Category Archives: Poetry

A Virtual Interview with Christine H. Boldt

Background

Thursday, June 10, 2021 7:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-with-christine-boldt-tickets-154458799427

Feature Christine H. Boldt will be reading from her inaugural poetry collection, For Every Tatter (Lamar University Press, 2021). Boldt, a retired librarian, was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nigeria in the 1960s, lived in Italy during the 1970s, and has lived in Texas for forty years.  She has published in Christianity and Crisis, the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, and Working Mother.  Her poetry has appeared in Christian Century, Windhover, The Texas Poetry Calendar, Bearing the Mask, Adam, Eve, and the Riders of the Apocalypse, the Poetry Society of Texas’ Book of the Year; Red River Review, Ilyia’s Honey, and Encore. Her collection Missing, One Muse:  The Poetry of Sylvia St. Stevens was selected as the winner of the 2018 Alabama State Poetry Society Morris Memorial Chapbook Competition.  

The Interview

CH: What are your first memories of poetry? What was your experience with poetry growing up?

CHB: My first memory is of my having an ability to memorize verse easily.  When I was three, my grandmother would ask me to entertain her bridge club by standing next to the fire place in our living room and reciting nursery rhymes. 

My father, who had memorized a great deal of Nineteenth Century poetry as a boy, recited it to me in lieu of bedtime stories. In both elementary and high school I was required to do lots of memorization.  Students were asked to take turns standing in front of the class and repeating the poetry they had learned. I took what were called “elocution lessons” from a private tutor who required even more memorization.  I also compensated for not being able to carry a tune by memorizing ALL the verses of hymns, and not just hits songs from Broadway Musicals but all the witty patter that preceded the stars’ bursting into song.

When, at age 12, I received a gift of money during the holidays, I bought a copy of the Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and spent evenings beside the Christmas tree reading her work.  I still return to those poems each year during the holidays.

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

CHB: In Elementary School in Buffalo, New York, I won two city-wide essay contests.  These affirmations encouraged me to write.  Because of all the poems swirling around in my head, poetry seemed the natural way to express my interest in writing, but after college I set poetry aside for about 40 years.

CH: I understand you volunteered with the Peace Corps in Nigeria in the 1960s, and lived in Italy in the 1970s. How have these experiences shaped your perspective? In what ways have they influenced your writing?

CHB: Living in foreign countries required me to appreciate life from other peoples’ point of view.  It also taught me empathy for “outsiders,” (since I was one), and it challenged me to question my own assumptions.  Most of my poetry is preoccupied with character study of one kind or another.  I turn to poetry when I want to puzzle out why people think and behave as they do.

Language exposure has been another plus of foreign travel. Being conversant with Latin, French, and Italian gives me many more words to use as building blocks when I construct my poetry.

People in the countries where I lived or visited had amazing traditions of expressing religious thought through sculpture and painting. Although I did not write poetry during the years I lived abroad, when I returned to poetry in my later life, I was prompted write ekphrasic poems and poems with religious themes because of sensitivities I had developed in my years of travel.

CH: You had a long career as a librarian. What do you see as the influence of this career on your development as a poet?

CHB: Well, as a reference librarian I was astounded by the variety of things people wondered about.  I was so curious about library patrons’ interests that I was encouraged to think someone else might be interested in the things I reflect on.  Often the answers to reference questions seemed like poetic metaphors just waiting to be tapped.

CH: Tell us a little about your chapbook, Missing (New Dawn Unlimited, 2018), which won the Morris Memorial Chapbook Contest of the Alabama State Poetry Society. How did you collect and assemble this manuscript? What did you learn from this process?

CHB: I imagine that everybody who writes poetry writes ars poetica, poems about writing poetry.  It is not strange that the processes we are involved in, and the discoveries we make, would be one of the chief topics of conversation we have with ourselves.  But it is also likely that writing poems about writing poetry is a guarantee of having a small audience for one’s work.  When I found myself writing too many of those poems, I decided that I either had to own them or quit writing them.  So I imagined a persona, a character named Sylvia, who stumbles into poetry for all the wrong reasons, has a comeuppance, and then approaches poetry again from a new perspective. Each poem Sylvia “writes” is a milestone on her journey.  I hoped her path into poetry could be emblematic of the paths that others might take in crafting their own lives.  Assembling this manuscript made me wish that I had learned about poetry by reading entire volumes written by individual poets, rather than by reading the anthologies that were the texts for most of my classes.  I learned a collection needs a narrative thread that holds the poems together.

CH: For Every Tatter (Lamar University Literary Press, 2021) is exquisite in its treatment of aging, both from the standpoint of individuals who are reaching their later years and from the perspectives of those around them. How long has the subject of aging been a writerly obsession for you? How did you come about deciding to use an excerpt from William Butler Yeats’ “Sailing to Byzantium” as an organizing principle for the book?

CHB: Thank you.  I think I have been writing this book for most of my life.  I grew up in a four-generation household where the difficulties of aging were much discussed by my grandparents and great-grandparents.  Often my parents would take me aside to explain what it was my elders were experiencing.  They always described our elders through a prism of love, and always assured me that “One day you will understand.”  And, sure enough, I have.  As I began to age, I wrote more and more poems on the various aspects of aging, but I could never decide how to organize them.  Yeats has been a favorite poet since I read some of his poems in a children’s anthology “Silver Pennies,” seventy years ago.  I was listening to a CD of his poetry while driving in my car one day and was struck by the verse from “Sailing to Byzantium” that I have used to introduce my book:

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,

I thought that I might use each line of that verse to headline a group of poems offered by different voices:  In the first section I would have old folks reflecting on the disabling factors of age.  In the second I would present the voices of younger people as they regard their elders rather critically. I then envisioned a third section where the older voices would remark on the joys of aging, and a fourth where young people would express admiration for their elders.  I soon realized that the third and fourth sections would need to be combined because many of the joys of aging are found in the interactions between the elderly and the young people who are a part of their lives. With this scheme in mind, I began to order each section so that it moved from a confusion of emotions toward resolution and acceptance.

CH: Many of the poems in For Every Tatter take on lyric forms. Who are some of your influences in lyric poetry?

CHB: The Romantic and Victorian poetry my father recited for me when I was young still rings in my ears today: poems like “Abu ben Adhem” by Leigh Hunt, “The Children’s Hour” by Tennyson, and “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray.  Edna St. Vincent Millay, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Yeats, Frost, and Dickinson, came into the picture pretty early on.  Auden is very important to me. Galway Kinnell is another poet whose writing has meant a lot to me.  But then every poet whose work is in my CD collection or whom I have heard read at the Georgetown Poetry Festival, or at Roundtop, or at Baylor’s Beall Poetry Festival in the last twenty years has left his or her mark.  It was a highlight of my Covid Year to be able to Zoom the Dodge Poetry Festival!

