Category Archives: Poetry

A Virtual Interview with Robin Carstensen

Robin Carstensen will be the featured reader Thursday, August 8, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Robin Carstensen’s chapbook, In the Temple of Shining Mercy received the annual first-place award by Iron Horse Literary Press in 2016, and published in 2017.  Poems are also published in BorderSenses, Southern Humanities Review, Voices de La Luna, Demeter Press’s anthology, Borderlands and Crossroads: Writing the Motherland, and many more. She directs the creative writing program at Texas A&M University-CC where she is the senior editor for The Windward Review: literary journal of the South Texas Coastal Bend, and is co-founding, senior editor of the Switchgrass Review: literary journal of health and transformation in partnership with the Coastal Bend Wellness Medical Center.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry? As a young person, what about poetry engaged you? 

RC: Cat in the Hat books, nursery rhymes, jumping-rope rhymes, school yard rhymes, and songs.  I think the pleasure in sumptuous language engaged me.

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

RC: In my early memory scenes, I am writing short letters to my mother. With as much flair as I can conjure, I am asking for something, inviting some reconciliation. Early on, I felt the power of the written word on my livelihood, on gaining parental favor. I wrote stories, plays, and poems well into the night as my parents and little brother slept. That’s when I knew I was a writer. In middle school, I wrote stories by the light of a tall lamp post shining through the fourth story window of our brick quarters in Germany where my father was stationed. At various jobs in my young adult life, I felt compelled to write lyrical exposés of working conditions or real material lives of the people around me who needed better care, or poetic eulogies for the residents and cohorts at a residential care facility who had passed on. People seemed uplifted or comforted by my arrangement of words, and by my mid to late 20s my clear role as a poet was emerging.

CH: What role has your formal education played in your development as a poet?

RC: Very important role in appreciating and developing my craft, and embracing the depth, breadth, wisdom, and teachings of our diverse poetic roots and influences.  My formal education as an undergrad in the mid 90s, after five years in the Air Force and two years at Del Mar college, brought me a dear professor who would become my writing mentor for many years: Vanessa Jackson at Texas A&M University-CC. She introduced me to a luscious sensory world where I fell in love with the Romantics and Wordsworth’s riveting stories in verse in “The Ruined Cottage.” Through other wonderful professors who were expanding the literary canon, I studied poetry. Elizabeth Mermann introduced me to the mind-blowing heart-healing work of Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands/La Frontera, which resonated with my life on the borderlands of heteronormative society.  In another class, I was introduced to Audre Lorde’s poetry, essays, and biomythography, Zami, a New Spelling of my Name. Her lyric, sensual description of her childhood and her mother’s embodied force in her community held me from the beginning. I felt a kindred spirit with these writers and many others, and I felt their welcoming me and my unique voice and thoughts.

My doctoral program at Oklahoma State University where I concentrated in poetry was a rich, invaluable time in my life to study widely, deeply, intensely the history and traditions, theory, movements, and authors influencing our diverse contemporary poetry. I learned the joy in received forms, in reaching for and discovering pleasure in the unexpected through structure and pattern. The pantoum and ghazal in their use of recurring lines and refrain enchant me, as well the bending and fusing of received form with our 21st century concerns and expanded imaginations, consciousnesses.

CH: You teach a variety of topics at the college level, including environmental studies, borderland cultures, and gender and women’s studies. How does this work influence your writing life? How has your writing been influenced by the process of teaching and mentoring others?

