Category Archives: poets

A Virtual Interview with Amanda Johnston

Amanda Johnston will be the featured reader Thursday, December 13, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Amanda Johnston earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine. She is the author of two chapbooks, GUAP and Lock & Key, and the full-length collection Another Way to Say Enter (Argus House Press). Her poetry and interviews have appeared in numerous online and print publications, among them, Callaloo, Poetry, Kinfolks Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, Muzzle, Pluck!, No, Dear and the anthologies, Small Batch, Full, di-ver-city, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, and Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism.

The recipient of multiple Artist Enrichment grants from the Kentucky Foundation for Women and the Christina Sergeyevna Award from the Austin International Poetry Festival, she is a member of the Affrilachian Poets and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. Johnston is a Stonecoast MFA faculty member, a cofounder of Black Poets Speak Out, and founding executive director of Torch Literary Arts. She serves on the Cave Canem Foundation board of directors and currently lives in Texas.

The Interview

CH: What first interested you in writing? What is your first memory of writing?

AJ: Reading. When I was a child, my mother gave me Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic. I didn’t have the language for it then, but now I believe it was the risk he took to be daring and surprising in his poetry that pulled me to the page. His subjects and narratives in his work was at times naughty and out of the ordinary. I loved it! I can’t say that I wrote outside of school then, but those poems still excite me today and I turn to them when I forget to have fun with the lines and turn to the unexpected.

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

AJ: I lived in Kentucky from 2000 to 2005 while my husband was in the Army. I worked at Elizabethtown Community & Technical College and started writing with a group on campus and helped with the campus journal, The Heartland Review. That’s when I felt the drive for more. I wanted to read more, write more, and learn more about poetry and the literary world. Shortly after that, I was inducted into the Affrilachian Poets and was awarded a Cave Canem fellowship. These communities encouraged me to continue writing and to publish professionally. This is when I started ‘doing the work’ seriously on and off the page.

CH: What motivated you to get your MFA? How did you decide on the University of Southern Main?

AJ: The Stonecoast MFA program at the University of Southern Maine was the only program I applied to. My friend and Cave Canem faculty, poet Patricia Smith, attended Stonecoast and taught there after graduation. She encouraged me to apply. I learned a long time ago that if Patricia tells you to do something you do it because it will probably change your life for the better. It did! Stonecoast has an incredible faculty, and as a student, I was able to work with Joy Harjo, Tim Seibles, Aaron Hamburger, Ted Deppe, Jim Kelly, Alexs Pate, and Annie Finch. I also took advantage of their study abroad program and attended a summer residency in Dingle, Ireland. Most of all, the program allowed me time to selfishly focus on myself and my writing. I needed that uninterrupted time to listen to the voice within and learn additional tools to help it rise to the page.

CH: How did the MFA program change your approach to writing? What was its biggest gift? Its biggest drawback?

AJ: During the program, I took traditional form and cross-genre workshops that broadened the scope of my reading and writing. I wanted more and I needed to understand prosody and apply the study to my work so I could break it down and build it back up. I learned scansion and meter. I learned form. I love to break apart forms and mash them up with others in new ways. The freedom to take control of form and structure, along with time, was the greatest gift. I gained this whole world where other writers were just as curious and focused on the work as I was. That gave me strength and support to continue writing and push my work.

The biggest drawback? It is a financial expense, but one worth making. My husband and I discussed it like buying a new car. Do we need it? Yes. Why? To get to work! I certainly got to work and I would advise anyone considering their MFA to really consider the work they need to get to and how the program as a whole will help them accomplish their goals.

CH: When did you decide to become involved in Cave Canem? How has your experience as a Cave Canem fellow influenced your work?

AJ: I applied to Cave Canem in 2005 and was offered a fellowship that year. I applied because Nikky Finney, a founder of the Affrilachian Poets, encouraged all of us APs to apply. I didn’t know much about it, but again, Nikky is one of those people you better listen to if they give advice.

After attending my first Cave Canem retreat, my life was truly changed. I moved back to Texas that summer and only applied to jobs that would support me creatively as a poet. The home my family chose had to have an office and quiet spaces where I could read and write. Being a Cave Canem fellow reinforced my commitment to poetry and broadened my community in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Over three years of retreats, I studied with Elizabeth Alexander, Yusef Komunyakaa, Afaa Weaver, Cyrus Cassells, Marilyn Nelson, Kwame Dawes, Erica Hunt, Patricia Smith, and founders Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. Guest poets during the retreats included Lucille Clifton and Rita Dove. My life changed. My world changed. I couldn’t get enough.

I stayed after graduating to work as retreat staff and served as retreat coordinator until 2017. I now serve on the board of directors. My life is dedicated to Black poetry and supporting marginalized groups across the literary landscape. Becoming a Cave Canem fellow lifted me up in such a way that I can’t image not having this opportunity for others. My writing is stronger because of this house and my dedication to the community is unwavering.

CH: Tell us a little about the Affrilachian Poets. How does this community nurture you as a writer?

AJ: The Affrilachian Poets is a collective of poets from the Appalachian region. Poet Frank X Walker, a Danville, Kentucky native, coined the term in the ‘90s when he didn’t see people of color included in the definition of appalachians. He didn’t see himself. Along with other founding members, Kelly Norman Ellis, Nikky Finney, Crystal Wilkinson, and others, they formed the Affrilachian Poets to give voice to their experiences and the experiences of other people of color from the region.

In 2004, while living in Kentucky, I was inducted into the APs as part of the second generation, the first group of inductees after its formation. As an AP, I was able to explore my writing and history wholly without restraint. I felt free writing in community with others who looked like me and understood what it means to be Black in America and daring to write about it. Because of the Affrilachian Poets, Kentucky will always be my poetic birthplace. My time there with them gave me the foundation I needed to carry my work forward with pride and purpose.

CH: Tell us a little about Another Way to Say Enter. How would you compare the experience of putting this full-length collection together vs. that of composing your chapbooks, GUAP and Lock & Key?

AJ: Another Way to Say Enter is the gathering of many years of writing into a meditation on my personal journey of womanhood. It’s not soft. It’s not pretty. If anything, I hope it’s honest and carries the places that hurt toward healing. I hope readers find the poems in this collection and know that they are not alone.

It took time and the support of an incredible editor, Teneice Durrant founder of Argus House Press, to see this book become reality. It didn’t follow the business of production. Putting this collection together took patience and compassion and I’m thankful she was able to offer that to me and my book.

GUAP and Lock & Key were personal projects that I arranged and produced. I had complete control. Each of these projects were necessary to make way to grow and enter the next phase of work. AWSE is only a year old, but I can feel the seeds starting to take root for what’s to come. It’s all part of the process of listening and staying present with the work.

CH: How has your experience teaching at Stonecoast influenced your writing?

AJ: Being that I attended Stonecoast, I want to provide the same experience I received as a student for my students. This means I read a lot! I dive into what they are interested in and that often opens up a new world of work to me. Creating coursework for workshop and individual intense study requires I offer my knowledge and experience, but stay open to the riff and flow of each student’s own needs and growth. It keeps me on my toes and I learn so much in the process. They inspire me and it makes me hold myself accountable to them and my own work. I fully believe you must practice what you teach! 

