through those. The poets I keep returning to are Rose McLarney, Ada Limón, Katie Ford, Sasha West, Franz Wright, Seamus Heaney, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

A Virtual Interview with Robin Reagler

Background

Thursday, August 12, 2021 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Register for this event on EventBrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-with-robin-reagler-tickets-162818493497

Feature Robin Reagler is a poet, educator, and leader living in Houston, Texas. Over the past 22 years, she transformed Writers inthe Schools (WITS), a small grassroots organization, into a national literary movement with 40 sister programs across the US. She retired in September to focus on her own writing. Since then, she found publishers for two new books of poems. Into The The, winner of the Best Book Award, was released on March 21, World Poetry Day (Backlash Press). Night Is This Anyway, will be published by Lily Poetry Books (March 2022). Reagler is the author of Teeth & Teeth, selected by Natalie Diaz, winner of the Charlotte Mew Prize (Headmistress Press, 2018) and Dear Red Airplane (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012, 2018).

She earned an MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and a PhD at the University of Houston Creative Writing Program. She has published poems in PloughsharesNorth American ReviewPleiadesCopper NickelIowa ReviewColorado Review, and Zocalo Public Square. Her essays have appeared in books, newspapers, and journals. The Other Mother: Letters from the Outposts of Lesbian Parenting was named best Houston parenting blog by Nickelodeon in 2009.

She has helped shape dozens of new literary organizations and has volunteered on national boards. In 2018-2019 she chaired of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) Board of Trustees. Currently she is the Board Chair of LitNet, the national advocacy group representing literary organizations and publishers and Board Secretary for the equity-based Justice Hub Charter School.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

RR: My first memory of poetry is my mother reading nursery rhymes to my sister and me. I remember that I had a copy of A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson on my bedside table. One of the poems, “Block City,” was about building imaginary worlds.

CH: What motivated you to get an MFA, and a Ph. D. in Creative Writing?

RR: Getting an MFA was, for me, about becoming a better writer and finding a community of writers. Getting a PhD was a career-focused decision. I hoped to teach in a college and that seemed like the best path forward. As it turned out, after I finished my doctorate, I chose to work with Writers in the Schools (WITS), an education organization with a K-12 focus, for 25 years. Now, after taking a year to focus on my own writing, I will be teaching college. Finally!

CH: How would you describe your experience at Iowa? What has been the biggest gift of doing these programs? The biggest drawback?

RR: The great gift of going to a program like Iowa is that I got to meet so many amazing poets and writers. Those friendships continue, even though we live across the nation. Having friends who support each other as writers and as people is the greatest gift for me. The biggest drawback is that when I went to Iowa it was not a diverse community, no matter how you define diversity. And the writers we studied were not very diverse either. This was in the 80s. It may be quite different now.

CH: Tell us a little about Dear Red AIrplane (Seven Kitchens Press, 2011 and 2018) and its re-release.

RR: When I submitted Dear Red Airplane to Seven Kitchens, I felt certain it would win their contest. It did not. I couldn’t believe. I’d been rejected many times, so it’s weird that I was surprised, but I was. A year later I got an email from the editor at 7K, Ron Mohring. He said he couldn’t stop thinking about the poems and asked if it was still available. That is how the chapbook was published the first time. It had a small print run and sold out quickly. The second printing was done through Seven Kitchen’s Rebound Series.

CH: I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading Teeth & Teeth (Headmistress Press, 2018), and was profoundly moved by its weaving of desire, grief, and identity. How did you select the pieces in this chapbook? How did you go about sequencing the poems?

RR: When I wrote the poems in Teeth & Teeth, my father had passed away and my mother was in hospice. The manuscript was selected by Natalie Diaz for the Charlotte Mew Prize. I mention that because I was influenced by Diaz in creating this collection. Her poem “Grief Work” was especially compelling to me. In my grief, I wrote the poems feverishly. I discovered that grief contain more than I had ever imagined—emptiness, anger, loss, rage, desire, love, and even hope.

CH: In Teeth & Teeth, I was really struck by the sense of the line in the poems, and by your use of whitespace and monostich stanza. How do you approach the use of whitespace in your poems?

RR: The line works musically in Teeth & Teeth. The white space provides silence, a key component to that music. In a monostich stanza, the words are isolated. Each line might be the last.

