Category Archives: poetry of place

A Virtual Interview with Allyson Whipple

Background

Thursday, September 8, 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-allyson-whipple-tickets-389991443907

Allyson Whipple is the editor and host of the Culinary Saijiki blog and podcast (https://culinarysaijiki.com/), a project devoted to the intersection of food and haiku. During her 14 years as a Texas resident, she served as board president of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, co-editor of the Texas Poetry Calendar, and was co-creator of the interactive fiction Choice: Texas (www.playchoicetexas.com). Allyson is also the author of the chapbooks Come Into the World Like That (Five Oaks Press) and We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are (Finishing Line Press). She now lives in St. Louis, Missouri with her family.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? What ignited your interest in it?

AW: Poetry has been in my life in one way or another since I was a small child. I remember having beautiful illustrated anthologies of nursery rhymes that had belonged to my father when he was young. I think it’s easy to get dismissive of nursery rhymes as being just for children, but when you think about it, they’re really illustrations of rhyme, meter, and other major literary devices in formal poetry—and I believe formal poetry is still worth studying, even if you want to write free verse. When children recite nursery rhymes, they’re internalizing poetic structures, even if those structures are not being taught explicitly.

I can’t recall what specifically interested me in writing poetry regularly. I think it was simply the impulse of adolescent angst and the need to express myself. There might have been a particular poem, or a particular assignment in my middle school language arts class, but if so, enough time has passed that I lost it. Maybe I just really wanted a reason to justifying a notebook covered in blue glitter at the mall? Honesty, that would be pretty on-brand if it’s true.

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

AW: I was 12 years old, on spring break visiting my aunt in Pennsylvania, and I just got it into my head one day that I was going to be a poet. The way I remember it is that I was sitting on the couch at her apartment, and the thought came to me like a flash. Or maybe I was already at the mall, and the moment I saw that blue glitter notebook at the Claire’s store, that was the moment the divine inspiration struck. This was 26 years ago, so the finer points are a little fuzzy. But I still remember that notebook. I filled it before the summer was out.

I will say that my identity as a poet waxed and waned for many years. After being a prolific writer of angsty adolescent sonnets, I really struggled to hack it in creative writing classes at Kenyon College, and turned my undergraduate focus to literary theory and criticism. I would return to poetry occasionally—it could never leave me completely—I didn’t really start to feel like I could be a serious poet again until I moved to Austin. When I started working at BookWoman and started meeting all the poets that hung out there, I found a community where I could be a writer, and things started to blossom from there.

CH: Tell us a little about your two chapbooks, Come Into the World Like That (Five Oaks Press, 2016) and We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are (Finishing Line Press, 2013). What would you say they have in common? How do they reflect your development as a poet?

AW: We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are is about my first years in Texas. I’d moved there from my home of Ohio, and those were some intense years. I’d had a rough time in my first graduate program, and even though I’d finished my master’s degree, I was feeling ashamed of not riding it out all the way to a PhD. I was working in a nonprofit where I was getting paid too little to work too much. I was trying to be in a marriage even though we were both too young and had ignored so many warning signs of incompatibility that were glaringly obvious in hindsight. It covers the period of time where I was just trying to figure out what it meant to be an adult, and what kind of life I wanted to create for myself.

Come Into the World Like That came together in a burst of productivity about a year after my divorce. I put it together in the span of one summer. Some of the poems in the manuscript were older, but most of them were written in a span of about six weeks. It’s like I was purging things I still hadn’t processed, getting ready for the next phase. It’s more overtly confessional than We’re Smaller Than We Think We Are, and doesn’t conceal identities. The chapbook focuses first on my childhood, and then on my own marriage and divorce. I was looking at my parents’ own fraught marriage through the lens of my own, using the past to make sense of the present, and also using the present to make sense of the past. The book is an exploration, but also a reckoning.

Both chapbooks cover periods of my life that feel so distant to me now. I don’t read from these collections very often at all anymore, even though there are some great poems in both of them. They’re also time capsules of some intense periods of my life, and it doesn’t always feel good to revisit the past like that. I still write poems about difficult things, but I’m more interested in sharing my awe of the world around me. I’m more interested in poems that balance the tension of difficult topics with a love for the world.

CH: I find both your chapbook titles to be intriguing. What’s your approach to titles at the level of the poem and the collection?

AW: I actually hate having to title things! For individual poems, I wait for the title to reveal itself during revision. Often I take a line out of the poem itself, and that becomes the title. Since I tend to write shorter poems, I prefer not to also have the title be a line in the poem; that often feels repetitive to me in a short piece. Of course, with haiku, I don’t have to worry about titles at all!

With my first chapbook, the title was also the title of one of the poems that I felt was really at the heart of the collection. Abe Louise Young was mentoring me through the chapbook development process, and that title emerged through our explorations of the manuscript’s themes. For my second chapbook, the phrase “come into the world like that” was used in a poetry prompt; when I saw it, I knew that had to be the title from my chapbook. The manuscript was untitled at the time, but I had the immediate gut sense that it was the right fit.

CH: How has the focus of your work changed since the publication of Come Into the World Like That

AW: A lot has happened since 2016! That chapbook came out when I was 1/3 of the way through my MFA, which I finished in 2018. I unfortunately had a great deal of difficulty writing after I finished my program and went through a long fallow period.

I did turn my MFA thesis into a chapbook manuscript, though I had been frustrated with the thesis experience because it felt like I was putting together a manuscript by committee. After about 18 months, I went through and stripped out everything that didn’t feel authentic to me or to the manuscript (even cutting some poems people thought were fantastic), and ended up with a solid chapbook. I sent it out to contests and open reading periods for about two years, and then decided I was done paying $15-$30 reading fees. I absolutely understand why small presses need reading fees–my time working with Borderlands and handling the financial aspects of the journal was illuminating–but eventually I just got tired of spending the money to get nowhere. I believe in the chapbook and I know that presses can only take on a certain number of books per year. I was just ready to be done with that system.

The chapbook really synthesizes my last few years in Texas, my explorations of Mexico, and chronicles the first few years of my relationship with my partner. Although it’s less confessional than my first two chapbooks, it’s in many ways more vulnerable and personal. Especially now that I’ve moved to St. Louis, I want to get that chapbook into the world as a final farewell to my Texas years. I think the DIY route is the way to go; that’s my approach to so many of my other projects these days. Self-publishing is new territory for me, though, so I need to get settled a little more in St. Louis before embarking on that project.

The early months of COVID were also rough on my creativity. The disruption, the uncertainty, and the fear all made it difficult for me to focus on writing. It was even difficult for me to read. So many people were writing work in immediate response to the crisis, and much of it was quite good, but I just couldn’t look at any of it. That’s actually how I got into quilting; it gave me a creative outlet without having to work with words.

And that’s also how I ended up focusing on haiku. I’d been interested in the form for years, but I always have a number of projects going, and haiku would drift out of my life sometimes. The brevity of haiku, the immediacy of it, made it a form that I found comforting. I could even read other people’s COVID-inspired haiku, because there’s no room for analysis. There’s just the moment. The haiku form has a level of complexity that often gets glossed over in English-language education, so I started reading books and listening to podcast that covered haiku beyond just the number of lines and syllables. I haven’t tired of it yet; I think I will be with haiku and its related forms for many years to come.

CH: I understand you have a black belt in Kung Fu, and I know that you have been working on a Pilates certification. How do these embodied practices inform your writing?

AW: I loved movement before I loved poetry. I started ballet when I was 8 and studied various forms of dance until moving on to other practices. I try to get some sort of movement in every day. Pilates helps me tune into my body and focus. My favorite form of movement is walking. It’s a chance to get out of my head, let my mind wander, and work out problems without overthinking things. That’s where I get my best ideas.