CH: What poetry do you find yourself turning to for inspiration? Who are some of your favorite writers?

AJ: Anything by Lucille Clifton because she gives me permission to write short poems that cut and love deeply. And anything by Sharon Olds because she gives me permission to write the personal, intimate, experience through my own lens without blinking.

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

AJ: On my desk right now are Citizen Illegal by José Olivarez and Monument by Natasha Trethewey


A Virtual Interview with Cindy St. John

Cindy St. John will be the featured reader Thursday, November 9, 2016 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman.


Poet Cindy St.John is the author of the newly-released collection Dream Vacation, published by H_NGM_N Books, as well as four chapbooks: I Wrote This Poem (Salt Hill), Be the Heat (Slash Pine Press), City Poems (Effing Press), and People Who Are In Love Will Read This Book Differently (Dancing Girl Press). . She holds an MFA from Western Michigan University. She lives in Austin, Texas, where she teaches at a public school.

The Interview

CH: I’m always interested in how writers get started on the path. How did you first become interested in writing? When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer?

CS: In elementary school, my teachers often praised my writing, so I guess I just assumed that writing was something I was good at and therefore something I should do. However, I didn’t think of myself as a writer until I was much older.

CH: When did you start to write poetry? How was your identity as a poet forged?

CS: I can’t remember when I started writing poems. I think poetry has always been a part of my life. Just the other day my mom gave me a book of poetry I made in the fifth grade. It was illustrated, bound with a plastic clip and I even invented a publisher. Most of the poems were about puppies and trees. I became a serious reader of poetry as a teenager. I used to skip class to go to the library to read Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. This makes me laugh now. I did not identify myself as a poet until my mid-twenties. Then, I lived in a small city in Michigan where many other writers lived and people identified each other by what they wrote. People called me a poet, so I started calling myself a poet.

CH: How did you select Western Michigan University for your MFA? What were your expectations of the program before you entered it? Did it deliver?

CS: I applied to Western Michigan because former professor suggested it. I didn’t have any expectations for graduate school and I’m still not really sure why I applied. I just wanted to get out of Texas and live in a small apartment by myself where I could think and write. It was clear during my first few classes that it was going to require quite a bit more work than that because I was severely unprepared. I had not read many contemporary poets and I didn’t have the vocabulary of my classmates. But at Western Michigan my professors and fellow writers were kind and it wasn’t competitive like many other MFA programs. They really helped me become a better reader, and introduced me to so many writers that have influenced me.

CH: I understand you were a Millay Colony artist-in-residence in 2013. What did that experience bring to your work?

CS: The Millay Colony helped my feel validated as a writer, like if a foundation was willing to support my work, then maybe the work had value. It was a wonderful experience to spend my days living in Edna St. Vincent Millay’s barn and walking in her garden, then have dinner every night with other writers and artists.

CH: You have four chapbooks: I Wrote This Poem (Salt Hill), Be the Heat (Slash Pine Press), City Poems (Effing Press), and People Who Are In Love Will Read This Book Differently (Dancing Girl Press). How has your work evolved through these collections?

CS: The chapbook format is what I write in naturally; for whatever form or subject I am working with, 25 pages is usually a good length. So, I just keep writing them. Each of my four chapbooks feels like it has its own identity, but I do see an evolution. I am a writer very centered in place. I think my poems have evolved from a physical place to the poem as place, and that is reflected stylistically as well.

CH: How did you first conceive of your collection, Dream Vacation? How were you drawn to the haibun form for this work?

CS: Dream Vacation took a long time to write, and that is because, as I have said, I usually write in shorter formats. My time at the Millay Colony helped me to write poems as a longer work. I actually printed out all the poems and arranged them on the wall, then I found some pink butcher paper and literally mapped out the poems into a structure. At times it felt forced for me to write a full-length collection, but I don’t feel that way about the finished book. Now, it feels solid.

CH: Dream Vacation was a finalist for the 2015 TS Book Prize from Tarpaulin Sky, part of whose tag line is “Lovely Monstrous Hybrid Texts, Amen.” When did you first become interested in hybrid forms? As a poet, what do hybrid forms of poetry deliver that non-hybrid forms lack?

CS: For me, hybrid forms, particularly the haibun, allow me to write more closely to the way I think. We spend our days in prose: we make coffee, go to work, do the dishes, etc. But there are also small moments of beauty that open to us throughout the day, and I experience those moments in verse. Neither has more value than the other, hence, why I write in both prose and verse.

CH: We met in Hoa Nguyen’s workshop here in Austin, an incredibly rich environment. In what other ways have you nurtured yourself as a writer since finishing your MFA?

CS: In Kalamazoo, I was nurtured by such a rich community of writers. I was nervous about finding and meeting other writers in Austin outside of the university. At some point, probably as AWP, I picked up some beautiful chapbooks from Effing Press and shortly before moving, I saw that they were based in Austin so I emailed the editor, Scott Pierce. Right away, he asked me to give a reading with some other poets at 12th Street Books. There I met poets Hoa Nguyen, Dale Smith, the artist Philip Trussel, and later Farid Matuk, Susan Briante and Kyle Schlesinger, all of whom very much influenced have influenced my work. When many of those writers left Austin, I started a reading series, Fun Party, with Dan Boehl and I published an art and poetry publication called Headlamp as a way to keep myself connected to the writing community.

CH: What role does poetry take in your work as a teacher? Is it something your students resist? Embrace?

CS: Honestly, I think my students like poetry because they know I love poetry so much. I teach wonderfully open-minded and open-hearted teenagers, and when I am passionate about a text, they are excited about it too

CH: Who are some of your favorite poets? What’s the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

CS: Favorite poets: Frank O’Hara, Brenda Coultas, Mary Ruefle, Frank Stanford, Jack Spicer, Kate Greenstreet, Alice Notley, James Schuyler and all of my friends. I often wonder how I have come to know so many amazing writers. I recently read two books: Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong and The Market Wonders by Susan Briante, both books I admire.

A Virtual Interview with Melissa Studdard

Melissa Studdard will be the feature for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, March 10, 2016  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.


Melissa Studdard is host of VIDA Voices & Views, an editor for American Microreviews and Interviews, and a judge for the monthly Goodreads ¡Poetry! Group contest. She is also the author of the novel, Six Weeks to Yehidah, a poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfastand a collection of interviews, The Tiferet Talk Interviews. Her awards include the Forward National Literature Award and the International Book Award, among others.

Her poetry, fiction, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in a wide range of publications, including Poets & Writers, Tupelo Quarterly, Psychology TodayPleiades, and the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-A-Day. Of her debut poetry collection, I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, Robert Pinsky writes, “This poet’s ardent, winning ebullience echoes that of God…” and Cate Marvin says her work “would have no doubt pleased Neruda’s taste for the alchemic impurity of poetry.” Learn more at

The Interview

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

MS: Reading drew me to writing. I have always loved reading, and, as a kid, I read way more than I watched television. I was that weird person who read War and Peace over spring break and several volumes of Remembrances of Things Past over the summer. I remember my aunt laughing and asking, “A little light reading for the holiday?”