RC: Radical feminism intensely influenced my work before and during my studies in Oklahoma. A few in this long list include June Jordan, Audre Lorde, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Marilyn Chin, Lisa Lewis, Ai, and the lyric poetry in the novels of Jeanette Winterson. They teach me through their poetry, teaching, and lives to be daring and speak my truths. I learned that to create and expand knowledge is to demand and imagine better lives for everyone. It’s worth it to reach for the images, sounds, tone, the shape, pause, space, and breath of a poem to precisely convey our demands as well as our celebrations, to stand up for decency and create momentum that dissolves the rhetoric of fear. It’s worth our lives to know that if language can be used to breed the hate and violence that we see daily manifested in tragic forms, we also have language to imagine and manifest life-giving force. In the poetry of witness and resistance, especially in these borderland regions as we experience harmful political policy and rhetoric, I feel myself a part of a gathering force that is creating urgent change and that will not allow the pendulum to swing into full madness. In the meditative poems and poems of eros, in poems that soothe and poems that disturb, I also find love letters to humanity and am moved to write my own that might comfort, inform, shake someone up, help someone, including myself, connect to loving energy, community, and possibilities.

Teaching college courses and editing two journals especially brings me close to work from new, emerging, and established writers. I find much wisdom and inspiration in students, and am moved by their poems and narratives, which speak to our intersecting lives and complex challenges on a planet heaving through radical changes. I’m encouraged by their higher consciousness, daring affirmation in themselves and faith in better worlds to come, in the beauty they uncover and the love and fulfillment they envision and create.

CH: Tell us a little about In the Temple of Shining Mercy. Over what period of time were these poems written?

RC: These are semi-autobiographical poems that explore the landscape, culture, and history of Oklahoma and Texas. Intimate friendships and solitude help the speakers in these poems confront violence and embrace wild uncertainty. I’d been writing and publishing these poems in individual journals for over a decade, between 2004-2015. Since the full-length poetry manuscript had not found a publisher yet, I decided to try sending a much shorter version to two admirable chapbook series. The 30-page limit pushed me to discover a tighter shape of intertwining themes.

CH: What was your process in selecting and ordering the poems of In the Temple of Shining Mercy?

RC: Finding a story, a thread to pull them together, and which poems seem to speak to one another, and roll into the next pairing, unfolding a new conversation. (Really, sometimes it’s a mess trying to arrange, but in the end, after arranging and rearranging, something comes together that feels whole, and it’s a mystery and a relief!)

CH: What was your journey in getting this book published?

RC: Long journey over a decade. In sending the full length to many presses, I learned to embrace rejection, and to find strength and resolve from that space. I’m learning from wise poets, such as Ire’ne Lara Silva and Odilia Galván Rodriguez, who reminded me during one of her stirring workshops, to keep focused on our writing and not become preoccupied with the fame or status of publication or become disheartened by comparing ourselves with those winning the accolades. From wisdom, I’m encouraged to stay steady on my course. And I learned there are many ways to share our work, which is the whole point of “getting published.” We all want to share our thoughts and ideas, stories, and emotions. In the process, I have joined poets all over Texas and Oklahoma at writing conferences, readings, and festivals. I help coordinate the People’s Poetry Festival in Corpus, with our fearless leader and talented Tom Murphy. I enjoy helping writers find a place for their work in a journal that I co-founded, Switchgrass Review:  A Literary Journal of Health and Transformation.  I also enjoy leading a team of students to publish a journal of voices from South Texas and the Coastal Bend, the Windward Review. Along this community of energy and collaboration, I gathered the sustenance to continue working on and submitting my book, believing it would eventually speak to an editor who would want to help bring it to a wider audience.

CH: How do you nourish yourself as a writer?  

RC: I’m fortunate to have a circle of close friends who are my family and who are each uniquely artistic, kind, and encouraging. I’m also nourished through road trips, reading, music, swimming, watching clouds, movies, meditating in many forms, being with my community of poets who are my extended family, and the beautiful island campus where I get to create new curriculum, and be inspired by students and colleagues.

CH: What three things would you tell someone who is starting out as a poet? 

RC: Remember to enjoy doing your art. Be fearless in your writing, leap across chasms. Read other poets and writers across the spectrum.

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

RC: Michael + Josephine: A Novel in Verse by Jo Reyes-Boitel. An inventive, enthralling lyrical love story, gorgeously written, offering an expansive vision for the many shapes and possibilities of love.