CH: I’m intrigued by one of your newer projects, the Culinary Saijiki blog and podcast (https://culinarysaijiki.com/), which is “devoted to the intersection of food and haiku.” Tell us a little about this project and how it got started.

AW: This past spring, I decided to embark on a daily haiku practice focused around the concept of kigo, which are words that denote specific seasons in haiku. Kigo are often compiled in saijiki, which are volumes that organize kigo based on season, and provide sample haiku that show excellent use of seasonal words. Usually, those who compile a saijiki usually offer some commentary for each season word, explaining why it ties to that particular season. One of the most famous Japanese kigo is “cherry blossoms,” which denote spring. Of course, living in Texas, cherry blossoms weren’t a relevant spring kigo!

One of the best-known English-language saijiki is Haiku World: An International Poetry Almanac by William J. Higginson. There are also a number of online saijiki, as well as those offered in e-book format, but I still love print books, and I liked the idea of choosing a kigo a day from Haiku World and using that to inform my writing practice, making notes in the margins as necessary. Although a short form, haiku have many facets, and I wanted to see what would happen if I just focused on kigo for an extended period of time.

I was only two days into the project, which I started in March, when I was struck by the idea to explore more about how food serves as a seasonal word in haiku. I was walking my dog, which is where I do most of my poetry-related thinking, and it occurred to me that with food being intimately connected to the seasons, food words had the potential to serve as useful kigo. However, Haiku World only contains a few food words, and many of them fall into the All-Year category, rather than a specific season. I browsed some other saijiki, which again, had few to no food words, many of them only pertaining to foods specific to Japan—not necessarily useful when you’re writing from Texas! So I decided to start a blog in which I would collect haiku with food words, organize them according to season, and write about my observations. At the moment, this isn’t structured like a formal saijiki, but ultimately, I do plan to put together a print volume that resembles Haiku World.

The idea for the podcast came soon after. I’d always wanted to do a podcast, but couldn’t think of what specific thing I wanted to talk about. I realized that with The Culinary Saijiki, the podcast could be a complement to the blog. I love conversational podcasts, so I wanted something where I could be in dialogue with my fellow haiku practitioners, and add another layer to the conversation.  

CH: You were a long-time resident of Austin and have recently moved to St. Louis. What’s enlivening about being in this new place?  What impact has the move had so far on your writing?

AW: This week, my partner and I are closing on a house in St. Louis proper, after three months of staying with family in the suburbs. I love being in an old city in St. Louis, and am excited to live in walking distance of the historic Soulard Market. It’s a neighborhood where you can really be part of a community. Being in a liminal state for the past few months, I haven’t been writing regularly. I did the Poetry Postcard Fest in August, which did help me with the structure I needed to carve out writing time every day. But between adjusting to a new job and searching for a place of our own, I haven’t had the brain space. I’m looking forward to being settled with my furniture and all of my writing tools, and cultivating a new space to work.

CH: You were co-editor of the Texas Poetry Calendar, and board president of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review. How did these literary citizenship roles affect you as a writer?

AW: Literary citizenship is part of my overall practice as a writer. To me, there’s no real distinction between the two. There are times when editing a publication, or doing budget reporting for a literary nonprofit, can take away from the time you spend as an individual writing or revising. But that doesn’t mean it’s not contributing to your writing life. Literary citizenship is how we ensure continuity of community. It’s how we foster relationships, find mentors, and support each other when times are tough. That sense of community is going to feed your work in its own way. How that works is not always immediate, tangible, or quantifiable. But I believe that being in community is essential to most of us as writers.

There are plenty of ways to be in community, and there are plenty of ways to practice literary citizenship. You don’t need to have a lot of money or even a lot of time. Sometimes, literary citizenship is as simple as giving someone a ride to a poetry reading because they can’t drive, or lack access to public transit. Literary citizenship, to me, is simply the actions we take that foster the greater literary community, without worrying about how it’s going to benefit us as individuals.

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

AW: Right now I’m reading A New Resonance 12: Emerging Voices in English-Language Haiku, edited by Jim Kacian and Julie Schwerin. I love this series, published by Red Moon Press. Each edition consists of a chapbook-length number of poems of a few haiku poets. A New Resonance 12 is the newest installment, and it’s got some of my favorite haijin (haiku practitioners) who are working right now.

One of my all-time favorite poetry collections is All-Night Lingo Tango by Barbara Hamby. This collection features free-verse poems, but also sonnets and abecedarians. It’s one of the best collections of formal poetry I’ve ever read. Part of the poem “Nine Sonnets from the Psalms,” is tattooed on my arm. It reads:

I’m a hundred million molecules in search
of an author. If that’s you, thank you for my skin.
Without it, I’d be in worse shape than I’m in.  

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 Kai Coggin

Background

Thursday, January 13, 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-with-kai-coggin-tickets-206977474197

Kai Coggin (she/her) is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Mining for Stardust (FlowerSong Press, 2021) and INCANDESCENT (Sibling Rivalry Press 2019). She is a queer woman of color who thinks Black Lives Matter, a teaching artist in poetry with the Arkansas Arts Council and Arkansas Learning Through the Arts, and host of the longest running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country—Wednesday Night Poetry. Recently awarded the 2021 Governor’s Arts Award and named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times, her fierce and powerful poetry has been nominated four times for The Pushcart Prize, as well as Bettering American Poetry 2015, and Best of the Net 2016 and 2018. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in POETRYCultural WeeklySOLSTICEBellevue Literary ReviewTABEntropySWWIMSplit This RockSinister WisdomLavender ReviewTupelo PressWest Trestle Review, and elsewhere. Coggin is Associate Editor at The Rise Up Review. She lives with her wife and their two adorable dogs in the valley of a small mountain in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

The Interview

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

KC: As a reader, I would describe myself as hungry, always searching for a voice, and image, a light that reflects mine, that speaks to the devastation and triumph of the human experience. I love language that gives hope, gives space to the trauma of living in these perilous human experiences, but also guides me to something higher within myself. I love Rumi, Harjo, Hirshfield. I open poetry books of my friends at random and let them speak to me in in the moment. I love humor and dry wit as well, and love Sedaris for that. 

My first memory of poetry is reading and re-reading Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. I checked it out at the library with a stack of “choose your own adventure” books, and it was like the top of my head was suddenly opened up to a whole other world— poems.

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

KC: I hardly have memories of my life up until the age of 7. I know I lived in Bangkok, went to a British International private school, and took ballet lessons— all experiences I can glean from photographs. My parents divorced and my mom, little sister and I crossed the pacific and came to Houston TX to chase the American dream. It’s something inherent, perhaps, the writing. My American father was a writer, a journalist for the AP and TIME Magazine. He interviewed sheiks and kings, reported on global atrocities and wars, but I didn’t know that as a child, just knew that he left us. My Filipina mother grew up on a farm, in a village in the Philippines. She memorized and recited poems to perform in neighboring villages, and I can recall a sepia photo of her mid-recitation, atop a feebly-formed platform reciting with the drama and ache of a seasoned actor. So this storytelling, this language, this need to voice something deeper— inherent.

As my young adolescence continued, I questioned my attraction to girls, my inner conflict of being raised in the Catholic faith while, at the same time feeling i would be “cast to the fires of hell” or something because I thought Kelly, the blonde girl in homeroom, was so pretty. I was raped at 13 by a stranger who knocked on the door asking for a glass of water. Many things tried their hardest to break me, and I wrote. I wrote in a journal. I wrote unrequited love letters for the girls I liked, but could never tell. I wrote tragic love poems that would never be read. Words saved me from myself. Words were where i could be myself. Words were my safe space in a world that made me feel unsafe.

In 7th grade, my language arts teacher Miss Sloan told me I could be a writer one day. It was the first time someone noticed something was good about me, that saw my real talent. I leaned in. I believed her.