The thing is, I didn’t know you could become a writer. Writers weren’t actual, living people, as far as I knew. They were were dead and had been so for a long time. So, it never even occurred to me that I could write too—not until I started to meet living writers in my early twenties in my master’s program at the University of Houston, and they demythologized authorship for me. The funny thing is that I was writing in my head all along—I just never thought to put it on the page.

I didn’t start thinking of myself as a writer until I was in my later thirties, though. I’ve been a single mom for decades, and I spent all my time taking care of my daughter and earning a living. It wasn’t until she was older and loved reading too that I sat down and wrote a book. I guess I was trying to impress her—and it worked until she became a teenager. Then I was uncool again.

CH: What led you to choose Sarah Lawrence for your MFA? How has that experience shaped your work as a writer?

MS: I mentioned above that I got my first master’s degree at the University of Houston. As long as I’ve been on the scene, there’s been a well-lit path between Sarah Lawrence and the University of Houston. I walked it backwards—most come from Sarah Lawrence to UH. But it was an easy choice. During the time I was working on my MA at UH, I was surrounded by Sarah Lawrence grads. I even wrote short stories featuring characters who were Sarah Lawrence alums.

When I finally got there for real, it was everything I wanted and more. The environment was one of total support, and there was a vibe of freedom and mutual respect. It was a creativity sanctuary. You were to be authentic, daring, and real. As well, the college helped instill a sense of purpose and social service. Gifts were to be shared. These ideals were not unique to the writing program; they were at the very heart of what it meant to be on that campus in any capacity.

That experience shaped my life as a writer by granting me permission to be who I am in my writing—to be weirdly and happily me instead of trying to write something appropriate or mainstream.

CH: You’ve published a novel and a collection of poetry, as well as a collection of interviews. Do you have a primary identity as a writer? If so, what would that be?

MS: Right now I’d have to say no. In my physical life, I’m a bit nomadic. I like to travel around. I like to meet new people, try new things, have new experiences. I think it’s just who I am. It’s no coincidence that my debut collection is called I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast. I’m hungry. It’s about creating, giving, changing, trying new things. I think there are obvious reasons many of us write—to share, to connect, to make art—but pulsing beneath it all for me is a desire to set myself free and to find my courage. Aren’t they one and the same, anyway?

CH: What inspired you to write Six Weeks to Yehidah? How was that process for you? How did the idea for its companion, My Yehidah, come about?

MS: As I mentioned above, when you get right down to it, I wrote it for my daughter. But, as you know, inspiration is multifaceted. I was inspired by the children’s books I had been reading her—things like The Phantom Tollbooth and The wizard of Oz series. I was also inspired by non-fiction books I was reading about wisdom traditions. I wanted to share those traditions with kids and young adults in a fun, exciting way. One last cone in the inspiration potpourri was that I was in a writer’s group, and I was assigned to read The Oxford Book of Fairy Tales and write a short tale. That’s how the book began. It was just a short tale, and I fell in love with the characters and kept going and going. I had a friend who was also writing a book then, and we exchanged a chapter a month. It kept me going. The book is 19 chapters, and I wrote it in 19 months.

The companion came about because I knew this fabulous artist, Cheryl Kelley, and I was struck by the idea that with her illustrations, we could offer a journal and workbook that could personalize the main character Annalise’s journey for kids.

CH: I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast has been very well-received. How was this book conceived? What was your process in putting it together?

MS: The publisher, Ron Starbuck, said he’d like to bring out a collection of my poems, but I didn’t have one yet. I’d just been writing poems between stories and chapters, and though I really wanted to write a book of poetry someday, I didn’t think the poems I’d written made that—a collection, a complete thing. When I started looking at my poems I began to notice patterns, and I wrote poems to fill in gaps. It was really important to me to have a loose, organic sort of cohesion, and I worked hard for about a year to achieve the kind of associative and unconscious logical connections between poems and sections that was in the poems themselves. Here’s an article at Shewrites that details my exact process, with all the birthing pains and small victories included.

CH: How did you become interested in being an interviewer? How has your work as an interviewer influenced you as a writer?

MS: I was an editor at Tiferet Journal at the time, and the publisher, Donna Baier Stein, wanted to start a podcast and asked me to host it. To this day I’m surprised and flattered that she chose me. She said my voice was warm. That was really a lovely thing to say. So, I said “YES!” Flattery will get you far with me. Eventually, she started to co-host, and then it finally became clear to me that she was doing a great job with it and didn’t really need me anymore, so I started doing VIDA Voices & Views instead. I also curate interviews for American Microreviews & Interviews.

Interviewing is a great passion of mine. I try to interview people who I truly want to study and who I believe have a lot to share. I read everything I can by them—not just their books but their interviews and articles too. I read reviews of their work. I watch their podcasts and listen to their recordings. I tell you this because the answer to the second part of your question is tremendously. When you study someone to the extent I do to interview them, you learn their style and their obsessions and how they approach their subject matter. You even learn, to some degree, how they think. It’s a great honor to interview someone and learn from them in this way.

CH: When I look at your website (, I find myself thinking you must be incredibly busy with your work as college professor, interviewer, writer, and editor. With all that going on, how do you create balance in your life?

MS: I won’t kid you—I feel utterly overwhelmed at times. But I love the work, so the work itself reenergizes me. I also make time to rest. Doing nothing, meaning staring at a bird hopping along a limb for an hour or watching a fire crackle, is one of the most soul nourishing, creativity nourishing, and important activities a writer (or human!) can engage in. We need time to daydream and fantasize in order to be creative—even to creatively problem solve outside of the arts. We need time to listen to the earth and the sky and the hum of humanity. It’s sometimes hard to claim that time for ourselves, because we fear we are not doing anything, but we are.

I also meditate and do yoga. I go for a bike ride several times a week. I walk around my neighborhood. I believe in recreation and rest as vital aspects of life and creativity. I say all of this as a reforming workaholic, of course.

CH: What are your current writing projects? What do you see on the horizon in the next couple of years?

MS: I’m happily embroiled in poetry at the moment. I do plan to write more fiction in the future, and possibly even a memoir, but I think the next two books will be poetry. I’m working on them simultaneously. One is a book about a girl who is sort of half-myth and half-dream. She has suffered some abuse, and the book is almost an out-of body sort of response to that abuse, though there are other characters and multiple viewpoints. The other book is all the poems I am writing that do not fit into that book. Like with I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast, I’m trusting that the organizational path will appear when I put my foot on the ground.

CH: Which writers have been your strongest influences? What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

MS: The most recent book of poetry I’ve read is Behind my Eyes, by Li-Young Lee. It was a re-reading. I love him. He’s definitely one of my favorite poets. Sometimes when I can’t sleep at night, I put one of his readings on YouTube to soothe myself to sleep, which is kind of funny because he has a poem called “Virtues of the Boring Husband,” in which his talking makes his wife fall asleep. He’s not boring though, I can assure you. His lines take twists and turns and make associations I’d never have foreseen—all so gracefully, so elegantly, so naturally.