A Virtual Interview with Lucy Griffith

Lucy Griffith will be the featured reader Thursday, April 11, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Happiest on a tractor named Mabel (a muse of 55 horsepower), featured reader Lucy Griffith lives on a ranch beside the Guadalupe River near Comfort, Texas. As a poet and essayist, she has work in Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems and Weaving the Terrain: 100-word Poems of the Southwest. She is co-editor of Echoes of the Cordillera: Attitudes and Latitudes Along the Great Divide, an ekphrastic anthology. She was a contributor at Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in 2018. Her poetry collection We Are a Tiny Herd has just been released from Main Street Rag Press.

The Interview

CH: When did you first start thinking of yourself as a writer? What inspired you to become a writer?

LG: I grew up visiting farms and ranches and those many hours in the out of doors formed the backbone of my vocabulary. In addition, my father loved poetry and quoted it throughout my childhood. Later, as an English major I studied poetry and wrote poems in college.  I started writing poems consistently after I “recovered” from writing my dissertation in Clinical Psychology. I come from a long line of raconteurs, and as a Narrative Therapist, I am drawn to stories that help clients make more sense of themselves in the world. Some stories just beg to be heard, and poetry seemed the best medium for me to do that, hopefully in a compelling way.

CH: I know it can be challenging to work in an unrelated field and to keep the flame of creativity alive. What strategies have you used to make room for writing while working in a professional arena?

LG: Though I am “mostly retired” from my work as a therapist, maintaining our ranch in the hill country takes plenty of time. Taking a page from Mary Oliver, I am never without a pencil and notebook. I have learned to write in the cab of a truck, on a tractor seat, while yanking thistles or sitting in Austin traffic!

CH: Tell a little about your new book, We Make a Tiny Herd. How did you conceive of this book? What was the writing / revision process like?

LG: On travels to West Texas, I used to see a woman riding a burro in the bar ditch. Seeing her made a trip special. Once I passed her on my bike! I was fascinated with how she managed to live in that harsh climate, but other than seeing her occasionally I didn’t know much about her. I found out that her name was Judy Magers, and that her legal address was: On the Road, Terlingua, Texas. Once I had read everything I could find out about the Burro Lady, nicknamed La Reina, I was transfixed by her story. Something resonated deep within me as I imagined what her life might have been like.

We Make a Tiny Herd began with a persona poem (“La Reina”) in the book you co-edited, Bearing the Mask: Southwestern Persona Poems. I believe that the power of a persona poem lies in its ability to help the poet role-reverse with someone else. As a therapist trained in psychodrama, I find role fluidity rich in inspiration.

After publication of the persona poem, for the next three years, my husband and I traveled to West Texas and interviewed folks who knew her. They in turn, gave me other folks to talk to, and it grew from there. I immediately felt protective of her privacy and treaded carefully to honor her in my approach. Once people knew I would not make a caricature of her, they were more open. Mike Capron, whose work is on the cover of the book, was especially generous with his stories. That portrait he did of Judy was painted entirely from memory.

I wrote whatever occurred to me after our visits to West Texas. Poems of place came, imaginings of conversations with her, what the burro might think, what must of it have been like to be her mother. It was a very unstructured approach until by the end I was dreaming about her and imagining her beside me each day.

CH: What were your inspirations for the book’s structure? Did the structure change over time, before the book was published?

LG  To begin with, I had a wild group of poems in several voices that needed to be wrangled into shape. Some fell away until I had the ones that seemed essential to the story. Sarah Cortez was helpful as a consultant by suggesting that I design sections in different voices (La Reina Speaks, El Burro Speaks, the Poet Speaks, the Stories Speak.) Eventually, a roughly chronological narrative arc emerged that seemed to fit. I have been tickled to hear that many readers have read it straight through as a story.

CH: How did you go about finding a publisher? How has the publication process been for you?

LG: I submitted We Make a Tiny Herd to the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Contest. As a finalist, I was offered publication and was thrilled to accept. The editor liked my idea for a cover and did not ask for any revisions, so it went very smoothly.