CH: Tell us about your most recent work: Into The The (Backlash Press, 2021) and the forthcoming Night Is This Anyway (Lily Poetry Books, 2022). How do you see the trajectory of this work with respect to your earlier books?

RR: Poems don’t necessarily get published in the order they were created. Into The The contains some of my earliest work, as well as some recent poems. Of the group, I think of it as first, chronologically. Following it, I would place Dear Red Airplane, then Night Is This Anyway (although I’m considering a title change), and then Teeth & Teeth.

CH: I understand you recently retired as Executive Director for Writers in the Schools (WITS) to focus on your own writing. How has this change made a difference for you? What is your writing life like now?

RR: I left Writers in the Schools so that I could focus on my own writing. It has made a huge difference in my writing life. Both Into The The and Night were accepted early in the year. I finished another manuscript that I’m sending to publishers now and am hoping to complete another in the coming months. So having this time has enabled me to BE a writer.

CH: You continue to be involved as a literary citizen. In your view, what are some of the gifts of literary citizenship?

RR: I’m very devoted to the literary community, and I have enjoyed being a part of it. Although writing itself is a solitary act, writers have a great deal to offer one another. Through my activism in organizations such as the WITS Alliance, AWP, and LitNet, I have connected with incredible, dedicated people. We are stronger together and able to serve the public in new and engaging ways.

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

RR: Right now, I am reading Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar.

A Virtual Interview with Laura Van Prooyen

Background

Thursday, July 8, 2021 7:15 – 9:00 p.m.

Register for this event: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-with-laura-van-prooyen-tickets-158345005173

Feature Laura Van Prooyen is author of three collections of poetry: Frances of the Wider Field (Lily Poetry Review Books), Our House Was on Fire (Ashland Poetry Press) nominated by Philip Levine and winner of the McGovern Prize and Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press). She is also co-author with Gretchen Bernabei of Text Structures from Poetry, a book of writing lessons for educators of grades 4-12 (Corwin Literacy). Van Prooyen is the Managing Editor for The Cortland Review, she teaches in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing program at Miami University and is the founder of Next Page Press: www.nextpage-press.com. She lives in San Antonio, TX. www.lauravanprooyen.com

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? What do you remember about your relationship with books during childhood?

LVP: Most of what I heard as poetry was from the Bible and old Hymns sung in church. So, the Psalms, Song of Solomon, and plenty of Hymn meter in songs. At the time, I was not thinking in terms of poetry at all, but I imagine that’s where and how my ear got tuned. Books were not a big part of the culture of my childhood, but I remember a teacher who read aloud to the class in fourth grade. I remember loving that.

CH: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? As a poet?

LVP: First glimmer: in college when two different professors at two different colleges planted the seed that I had something going on. Honestly, there have been a couple of times in my life I’ve tried, weirdly and consciously, to not be a writer. But I would soon learn that I was deeply unhappy if I wasn’t involved in reading, writing, thinking, and creating, so I supposed I really was a writer.

CH: Your educational background includes an MFA from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. How did you decide on that path? How did your MFA experience change you as a writer?

LVP: I’m first-gen. My sister and I were the first in our family to complete college. I’m the only one who got addicted and just kept going. Not long after college, I decided to get an MA, which was fine and good. Then I spent a decade working, marrying, having a family and writing in isolation. I knew I needed a community and I missed, terribly, engaging in the life of the mind. I went to Warren Wilson as a more “seasoned” student with three small children. Going to that program remains in the top three decisions I ever made. I realized how much I didn’t know, how much I wanted to know, and how much I could push my work. I found the community I was looking for.

CH: Tell us a little about your first book, Inkblot and Altar (Pecan Grove Press, 2006), and your second volume, Our House Was On Fire (Ashland Poetry Press, 2015). How did the experience of your first book shape your approach to the second one?

LVP: My first book was written nearly all in third-person. I don’t think I felt brave enough to write from the lyric “I” and I needed distance to write anything at all. I felt pretty outside of art, of the writing community, and I wrote that book while my babies napped. The second book was completed as and after I went to Warren Wilson. Truth is, that feels like my first book—the other feels like a warm up. Nevertheless, I embraced writing in first-person, and I also paid closer attention to musicality. It felt like I had found a way in to speak with a truer voice.