CH: I was struck by your deft use of received form throughout the book. What are some of the challenges you find working in form? What calls you to the use of form? What informs the decisions that you make to alter received form, as you do with the rhyme scheme in “The Changeling?”

CHB: I think I was imprinted by exposure to so much rhythmic poetry as a child. Rhythm does not come easy to me.  I have tried mapping stressed and unstressed syllables and simply can’t do it.  I just have to keep saying the words over and over again and making corrections until they sound right. But I keep at it because I need form.  I need to build some kind of structure in which I can think my thoughts, have my feelings and express them without being overwhelmed by them. I recall someone once describing a formal poem as a rubber room in which one could bounce to her heart’s content.  

As many people have discovered, concentrating on form lowers a poet’s guard, allowing unexpected words and ideas to slip into a stanza,  words and ideas that might otherwise have been held at bay by logic, prudery, or fear. And I have been struck by the way rondels, pantoums, and villanelles echo our thinking processes as we mull over decisions in our lives rehearsing and rerehearsing our decisions. 

I am happiest when I can create a poem with true rhymes, but I will always prefer to use near rhymes, or an extra beat, when it is a choice between doing that and contorting the syntax of a poem.

CH: How was the process of creating For Every Tatter different from that of creating Missing? If you had one piece of advice to share with a poet working on their first full-length collection, what would it be?

CHB: In both cases it was a matter of finding a pattern.  Missing has only one voice, Sylvia’s.  Well, actually, it has two, because each poem “written” by the Sylvia has a second, ironic title which comments on her thoughts and behavior. Perhaps it is better to say that Missing is the story of one woman coming to understand her life and her gifts.  Tatters organization was trickier because I tried to include as many voices and perspectives on aging as I was able to create. Each section is a somewhat random compilation of voices, but I still tried to nudge the poems in each section–and the combined sections–toward definite conclusions.

I guess I would have to give two pieces of advice that helped me: First, to read other poets books from cover to cover and think consciously about their organization. Second, to identify the story you want to tell and to keep shuffling the poems until their order allows the story to be told.  That process may require writing poems that fill in missing pieces of the “story.”

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

CHB: Bonfire Opera by Danusha Laméris.  Wonderful!

A Virtual Interview with Lesléa Newman

Thursday, May 13, 2021 7:15 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Event registration at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-with-leslea-newman-tickets-148942524099

For more information, contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com

Background

Lesléa Newman will read from her most recent book of poetry, I Wish My Father, a memoir in verse. Newman is the author of 75 books for readers of all ages including the poetry collections Nobody’s MotherOctober Mourning: A Song for Matthew ShepardStill Life with Buddy, and the companion memoir-in-verse to I Wish My Father,  I Carry My Mother.  She is also the author of many children’s books including Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island StoryKetzel: The Cat Who ComposedHere Is The World: A Year of Jewish Holidays, and the groundbreaking Heather Has Two Mommies. Her literary awards include poetry fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, the National Jewish Book Award, the Massachusetts Book Award, and the Association of Jewish Libraries Sydney Taylor Body-of-Work Award. From 2008 – 2010, she served as the poet laureate of Northampton, MA.

The Interview

CH: What is your earliest memory of reading and of writing?

LN: Reading: My dad used to read us Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss and then he would lie down on the floor and we would literally hop on him!

Writing: When I was 8 years old, we moved from Brooklyn to Long Island and I was miserable. I wrote very sad poems in a black and white composition notebook and somehow that made me feel better.

CH: What were your ambitions as you grew up? Did you always want to be a writer?

LN: I always wanted to be a writer; I never had any other aspirations. Everyone said I had to have a day job, but I didn’t listen to them. My role model was Barbra Streisand. I read somewhere that she never learned to type because, as she said, if she learned how to type, she’d wind up typing (and how could she type with those nails anyway?). If you have a fallback plan, you’re going to fall back on it. My plan was to be a writer and it was my job to figure out how to make that happen.

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

LN: I have identified as a poet since I was a teenager, and that identify was validated in 1976 when I had several poems published in Seventeen Magazine, and even got paid well for them!

CH: You’ve had success in poetry, children’s books, novels, and have had your work adapted for the stage, publishing an astounding. seventy-five books to date. how would you describe yourself as an author?

LN: Restless! I like to move from genre to genre, though poetry was and always will be my first love.

CH: Tell us a bit about the rhythm of your working life. On how many projects do you typically work contemporaneously? What inspires you and renews you?

LN: I usually work on one project at a time. I have a hard time coming up with ideas (most people are surprised to hear that) but once I do have an idea, I become obsessed and can’t think about anything else. I am inspired by reading wonderful writing, poetry in particular. I often get ideas while driving (I don’t listen to music or news for that reason) or while gardening or in the shower. Ideas come from dreams, from observing life, from personal experience, from everywhere.

CH: Many readers I’m sure are familiar with the groundbreaking Heather Has Two Mommies. How has that book’s success impacted your career? What other books have acted as milestones for you?

LN: Some people advised me to publish Heather under a pseudonym so as not to ruin my career. I’ve certainly had the last laugh about that! Ironically, Heather, a book that my friend Tzivia Gover and I published on our own with ten dollar donations from hundreds of people because no traditional publisher would touch it, is now my claim to fame. Other books I am known for are the short story collection, A Letter to Harvey Milk, one of the first books about Jewish lesbians ever published, and my Jewish children’s books such as Gittel’s Journey: An Ellis Island Story and Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale With A Tail, both of which won the National Jewish Book Award.

CH: Tell us a bit about your memoirs in verse I Carry My Mother and I Wish My Father. What was similar and different in the writing of these two books? How do they converse with one another?

LN: My book about my mom consists of poems written in traditional forms: sestina, villanelle, ghazal, sonnet, etc. My grief was so enormous, I needed a container in which to pour all my messy, unwieldly feelings. Formal poetry gave my grief some structure, some elegance. The poems about my dad are constructed as narratives and they have humor woven into them. My dad appears in the book about my mom, and my mom appears in the book about my dad. They are inseparable in these two companion volumes just as they were in life. They were married for 63 years and I like to think they’d be pleased to know they are now a “boxed set.”

CH: I was fortunate to see an off-Broadway production of Letter to Harvey Milk, based on your short story. How involved were you in the process of translating the story to theater? What was it like to see the work staged?

LN: I was not involved in the adaptation at all. I did have a chance to give the creators some feedback after an early staged reading. It was very emotional to see the show, which is partly about a lesbian whose family doesn’t accept her and is obviously autobiographical. It was especially emotional when I saw it in 2012 sitting between my parents. My mother was very ill at the time and died three weeks later. It took everything she had to feel well enough to schlep into Manhattan and sit through a show. But she did it and said it was one of the best days of her life.

CH: What one piece of advice would you give someone who’s starting out as a writer, regardless of their chosen genre?