Other favorites (which are also influences, of course) are Pablo Neruda, Anne Sexton, Gabriel García Márquez, Amy King, César Vallejo, Audre Lorde, Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Dorothy Bryant, Yehuda Amichai, Lucille Clifton, Alejandra Pizarnik, Carson McCullers. I could list so many, but those are the ones who come to mind just now.

CH: What advice would you give a writer who is interested in working in a genre that is new to them?

MS: Know what you love to read in that genre and why. Do you love a writer’s voice? Their character development? The way they handle metaphor? Figure out exactly what thrills you about the books you love, and then you go do it too. You have the opportunity to thrill someone the way your favorite writers have thrilled you. You have the potential to be someone else’s favorite writer. Isn’t that wonderful?

A Virtual Interview with ire’ne lara silva

Poet and fiction writer ire’ne lara silva  will be the featured reader on Thursday, June 11, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for June’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


ire’ne lara silva lives in Austin, TX, and is the author of furia (poetry, Mouthfeel Press, 2010) which received an Honorable Mention for the 2011 International Latino Book Award and flesh to bone (short stories, Aunt Lute Books, 2013) which won the 2013 Premio Aztlan, placed 2nd for the 2014 NACCS Tejas Foco Award for Fiction, and was a finalist for Foreword Review’s Book of the Year Award in Multicultural Fiction. Her newest work, Blood Sugar Canto, is forthcoming in 2016 from Saddle Road Press

The Interview

CH: How long have you been writing? How did you become interested in writing?

ILS: For a very long time. Since I was eight, at least. I was taking an afternoon nap and had a nightmare that shocked me out of sleep. There wasn’t anyone to comfort me, and for the first of many times, I reached for pen and paper to write it all down and get it out of me. We didn’t have any paper in the house, so I ended up writing my story on a brown paper bag.

Until that moment, I hadn’t known I wanted to write. I fell in love with the alphabet my first day of kindergarten. Words and books came soon after. I was a reader in love with every new book.

CH: You have published full-length books of both poetry and fiction, in addition to chapbooks of poetry. How would you describe yourself as a writer? Do you consider yourself primarily a poet or a fiction writer … or does your identity as a writer lie in a different area?

ILS: I like being described as a poet and short story writer, but before it’s all done, I want to add essayist, novelist, and children’s book writer. I’m good with WRITER, but I think other people might always think of me as POET first. Which I don’t have a problem with—sound, music, and intensity will always be my first concerns in relation to language. As Jeanette Winterson says in her collection of essays, Art Objects, I don’t think there has to be such a strict division between poetry and prose. It can all be poetry. And it can be prose when it needs to be.

CH: How does your work as a poet influence your fiction? How has your fiction writing influenced your poetry?

ILS: Each of them give me room. Poetry gives me space to be personal and auto-biographical. Fiction gives me the space to be imaginative and to write stories that are like the long and involved story problems that poke and prod at different scenarios and resolutions. They both use concentrated and rhythmic language, but they give me space to enter the other freely. I’m never confused about what a piece is going to turn out to be. Whatever it looks like at the end, whether it’s poetry or prose, it’s free to be what it is.

CH: What is your writing practice like? How have you gone about envisioning and creating your books? What have you done to develop yourself as a writer?

ILS: No practice—other than what I call my guerrilla writing strategies. I write whenever and wherever I can, in as much time as I have. No special time, no special place, no special rituals. I always have a pen and my composition notebook on me, though I much prefer to write on a computer or laptop (mostly cause I can’t read my own handwriting!). I’ve written poems and stories and eventually, entire books this way. My work schedule and my caregiving responsibilities don’t give me the ability to dedicate long hours or entire days/weeks to my writing.  My greatest dream as a writer is a very simple image—a shelf of books with my name on the spine. I point myself in that direction to focus and get oriented.

Each book has been a different journey and a different experience, but each one, at the time I was writing it, was vitally important to me as a person—sometimes as a release, sometimes as a way to figure out what transformation or healing meant, sometimes as a way to strategize my next steps. I think life and writing inform and enrich each other.

To become a writer, I’ve lived. And struggled and rested and had my heart broken. To become a writer, I’ve read voraciously and pursued friendships with others who have also loved language and all the questions this life poses us. I’ve gone to workshops to learn from others and I’ve challenged myself to expand my skill set—as a writer setting words on the page and as a writer living in the world—promoting work, writing reviews and interviews, coordinating readings, offering workshops, all of that.

CH: I have attended workshops where you have had participants throw a grito—a very visceral, powerful experience of embodied voice. How does the grito figure in your work?

ILS: A grito—thrown while sober—is pure voice, pure essence. My thinking with the workshop has been that if you can find the place inside you where your unique grito resides, then you’ve found the place where your unique voice resides. And if you can learn to pull and throw out sound from there, then you can learn to pull emotion and language from there too. So much of the struggle to ‘find’ our voices is actually about learning how to release it from all the constraints that we, our families, others, and our society has put on it.

CH: I understand Saddle Road Press will be publishing Blood Sugar Canto next year. How would you describe this new book? What motivated you to write it? How long did it take you to write it?

ILS: Blood Sugar Canto is a full length collection of free verse poetry that discusses diabetes, family, and individual and communal healing. I was diagnosed as diabetic and started on insulin 7 years ago. I wanted to write about my experience of diabetes and illness—but also I wanted to talk about the need to vanquish fear and all fear-based approaches to healing. I profoundly believe that fear is never healing, that we do injury to our spirit and our lives if we do everything out of fear. I started writing it in the beginning of 2011 and finished it by the beginning of 2012. I spent three more years revising it and looking for a publisher.

CH: How did you find the publishers for furia, flesh to bone, and Blood Sugar Canto? What advice would you give aspiring authors about finding publishers for their work?

ILS: The writing of each book has been completely different—and so has each experience of publication. I actually had a poetry manuscript that I gave up on. I spent seven years sending it out without success. I did put together two chapbooks, ani’mal and INDiGENA from poems in that collection. In 2010, I saw a call for a chapbook contest from Mouthfeel Press. I decided to put together what I would want for a third chapbook, and I decided that if this chapbook didn’t win, I would publish it myself. Furia won. As it was too long for a chapbook, Mouthfeel decided to publish it as a full-length collection.

I wrote one of the first sentences for the short story collection in 1993 and the first draft of the first story in 1996. It wasn’t until 1998 that I decided to jump into the story-telling with both feet.  In mid-2004, I’d finished the first draft of the entire collection. Over the next eight years, I revised it—added stories, deleted stories, tightened the language, transformed the stories. I didn’t keep count but I received at least 20-25 rejections for it, though the rejections became more encouraging in tone with time. I submitted it to Aunt Lute Books in 2011 and heard back in 2012 that they wanted to publish it.

As for Blood Sugar Canto, I spent 2012-2015 revising it and submitting it to different prize competitions and presses. At the end of those three years, I signed a contract with a press. Sadly, we had different visions of the book. Fortunately though I soon found another publisher, Saddle Road Press out of Hawai’i.