CH: I understand you hold a Bachelor of Arts in Poetry and Creative Writing from Texas A&M, and that you were once a high school English teacher. I also understand you are currently a teaching artist with both the Arkansas Arts Council and Arkansas Learning through the Arts. How did you become interested in the role of teacher? What have you learned from teaching?

KC: Yes–a BA in creative writing and poetry, and a masters from the school of hard knocks. When I graduated with the degree in poetry, I didn’t know how to actually BECOME a poet, how to make a life out of it. This is something you learn in an MFA, but I barely survived undergrad as a lesbian in the Corps of Cadets (another story), so wanted to just get started with my life, start a career somehow. I had been in a teaching role for many years, in many different capacities, working with youth and in leadership roles growing up. Teaching seemed like something I could sink my teeth into, and looking back on my life at that point, it had only been teachers who saw me, who gave me a hand in the dark. I wanted to be that hand to other kids.

I got my emergency teacher certification and was in a 9th grade classroom the very next fall after graduating from college, back teaching in Alief, the same school district of my personal education. Alief was/is a very diverse demographic, about 98% Black and Latinx, 1 % Asian, 1% white. I knew (from personal experience) that kids growing up here were predestined to live on the margins of life/society. I wanted to be someone they could see as a reflection of themselves, who was “making it,” who had gone to college, gotten a job, bought a home for their mama, all the things.

I could see what the kids needed because I needed the same things when I was in their shoes. They needed safety, relevance and connection to the curriculum, to be heard, seen, and valued. I brought in unconventional lessons, and “radical” literature. I took them outside for poetry and drum circles. We read Romeo and Juliet with meter-stick sword battles and a balcony scenes where boys played Juliet and girls played Romeo, and there was no bullying, there was just love and laughing. So much laughing. Teaching was like my whole heart was on fire, with purpose and passion. But poetry still burned in the background… waiting.

By my fifth year, I had a poetry unit that was so incredible it culminated with Sandra Cisneros flying in to see and visit with my students for a whole day, bringing them signed copies of her brand new hardcover novel, signing them, listening to their poetry. It was LIFE-CHANGING for my kids (students). I saw what poetry had the capacity to achieve. I won Teacher of the Year that year, then won for the whole school district, then was a top-5 finalist out of 85,000 teachers in the Region. Then you know what I did?

I quit.

To become a poet.

Fast forward ten or so years, and here I am in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, with four published books under my belt, named “Best Poet in Arkansas” by the Arkansas Times in 2020, and was just awarded the Governor’s Arts Award in Education from the Arts Council in 2021. I am a poet, now, yes. But I am also a Teaching Artist with Arkansas Learning Through the Arts, bringing the healing and emotionally freeing magic of poetry to thousands of kids across the state each school year.

My high school kids in Houston are all grown up now and are my friends on FB, but I still feel like I am an example for them, a reflection of someone who looks like them— someone who chased her dreams, and caught them.

CH: Tell us a little about your work as editor at Rise Up Review. How has this work shaped you as a writer?

KC: Being an Associate Editor is a humbling experience. Seeing how many types of poets there are, how many different voices out there trying to be heard, it’s just mind-boggling. I always read submissions hoping to feel, hoping to be struck by emotion, tension, action, hope. I want to learn and see perspectives of others when I read for RUR. Rise Up Review is a journal of resistance, born out of defiance to the acts against humanity of the last administration. I am honored to help facilitate more poems being pushed out into a greater sphere, that fight towards justice and light. I see myself as a warrior poet. I write the wrongs. I fight with the sword of my words. There is still much work for us to do.

CH: You published your first poetry collection, Periscope Heart (Swimming with Elephants Publications, 2014), and have since published Wingspan (Golden Dragonfly Press, 2016), Incandescent (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2019), and now Mining for Stardust (FlowerSong Press, 2021). What do you see as the arc of your development as a writer?

KC: First of all, these are SUCH great questions, Cindy. Thank you for the opportunity to answer them. My arc as a writer has definitely shifted from book to book. PH was very inward facing, about my body image, love, spirit. Wingspan is laced with all of these inward facing poems as well, those reflections, but also I began to see the power of my platform (having a mic to read poems at each week, and naming injustices I see and felt, as a progressive blue flame in a very red state). My justice work began. My activism. My poetry as protest. Incandescent is almost all of that entirely, as we were in the hands of a cruel the of darkness.

Throughout all my books, I write with light, hoping to bring beauty and nature back into the consciousness of the reader, in such a troubling time. There are always love poems. Requited now. Queer and beautiful. But my work has gotten increasing more political, and as consciousness has evolved, I have evolved with it, adding my voice to the conversations on race and inclusion. Black Lives Matter, let me take the moment to say.

Mining for Stardust is all prismatic views of the previous facets of my work, plus the pandemic. It is my most intentional work. It was the hardest to write, to find the light in such unprecedented chaos and dark, such volatile upheaval. Here, let my book trailer try to convey what I hope this book does.

CH: Tell us a little about how Mining for Stardust came to be. What does it share with your earlier work? How does it differ?

KC: I wrote the first poem of the book after watching a viral video of a quarantined Italian opera star sing “Nessun Dorma” to his isolated comrades from his balcony– the future for all of us bleak and unknown. I cried, and I wrote. For all of 2020, I did this, leading a community of poets on Wednesday Night Poetry each week with pointed poems of emotion and light. The poems breathe and grieve, lose and love, heal and hope–they take you through and to the other side of this darkest time in our collective lived human experience. Mining for Stardust is memorial, grief, joy, beauty, truth, resistance, reflection, love, and balm for the aching human heart. It is the work of a scribe who earnestly engraves this moment into our human history. This collection is something you can hold in your hands, point to, and say, “I lived through all of this, too. I survived. I made it to the other side.”

CH: I found the breadth of poems in Mining for Stardust to be fascinating: from love poems to poems that rage against the pandemic and social injustice to poems that celebrate the way that land can be medicine. What guided you in the selection of the poems for this book, and in their sequencing?

KC: Chronological devastation and hope, loss and love. As I moved through the moments in earnest empathic feeling, the poems emerged.

CH: What sustains you in your writing practice? 

KC: Beauty. Being struck by beauty. Feeling that I am the only one on earth at a particular moment, seeing with the eyes of a poet, a minuscule precise sliver of existence. Naming it. Holding it on my tongue. Making it live forever.

CH: You’ve been hosting the monthly Wednesday Night Poetry series for quite some time. How was it for you to assume the role of continuing the unbroken streak of readings since February of 1989? How has it been for you to continue this practice through the pandemic?

KC: It has been the honor of my life holding space for poets all over the world to survive this pandemic.

CH: Now that Mining for Stardust is out, what are you working on?

KC: Resting. Breathing. Noticing. Writing. Being.

A Virtual Interview with Kelly Ann Ellis and Tina Cardona

Background

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

Event registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-letters-sent-inland-tickets-201375518597

BookWoman welcomes poets Tina Cardona and Kelly Ann Ellis, co-founders of the non-profit HotPoet, Inc., for an evening in celebration of Letters Sent Inland : Selected Poems of Glynn Monroe Irby.

In vivid poems that reflect Glynn Monroe Irby’s life-long connection with the Texas Gulf Coast, Letters Sent Inland explores Irby’s passionate relationship with both coastal ecology and industrial landscape. HotPoet, Inc. selected Letters Sent Inland for publication to honor Irby, who passed away in 2020. It is the first collection to be published by the organization.

hotpoet, Inc. is based in Houston, Texas. Its mission includes “creating literary arts events, publishing insightful literature, and building inclusive support networks that nurture joy as well as awareness of our obligation to care for each other and for our planet.” More information can be found at https://www.hotpoet.org/.

The Interview

CH: I know that you two (Kelly Ellis and Tina Cardona) have long known each other as part of Houston’s poetry community. Tell us a little bit about how HotPoet, Inc. came to be.