LN: I have three pieces of advice: write, write, write. Come up with a writing schedule and stick to it. Read, read, read. Read everything and if you don’t know where to begin, start with the award winners (National Book Awards, Newbery Medalists, etc.). Find or start a writers group and listen to what others say about your writing. Bonus bit of advice: be kind to yourself and other writers. We’re all in this together.

CH: Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you reading now?

LN: Favorite authors: my mentors, Allen Ginsberg and Grace Paley. My literary mothers, Patricia MacLachlan and Jane Yolen. My heroes who paved and continue to pave the way: Jacqueline Woodson, Alison Bechdel, Alex Gino, Joan Nestle, Sappho, Chrystos, so many others.

Reading: at this very moment, I am reading an interesting novel called BROOD by Jackie Polzin, which is about the art of raising chickens and what that can teach you about life. I recently finished the middle grade novel FIGHTING WORDS by Kim Brubaker Bradley and it broke my heart and healed it at the same time, something which is very hard to do. In the poetry department, I have  just read Mama Phife Represents by the amazing Cheryl Boyce Taylor. The book chronicles the life and death of her son, famed musician Phife Dawg and how she grieves that loss. And finally, I am very excited about the new picture book Two Grooms on a Cake by my good friend Rob Sanders.

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 Susan Signe Morrison

Thursday, February 11, 2021  7:15 – 9:00 p.m.

Event registration: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/bookwoman-2nd-thursday-poetry-reading-and-open-mic-featuring-susan-morrison-tickets-138114936493

Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for additional information.

Background

Susan Signe Morrison is the editor of a recently-released chapbook, Another Troy (Finishing Line Press, 2020), containing poetry written by her mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison. Committed to bringing the lives of women hidden in the shades of history to a wider audience, she has also edited the wartime journals of Wehlen Morrison, which have been published as Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America. 

A Professor of English at Texas State University, Morrison is the author of four books on the Middle Ages, as well as a novel, Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife, which retells the story of the Old English epic Beowulf from the perspective of the female characters. A broader audience has accessed Susan’s work through interviews with Wired, American Public Media, the History Channel, and The New Yorker.

The Interview

CH: What is your first memory of reading? What role did story play in your childhood?

SSM: My first memory of reading was when I was 7. I know I read before this, but the summer of 1966 really stands out to me. My parents took my brothers (ages 10 and 12) and me to England. While there we walked on the Pilgrims’ Way to Canterbury—a storied pilgrimage path from the Middle Ages. We each had only what our rucksacks could hold which we carried on our backs. We’d walk 5-7 miles a day and sleep at inns. Because we had limited books, we all shared. I read everything from Agatha Christie to A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh.

In third grade, I would bring my beloved stuffed animals with me to class. They included a Tigger (the tiger) and Snakey (who was a…you guessed it! A snake!). My teacher allowed me to present little skits on a periodic basis to everyone. I would make up stories and act them out. Later, I acted on stage in theatre productions, but those moments of making up skits on the spot for my classmates filled me with the joy of creation and sharing.

CH: What inspired your interest in creating a retelling of Beowulf? What did you learn from the process of writing Grendel’s Mother: The Saga of the Wyrd-Wife?

SSM: I teach medieval literature at Texas State University. Regularly I have my Old English class. I teach all sorts of shorter works like saints’ lives and women’s songs, but end with Beowulf. As a feminist, I have always gravitated towards highlighting the women’s perspective in the epic. I learned that one can say through fiction what one might also do in scholarly tomes—only you reach a much different, wider, and more diverse audience!

CH: I understand you’ve written four books on the Middle Ages. How did you become interested in this period?

SSM: One semester in graduate school, I took a Chaucer seminar at the same time as a course on Middle High (medieval) German. There was no looking back for me! It was only after my first book on medieval women pilgrims was published in 2000, that I came to realization as to why I became a medievalist. As mentioned above, my parents took us on a pilgrimage when I was 7 to Canterbury Cathedral. Geoffrey Chaucer’s pilgrims also went on such a pilgrimage in The Canterbury Tales. So the seeds were sown when I was a child. Also, once I learned about medieval women and their writings, I was hooked.

CH: How do you see the literature of relatively distant historical periods speaking to a contemporary audience?

SSM: I teach a course on Quiet and Silent Women—with works ranging from Greek myth to the Harlem Renaissance. I designed it in early 2016 and taught it that fall—just as Hillary Clinton was running for president and the MeToo movement began. There is so much resonance between women’s lives thousands of years ago and now—sadly. You’d think things would have changed more in that time span. But, on the positive side, such female figures and women writers have amazing resilience and intelligence—I think they are role models for us all today.

CH: How did you become interested in telling the stories of women? Your volume, A Medieval Woman’s Companion: Women’s Lives in the European Middle Ages, looks fascinating, and I enjoyed the thumbnail sketches I found on your blog, https://amedievalwomanscompanion.com. Tell us a little about your research for this book.

SSM : I have always been interested in women’s stories. After all, I am one! And my mom was a writer as well—an oral historian. Her perspective is: everyone has a story, even if they don’t realize it. I regularly teach a class on medieval women writers. They are so intelligent, sarcastic, and subversive.

CH: Please tell us a little about your mother, Joan Wehlen Morrison.  You’ve published Home Front Girl: A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America, which your mother wrote and which you edited. As you worked on this project, what did you learn about your mother that surprised you?

SSM: Well: I learned so many wonderful things! That she was intellectually precocious, poetic from her earliest writings (age 10—some little poems still exist), and so funny! Her humor about others and at her own foibles was a delight to behold. She was just the same woman I knew—only much younger. I wish I could have been her classmate. She and I always wanted to write a book together. Now we have: two of them. I only wish she were here to see them—she would be delighted.

CH: Tell us a little about Another Troy. The title of this book of your mother’s wartime poetry makes me think of course of The Iliad. How did you select the title? What was it like to edit this volume?

SSM: Actually, Another Troy was the original title for Home Front Girl, the volume of her diaries from the war years I edited. The publishers thought it was too poetic—hence the name change. But such a poetic name is perfect for a volume of poetry. My mom, Joan, was obsessed with classical languages and literature. She often mentions Troy, Helen, Pompeii, and the passage of time—seeing the destruction in Europe as parallel to that from 2,000 and more years ago. Hence the title. When she has just turned 18, on December 28, 1940 during the Blitz in England, she writes, “The world’s changing. Troy; who thinks of Troy now. London is Troy tonight; London is brave somehow—burning and huddled in shelters; yet walking also in the unlighted streets. . . . London is Troy.”

CH: As I look at the titles on your website (http://www.susansignemorrison.com/) , I see a range of interest that I find fascinating—not only Medieval scholarship, but books like The Literature of Waste: Material Ecopoetics and Ethical Matter.  As a scholar, how would you describe yourself?