CH: Tell us a little about your writing life. What does it look like? How do you nurture yourself as a writer?

I begin my day by reading poems, good poems!  I also read fiction and non-fiction but I will let a book go if it is not what I think of as well-written. Garbage in, garbage out.

Three times a week I take a long run and it is usually there that I sort out rough spots in poems or get wild ideas to take a poem in a completely different direction than where it started. A writer friend and I call it “Bishoping” our poems, as inspired by the radical revisionist poet, Elizabeth Bishop. When I am really stuck, I get on Mabel, my tractor, and mow or push dead trees around. Empowering!

Rural poetry writing can be a lonely business, so I am blessed with poets nearby that I meet with regularly for solace after rejection, inspiration and critique, and tips on managing the world of po-biz. My husband, bless him, is my first audience and has had to weather many a rough draft, yet his encouragement is a constant that keeps me writing!

CH: You curate a reading series in Comfort, Texas. What has it been like to bring poetry to that arena?

LG: The Readin’s as they are affectionately called, have been such a surprise to me! Perhaps it is the lingering influence of the Freethinkers who settled Comfort in the mid-1800’s. They believed in creating your own fun, reading poetry and philosophy, sometimes in Latin, and were adamantly against slavery. I like to think that the Freethinkers laid the foundation for our well attended quarterly readings and the rapt faces of the listeners. Naomi Shihab Nye said reading there was her most enthusiastic audience in forty years! The local paper, The Comfort News, prints an article about some aspect of poetry and “poetry out loud” in particular before each Readin’ and that has further educated our attendees. It’s been a lot of fun!

CH: Which poets were your early influences? Among poets writing now, whose work excites you?

LG: My early “North Star” poets include Walt Whitman, Stanley Kunitz, Wendell Berry and Mary Oliver, who always felt like a friend I had yet to meet. As for poets writing now: Ada Limón takes my breath away with her fierceness, I have read all of Rita Dove that I can find, and Geffrey Davis, who taught me at the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, speaks to me with a very tender heart.

CH: What are you working on now?

LG: I am working on another collection, this one more personal—about my experiences growing up on a South Texas brush country ranch called Esperanza. The working title is “Esperanza: School of Thorn and Fang.” The lessons were tough as well as memorable. My hope is that the collection will work on several levels, as a wilderness story, a bilingual childhood, an intra-psychic exploration.

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

LG: The Chasing by Ada Limón

A Virtual Interview with Lilli Hime

Lilli Hime and Abe Louise Young will be the featured readers Thursday, March 14, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Lilli Hime is an undergraduate at St. Edward’s University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English Writing. She has served on the submission review board for the school’s award winning creative arts journal, Sorin Oak Review, for two years. She believes art is the bedrock for empathy and understanding, and seeks to utilize it for social change by creating spaces where lesser heard voices can be heard. Her work stems from her identity as an immigrant, a woman of color, a member of the LGBTQ community, and a fellow person.

The Interview

CH: What first drew you to writing? What does writing give to you?

LH: My earliest memory was in 5th grade, Mrs. Irwin’s class. After school one day, I had shown her this story I was writing. I don’t even remember what it was about but I remember the image I made in the first sentence: light dancing across the floor of this moving train. In my head, I imagined paper cut out like beings doing a waltz and I thought that was a cool way to start the story. She asked if she could read it to the class the next day. I remember watching everyone listen to my words and the world I tried to make. I think that was it, knowing the worlds I saw as this hyperactive kid with an overactive imagination, could be shared with others.

Writing, and the larger business of storytelling, has given me an endless source of empathy. As a medium, it fulfills the ability to do one of the most basic human functions, and that’s to understand and to be understood. Writing allows me to figure out and process my story and my identity in the context of the world around me, and listen and empathize with others and how they are maneuvering through their world. From that connection, I think compassion naturally emerges to help us see others as made in our same image. There’s also power in that.