TC and KE: Before there was a hotpoet, Inc., we were just two friends who wanted to celebrate poetry, build community, and encourage passion in poetry. Our endeavors started with a conversation over cocktails at Leon’s, a bar in Houston, with a couple of other poets. Kelly said she wanted to publish an anthology of sultry poetry and call it “Is it Hot Enough For You?” and Tina thought that was a great idea, and that we should have a party with that theme.

Our first party was in the summer of 2013 and by winter, we had decided it would be a solstice celebration. We started building certain traditions around the event (a poetry game, a fire, an exquisite corpse poem, an instant anthology, a themed cocktail, etc.). The theme of these parties was always “heat” –however the poet chose to address this theme (as in passion, weather, food, energy, or politics). We acquired the name “Hot Poets” when we threw a benefit for Public Poetry and called it “Hot Poets and All that Jazz,” in which we featured several poets and an open mic backed up by a jazz band. The idea was that anyone could be a “hot poet”—and the name stuck.

We shortened it to “hotpoet” (all lower-case letters) when we established the nonprofit. Over the years, we continued to throw parties, but we felt a need to pair our own social awareness and advocacy with the events.  So, we hosted fundraisers for causes we supported as well as participating in 100,000 Poets for Change. Our themes took on a more serious tone as we attempted to address social and environmental issues that concern us all and to encourage fellow poets to use their voices to effect change. We decided that starting a nonprofit would enable us to further our efforts in this direction.

Since establishing hotpoet, Inc., we have had a big learning curve and it has been challenging in many ways, but it has also been a source of joy for us and, we hope, for others. Our mission is still the same as it was in the beginning: to build community, promote the arts, support artists and their work, and to help artists and others to use poetry and other self and/or body-based modalities (music, movement, visual arts) to increase their passion for life, and to write passionately about things they care deeply about.

CH: Founding a literary non-profit is an ambitious venture. How long did it take you to go from the idea of the non-profit to its implementation and first publication?

TC and KE: We got the idea for having a nonprofit some time ago, since we were already throwing events and fundraisers, trying to build community, and promoting artists and writers. It seems we had the idea for years before we had the impetus of Glynn’s book project to spur us into actually doing the groundwork for it.

KE: We began working on Glynn’s book in November 2020, started the nonprofit in December 2020, published the book in April 2021, and had the book launch event in June 2021. I think that this wouldn’t normally be a realistic timeline, but I had a lot of time on my hands due to the pandemic and did not have the constraints of working a full-time job. I think working full-time would have made the process a lot longer. Also, we had a lot of help from our Secretary, Jack Kendall, who did much of the paperwork, and my [Kelly’s] daughter Dominique, who put together the website.

CH: I remember Glyn Monroe Irby as a poet whose vision was so grounded in his life-long experience of the Gulf Coast, and as a warm and generous man who often spoke words of encouragement. Tell us a little about how you knew Glynn.

KE:  I knew Glynn through the poetry community, where we became close friends. When we first met, I used to joke that I was like Eliza Doolittle and he was Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. Glynn was brilliant, with a wealth of information about poetry, philosophy, science, art, architecture, history, you name it. He was also a good conversationalist and listener with a subtle sense of humor and a strong appreciation for beauty. I admired him greatly and cared for him deeply.

We used to trade poems often and, although we had very different styles, we appreciated each other’s work. He helped me extensively over the years with organizing and formatting chapbooks, both for myself and my students, with whom I did a yearly anthology chapbook and a book release party, and he was always generous with his time and efforts. He also helped hotpoet with designing flyers and covers for our instant anthologies. He loved a good party and was an integral participant in our annual solstice celebrations.

TC: I met Glynn when I was 14 years old and he was dating my older sister.  I was an introverted bookworm with a stutter in a small town, and Glynn appeared worldly, wore bowler hats, cravats and carried an ornate walking cane (although he didn’t need a cane). 

While he waited interminably for my sister, I would ask him a million questions and tell him about the books I was reading.  He was the only person I knew who had the patience to hear me finish a sentence and who was genuinely interested in novels.  We remained friends throughout adulthood and were not surprised when we realized we were both writing poetry. 

CH: Letter Sent Inland: Selected Poems of Glynn Monroe Irby collects Glynn’s poetry in an individual volume for the first time. How did you come about engaging with this project?

KE: When Glynn passed away, several of his friends approached me and said that they would like to publish a volume of his poetry. Daniel Carrington and I both had PDF manuscripts of collections Glynn had put together and submitted to various presses, but they had gone unpublished. Dustin Pickering had worked with Glynn on covers and editing in the past, and he offered to help. Chuck Wemple and I discussed taking Glynn’s best work and creating a curated collection, and Chuck offered to facilitate the meetings.

Because Glynn had delegated funds to be given to organizations that promoted poetry and the arts, the executor of his estate decided to award some money to hotpoet for our projects, one of which was to include this book. We had been throwing events and benefits for years, and we felt it was time to become an official nonprofit and devote our resources and energies in a more focused way.

Glynn’s friend Jack Kendall, an accountant who has represented nonprofits over the years, agreed to be on the board as secretary/treasurer and graciously took on the bulk of paperwork needed to establish us as a nonprofit. Tina and I set up a bank account, my daughter Dominique helped to design our website where we advertised the book in advance, so that gave us a means to publicize the project. At that point we were underway. We began meeting weekly via ZOOM, and with each meeting would review what we had accomplished and then set up tasks to be finished before the next meeting.

CH: Book publication is always a collaborative process. Because this is a posthumous volume, I’m sure there were particular challenges, not the least of which was not having Glynn to consult. Tell us a little about the process and challenges in creating this collection.

KE: Glynn was a perfectionist, and it helped that the poems we had were complete and well crafted, but we still had some challenges with creating a cohesive manuscript from the extensive body of work he left behind. I think Daniel suggested the title “Letters Sent Inland,” which was a phrase from one of Glynn’s poems, and that sparked the concept of arranging four sections, beginning with coastal poems and working our way “inland” to more interior landscapes, moving even deeper with poems of memory, and ending with poems of the heart and spirit.

We decided together which poems were his strongest, and organized sections along these lines. Then we each chose the sections we were most interested in curating: Daniel took on the coastal poems, Chuck chose the inland landscapes, I chose the family and memory, poems, and Dustin took on the heart/spirit poems. We next sequenced our individual sections to create an arc within the section that complemented our overall arc. Daniel did the bulk of the formatting, using his skills and resources as a designer to create a new manuscript, which was challenging because he was working with PDFs.

After we had our manuscript, we began editing. This was challenging because, as you noted, Glynn was not present to consult. Still, we tried to stay as true to Glynn’s intentions as possible with each of the poems. Most of our edits dealt with punctuation, capitalization, word consistency, and we decided that we had to agree as a group before we made any changes. This involved some discussion, even though the changes were relatively few and minor. Occasionally Glynn had two versions of the same poem, and we had to figure out which was more recent (or which was the stronger version). I also had inherited his binder of hard-copy poems that he used when he did readings and we frequently referred to it. We did not always agree on everything, but we resolved our differences as friends, and we all viewed the project as a labor of love. The most important thing to all of us was to produce a collection that honored Glynn and of which he would have been proud.

CH: Since the publication of Letter Sent Inland, hotpoet, Inc. has also launched a bi-annual e-journal, Equinox, in which I had the pleasure of having my work published. What is your vision for the journal? How did you decide on the e-journal format?

TC and KE: The spirit of our solstice parties was always one of spontaneity, joy, and passion—but we decided that Equinox would be a bit different. We wanted a curated journal with emphasis on acquiring more crafted work and artistic balance. Madeleine Castator, our editor, conceived the idea of using the archetypal significance of the equinox as an aesthetic principal. The equinox is the beginning of change—a movement from light to dark in the fall (and dark to light in the spring)— and thus is poised on the cusp of transformation. This informed our theme: “A Change in the Weather.”