SSM: I would say I write about topics lying in the shadows and bring them to light—whether the hidden lives of women or, in my work in the Environmental Humanities, issues like waste and filth. I want to draw attention to these topics so people will pay attention so we can change the world for the better.

CH: What are you working on now?

SSM: I am writing a memoir about my time teaching in East Germany. Using archival research, I am documenting the impact of a 1970s/80s exchange program I participated in between two universities: Brown University in Rhode Island and one in the former German Democratic Republic—East Germany. Ultimately, I show how Stasi (secret police) files—including my own—responding to this program fail to accurately retell what happened. If you want to hear about my experiences, this podcast has an interview with me about my experiences in the former East Germany: https://coldwarconversations.com/episode130

CH: What are you reading these days for pleasure?

Well, it’s stressful, so I’m reading historical fiction to be in another time and place. I think one of the best cures for a pandemic is reading stories by P.G. Wodehouse—so silly and funny!

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 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.

A Virtual Interview with Susan J. Rogers

Background

Thursday, June 11, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. — Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for connection information.

Susan J. Rogers’ poetry weaves the personal with mythic tales, including those of Goddesses from Tibet to the British Isles. Rogers, a choir director and musician who has lived near Chicago’s Lake Michigan, in New Mexico’s desert, and in South Central Texas, draws metaphor from these landscapes.

Rogers’ first poetry collection, In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman, was published in 2018 and contains illustrations by her partner, artist Luisa-Maria Potter. Other recent publication credits include the di-vêrseˊ-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and the anthology Enchantment of the Ordinary (Mutabilis Press, 2018). Rogers has been interviewed about her poetry on Texas Nafas, a poetry-centered public access television program, and her musical compositions (with poems as lyrics) have been performed at the University of New Mexico and at Chicago State University.

Cindy Huyser hosts; an open mic follows.

The Interview

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

SJR: My first memory of poetry was in the first grade. Our teacher had us make cards for events like Mother’s Day, but gave us a verse with a blank word at the end of every other line so we could fill it in. That was magical to me.

CH: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?

SJR: I started thinking of myself as a writer when I was nine years old. My primary identity is as a poet.

CH: Your poetry has long been interested in the mythic, from the Tibetan Tara to goddesses of the British Isles. Tell us a little about your connection to Goddess myth.

SJR: I have a thirst for knowledge about the Goddess and relevant mythology. It is about untangling the lies I was taught and standing proudly as a woman in the reflection of the divine.

CH: As a musician and choir director, what is your take about the role of music in poetry?

SJR: When I choose music for the choir, I always look at the lyrics first. When I write poetry, I listen for musical elements in words and phrases to inform line breaks, stanzas breaks, alliteration, and internal rhyme so the poetic techniques support the meaning.

CH: You’ve lived in a variety of climates, notably near Chicago’s Lake Michigan and in the desert of New Mexico, as well as in south central Texas. How does place figure in your work? What has changed in your work as you’ve moved locations?

SJR: The environment of a place is deep inside me even when I am not aware of it.  Moving is always a loss, like missing a person. For example, I wrote most of my New Mexico poems after I moved from there to Texas. My relationship with nature has evolved also.  Luisa says that painting a landscape is like saying a prayer.  Writing poetry with natural images is similar in some ways. It is about seeking the wisdom reflected in the web of life.

CH: You’ve been busy in the last couple of years, with a debut poetry collection in 2018, and another forthcoming. How have you managed to make room for this work? What is your writing life like?

SJR: I don’t have a writing schedule. I write when I feel an image or have an insight so strong it needs to be written down and then I work it into a poem. My goal is not just to have a poem emerge, but to somehow make the world a better place. For example, I wrote the title poem to In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman because I met a young woman struggling with self- esteem in the company of young men. It made me upset that this was still going on, so I wrote about women in control of their own image and that of the Goddess in ancient times.

CH: Tell us a little about your first poetry collection, In the Beginning’ an Egg, a Mask, A Woman. What inspired this book, and how did it come together? How was it to collaborate with your partner, Luisa-Maria Potter, for the book’s illustrations?

SJR: Luisa is a talented artist and I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with her.  In the Beginning: an Egg, a Mask, a Woman started as a place to collect several poems about Tara.  She was the first goddess I encountered who was not a truncated personality or actively being humiliated by male gods. Instead, she has 21 wonderful qualities we can all emulate, and has a fully formed personality that responds to a variety of situations.  She is also fiercely protective to all who call out to her. I decided to poetically invite her into my own history and that of others I knew. I included other goddesses and stories later. I believe that when we rewrite our own history, it has the power to transform us.

CH: Tell us a little about your forthcoming book, Landscapes of the Mind. What’s been different for you in this project, as opposed to your inaugural book?

SJR: My new book, Landscapes of the Mind is longer and more diverse than my first book.  It includes poems about contemporary themes, for example about COVID-19. It includes several poems about place, including a series of New Mexico poems. It also includes more poems about the goddess and mythology from Kuan Yin and Nerthus to the original story of Eve.

CH: If you were to recommend three “must-read” poets, who would they be, and why?

SJR: I would like to recommend three directions of inquiry instead.  The first is to find a poet from history who you admire, in my case, W.B Yeats. The second is to find someone who speaks to you, who understands who you are. In my case, this is Judy Grahn.  The third is to find a poet who challenges your experience and expands your horizons, in my case, Audre Lorde.

CH: What are you reading now?

I am reading books by poet laureates of the U.S.:  Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and Richard Blanco’s How to Love a Country.  I appreciate the fact that poet laureates are now as diverse as this country. Joy Harjo is from the Muscogee Creek Nation and Richard Blanco is a Gay Cuban-American.

A Virtual Interview with Patty Crane

Background

Patty Crane will be the featured reader Thursday, March 12, 2020 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX)

Patty Crane’s collection Bell I Wake To is just out from Zone 3 Press. Her book-length poem, something flown, was winner of the 2017 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award. Her poetry and her translations of Swedish Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer have appeared in numerous journals, including Bellevue Literary Review,VerseDailyWest BranchAmerican Poetry ReviewBlackbird, and The New York TimesBright Scythe, a bilingual volume of her translations, was published by Sarabande Books in 2015.

The Interview

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

PC: I vividly recall the joy of reading and reciting nursery rhymes, a joy embodied in the memory of looking up at the summer night sky with my grandmother while together we recited “Star light, Star bright, the first star I see tonight…”

I don’t know when I began to think of myself as a poet, but I’ve only recently begun to feel comfortable calling myself one. Maybe because I’ve learned what a conversation-stopper it can be. Why is that? This is a topic worthy of deeper discussion, but let’s just say it took far more external validation than it should have for me to fully acknowledge my poet-self.

CH: How do you trace your development as a poet?