CH: Your third collection of poetry, Frances of the Wider Field (Lily Poetry Review Books, 2021), has just been released. Over what period of time did you write the poems of this most recent collection? What was different for you in the process of making this book?

LVP: The oldest poem in Frances of the Wider Field is 10 years old and the most recent to be included was written a few months before the manuscript was selected by Lily Poetry Review Books. The book, as a whole, saw many versions in between those points. This time around, I gave myself some rules so I didn’t fall into comfortable habits. For the subject: no husbands, no daughters, no birds. I mostly stuck to that. So, in writing away from what I “knew” I found my way into what I “didn’t know.” Frances became a presence that showed me into some absences and unknowns.

CH: One of my great pleasures in reading Frances of the Wider Field was in encountering its formal variety—from single-stanza, couplet, and tercet poems to ones in which white space inhabits margin and mid-line caesura (as in “Imaging Test’). Please tell us a little about what animates your use of form in Frances of the Wider Field. How has your approach changed over time?

LVP: I’m open to anything, stylistically, and I like to play. I made choices about what was ultimately included in the book, paying attention to having poems that varied in style, but that still carried a thread of thought throughout the collection. My hope was that the variations would create a textured, layered experience.

CH: There’s a strong evocation of place in Frances of the Field: the place the adult speaker inhabits, and the place of her childhood. What do you see as the importance of place in your work?

LVP: If you can imagine it, my mother has never moved in her life. She lives in the house next door to the house she was raised in, next door to the house that was my great-grandmother’s. Three houses on one plot of ground. The address of the houses changed four times, from Rural Routes to numbered streets as farmland was replaced with subdivisions. I chose to leave. And my parents live there still. We are losing my mom to dementia, but there she still is, physically in that place. And here I am.

CH: Your other recent publication is Text Structures from Poetry (Corwin Literacy, 2020), a book of writing lessons for educators you co-authored with Gretchen Bernabei. What was something that surprised you during that project?

LVP: Yes. When Gretchen and I met each other, within 30 minutes we discovered that her methodology of teaching in her Text Structures series of books was similar to the way I approach teaching poetry, so she invited me to write a book with her. I was surprised that something I was already doing intersected with curriculum that was publishable and could be adapted to help teachers, especially those who were a little intimidated by poetry.

CH: One of the things I love about poetry is its ability to surprise, to make me see the world freshly. Can you point to a collection that’s helped change how you think about what’s possible in poetry?

LVP: Adelia Prado’s Alphabet in the Park knocked me out with the juxtaposition of strange, bold statements.

Brenda Shaughnessy’s My Andromeda made me consider how to write with fresh eyes about personal challenges. And Richard Siken’s Crush showed me about intensity and the use of commands. I’ve come back to each of these books through the years.

CH: What are you reading now?

LVP: I just finished C. Dale Young’s new book Prometeo. Also, Sean Thomas Dougherty’s The Second O of Sorrow. Dilruba Ahmed’s Bring Now the Angels. And I’m reading Alyssa Nutting’s novel, Made for Love. I have stacks of books, due to an addiction of buying more than I can read. I recommend each of these titles. Also, I’ve been reading . . . I plan to announce this news this summer . . . I am launching a poetry press, and the first title is a chapbook by Ann Hudson called Glow. It is coming out in October. The first full-length book is Ricochet Script by Alexandra van de Kamp. I can’t wait to share these books. The website is just up www.nextpage-press.com. You’re the first to know!

A Virtual Interview with Rachelle Toarmino

Background

Thursday, November 12, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Rachelle Toarmino is a writer, editor, and educator from Niagara Falls, New York. She is the founding editor in chief of Peach Mag, and is the author of the chapbooks Feel Royal (b l u s h, 2019) and Personal & Generic (PressBoardPress, 2016). Her poems and essays have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Shabby Doll House, Sundress Publications, The Wanderer, and elsewhere, and have been anthologized in The Cosmonauts Avenue Anthology and My Next Heart: New Buffalo Poetry. She will be an MFA candidate in poetry at UMass Amherst in the fall. *That Ex *is her first full-length collection.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry?

RT: In fourth grade, I wrote a poem for religion class in which I made the impressive mistake of thinking thong—a word I had heard on Sisqó’s hit single “Thong Song”—was a synonym for soul. Horrible.

CH: When did you begin to think of yourself as a writer?