Compared to an in-print journal, we thought the e-journal would have less overhead expense and involve less labor, as in the physical work of storing books, keeping inventory, and mailing out orders. That way, we could use the reading fees for prize money and then make the journal free to the public, which we did. However, we did not figure on the cost of joining CLMP and subscribing to Submittable (both of which were expensive but necessary), so we did not exactly break even. But we are learning as we go and are quite proud of the finished product, which we think is beautiful. Kelly is old-school in that she still likes having a physical journal to hold in her hand, but there are so many possibilities with an e-journal that would be simply too expensive for us in a paper journal.

Having made the initial investment in CLMP and Submittable, our next issue will not be constrained by costs. That way, we can continue to have colorful images and beautiful elements of design without worrying about money, and thus we can keep it free to the public, feature both literary and visual arts, and stay true to our mission of supporting artists and their work.

CH: I understand Letters Sent Inland is the first publication of The Wildwood Project. Tell us a little about the mission of The Wildwood Project. Are additional titles currently in the works?

TC and KE: We formed The Wildwood Project to help us in our goal of publishing Glynn’s book, assembling a committee of editors and volunteers who gave generously of their time and efforts. We want to continue with our efforts as a small press and hope to publish future titles, but the committee of editors might change depending on the project and who wants to be involved.

Our next full-length book will probably be a collection of the poems submitted to our solstice celebrations over the past 8 years. We are also interested in publishing a heritage collection that features some of the poetry institutions that helped to found the Houston poetry scene (First Friday, Helios/the Mausoleum, NOTSUOH, etc.). We hope to honor the work of poets who paved the way for the thriving community we have today.

We haven’t yet started on any of these projects yet–these just some ideas that we have been discussing. Our next publication will probably be our traditional instant anthology, a spontaneous collection put together at our winter solstice celebration. This year our theme is “Still I Rise” (from the Maya Angelou poem by that name).

Beginning in December, we are also calling for submissions to the spring edition of Equinox. We don’t want to take on more than we can reasonably do well and we never want to get so overextended that it stops being fun. We think one publication per year might be a good beginning goal for us as a small press.

CH: Running a press, however small, is a huge undertaking. How do you balance your own writing lives with the work of hotpoet, Inc.?

KE: To be honest, that part is hard. My own writing has taken a back seat since starting the nonprofit. It is difficult to juggle the two different pursuits. I hope that as we get more grounded, I will have a better sense of how to stay balanced and keep up with my own writing.

I have heard this same concern voiced by other friends who have been involved in running nonprofits in the past and who quit for that very reason: the difficulty of pursuing their own writing while running the nonprofit. I think it is challenging to switch gears because the nonprofit requires the analytical side of brain and creative writing uses the other side. Hopefully I’ll get better at it, though, since both are important to me.

TC: I have a continuous reverberation of guilt because dedicated time for all endeavors remains a challenge.  I am also a committed clinical social worker in education and this too is draining on every level.  Add this to my own writing practice which requires cultivation of craft, mind and spirit and I find myself struggling to do all I value in a way that honors my love for it.  hotpoet is celebratory though and the solstice parties have become a festive tradition within our local poetry community.  I am honored to be a part of this community and to uplift local poets and our work.

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 Carolyn Dahl

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

Event registration at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/142621415493

Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for more information.

Background

Carolyn Dahl was the winner of the “Poetry of the Plains and Prairies” chapbook competition sponsored by North Dakota State University. The press published her poems, A Muddy Kind of Love, as a limited edition, signed and numbered letterpress-printed book. Her 2019 chapbook, Art Preserves What Can’t Be Saved, won first place in the Press Women of Texas’ contest and the National Federation of Press Women’s Communications’ contest, chapbook division. She is the co-author of The Painted Door Opened with Carolyn Florek, the author of three art books, and has been published in many anthologies and literary journals.  Raised in Minnesota, she now writes from Houston Texas where she raises monarch butterflies, releasing them into her garden.   http://www.carolyndahlstudio.com. 

The Interview

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

CD: First of all, let me thank Bookwoman Bookstore and Cindy Huyser for this opportunity to read from my two chapbooks and to be interviewed with such interesting questions.  I’m grateful to participate in this series.

As to my earliest memory of poetry, I was maybe eight years old when I read a child’s poem called “Little Boy Blue” by Eugene Field and was reduced to tears. In that moment, I realized there were two kinds of language: the language of every day life and the crafted, heightened language of a poem that had the power to move emotions.  For some reason though, it never occurred to me to write poetry myself until late in life, even though I had been a diligent journal keeper since age eleven. It was only after a career in singing/acting and visual art, and the publication of three art books, that I dared to think of myself as a Writer, as opposed to a writer. An invitation to visit a poetry group returned me to the beauty of language that had so moved me as a child and started my interest in composing poems of my own.

CH: You’re a visual artist as well as a poet. How would you describe yourself as an artist? How does your life as an artist influence your work as a poet?

CD: My professional career for twenty five years was mainly focused on textile art, though I also worked in a variety of other mediums. (www.carolyndahlstudio.com).  I exhibited my work in many galleries, taught fabric dyeing and painting methods at national conferences, lectured, appeared on HGTV and PBS television, and wrote books and articles in my field.  Because I have always worked in multiple methods, I had no difficulty adding poetry to my options because all my creative endeavors flow from the same source. I don’t change who I am when I make art versus write poetry, nor do I feel I’m in different zones as I switch from the verbal to the visual.

In fact, bouncing back and forth can be beneficial, such as when I’m having a difficult intellectual problem with a poem, I find that the change to a physical activity (art) often breaks open a solution. Working in both seems to suit me as I like the duality of perspectives and the satisfaction each brings. 

CH: Tell us a little about your chapbook, Art Preserves What Can’t Be Saved (The Orchard Street Press, 2019). What was your vision for this book?  

CD: When the publisher asked me to submit a chapbook after a poem of mine had won a finalist award, I admit I didn’t have one ready. Instead of presenting him with a collection of already written poems organized around a unified theme, I had to uncover a vision inherent in a diverse collection of poems I had on hand. The method I used was to print all the possible entries, lay them on the floor, write on each page the main components (subject, emotion, images), contemplate the topics intently, and read them out loud multiple times. As I worked with the poems, I began to see an organizing principle develop of four sections based on the theme of the Art of My Life, what is important to me (making art, empathy for others’ lives, respecting animals, poetry writing). I was fortunate to have the publisher accept the book, allow me some artistic input on the selection of the book’s cover, and to change to perfect binding instead of a stapled chapbook, which allows it to have a spine and be stocked in bookstores.

CH: Most recently, your chapbook A Muddy Kind of Love (North Dakota State University Press, 2020) won the “Poetry of the Plains and Prairies” chapbook competition sponsored by NDSU. First of all, congratulations on this recognition. What inspired this book? How did your process in writing and compiling this manuscript differ from that of Art Preserves What Can’t Be Saved? How was it the same?

CD: Thank you.  I am very honored to have received this award from NDSU press and am especially pleased because it fulfilled a long held dream—to have a handmade, letterpress printed, signed and numbered collectors’ edition of my poems.

Unlike Art Preserves What Can’t Be Saved, these poems were written specifically to a theme (a disappearing way of life that I wished to preserve) and were part of a full-length manuscript I was writing. My first task was to decide which poems in the larger manuscript would lend themselves to the short form of a chapbook. I wanted it to read like a stand-alone book, totally sufficient to itself, without any gaps, or sense of missing poems in the through line of the theme.

Once again, I used my floor shuffle method to organize the book as I had with Art Preserves What Can’t Be Saved. Because the book features both a female and male perspectives, I also had to decide if I would group the poems by gender, or mix them together. After many arrangement tries, I chose the former because I thought it gave a more complex development of the characters through the power of a series.  An interesting result of developing this chapbook that I hadn’t anticipated was that I gained insight into my larger work’s organization and how my poems moved through its pages. The process also refined my definition of what a chapbook was versus a full-length book and how different they are.