I have no idea what the journey’s going to look like for the next book. I am curious to see if it ever gets easier.

My advice for aspiring authors looking for publishers: Read. Find the publishers who are publishing the books you love. Work your ass off learning about the kind of journey you want your book to have and what kind of journey you want to have as a writer. Lastly, trust. Trust that if you hold true to what you believe, then your work will find the right home.

CH: Name at least three writers whose work has influenced yours. How would you describe their influence?

ILS: Toni Morrison. Audre Lorde. Jeanette Winterson. Francisco Alarcon. Ana Castillo. e.e. cummings. The Bronte Sisters. Lorca. Juan Rulfo. This list could go on for a very long time. They’ve impacted me at every level—from how I think about language and what I think language can do to the choices I make about which stories to tell and how to tell them. I love them all for their brutal honesty and rawness and music.

CH: If you could go back to the beginning of your writing career—before any of your books had been published—what advice would you give yourself?

ILS: For some reason, this is the most difficult question to answer—especially if I have to figure out when the beginning of my writing career was.

At 8 and up until I was 21, writing was succor and escape. I needed it to survive. There is no advice to give myself other than “write.” I didn’t fully commit myself to writing until I was 23. For my 23-year old self, I would say, “Keep on writing, and follow the story you want to write.” I spent many years facing what felt like heated opposition to my way of writing and to the stories I wanted to tell.

Or, if the beginning of my writing career is just before any of my books were published…when I was 34, then I would say, “Hang on and keep on going, because writing books is crazy and wonderful and you’re going to learn so much.”

CH: What are you reading now?

ILS: I just finished Toni Morrison’s God Help the Child, and while it was wonderful to slip backinto her language, I just wasn’t all that moved or affected by it. (So disappointing.)

I’m in the middle of reading Deborah Miranda’s poetry collection, Raised by Humans, recently published by Tia Chucha Press. Amazingly fierce personal and political poems. Truly astonishing. And I’m about the plunge into Rios de la Luz’s  The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert. I am so intrigued by the description and it was recommended to me very highly.

A Virtual Interview with Joe Jiménez

Poet Joe Jiménez will be the featured reader on Thursday, March 12, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for March’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


Joe Jiménez is the author of The Possibilities of Mud  (Korima Press, 2014) and A Silver Homeboy Flicka Illuminates the San Juan Courts at Dawn (Gertrude Press,2011), which received the 2011 Gertrude Press Poetry Chapbook Prize. Jiménez is also the recipient of the 2012 recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Poetry Prize.

Jiménez holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and lives in San Antonio, Texas. More information is available at

The Interview

CH: How did you come to writing poetry? How has the focus of your work changed over time?

JJ: I studied English at Pomona College in Claremont, California. I preferred prose over poetry at first, finding poetry oftentimes pompous and inaccessible.

Sandra Cisneros’s Loose Woman changed how I saw poetry. After reading Cisneros, poetry became someone I knew, someone who would talk to me at HEB or as we waited for the bus in the rain, and this was the real electric moment for me. I realized I could write poems about my America, poems that needed to please no one but only speak something true about and for people living lives like mine.

CH: What made you decide to get an MFA? How was the MFA experience for you at Antioch University? How has the MFA influenced your work?

JJ: Antioch University LA’s MFA program was perfect for a poem-maker like me. I attended a low-residency program, which allowed me to keep my full-time job and complete most of my coursework at home, while visiting the campus residency twice a year.

At the time, my sister and her two boys were living with me, and my former partner and I supported them. Not working full-time was not an option. People depended on me, and yet, I wanted to explore this thing called poetry, which was calling to me. AULA offered a program where I could satisfy both responsibilities—the one to people who relied upon me for survival and the one to myself. This program was particularly fitting for me, as it focused on Social Justice.

Writing with social justice in one’s consciousness, then, shapes the poems I make. As a Chicano writer, this means I want to craft poems that are accessible, that ask questions to engage us in the political moment or the pleasure of our survival.

CH: I understand you are a native of South Texas, and now live in San Antonio. Where else have you lived? How do you see the interaction between your interior landscape and the landscapes in which you have lived?

JJ: My first full collection of poems, The Possibilities of Mud (Korima Press, 2014) focuses on the Texas Gulf Coast. I grew up on the coast, in small towns near Corpus Christi. In 2012, I exited a violent relationship, and I found myself trying to make sense of my life in the only place that really made sense for me to do so: the Gulf. I spent hours among the fish and the heron, observing the pelican smash their full faces into the green waters in search of a fish. I learned the names of plants and trees, and I watched birds with a patience I had not previously known. I learned to ask questions and to let those questions quest.

I wrote the poems from TPOM during my final semester of my MFA program, and after accessing services at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center’s Domestic Violence Program, I moved with the commitment to craft poems that might offer solace or at the very least pose questions to someone trekking through a darkness similar to mine.

CH: Your chapbook, A Silver Homeboy Flicka Illuminates the San Juan Courts at Dawn, has an intriguing title, and its cover is both beautiful and startling. As winner of the 2011 Gertrude Chapbook Competition, did you have a hand in the cover design? How does the cover design relate to the chapbook? 

JJ: The chapbook title came from a poem about a guy I once knew who lived in the San Juan Courts in San Antonio. We met while playing handball one Saturday afternoon at Escobar Park on San Anto’s Westside, near the fruit terminals, not far from downtown. This guy was good at handball, much more skilled than I was, and after defeating me soundly that first afternoon, we went our separate ways. I ran into him a few more times, and we played handball a few more times, too. I lost each time. It was a frustrating connection. He liked my tattoos, and one afternoon, he asked to take pictures of them “to show his homeboy who was going to be giving him a few new placazos.” I was okay with letting him take my picture.

I didn’t really have a hand in the cover design. I’m not terribly fond of the cover, and still, I am grateful for the opportunity to have published these poems with Gertrude Press. At the time the book was being published, I had just left my ex after he tried to kill me and kill one of my dogs. It was difficult time. I struggled to pull myself through it, and negotiating a cover for my chapbook was not a priority. I let it happen. I believe the cover connects to the collection in that several of the poems reference deer.

CH: How did the title and cover design for The Possibilities of Mud come about?

JJ: Originally, I’d titled the collection “The Meaning of Fire,” however after Francisco Aragon, who was writing a blurb for the book, read the manuscript, he suggested another title, since the one about fire was too abstract. “The Possibilities of Mud” made more sense, as the poem with this title spoke to the notion of becoming unstuck, the idea “To pull out, with the entire vessel/ of Love, mud-covered, dank and more wise./ And how is mud not part of this marvelous life?” The newer title echoed the arduous lesson many of us pick up, which is the one about embracing struggle as a necessary and invigorating process toward growth.

The cover of TPOM features Rafa Esparza, an LA-based performance artist. Dino Dinco, an artist I’d previously worked with on “El Abuelo” took the photograph of Rafa during Rafa’s performance *STILL*, “a meditation on Manifest Destiny” delivered at LA’s Elysian Park on Thanksgiving morning in 2012. For more info on *STILL*, here’s a great write-up from *Liminalities: A Journal of Performance Studies*.