PC: I came to poetry (with a capital P) relatively late in life, but poetry was always there in the background. As an adolescent, I journaled in a cheap spiral-bound notebook that I kept hidden in the bottom of a drawer. I wrote poems, song lyrics, thoughts, little epiphanies, and jotted occasional quotes. It wasn’t a diary or chronicle of my days, but a way to work things out—who I was, or wanted to be, and how to be that self in such a confusing world. I preferred to be alone, riding my bike long distances, often to the beach, where I’d walk for what seemed like hours and feel utterly free to observe and to think. This was surely formative to my becoming a poet, as was my training and career as a registered nurse, learning the limits of the human body, the reaches of human spirit, and the value of empathy.

CH: I’ve been exploring the poems on your website. I love the spare, lyric voice in them, and I’m intrigued with your play of space. Please tell us a little about your approach to the use of whitespace in your poems.

PC: The use of white space doesn’t feel intentional, but inevitable. The white spaces are pauses, periods of silence—sometimes hesitations, sometimes open waiting—as I listen to or for the quiet place in my mind that helps me to focus, tune out the static and chatter, and tune in to the object or objects of my attention in order to really see them. Also, pauses create the rhythm, the same way they do in music. Poetry is music. Whether it’s a blank page or score, silence is where the words and notes originate.

CH: How did you become interested in translation? How did you become engaged with translating Tomas Tranströmer’s work?

PC: During a three-year period living in Sweden, I gained a level of fluency in the language that eventually put me on the path to translation. What began as an exercise to refine my Swedish, grew into a curiosity about translating that turned into a passion. I’d been reading Tranströmer since the late 90’s (mostly Robert Bly’s translations), but suddenly I could read the original and it felt entirely new. Over the course of a winter, I translated his 1996 collection THE SORROW GONDOLA and, at roughly the same time, had the great fortune of befriending Tomas and his wife, Monica. I spent many hours visiting with them at their home in Stockholm, and ultimately many more hours discussing those first translations with them. In 2011 I was awarded a MacDowell fellowship to continue this work and while there, news arrived that Tomas had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. That was memorable! Those translations were gathered in “Bright Scythe” (Sarabande, 2015).

CH: How has working with translation influenced your own writing?

PC: Influence seems impossible to pin down. For example, the poems I wrote while living in Sweden have a spareness and voice that’s very different from my other work. Is this my translating coming through, or the Swedish landscape with its extremes of light, what I was reading at the time, or what was happening in the world or in my relationships? I just can’t say.

What I can say is that translating gets me out of my own head, allows me to time- and place-travel, and to see my own place a little more clearly because I’ve gained some perspective. And I get to temporarily inhabit the mind of a speaker like Tranströmer, who moves fluidly between the everyday and liminal worlds, offering me glimpses that, at the very least, heighten my sense of possibility for my own writing.

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

PC: What nourishes me as a person nourishes me as a poet: my relationships, my connections to place, bearing witness to beauty in its many forms and guises. Having a quiet, devoted space to write is key for me. I work in a tiny, humble studio I helped build with my own hands. It’s tucked into a field that overlooks an active beaver pond and is surrounded by woods. The natural world nourishes the whole of me, informing how I live, work and make sense of the world.

CH: What are you working on now?

PC: The growing disconnect between us humans and the natural world has been in the back of my mind these days as I write. I’m not overtly writing ‘about’ this, but it’s coming through, and in ways I hadn’t expected. The work is still raw and unfolding, and thus hard to talk about in any detail. I’m also actively sending out my second full-length collection of poems written during the years I lived in Sweden, and I’m deep into translating the complete poetic works of Tomas Tranströmer.

CH: What do you read for pleasure?

PC: Whatever strikes my mood, mind and senses at any given time; and often several different genres at once. Right now, I’m reading Edna O’Brien’s Girl, Brenda Shaughnessy’s The Octopus Museum, and, for the umpteenth time, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim of Tinker Creek.

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

PC: Shirt in Heaven by Jean Valentine. Times two. After turning the last page, I went right back to the beginning and read it again.

A Virtual Interview with Sequoia Maner

Seqouia Maner will be the featured reader Thursday, February 13. 2020 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Sequoia Maner is a poet and Mellon Teaching Fellow of Feminist Studies at Southwestern University. She is coeditor of the book Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era (Routledge, January 2020). Her poems, essays, and reviews have been published in venues such as The Feminist WireMeridiansObsidian, The Langston Hughes Review and elsewhere. Her poem “upon reading the autopsy of Sandra Bland” was a finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and she is at work on a critical manuscript about the history of African American Elegy.

The Interview

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

SM: I’ve kept journals since I was a girl for song lyrics, poems, and intimate thoughts. I was a quiet observer as a child (still am if I’m honest) and writing was how I processed / articulated in my own special way. I think there are many reasons I was drawn to libraries, books, and music. I spent a significant portion of my childhood in foster care & this special bond with books was a way to process trauma. Books opened worlds for me & libraries have always been a singular refuge. Also, I am sensitive to sound, an auditory learner, so music and poetry play significant roles in my life for mediating the world. I have always been just dazzled by the possibilities of language.

CH: When did you start to think of yourself as a poet? Do you have a primary identity as a writer?

SM: I didn’t have people in my life who wrote for a living & I didn’t even think to dream that I could someday write books like Morrison, or Angelou, or Shange. Those were writers; that couldn’t be me. It wasn’t until my college experience at Duke University that I first called myself a poet but, even then, I didn’t realize a career for myself as a writer. I knew that I would write poetry for a lifetime as a personal self-care ritual, but I was open to career paths, studying chemistry & photography, relegating poetry to the sidelines. As an English major, college was the first time I studied major writers and eras, learned form and structure, and wrote with a close circle of writers. Before then, my writing had been for myself, you know. I started to experiment with public performance in the form of spoken word & collaborations with other artists—even still, I never called myself “a writer.” After college I moved home to Los Angeles, California & was working in an interesting & lucrative career field but I was writing bullshit for corporations and yearned to truly create from a place of intention. So, I enrolled in a PhD program, sold most of my things to move to Austin, TX and never looked back. Now, I am a writer.

I refer to myself as a poet and scholar, giving equal weight to both. Teaching in the classroom plays just as central a role in my life as wiring literary criticism and poetry.

 

CH: I’m currently reading Revisiting the Elegy in the Black Lives Matter Era, which of course you recently co-edited. Encountering its discussions of elegies that refuse both consolation and narrow boundaries of time and location has been quite an enriching experience for me. How has the experience of editing this book influenced you?

SM: Oh, it has been beautiful and heavy. I’ll simply say that this project has reaffirmed my dedication to working against oppression and violence in all of the spaces I inhabit.