CH: The poems of A Muddy Kind of Love reflect a very different place than your current home in Houston. How does place figure in your work?

CD: Very prominently. Place is the constant atmosphere behind all the poems.  It establishes tone, provides the conflict, stimulates images, and is often the catalyst for the poem’s existence.  I once read that the landscape of where you grew up affects who you become, your attitudes, approach to life, and dominates your memories, and that the places you live later don’t change your personality that much. I don’t know if this has been proven true, but perhaps it accounts for why so many people write about the terrain of their birth.

A Muddy Love Kind of Love is set in the past, in a rural midwestern environment (though similar farms and lives exist everywhere), uses the concrete diction of the area, and relies heavily on my memories of Minnesota.  However, this dedication to place isn’t static, but could shift with each book I write.   A Muddy Kind of Love relies on this Midwest landscape to spur the narratives of its poems; whereas, Art Preserves What Can’t Be Saved ranges through many locations, my travels, and my life in Houston.  Different environments always stimulate different poetic responses. What stays the same may be how you approach your topics.

CH: I was fascinated several years ago to learn you raise monarch butterflies, and I’m curious about your experience. What have you learned from this experience? How does the time and attention raising butterflies demands relate to the demands of art and writing? How has this experience influenced your art and writing?

CD: Raising Monarch butterflies has been my passion for many years. I can’t even remember when I started. If I am successful, I may produce 100-200 butterflies a year.  That’s not a lot for a short-lived, fragile creature.  But nurturing nature can’t be measured in numbers, nor the pleasure of living with wings described.  I consider it a privilege instead of a task. In return, they allow me to observe their form of life closely, with all its strange and fascinating habits (did you know some caterpillars nod their heads in time to singing), which forces my imagination into new areas. Such as, what does a caterpillar think about music? You can’t exactly google a caterpillar’s mind.

Many similarities can be found between the writing ritual and raising butterflies. Feeding caterpillars five times a day for many weeks echos the writing ritual of “showing up for the muse.” The thrill of the transformative process matches how a triggering idea becomes a poem, and the excitement of releasing the hatched butterflies into my garden clearly equals the joy of watching a new book move out into the world.  More importantly, raising butterflies brings a sense of awe, beauty and wonder into my daily, often repetitive life.  It is this awe that energizes my desire to write.

CH: In addition to your poetry books, you’re also the author of three art books. Where do the processes of creating an art book and a poetry book overlap?

CD: When I write an art book, it is like writing two books at once. I must compose an interesting text, the how-to step-outs which are an art form in themselves, and then create the art that illustrates the text.  It is a very long process, requiring a shifting back and forth between verbal and visual skills all in the same book. As a poet I work mainly with words and don’t need to consider how they will be illustrated.  When I am finished, I turn the manuscript over to a publisher to decide any visuals. A poetry book has a somewhat set format also, is divided into sections usually,  whereas art books take a variety of formats with no standard presentation.

CH: Do you have a particular medium you prefer as an artist? A particular form or aesthetic to which you’re drawn in poetry?

CD: Now that I no longer teach around the country, and only exhibit my textile art by invitation, I am returning to doing mainly drawings. Perhaps the presence of 100 sheets of white paper waiting in my studio to be filled with images motivates me. I can’t ignore blank surfaces for very long. As to what aesthetic attracts me in poetry, I tend to favor free verse, narrative, imagistic, nature referenced, and poetry where the surreal bumps up against reality.

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

CD: I don’t know if these poets influenced my style or technique. I tend to avoid dissecting poets’ work that I love because it loses some magic when I return to it. But these poets have certainly stunned, excited, taken my breath away, and saddened me because I wished so badly that their lines were mine: Mary Oliver for her alertness to nature, Kevin Prufer for intellectual complexity, Ted Kooser for the brilliance of the ordinary, and Bridget Pegeen Kelly for her ability to make me feel I’m in the middle of an incantation. However, when I begin to write, I find I’m taken over by a very strong inner voice that I fear often obliterates other poets’ influences. Of course, I could be wrong because influences are absorbed unconsciously. A reader might be able to detect an influence in my work that I do not see.  Poets aren’t always aware of what is in their own poems.

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

CD: I am reading a lot of poets from other countries now. I just finished Dear Ms. Schubert, translations by Robin Davidson of Polish Ewa Lipska’s poems.  With a pencil in hand, which is the way I always read,  I enjoyed underlining incredible phrases like:  “…I open my mouth and flip the switch in my throat,” or “…I won’t translate the words for you I never said,” or “…last page was torn out of the flying bird of messages,”  and “…he dreams of a literary pandemic capable of claiming millions of victims.” Wow.

A Virtual Interview with Loretta Diane Walker

Background

Thursday, January 14, 2021  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information, or register with Eventbrite: (https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-virtual-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-tickets-135623037155)

Loretta Diane Walker is the author of five collections of poetry, and her sixth collection, Day Begins When Darkness is in Full Bloom, is forthcoming in 2021. Her most recent title is Ode to My Mother’s Voice (Lamar University Press, 2019). Her third collection, In This House (Bluelight Press, 2015), won the 2016 Phyllis Wheatley Book Award. A member of the Texas Institute of Letters, a nine-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a Best of the Net nominee, she is not only an award winning poet but a musician who plays her tenor saxophone sometimes, a daughter navigating a new world, a teacher who still likes her students, a two-time breast cancer survivor, and an artist who has been humbled and inspired by a collection of remarkable people. Of her work, Naomi Shihab Nye writes, “Loretta Diane Walker writes with compassionate wisdom and insight—her poems restore humanity.” 

The Interview

CH: When you last featured for the BookWoman 2nd Thursday series, it was 2016, prior to your winning the Harlem Book Fair’s Phyllis Wheatley Award for In This House. Congratulations on winning this national award. How did it change your life as a poet?

LDW: I garnered recognition from various entities I would have never considered. I was asked to deliver the commencement address for the 2016 fall commencement ceremonies at the University of Texas at the Permian Basin. In 2018, I was invited to serve as one of the back-to-school convocation speakers for the Ector County Independent School District.

I have been invited to read/present at a variety of poetry venues and have been asked to judge a number of poetry contests. The award afforded me a new level of respectability.

CH: Since 2016, you’ve also published two more volumes of poetry—Desert Light and Ode to My Mother’s Voice: and other poems, both from Lamar University Press. Tell us a little about how your relationship with the press came about.

LDW: Jerry Craven heard me read from the anthology Her Texas at The Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas weekend. He heard me a second time at Angelo State Writer’s Conference. After the presentation at Angelo State, he said, “I like your work, send me something.” Afterwards, he gave me his business card. This is how Desert Light came into being. I submitted a second time, Katie Hoerth accepted my manuscript— Ode to My Mother’s Voice: and other poems came into fruition. I hope to publish with them again one day.

CH: What have you learned in the process of publishing these most recent books?

LDW: First of all, I have received the gift of “belief” in my work from the publisher. Twice this press has invested in me. This is also true of the other two collections (Bluelight Press). These last two books revealed, if I were writing a novel series, light and the night sky would be the protagonists. My reference to them is numerous. Also, when my mother was about to share something about herself with me, she would make a reference to something in the sky as a segue to the conversation. If she said, “That’s a harvest moon; we used to pick cotton by it,” I knew to listen. I mean really listen. She was about to share something that would make her vulnerable.  I have deduced the night sky is a perfect example of vulnerability.

CH: The sense of place that permeates the poems of Desert Light is striking. Please tell us a little about your experience of these poems, and how the book came together.