CH: The Gertrude Chapbook Competition site bio contains a link to the short film El Abuelo, which was commissioned as part of London’s 2008 Fashion in Film Festival, and in which you star and narrate the poem that makes up the film’s narrative. How does performance figure in your current work? Is the text of Homeboy Beautiful (and Other Things I’ve Nearly Forgotten But Am Throwing Punches Not to Forget) currently in print?

JJ: Yes, I would love to perform. Ever since watching Luis Alfaro perform Pico-Union in LA in the mid-90s, I have carried a desire to enact such a moment. In my most secret moments, I craft a one-person show about queer desire in the fracking fields of South Texas. It’s a commentary on small towns’ economic dependency on industries that may not have the peoples’ best interests at heart. And yet, there is need. And yet, there is hunger. And yet, people somehow manufacture happiness from scraps of opportunities. Much like love, sometimes, for some of us.

CH: El Abuelo locates itself in both San Antonio south side sensibility and queer identity, and I love the way the poem navigates and integrates those worlds. What kind of responses have you had to your work from different communities? What was the response to this film in London?

JJ: El Abuelo was the catalyst for my decision to join an MFA program. After reading a few articles about the film, I felt moved to better equip myself with the craft of poem-making. One of the first responses that comes to mind referenced me as an ex-con writing about men’s affinity for domestic work, namely ironing. The assumption that I’d done prison-time, based on what my body looks like, troubled me, of course. But there also have been fierce and empowering critiques, including the scholarship of Liliana C. Gonzalez from the University of Arizona whose essay “Queering Chicano Vato Memory in Dino Dinco’s ‘El ABuelo’” was presented at last year’s American Studies Association conference.

CH: How have you gone about identifying candidate publishers for your work? What is your process for readying a manuscript for submission to a publisher?

JJ: I’ve recently completed a second collection entitled The Goat-Eaters + Other Poems. I am hoping to publish this collection with Korima or another independent progressive press.

What I learned about preparing a manuscript was shared by my mentor Jenny Factor. She suggested cleaning my kitchen table or the floor, which is the less desirable option in my household of four dogs who believe they own everything in the house, and spreading my poems so that I can begin to see relationships between and among them. This works for me. It’s amazing how one can see connections, or how poems call out to one another as if they were lonely or needing to belong.

CH: Name five of your favorite poets.

JJ: Mary Oliver, Anne Carson, Natalie Diaz, Carmen Giménez Smith, Danez Smith.

CH: What are you working on now?

JJ: Revising a series of Juan Diego persona poems to be included in The Goat-Eaters. “Juan Diego Holds a Sign that Reads, ‘Stop Bill Cosby’” is the first poem I wrote for this sequence. I became especially interested in Juan Diego when someone asked me whether I thought he had made the whole thing up, the apparition, the roses, the miracle. I’d never fathomed it, and it has sat inside me for years. I read a Maxine Kumin poem about what if Emily Dickinson was alive today, and I was tuned it.

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

JJ: Renato Rosaldo’s The Day of Shelly’s Death. I heard him read a couple of weeks ago at the Guadalupe Center here in San Antonio.

A Virtual Interview with Sarah Hackley and A. R. Rogers

Sarah Hackley and A. R. Rogers will be the featured poets on Thursday, February 12, 2015 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for February’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


Sarah Hackley is the author of Preparing to Fly, a personal finance book for women leaving abusive partners, Finding Happiness with Migraines: A Do It Yourself Guideand the Amazon women’s poetry bestseller The Things We Lose.  Her poetry also has appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including the The Bridges of America: Homeless Poetry Anthology, YARN, Rawboned, Crucible, and the Austin Younger Poets Award Anthology, and on the walls of the Umlauf Sculpture Garden. She is currently at work on her first novel.

A. R. Rogers is a poet and fiction writer living in Austin, Texas. This summer, she will graduate from ACC with an Associate degree in creative writing. In October 2014, her first chapbook, Tiny Nothing, was published by Raw Paw Press. She also co-hosts the Mind Maze reading series for Raw Paw at Malvern Books. Her work can be found in Peach Fuzz and Red River Review.

The Interview

CH: How long have you been writing poetry? What draws you to poetry as an art?

SH: I’ve been writing poetry since I was young enough to hold a crayon. I’ve always felt it was the only art form that offered the reader undiluted emotion, the raw experiences of a life fully lived. It is what I turn to, as a reader, when I’m searching for connection, and it is what I try, as a writer, to offer my readers.

ARR: I have my first clear memory of writing a poem around nine years old. I remember the line but I am only human. Like, what does a nine-year-old know about being human? I must have heard it in a movie or on TV. But even though I didn’t know what I was talking about, I was doing the thing I still do today: hear something, like it/attach to it, record it. So, I guess that’s about nineteen years of poetry.

What draws me to poetry? God. Um. The muses? The universe? Divine intervention? I don’t know. I feel called to poetry in a way someone might feel called to the ministry, with the same conviction that makes a person choose celibacy or fly an airplane into a building. From where I stand, I didn’t choose poetry, poetry chose me.

CH: Sarah, your first chapbook, The Things We Lose, was published this summer. Talk a little about the process of putting together this chapbook. What inspired you to put this collection together? How did you select this body of work? What prompted the choice to self-publish?

SH: Putting together a collection was something I’d wanted to do for years, but never truly felt ready to do. In truth, I was scared. As we grow in our craft, we find ways to revise old pieces. Once the collection is out, though, it’s set. You can’t make changes, and that thought frightened me. Still, one of my goals for 2014 was the let the fear go and take the leap. So I did, and as I poured over the poems I’d written over the past 10-12 years I realized that many of them had a unifying theme of loss. With the relatively recent death of my mother I decided that was a good theme for the collection. Once I settled on the theme, I spent time deciding what to include and playing with the structure, writing new pieces to fill in the holes that existed. Once it was completed, self-publishing seemed the obvious choice. I knew the theme didn’t fit with my regular publisher, and I didn’t want to search for a second one. Additionally, many poets self-publish their first chapbooks, and I figured it was the easiest way to maintain creative control of the collection and possibly make some money. So far, it’s all worked out exactly as I thought it would. I’m happy with the results, and I’m eager to start work on a second collection.

CH: The publishing industry these days is very focused on how authors can contribute to developing the market for their work; as a self-published author, all of this work falls on your shoulders. Your chapbook has become an Amazon women’s poetry bestseller. Name three things that have contributed to this success. What advice do you have to share with other authors, particularly those who self-publish?

SH: A ready platform, a coordinated launch, and William Hertling’s Indie & Small Press Book Marketing. I highly advise anyone who plans to self-publish to read that book.

CH: Prior to publishing The Things We Lose, you published two non-fiction titles Prepared to Fly, and Finding Happiness with Migraines: A Do It Yourself Guide. What influence has your non-fiction writing had on your other writing pursuits?