CH: I recently read your poem, “upon reading the autopsy of Sandra Bland,” and first would like to congratulate you on it being a finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize. I love the way this poem uses etymology and definition to explore alternation of meaning as it investigates and grapples with its subject. The poem is in the form of a justified block of text in which phrases are separated by a slash (“/”), which made me think of the way poems with line breaks are quoted within prose. How did you arrive at this form for the poem?

SM: Thank you. I am so humbled to have been named a finalist—its beyond my dreams!

I have to tell a quick story about this poem! I first wrote this in response to Kenneth Goldsmith’s abhorrent, offensive reading of Mike Brown’s autopsy report as “poetry” to a Brown University audience in 2015. I was so distraught by Sandra Bland’s death. We were the same age. Her arrest and jailing happened two hours away from where I live, on a road I drive often. She was an outspoken activist. She loved black people. She believed in the transformational power of education. She was resilient and inspirational. I didn’t know her, but I feel like she was my sister. She is my sis and I loved her. So, I read every damn word of her autopsy report. Gosh, this was on Christmas Eve (morbid, I know) and I was in a work session with my homegirl, painter Beth Consetta Rubel, and we was vibin. I was in the zone. I wrote this poem in two hours & have never edited it since. It came out in a trance & I remain astounded that I am able to honor her in this way.

This was my attempt to recapture the beauty and brevity of Sandra’s life / to honor breath / to breathe / to acknowledge an afterlife / to unravel the structures that bound her / to identify all the ways one can asphyxiate: miscarriages – economics – policing – mental illness – black womanhood in a white supremacist nation / to release her from all that shit.

Yes, this is an etymological poem that pivots along the varied meanings of “ligature” and “furrow.” I was thinking about how the language of the autopsy report tells us everything and nothing… the language is useless in reviving the dead, useless in telling the truth of it. Although it is a poem about meaning, I think it is a really a poem that reaches beyond meaning, if that makes sense.

Last thing I want to say is that poem was chosen by Patricia Smith as finalist for the Gwendolyn Brooks prize. I submitted it for this purpose alone. I knew that she was also writing exquisite “autopsy poems” & I hoped that she would get it. She got it. I am so honored to have had her read and anoint this poem.

CH: How do you make room for your creative endeavors during the busy academic year? What advice would you give someone struggling to find that work / creativity balance?

SM: I have no balance, really. I’ve been in a dry spell with my poetry for too long & I’m really frustrated. I am in the early stages of my career as a professor in a tenure-track role & this job is all encompassing. There are teaching demands, publishing demands, and service demands. This means that for the past year or so I’ve been focused on other kinds of writing: I published the co-edited book, two essays, and a couple of book reviews. I try not to be hard on myself for producing less poetry because shame is useless and debilitating. I try to tell myself that I am building other muscles for the time being and will be stronger when I rec-enter poetry in my life. I am headed to the James Baldwin Conference in Saint Paul de Vence, France for a creative writing workshop in the summer & I am so excited to rediscover my poetic voice.

CH: Who are some writers that changed the way you looked at language and writing?

SM: I return to Langston Hughes at different stages in my life. He is so deceptively simple, so pure in his love & hope for black people, and unabashedly critical of oppressive power. Hortense Spillers and James Baldwin are master essayists I look to. Evie Shockley & Douglas Kearney are some of my favorite contemporary poets—I think I share their experimental sensibilities. Brenda Marie Osbey & Sonia Sanchez teach me the power of chant and repetition and pacing. Gerard Manley Hopkins, John Keats, and John Milton have taught me something about formal rigor and beautiful images. Steinbeck’s opening pages of East of Eden rocked my world as did so many of Morrison’s openings—Paradise, Sula, and The Bluest Eye come to mind. I consider two books my literary bibles: Lucille Clifton’s Collected Poems and Zora Neale Hurston’s Collected Letters. Both of these writers teach me about authentic voice & the unabashed celebration of black womanhood.

CH: What are you working on now?

SM: I’m working on two monographs. The first is a critical study of Kendrick Lamar’s work. The second is what I’m calling a critical history of the African American elegy.

CH: What do you read for pleasure?

SM: Fiction. I have about four novels on my nightstand at the moment. I adore the detective novels of Chester Himes, the speculative fiction of Octavia Butler. I return to Baldwin/Morrison every other summer, reading their respective bodies of work in full. I love everything Kiese Laymon has written. Right now, I’m about halfway through Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings, it is marvelous.

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

SM: Right now I’m toggling between Chad Bennet’s Your New Felling is the Artifact of a Bygone Era, Faylita Hicks’s Hood Witch and AI’s Vice. Additionally, I’m teaching with Rampersad’s Oxford Anthology of African American Poetry, so I’ll be reading nearly the entire volume over the next few months.

A Virtual Interview with Natalia Trevino

ire’ne lara silva and Natalia Treviño will be the featured readers Thursday, December 12, 2019 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Born in Mexico, Natalia Treviño is the author of the chapbook, VirginX, which was a finalist for the open chapbook contest with Finishing Line press. A professor of English at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio, she was raised in a Spanish speaking household and learned English from Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie. Her awards include the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the San Antonio Arts Foundation Literary Award, the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize for Poetry, the Menada Literary Award at the Ditet E Naimit (Dee-tet EH Nah-ee-mit) Poetry Festival in Macedonia, and several others. Her first book, Lavando La Dirty Laundry, was a national and international awards finalist. Natalia’s poems appear in BordersensesBorderlandsThe Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, and other journals and anthologies.

The Interview

CH: It’s hard to believe it’s been five years since we’ve shared this space. So I’d like to start by asking your thoughts about your writing life during this interval. What pieces have remained constant? What has changed, or ebbed and flowed?

NT: I also cannot believe it has been five years. So much has happened—to both of us. Since the last time I came to share this space, I’ve lost a parent, my father. It’s been a very difficult time. My writing sort of halted as I felt very deflated even though I know my work with the Virgin was spiritual preparation for something big. I didn’t think it would be that big or that close, but I knew I was on the verge of a loss of some sort. I imagined it was the loss of my beloved Tia Licha who I write about in my first book. She’d been such an inspiration to me and was a living connection to my grandmother, her big sister. That could be the only explanation for so much miracle, so much direct and divine intervention as I was diving into my study of her.

The loss of my father was completely unexpected. I was had lunch with him in my home on that last day of his. I had just come home from a trip abroad to study and write about the Virgin. I am just now getting back on track with my work with her and with my other projects. Grief is most definitely best understood through creativity. It has been a reflective time. Thankfully, my poetry group meets consistently, which means I churned out several new poems since then, but they are all over the place, about teaching, about my cat, about the chasm that is in my consciousness now in the world without my father. It has been a challenge.

CH: I read on your website (http://www.nataliatrevino.com) that you are working on a new collection of poems about Mary, and it was lovely to be able to read one of the poems (“Between Wings”). And contemporaneous with the 2nd Thursday reading in December, BookWoman will be having its annual Virgin Day Celebration in honor of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  Please tell us a little about how Mary resonates for you, and about the inspiration for this new project.