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

LH: It was just coming to the realization that, at the base of it, a writer is someone who writes. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be some tortured poet in a cabin in the woods or someone who’s published three books and won two national book awards. Taking some of the pressure off the title of “writer” makes it easier, in my opinion. I was a writer when I was in 5th grade and the only one reading my stories was Mrs. Irwin; I’m a writer today when I’ve only been published at my school, and I’ll still be a writer wherever I am in the future, so long as I just keep writing.

CH: How did you decide to pursue a writing degree at St. Edward’s University?

LH: Even though I came into college undecided, I think the English major was almost inevitable. I did so many things to try to figure out my capital p Passion – went to the career center, asked friends and family for advice, googled “how to decide your major,” all that good stuff. But when I took a moment to reflect without all the external noise, it was really just an act of recollection for me – remembering that since I was a kid, what I loved to do and always had was writing and stories. And since then, the lessons I’ve learned have only served as proof that was the right choice.

CH: How has your experience as a member of the submission review board for Sorin Oak Review influenced your views of publication? of writing?

LH: I’ve learned that the work doesn’t stand alone. When I’m reading a piece, I can’t ask the writer what their intentions were, when they wrote it, what it’s about. I can only try to figure it out in my own interpretation which comes with my own biases, ideas, understanding of craft, etc. So the work never stands alone but it must withstand whatever interpretations I project onto it. I think knowing that makes me a more empathetic reader, trying to not only understand the poem but understand the reader and the environment they wrote it in and really get as close as I can to their intentions, knowing I will never reach it.

CH: How do you see your evolution as a writer since entering university?

LH: In trying to figure out my place as a writer, I’ve had the opportunity at St. Ed’s to really get a taste of different fields of writing – journalism, poetry, playwriting, academic, and advocacy. Each one has taught me important lessons but I think the common thread woven throughout is the idea that stories and the empathy they inspire wield power.

CH: The current political environment of the United States is full of enflamed rhetoric and distrustful discourse about immigration, and anti-LGBTQ groups here continually attempt to nullify gains towards equal rights. How does your experience as an immigrant and a member of the LGBTQ community shape your writing life?

LH: I mean, when you’re part of a community, you naturally feel upset and hurt when y’all are under attack, especially by the very nation that should be claiming you. But I’ve learned from my experience at St. Ed’s that the best remedy to that hurt is action. And for me as a writer, my most effective action is telling stories of our community. So there’s a responsibility there to amplify those voices but there’s also a pressure when representing an underrepresented community that I think is important to address. There’s a pressure to make sure we’re perfect, we’re appealing, we’re respectable if we’re to gain respect but that shouldn’t be.

CH: Among the authors you’ve encountered during your education so far, who are some of your favorites?

LH: Sasha West, not necessarily because of her poetry though I do love it, but because she’s been such a mentor to me. She’s an extraordinary educator in the way she is willing to sit with her students in office hours and sit with the questions they have, helping them unravel these complexities together as well as acknowledging the ones she’s still figuring out. I think that speaks volumes to who she is and her understanding of poetry, to be able to create spaces to foster up and coming poets.

CH: Where do you see yourself / your work in 5 years?

LH: I’m graduating this spring, so I think the future is very lucid right now. It’s a little scary even to say any plans for the future for fear of them changing. I will say, writing and storytelling will be part of my life no matter what. Now, whether it will be my day job or my second job, whether I’ll be writing articles as a journalist full time or as a poet after the work day ends or whatever, that I’ll see.

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

LH: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen

A Virtual Interview with Cyrus Cassells

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: What are you working on now? 

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

A Virtual Interview with the Editors of Red Sky

 

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: What was your process in organizing this work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Virtual Interview with Leticia Urieta

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: How does place figure in your work?

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

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

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

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

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

A Virtual Interview with Christia Madacsi Hoffman

Background

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

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

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of poetry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: What are you working on now?

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

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

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

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

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