SH: Well, Preparing to Fly has been pushed back. I think the publisher plans to release it in March, but yes, the migraine book came out a couple of years ago. I love true stories, and I am an avid believer in the merits of creative nonfiction. In many ways, I am much more at home writing nonfiction than fiction, which is why I haven’t completed a novel yet – though that is my next project. My poetry stems from the same place as my books, the desire to speak the truth of our actual experiences and, hopefully, create a spark of connection, empathy, and change in the reader.

CH: A. R., Your first chapbook, Tiny Nothing, was published in October by Raw Paw Press. Talk a little about the process of putting together this chapbook. What inspired you to put this collection together? How did you select this body of work? What was the process of getting this chapbook published?

ARR: So, I knew my work was good, or at least getting better, and I had been wanting a little home for it for some time, but I didn’t feel particularly motivated to put together a manuscript I was proud of. And then I met Jen Rachid of Raw Paw at an event where I had been writing spontaneous poetry on a typewriter. She invited me over for a writing group at Austin poet-legend David Jewell’s house. She had hinted that they wanted to kick off a chapbook series, and as soon as she said it, I knew that’s what I wanted. David was largely heading up poetry for Raw Paw at the time, and one night, he asked me to read a poem I didn’t particularly want to read for whatever reason, and I told him I’d only read it if he printed my chapbook. The rest is history. So, basically I conned David Jewell into my chapbook.

When I went to arrange the manuscript, I tried to be really in control of the process, really heady about it. But what I ended up with… just wasn’t right. Many of the Tiny Nothing poems were in that original manuscript, but I knew something important wasn’t working. So, I tried again, this time letting the poems lead me. I had two people I really trust read the manuscript and give me feedback. I chose them: one a good poet (Wade Martin, an Austin poet you should know about if you don’t) and the other a close friend who is a skilled reader. They offered many valuable critiques, of which I took most, but not all. The manuscript was in flux right up until right before I submitted it.

The collection ended up being about my own personal smallness. We are all so very small. Our lives, while miraculous, are tiny and kind of meaningless in a way. What gives them their meaning is their intersection with other lives. So, Tiny Nothing is really about my nothing and your nothing, and how two nothings tend to make something.

CH: You’ve been studying at Austin Community College toward a degree in creative writing. What inspired you to take that path? Ultimately, where would you like to go with your education?

ARR: Growing up, I was praised for being things like smart and good. I had to be really mature, because, well, my parents weren’t. I graduated early from a small and strange private Christian school. (I was a very different person ten years ago!) I started my first college semester when I was seventeen, and shortly after, lost my mind. Quite literally. I tried and tried school on and off for several years, but I was really unhealthy in my early twenties. I could barely keep my head above water, dealing with addiction, depression, an eating disorder, and self-mutilation. Needless to say, I couldn’t handle school in the middle of all that. So, I worked retail and food service jobs for almost ten years, and subjected my friends to the bad poetry I was writing.

But even in the middle of all of this, the one small dream I had for myself was to be a writer and professor.

When I moved to Austin, I took my first Creative Writing class, and I met Charlotte Gullick, who is an instructor and Chair of the Creative Writing Department at ACC. She saved my life. She listened to my story, told me hers. Told me my work was good and that she believed in me, and wanted me to succeed. I wasn’t fully on board with this idea, but I eventually came around to it.

About a year and a half ago, I started busking poetry on the street. It was lucrative and horrifying and fulfilling, but most importantly, it was validating. Not only was Charlotte, someone who loved me (and knew a thing or two about words) telling me that I was good, but perfect strangers were telling me, too. That made me change my tune, and stop whining, and start moving toward the things I want. I want to go all the way. I definitely want an MFA. I haven’t yet decided if it’s going to be in poetry or fiction. It has been mentioned to me that I ought to consider a PhD, but that sounds crazy to me right now. We’ll see.

CH: What has been your favorite assigned reading so far in college? Your favorite writing assignment?

ARR: In an intro poetry and prose class (the first one with Charlotte), we had to read Ted Kooser’s The Poetry Home Repair Manual. It’s a very small book that goes over basic principles of constructing a poem and what exactly one should do with it once it’s been created. Kooser also talks about the idea of being a poet versus actually being a poet. I highly recommend it. For prose, I fell madly in love some Annie Dillard essays, Living Like Weasels and Seeing. They’re magnificent. Read them as soon as you possibly can. Oh! And I read a short story by Lauren Groff, Delicate Edible Birds. It’s the kind of story that just invades your life. Beautiful and horrific.

For writing assignments, two things come to mind. In one of the first few classes of my last fiction class with Charlotte, she said very casually, “Everyone get out pen and paper and write your life story in five sentences.” Naturally, everyone grumbled, but we got through it. Then she said, “Do it again.” That exercise makes you approach your life from someplace else—  anyplace else—that isn’t normally your vantage point, makes you shed your disposition. Also, while in the middle of writing our stories, she asked us to write a letter to our main characters, and, in turn, write one from them to ourselves, the author. Those are always difficult letters, but they transport and inform you for better or worse.

CH: Talk a little about your writing process. How regular is your writing practice? What inspires you? Where do you turn when you find yourself struggling with your writing?

SH: I try to write something every day, whether it is a poem, a section of a book, an article, or a blog piece. I work best very early in the morning, but my toddler’s current schedule has made that a difficult undertaking, so I squeeze it in when and where I can. Currently, I get the most undivided time on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I’m inspired mostly by pain – my own but especially that of other people. I want to call attention to it, to investigate it, and to somehow make sense of it in a way that turns the tragic into a lesson, something we can all learn from and use to make the world a better place. There are poets who write primarily from a place of joy or exuberance; I’m not one of them. I’m more likely to be out living during those moments than writing. That doesn’t mean my work is depressing, just that it comes from a darker place than some. In many cases, I try to turn that pain into something positive on the page. Other writers also inspire me. When I’m feeling stuck, that’s where I turn – to books. I read and read and read, until an idea sparks and I’m flying. Walks also help.

ARR: My writing process is slow and often unpredictable. I might write five poems in a month or go months without writing a single one. As far as I can tell, I can focus on poetry or I can focus on fiction, but never both at the same time. I write (largely) from my own experience, to make sense of it because, apparently, I make a lot of choices that land me needing to sift through things. When a poem falls out of me, I usually tinker with it for several days or weeks, occasionally months. The more I grow as a writer, the slower the process becomes.

I think I might be inspired most by chaos. As a writer (and maybe a person), I’m attracted to impulse and the things that grow wild inside us.

When I’m struggling, I just wait. I bitch and moan about how I’m not writing (or not writing well), write some things that are truly awful, and wait for the better stuff to come. It’s not very efficient or proactive, but it works.

CH: Sarah, I understand you are at work on your first novel. Please tell us a bit about it.

SH: I’m working on two actually, and they’re very different. The one closest to my heart, however, is a book loosely based on a true story. It has a dark fairy-tale like feel to it, and centers around the emotional toll a child’s sexual abuse has on an entire family. The other is a feminist action-adventure that involves a search for Cleopatra’s tomb during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. That one is kind of a cross between Katherine Neville’s The Eight and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

CH: A.R., what are you working on now?