LDW: Odessa is nowhere on the top 100 places to visit in the world list (LOL), but it has a barren beauty that mesmerizes me. The sky here is absolutely intriguing. To watch it change is a show in and of itself.  In Desert Light, my goal is to share this beauty—from the way pink streaks a morning sky to the way the wind blows autumn leaves. This collection is a tour guide for hidden beauty in a desert place. 

CH: One of the pleasures I had in reading Desert Light was to encounter in the poems the presence of the night sky and the liminal surface between darkness and light. As a writer, how do these subjects call to you?

LDW: I have had an obsession with the night sky since childhood. I can remember stretching out on the sidewalk or in the grass looking up, ogling at the stars, the moon, or clouds skirting the moon. I felt a connection then, and still do, that I cannot verbalize. I believe as long as there is light in the darkness there is hope. Perhaps what I am actually writing about is hope— a hope that I have carried from childhood, hope I will carry into the future.

CH: Your fifth volume, Ode to My Mother’s Voice: and other poems, came out in 2019. Tell us a little about your connection to the ode, and how it informed the poems of this collection.

LDW: Since the ode is a platform to offer praise and honor, I thought it would be a perfect vehicle for what I was trying to achieve. The purpose of this collection is to honor my mother. All of my books thus far contain poems about her, this one however, is to “spotlight” her wisdom and essence. I asked my siblings to share at least one life lesson, or “Mary Walker sayings” as we fondly refer to them, with me to include in this book. Many of the epigraphs in this collection are things she said to us. Mother died June 15, 2018. My siblings and I experienced her slow decline starting in September 2017 until then. She spent much of that time in the hospital. All of us, including her caregiver, rotated time spending the night/day with her so she would never be isolated from her loved ones. I wrote some of these poems from her hospital room. Ode, in a sense, is my mother’s eulogy. 

CH: The way that you employ metaphor in your poems lends a plushness to the work, a deep dimensionality. How do you approach the use of metaphor in a poem?

LDW: I truly wish I had an intellectual answer for you. What I can offer is this—I view life in metaphors.

CH: How has the pandemic affected your life as a poet? I’m thinking not only of direct impacts, but of your work as a teacher and the extra demands the pandemic has made.  

LDW: Unfortunately, my pandemic reality includes a new cancer diagnosis. Much of my energy is spent on doctor’s appointments, visits to the oncology center for treatments, CT scans, all the care healing entails. Also, I teach face-to-face and I am also responsible for providing instructions for virtual students. This requires a great amount of energy as well. As far as writing, I write when I am in the waiting room, in the infusion chair, on lunch breaks, on the weekends if I have the energy, and sometimes in the evenings after work. Gratefully, I have had various opportunities to present workshops and do readings via Zoom.  

CH: What are you working on now?

LDW: I am working on a collection entitled Day Begins When Darkness is In Full Bloom. It is forthcoming from Bluelight Press in 2021. It is eclectic in nature, thus the title. Some poems address my current bout with cancer for the third time, teaching face-to-face during COVID, my response as a black person to our nation’s current social unrest, and how I am dealing with COVID in general. I don’t know how many times this proverb has been quoted to me: Things will look better in the morning; I find it quite ironic morning begins at the darkest hour. However, where there is light in the darkness, there is hope. This collection is my journey through the darkest part of morning, to the brightest part of day where the sun is hope incarnate.

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

LDW: I am currently reading, “Mary Oliver’s Devotions, Jan Richardson’s The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Time of Grief, and Karla K. Morton and Alan Birkelbach’s A Century of Grace. I have one book in the bedroom, one in my office, and the other in the living room. This is the way I read poetry. (LOL)

A Virtual Interview with Ann Howells

Background

Thursday, December 10, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Feature Ann Howells edited Illya’s Honey for eighteen years both in print and online. Her books include: Under a Lone Star (Village Books Press), Cattlemen & Cadillacs as editor (Dallas Poets Community Press), So Long As We Speak Their Names (Kelsay Books), and Painting the Pinwheel Sky (Assure Press). Her four chapbooks include: Black Crow in Flight, published through Main Street Rag’s 2007 competition and Softly Beating Wings was the 2017 William D. Barney Competition winner from Poetry Society of Texas (Blackbead Books). Ann gets involved in poetry whenever she has a chance, attending festivals, belonging to several workshop groups, and offering her services as contest judge when asked. She’s even won a couple local contests. Her work appears in many small press and university journals. She has received seven Pushcart nominations and one Best of the Net nomination.

The Interview

CH: You last appeared in this space in 2017. What’s been going on in your writing life since then?

AH: Later in 2017, my manuscript Softly Beating Wings won the William D. Barney Memorial Chapbook Competition and was published by Blackbead Books, which was a thrill. I read at poetry conferences and festivals, even travelling to Santa Fe – farthest afield I’ve gone to do a reading. And I’ve had two more books published, chaired the Student Poetry Competition for Poetry Society of Texas for two years, and served on their board for one. Of course, I’m still active with my first love, Dallas Poets Community, which returned to its original form as a workshopping group. I attend virtual lectures and classes often.

CH: I know that while you have been in Texas for many years, you hail from the northeast. Tell us a little about your thoughts in regard to the poetry of place?

AH: I hail from the Chesapeake Bay area, mid-Atlantic coast. Much of my early life was spent on an island, among watermen who harvested the bay. I’ve written so very much about the place and the people that I often feel there’s nothing left to say, but next time I sit down to write the place once again steals quietly into the poem. I guess I’ll never stop writing about it.

CH: I was delighted to hear about your most recent publications. What was your journey in writing and publishing So Long As We Speak Their Names?

AH: This book is the one I’ve been writing for twenty years or more – about watermen on Chesapeake Bay, their families, lifestyles, relationships, fears, and strengths. They greatly influenced my character, values, even thought processes. Memories of the area, the time, and the people are etched indelibly somewhere deep inside and continue to seep into my writing. This book is very close to my heart.

CH: What are your thoughts on poetry as portraiture? How can poems bridge time and space?

AH: Many of the poems in this book are character sketches. These were country people: all the women addressed as Miss or Aunt, then their first name. The men were addressed as Cap’n (Captain), a mark of respect in a waterman’s community, followed by their first name. My family appears, their friends, neighbors, and relatives. The poems keep them alive for me.

CH: I was also thrilled to hear about Painting the Pinwheel Sky. How did you arrive at this project?

AH: I became interested in Van Gogh, read several biographies, then his letters to Theo. I wrote one or two poems because Van Gogh’s thought processes as he planned a painting fascinated me. The project spiraled completely out of control. I wrote in Van Gogh’s voice, then in voices of his various mistresses, his family, and his acquaintances, including his doctor/therapist. What was originally intended as a chapbook, became a full-length book, albeit more novella than novel length.

CH: Tell us a little about the role of research as you went about writing the poems of Painting the Pinwheel Sky. As an artist, what did you learn?

AH: This book is a real departure for me. I kept referring to letters between Van Gogh and his brother, Theo, who managed an art gallery in Paris and saw promise in Vincent’s work, set up shows, and helped promote. I was intrigued by the fact that Theo and his wife were supportive while Van Gogh’s mother, a watercolor artist, was dismissive. After his death she burned many paintings that he had stored in her attic. In one letter to Theo, she even suggested that Vincent’s death would be a good thing. The lesson I took away was that if you feel compelled to create, nothing should be more important. You should let no one discourage you.

CH: You now have several titles to your name. How has your approach to poetry changed over time? What’s remained the same?

AH: More than before, I tend to become immersed in a single subject and write many, many poems exploring different aspects. Some duplicate subject matter, but I find that my thoughts evolve. When that happens, I destroy earlier versions or incorporate parts into newer poems. I write almost entirely in free verse, a few longer pieces now and some poetic series. The biggest change is that I now occasionally write about places other than Chesapeake Bay. Also, I am currently in a writing partnership with a friend. Writing response poems has expanded my manner of thinking about poetry.