NT: Thank you for the kind words and the research, Cindy! And I’m thrilled the reading fits in with Virgin Day at BookWoman. It is such an honor to bring my poems about the Virgin to any audience because she is more than the mom of a really nice man who was crucified for being a really good guy, a spiritual coffee cup, waking people up about their inner lives and their socio-spiritual responsibilities. Among other things, Jesus told us we are all God’s children, all brothers and sisters, and he liked peace and humility, and a rule of law that was based on compromise and respect. He did not want us lusting after wealth or prizes or power. The realm within is what he was helping us to understand, but He also cared for the poor and for children, for marginalized people. Sadly, he’s been twisted into someone who represents the homophobic jerks who hoard wealth and funds illegal materialistic wars. He can’t be happy with his characterization and how he’s been pimped out by corrupt leaders because this claiming of him to justify war and pompous self-righteousness so contradicts the very simple sentences that he emphasized: live without sin. Sin is dicking over your friends, family, and community: dicking them is doing the same thing to God, and that’s not good. It is the worst form of self-harm.

The Virgin is a much bigger being than a saint or relative to Jesus, and not only because she was used to replace Tonantzin by the Catholics, and not only because she’s the symbol of Catholic purity, the Mother of Jesus, Blessed among women, but also because, like all women, she’s linked to us all genetically and is a reminder that yes, we actually are brothers and sisters. She is linked genetically to Mitochondrial Eve, the maternal ancestor to all living humans, and so are all of us.

There is a common factor in our shared genetic being, and all woman are the sacred portal to life through this ancestral communion with life, original human life. This is true especially for women, not only if we become mothers, to send that genetic message forward, but because we are from mothers, connected to the source no matter what our reproductive choices are. Being aware of our cosmic ancestry going back to Mitochondrial Eve is a portal to Life, and with the big L, I mean Spiritual Life: the awareness that we are all deeply connected to one another through one actual mother. How is the Virgin mixed in with this? That is the miracle. She is a once-human-body that has transcended humanity, as all of our ancestors have, and who I believe is aware of us and her own connection to the Spirit Mother-Father, what some will God, the Creator.

We all have the DNA from Mitochondrial Eve, and we would not be alive without it. This is passed only through the mother line. Our ancestral mother, the mother of all mothers lived 200,000 years ago according to a study from Rice University, and she’s alive in each of us, literally in our spit, semen, and eggs. She’s in our tear ducts! She’s in Mary’s DNA too, and the Creator Goddess (who else) built this system of people.

Our indigenous ancestors and family members already know this. The goddess, Mother of God, is the Origin of Life, and science says all life begins in the ocean, in water, which has almost the same rich saline solution as the salt in our first nest, the amniotic sac, which was at 2% saline. The ocean is 3%, but this is so interesting. Salt water is necessary for life, for birth, and somehow also necessary for all foods to grow so that plants, humans, and animals can survive. Fresh water is absolutely essential for all of these life forms too. How can we not pay attention to that when we talk about the Mother of God? She’s liquid. She’s in our many ducts, aware of us and calling for self-care and compassion for ourselves and for others. This is the message of the Son, right? The Santeria religion, which is a blend of Catholicism and West African Yoruba practices call have syncretized their water goddess Yemaya/ Yemoja with the Virgin as well.

Mary, La Virgen is, like all women, tapped into that enormous power, and represents that power so beautifully, as she’s the one who was chosen to be named the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven. It’s in our DNA to connect to one another to assemble as a group, and many can do it through the idea of a Mother Goddess. This is why she was accepted by the indigenous people of the land that is now called Mexico. They said, “Oh, that’s how you see HER? OK!” And we have the matachines devoted to her every December  8th, the day she appeared to Juan Diego.

The thing is that all mothers are linked like a constellation, or better yet, a power grid to this great source, and so are all of their children. I know this sounds wildly heretical, but it’s also exactly what John said in John 3: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and we have not yet been shown what we will be in the future.” There is a lot of debate about whether this means we are automatically saved just because we are God’s kids. The line about the future evokes that question. The Second Coming is what most scholars say this future is about and yes, this is a factor in the Bible, judging those who lived in Christ— but to live in Christ meant be a good person. Believe that you must be a good person to reach spiritual feast and glory, and good means some basic things: do not hurt one another is number 1.

But who wrote the parts that said Jesus locks you out if you do this or that? Men. Men who wanted power. Jesus wanted us to love one another and His Mom. He wasn’t after power on Earth, was he? He was saying Heaven is for all of us if we are KIND to one another and look INWARD at our own sacred potential, sharing our material wealth with others so we can stop worrying about bread and begin worrying about our spiritual nourishment instead.

While dying on the cross, he looked at John; “Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’” This is John 19. What a great son to know his mother so well, to see her real power and place in the world. I honor that.

Our Mother “es muy milagrosa,” my grandmother once told me. I see it now. My project is attempting to understand her better, and in so many traditions. There are over twenty two thousand Virgins who are all the same spirit, and each of those names, or identities are specific manifestations of her miracles. I understand there are many ways to access her, and I hope to understand this more by examining her representations created by humans in their inspired creative works. They looked to her miracles in their world, felt her resonance with all people as the Mother of God and all of us too, and found women around them who could represent her to model as her. They see her in their own mothers or lovers or muses. Looking at how artists adorn her and tell her story inspires me with a lifelong project of deepening my faith, taking in art, and tapping into the eternal thing I’ve always loved about literature: the complex, sometimes broken, but everlasting human spirit— in all of us!

CH: I understand you are teaching at Northwest Vista College in San Antonio. How do your students surprise you? How does teaching inform your own work?

NT: My students are so much smarter than they think they are. Once I build an atmosphere of trust, they tell me what they know. If they do not trust me, they will stay shy and not reveal their knowledge to me. If they do not trust me, they will never tell me what they need and what they don’t really know, and so with trust-building, we begin, and I also use trust move them forward with so much excitement.

They already receive a mass of information. They read all day long, not textbooks, but yes Twitter feeds and status updates. They are reading, communicating, connecting, making meaning, making new words, working out what ethos they will follow, working out who they will believe. My job is to show they how they can do it on a different scale, an academic one, so they can be degreed.

Why do most of them want a degree? It is not to discover mysticism or realism or humanism or even Chicano power. Most want to move along on the socioeconomic ladder that they feel is holding them back. I know I did when I was their age. How would I own a home one day? How could I be wealthy? I wanted to hoard and save like my father did, so I could one day take great vacations, travel, and of course, own a swimming pool. My students want these things too. They think things will bring them happiness and they have lost their faith in teachers. What surprises me is when they do trust me because I work on this every semester. Being in their lives is sacred work.