RT: I’ve always kept a diary, so I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I still have my very first one from when I was about five years old, which flaunts a pink plush princess cover and is filled with pages of fat glitter crayon of all the words I knew that rhyme with cat.

CH: How did the poems of the first chapbook, Personal & Generic (PressBoardPress, 2016), come together? How did your process change with your second, Feel Royal (b l u s h, 2019)? Is there a common through-line for these books?

RT: For Personal & Generic, I embroidered thirty micro-poems into needlepoint hoops of various sizes, shapes, and colors. I was interested in exploring what it might mean to make a poem solid—to approach poetry in three-dimensional space. At the time, I was really into Roni Horn’s sculptural representations of Emily Dickinson’s poems, and I wanted to explore a similar intersection of reading and looking in my own work. That intersection is also a big part of Feel Royal, in which I constructed poems by finding text on the clothing worn by celebrities in paparazzi photographs, but my process was opposite of Personal & Generic in that I began with three-dimensional objects and put them on the page.

CH: Tell us a little about your full-length collection, That Ex. How did the process of composing this longer work differ from that of collecting your chapbooks? What did you learn from the process?

RT: The poems in That Ex, unlike my two chapbooks, were not written with a project in mind. Instead, they catalog themes of heartbreak, rage, desire, conflict, and trust—the emotions and experiences that characterized much of my twenties. The poems began to take shape as a book when I became interested in looking at the character of the ex-girlfriend and how she is represented in pop culture and works of art, including, as in my chapbooks, how she is made both solid or flat.

CH: Hera Lindsay Bird writes about That Ex, “This is a sensitive, self-aware collection full of Britney Spears references, emotional vulnerability, and digital nostalgia.” Tell us a little bit about the role of pop culture and digital life in your writing.

RT: I don’t believe in shying away from the digital in my writing. Digital technology and communication are so part of my life—I spend hours looking at screens every day—that it would be insincere to exclude them. As for pop cultural references, the poems in That Ex are specifically interested in representing a heartsick lineage. The speaker calls on her various models of exes—pop stars, fictional characters, poets, musicians, artists, and others—to teach her how to navigate her world post-breakup. I think there is an emphasis on Britney because I grew up with her. She was my first real example of an ex-girlfriend, and I watched what the publicness of her breakup did to her. The speaker in That Ex is likewise interested not only in the experience of heartbreak but the spectacle of it, too.

CH: What was your vision in founding Peach Mag? How has your experience as an editor influenced your writing process?

RT: My two cofounders and I wanted to create a space for emerging writers and artists to discover and celebrate each other. The greatest effect of Peach Mag on my writing life is having found a way to be constantly surrounded by creative people. It has given me access to a community I’ve read, admired, learned from, and had fun with.

CH: I understand you’re an MFA candidate in poetry at UMass. How did you decide on making this investment in yourself, and how did you choose UMass? What do you hope the MFA will bring you?

RT: I had always wanted to pursue an MFA for the time, focus, mentorship from professors, camaraderie among a cohort of readers and writers, and exposure to new writing and ways of thinking about writing. I appreciate UMass Amherst’s program for many reasons: it’s three years of funding, requires candidates to take at least one workshop outside their genre, and provides editorial and arts administrative opportunities that prepare us for the world of creative labor post-MFA. I’m also totally star-struck by many of the writers who went through this program or teach here now. It feels wild to have this experience in common with them.

CH: What is your writing life like? How has it changed over time?

RT: Chaotic and bewildering. I’ve found that I favor long and sporadic stretches of uninterrupted time to write—in that one analogy, I relate more to the sprinter than the jogger. As my lifestyle and responsibilities evolve as I get older, though, I’m learning to balance this preference for spontaneity with a more disciplined routine.

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets, contemporary or otherwise?

RT: Some of my favorite poets are Anne Carson, Frank O’Hara, Ocean Vuong, Hanif Abdurraqib, Hera Lindsay Bird, Tommy Pico, Kimmy Walters, and Jakob Maier. I’ve also been blessed both to discover and to publish some of my favorite contemporary poets through Peach Mag—our print and digital pages are full of work that challenges and excites me.

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

RT: Two books of poetry that I recently read and loved are Greyhound by Aeon Ginsberg and Not I by Sebastian Castillo. I highly recommend them.