CH: The isolation and stresses of the pandemic have affected people in so many ways, and 2020 has certainly been an “interesting time” in terms of our national life. What impacts has your writing life felt in 2020?

AH: In April, I took the April Challenge and wrote a poem a day. April extended into early May, though I sorely missed being able to workshop them. After that I had a dry spell until late September when I began writing furiously again, through September, October, and into early November. Now I’m in a dry spell again, but I spend my time revising and submitting. I’m a terrible housekeeper; I’d much rather be writing.

CH: What are you working on now?

AH: Currently I’m putting together two tiny volumes of tiny poems which I plan to send to a few friends and have available at readings I hope to do when the pandemic ends. Each volume holds about twelve poems. I’m calling them Hip Pocket Poems I and II. I may end up selling some at readings for a dollar each.

CH: What are you currently reading?

AH: In addition to poetry, I enjoy Scottish noir. And recently I’ve been reading about WWII, especially novels that take place in England. I’ve read that America observed the war while England lived it, and I’m finding that true, frequently shocked by what the English suffered. I also read poetry books recently published by friends – J. Todd Hawkins has a great one just out, tracing the blues through the south. Also, Ken Hada, Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue, Don Stinson, and Roy J. Bekemeyer have wonderful new books. I always keep one novel and one poetry book in progress.

A Virtual Interview with David Meischen

Background

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

Feature David Meischen has been honored by a Pushcart Prize for “How to Shoot at Someone Who Outdrew You,” a chapter of his memoir, originally published in The Gettysburg Review and available in Pushcart Prize XLIIAnyone’s Son, David’s debut poetry collection, is new from 3: A Taos Press. A lifelong storyteller, he received the 2017 Kay Cattarulla Award for Best Short Story from the Texas Institute of Letters. Storylandia, Issue 34, currently available, is entirely devoted to David’s fiction: The Distance Between Here and Elsewhere: Three Stories. David has a novel in stories and a short story collection; he is actively seeking an agent and/or publisher for both. He has served as a juror for the Kimmel Harding Nelson center for the arts; in the fall of 2018, he completed a writing residency at Jentel Arts. Co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press, David lives in Albuquerque, NM, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.

Cindy Huyser hosts; an open mic follows. Zoom connection info available from bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com.

The Interview

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

DM: I wanted to be a writer as soon as I knew what writing was. I wanted to write grand romantic novels in the tradition of the biblical epics that dominated movie screens when I was young. I spent years daydreaming one of them, including the title—Weep Not for Me—about Veronica, the woman who handed her veil to Jesus as he carried the cross, so that he might wipe his face. Not a word of this story ever made it onto a page. As for poetry, the first poem that captured my imagination was Longfellow’s “The Wreck of the Hesperus.” Along about fifth grade, I memorized every single stanza—twenty two of them. To this day, some of the lines come back to me.

CH: You’ve had success in a variety of writing genres, including a Pushcart Prize for memoir-in-progress, publication of and awards for a number of short stories, and now this collection of poetry. How would you describe yourself as a writer?

DM: I would not call myself a poet. I find the writing of poems deeply engaging but I would say the same about writing essays, a serious pursuit since my first semester of college English more than fifty years ago. Poetry came later, in my mid-thirties—and fiction in my mid-fifties. What ties them all together—essay, poetry, fiction—is narrative. I am a born storyteller. When I sit down to write, almost without exception, I hear a voice that wants to tell a story. I follow that voice.

CH: Your new full-length poetry collection, Anyone’s Son, is your first. How did this project come together? Over what period of time were these poems written?

DM: In my mid-forties, trying to acknowledge and then embrace myself as a gay man, I found that I was writing poems about identity, about gay identity, about gay experiences. The earliest of the poems in Anyone’s Son was drafted—in rough form—in 1992. About four years ago, I saw that I had enough “identity” poems for a chapbook. And then perhaps a collection. One member of my poetry critique group encouraged me to keep writing poems for this collection. Another read all the poems I thought I wanted to include and helped me see how I might shape them. Andrea Watson, at 3: A Taos Press, twice asked me the difficult questions I needed to re-organize and re-order, to write new poems to fill gaps she could identify for me.

CH: As someone who grew up in rural south Texas at a time when repression of gay expression was the norm, what is it like to have Anyone’s Son out in the world?

DM: Since the release of Anyone’s Son, two straight male friends my age have written to me, praising the collection, and explaining how the poems resonate with their own experiences, their own anxieties over sex, as they came of age. I can’t tell you how affirming it is to hear from these men that at our core we share something. Their testimonials make me feel that I chose the right title: Anyone’s Son.

CH: A few years ago, you left Austin behind for Albuquerque, and it wasn’t long before Dos Gatos Press found another publisher to take on The Texas Poetry Calendar. What’s changed in your literary life since moving to Albuquerque? Do you see changes in your writing because of it?

DM: I moved here with my husband. Think what it means for me, having grown up in remote rural South Texas, decades ago to claim the word husband. New Mexico gave me physical distance—and the perspective that goes with it. It gave me a new landscape. It gave me the space to approach memoir with confidence, to write the difficult poems for Anyone’s Son—to write them without fear. To celebrate myself and my husband.

CH: You’ve landed some residencies in the last few years. What does the residency experience give a writer? How have those experiences shaped your work?

DM: In the past decade I’ve had two residencies at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Institute for the Arts in Nebraska City, Nebraska, and one at Jentel Arts, near Sheridan, Wyoming. Both offered two invaluable gifts: time and the company of writers and artists who love what they are doing. In the fall of 2015, in Nebraska, City, because I had whole days of uninterrupted time, I sat down one morning and wrote a paragraph about the day I learned of Hank Locklin’s death. This paragraph led me to a childhood memory of washing the family car while country music poured out of my father’s transistor radio, and that memory took me to the dance hall in my home town. Days later, I had a narrative essay of some 5500 words, looping forward and back through time. The magic here was in the time I was given to write—and the infectious enthusiasm of the five young artists in residency with me. I got to read portions of my essay at a monthly event hosted by the Center. And then my good luck compounded. The Gettysburg Review published this piece and nominated it for a Pushcart Prize. The Pushcart folks selected it for Pushcart XLII. I credit the residency.

CH: Tell us a little about the novel in stories you’re circulating, and the short story collection. What drew you to the “novel in stories” form?

DM: In the summer of 1994, I set out to write a short story set in a small town in South Texas. I did not want to get stuck in my own home town of Orange Grove. I wanted the freedom of a fictional town, my own creation. I wanted intimations of drought-tolerant vegetation. The Spanish word nopalito, meaning prickly pear cactus leaf, suggested itself, and Nopalito, Texas was born. As an MFA student a decade later, I found myself returning to Nopalito. At some point, I could see characters and stories coalescing. I wrote more Nopalito stories. I tinkered with groupings, with sequencing. Nopalito: A Novel in Stories has gone through two major revision stages. Currently, it is seeking a publisher.

CH: What are you working on right now?

DM: I have an almost finished memoir. One of the chapters has been especially thorny. It needs a return visit. My fascination with pantoums continues apace. I want to write more of those. Lately, I am examining my fascination with place. I have the beginnings of a chapbook—poems set along the county road where I grew up. I’d like to set up and teach a course via Zoom—Place in Poems—six Saturday sessions exploring how poets do place, how place serves their poems. Stay tuned . . .

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

DM: The last time I flew, coming up out of San Antonio, I opened Bruce Snider’s Fruit and quite simply disappeared into the poems. The title poem begins with a bowl of peaches in the narrator’s adolescent art class and moves immediately into memories of the class bully, memories of attraction to the class bully. Eight of the poems are titled “Childless,” in which the narrator ponders the biological impossibility of two men bearing a child, no matter how close their relationship. Snider’s language in this collection, his insights, are quite simply revelatory. Put your hands on a copy of Fruit. You will not be disappointed.