They are all multi-lingual and mostly bicultural like me. Most community college students are nepantleros, between two worlds: culturally. Once we talk about this idea of Gloria Anzaldua’s, they know we are being real and that they can be free to share their world in the classroom.

What surprises me most is when they trust me with their story, when they volunteer to share a personal worry or story. One of my students lost his father this year. He announced this during our Dia de los Muertos event. It has been less than two weeks. I started getting teary and shakey as I responded to him, but thankfully we were all talking about our dead, and we had a positive, communal Die de los Muertos altar that they had voluntarily built in front of us, a ceremonial space which made it beautiful. He added a picture of his dad to it. He wanted us to all know it had just happened the week before. I am doing the most important work I can do, helping my students gain confidence to share their voice. Their voice is their super-power.

CH: You have many roles in life: professor, writer, mother. How are you creating balance? How do you make time for your own writing amid the demands and commitments of work and family?

NT: This is always a struggle. It’s midnight as I type this interview and I need to be at work tomorrow at 9 a.m. There is a ton of grading waiting for me on my desk. It’s 4 a.m. when I do my best prose writing —sometimes on a Sunday morning when an idea wakes me up— or a hot flash!. Sometimes I tell my husband, “Don’t talk to me until I come out of our room” or “Don’t talk to me until Sunday.” He is fantastic and extremely generous about these requests. He understands how important it is to me to have time to write. I would not be the writer I am if it were not for his generosity and faith in my work, which has been there from the beginning. We met writing letters to one another. He is a writer too, but he is so selfless that he makes the space for me to create what I want to create. He will make dinner, clean up, and even give me alone time to write when we have a short vacation or a weekend together.

It’s just the two of us now, and we are learning it together since my son has always been a part of the package. I am in a new stage of motherhood now, which kind of feels like a break up, but not the angry kind, the I know you need to go kind. It’s nature. He’s moved out. He’s 21. It is so hard to miss him as much as I do, but it is also a wonderful time in our relationship as we are honest with each other and support each other as artists.

He’s a musician, rapper, and college student. I can fall asleep without knowing where he is finally. It used to keep me awake! I don’t have ulcers from worry, but I do send regular texts telling him to quit smoking. Mexican moms hang on tight, too tight. I’m trying to resist making him dread his oppressive Mexican mother who is a ball of worry and doubt and fear. Yes, I have all that, but the other day I sang the 12 Days of Christmas to him in full opera style at dinner. He and my husband loved me enough to let me do this. I need singing lessons. We have fun, and I can enjoy a glass of wine with him now as I tread into this new space of motherhood that is about encouraging and guidance and not rules and mandates.

I find that through attention to my body, which has been so generous with me so far, that I am able to balance and remember why I am here. I am running three times a week and dedicated to walking long distances with my best friend at work every day. I am taking care of  health in numerous ways, not forgetting about my body as often as I used to. These active measures punctuate my week and my life now. My exercise routine is a keystone habit reminding me each day of my priorities: goals, work, family, not in that order.

Family is first, work is second, writing is third except for when it is first, and family does understand that sometimes writing is first.

CH: In a section labeled, “finding purpose,” your website has an intriguing discussion of the term mutualism. along with the statement, “Mutualism describes the relationship between my writing and my life.” How did you come to your understanding of mutualism? How has adopting this concept made a difference in how you approach your own work, and working with others?

NT: I love the wisdom in the physical world. If a tree creates and gives me oxygen, I want some of that wisdom so I can survive like a tree does, giving something written to the world in return for its favors of light and air, Earth and water. I am happy to be a place for nests, a place that provides shelter for my students, friends, and loved ones, and perhaps also provide good fruit for my readers, if I am lucky enough to be that kind of tree. This can happen when I receive the gift of consciousness, calm, reasoning, and love, so can put forth more branches and perhaps be close to winged creatures that inspire me. My student just posted this wonderful line in his research paper where Chelley Seibert, a 25-year police veteran giving a TED talk, quotes Jana Stansfield saying, “I cannot do all the good that the world needs, but the world needs all the good that I can do” (“Behind The Badge”). Yep.

CH: Tell us a little about your novel-in-progress, Drinking the Bee Water.

Oh, that is the marathon for me! I was so fortunate to have it accepted with the press of my dreams a few years ago, and then my agent advised me to pull it because she did not approve of the contract. It was the bravest thing I have ever done because I have been working on this novel for a long time and this was my desired press, the press that changed my life and introduced me to Chicano letters. The truth is the novel was not done, and pulling it was a good idea in the long run. I am reworking it after others have read it and said, “Hey, this is not done yet. Try this. Work on that.” Ok. I always tell my students to sacrifice the words for the work. The work is not done, and I am so excited about how it is going now, which is a sacrifice of words, a lot of them, thousands of them that need to be unstitched, reconsidered. Luckily, I have many new words inside of me, and I have some new possibilities for publication, but I have to see it through, which gets back to the work/life balance thing. The story about this woman, Berta, is too important to muck up.

CH: When we last spoke, Lavando La Dirty Laundry had just come out, and you were focusing on its launch and promotion in the world. Looking back, were there any surprises along the way? Was there anything you would have done differently?

NT: I am so pleased with how it went. Who can complain about a dream come true? My first book of poetry. I would gladly revise it now because I have grown as a writer, and some of the poems could use some nurturing and pruning, and this is also true for VirginX. My Macondo network helped me immensely with this book, and I have limited time to travel and promote it.

The next book will get more attention on this front. The more you plan before the book release the better the launch will go. I had no idea how to get the word out, and so I said yes to everything and everyone. There is no small audience, only a small performer. This is what a former music professor friend used to say. And with each encounter I have in sharing this book with others, I notice it has its own life, how it resonates with certain people who are navigating nepantla, the world in between cultures, languages, between heritage shame versus heritage pride.

CH: What are you reading now?  

Research papers. HAHA! Yes, I do read a lot of student work, revisions, revisions, and reflections and drafts. But for my own work, at the moment I am reading ire’ne lara silva’s  Cuicacalli (Saddle Road Press 2019) and an early copy of Wendy Barker’s Gloss (Saint Julian Press, out in January 2020). These are my two favorite poets, and it is an honor to also call them my friends. They are a huge factor in the mutualism idea I mention in my website. They are great trees who bear important fruit and nutrients for me. I can honestly say that they have had a deep influence on my work.

In fiction, I am reading Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III, who I met at Gemini Ink last summer, and this book, which is so out of my normal reading range, it is shedding light on all kinds of things, showing me something lyrical in the structure of a contemporary short story collection about how dirty love can get. I recently finished another book about love called Love by Hanne Ørstavik and translated by Martin Aitken from Norwegian (Archipelago Books, February 2018). It is about the limits of motherhood, a very powerful book gifted to me by my amazing friend, Gregg Barrios. It haunts me, but this is a good thing.