I’m writing the poems that are trickling in. But I can’t have an end goal in mind. It’s too much pressure; I feel too boxed-in working that way. I can feel my mind unfolding toward a space where it’s going to spit out a ton of poems, but after Tiny Nothing, attending school full-time, and the newly added responsibilities of an internship with the Writer’s League of Texas and being editor of ACC’s Rio Review, I’m not about to put forward another collection anytime soon.

CH: If you were to specify a particular identity as a writer, what would that be?

SH: I’d say I’m a female poet who also writes books. This has been an identity that took me a long time to claim, despite the fact that poetry has always been my first love and that I published poems long before I published books. For years, I felt I had to say simply “writer” or maybe “author.” I suppose I felt I hadn’t claimed the right to call myself a poet. That changed this year, perhaps because I finally released a collection. The female aspect of my identity is also vitally important, and gender norms and conflicts are an integral part of my work.

ARR: This is a huge question for me. One that’s always sort of tumbling through my mind. I had a total panic last semester because I thought I was falling out of love with poetry. I felt ready to walk out on poetry—my one, true love. I felt like fiction had walked into my life in a leather jacket, leaning casually against the doorframe, chain-smoking and brooding. And I’m a sucker for that sort of behavior. Writing is so much a part of my identity that it was incredibly jarring to be questioning what kind of writer I was.

But I am learning to carry both. I will always turn to poetry to make sense of my life. And I will look to fiction to be shaken. I guess you could say poetry, fiction, and myself are in a sort of open relationship.

I’m drawn to really quiet, unassuming poems, poems that land you with a quick blow you didn’t see coming. I want to be knocked off my feet by a poem; I want my head to spin. I like the opposite approach for fiction, perhaps. I like really loud fiction. Within the first few pages, I want to hear it say, “Are you ready for this? I’m coming for you.” I love a dense, complicated story, one that makes me marvel at the author’s ability to weave so much together so delicately.

CH: Where would you like to be with your writing in five years?

SH: I’d like to have completed the two novels floating around in my head, and I’d love to have several poetry collections out. I also hope to be touring more – reading and performing my poetry around the country, which is something I used to do and have had to put off over the past few years.

ARR: On my way to the moon.

I want to put in a lot of work. I want to learn a lot—everything. I’m so hungry to learn. I want to have really earned it, but I want to be great. And I’m okay with wanting that because I don’t think anyone that’s great ended up that way on accident. They wanted it; they moved toward it every day. I want to have published both a full-length poetry book and a collection of short stories, and also have completed an MFA.

I love that we have agreed upon language, and that we can use it to communicate about things that are utterly beyond words. Words are my most important contribution as a human, and I want to keep giving them.

CH: What are you currently reading?

SH: I always read four or five books at a time. Right now, I’m reading Caroline Knapp’s Appetites, Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems Volume One, Dorothy Allison’s Trash, Patricia Cornwell’s Flesh and Blood, and Welcome to Your Child’s Brain by Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt.

ARR: I’ve started reading Murakami’s The Wind Up-Bird Chronicle. I’m somewhere else when I’m reading it. It’s one of the most surreal things I’ve ever read. He makes me feel like I’m between worlds.

Over winter break, I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking. Amanda started off as a busker (street performer) and so did I. She’s probably the person who really deposited in my head that street-performing was something you could just wake up and decide to do. I think I’m still negotiating what to do with the urgent desire to be seen and understood, the desire to have an audience, and then what to do when people actually start looking at you. Amanda has things to say about all of this. It’s a good, soulful read for any artist.

I also finally got around to reading Carrie Fountain’s Instant Winner. God. So beautiful. She talks about the small things that make up a life, a lot about the home, and tending to it. She speaks my language.

A Virtual Interview with Donna Snyder

Poet Donna Snyder will be the featured reader on Thursday, January 8, from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for November’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


Donna Snyder publishes work in literary journals and anthologies throughout the United States and on-line, and has presented readings in Sitka, Alaska, Venice and Santa Monica, California, Boston, New York City, Denver, and throughout New Mexico and Texas. Her book reviews appear in Red Fez, the El Paso Times, and other venues. She is a contributing editor to Return to Mago, an international webzine which since 2012 has featured a continuing series of her poems based on the divine feminine principle and the role of women in world culture. Her poetry is featured monthly in VEXT Magazine, a webzine of international art and literature.

Virgo Gray Press released her chapbook, I Am South, in 2010, which was resissued in 2014. In 2014, Chimbarazu Press published her collection Poemas ante el Catalfaco: Grief and Renewal. NeoPoiesis Press will publish her book Three Sides of the Same Moon in 2015. She is working on a poetry collection for Slough Press.

Snyder’s work as an activist lawyer advocating on behalf of indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with disabilities has garnered multiple prizes and recognitions. She founded the Tumblewords Project in 1995, and continues to coordinate its free weekly workshops and other events.

The Interview

CH: I gather from your biographical sketch that you’ve been in the El Paso area for some time. How long have you lived in El Paso? Where else have you lived?

DS: In my early thirties, while living in Santa Fe, by some fortuity I joined a series of writing groups led by established writers Miriam Sagan, Joan Logghe, Judyth Hill, and Natalie Goldberg. I wrote mostly stories, linked together by recurrent characters and place. Joan gave me a bilingual book of poems by Pablo Neruda and César Vallejo. This book changed my life, introducing me to a type of poetry that appealed to both mind and heart. Another factor was moving to Las Cruces, where I read each week at an open mic. No one there had a preconceived notion that I could only write fiction, so I started writing more poetry. Once I began the Tumblewords Project, weekly workshops that focus on writing on the spot and reading aloud, I found poetry was easier to create in that format.

CH: Living in a border city offers unique opportunities and challenges. How has living on the border influenced your work? What kinds of collaborations occur between artistic groups on the two sides of the border?

DS: Living aqui en la frontera, here on the border between Mexico and the US, has had a major impact on my poetry. I speak, write, joke, argue, and think in el idioma fronteriza, that is, Spanglish. The sound and rhythms of Spanish permeate my writing, without conscious thought or intent. This area is or was home to some of the greatest Chicano/a writers: Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ben Saenz, Arturo Islas, Denise Chávez, Pat Mora, Ray González, Ricardo Sánchez, José Burciaga, Lalo Delgado, Juan Contreras, Alicia Gaspar de Alba, Sergio Troncoso, Daniel Chacón, Ana Castillo—the influence is pervasive.

As for bi-national collaboration between artists, from its inception Tumblewords has been a tri-state project, with participants from New Mexico, Texas, and Chihuahua, incorporating Mexican writers, artists, musicians, actors, and playwrights into workshop presentations, performance events, and art shows. For years a young man rode his bicycle across the international bridge every Saturday to write in the Tumblewords workshops. There have been other bi-national projects, such as Free Hole Slam and BorderSenses, to name just two. Moreover, through collaboration with universities and arts groups on both sides of the border, Tumblewords presenters have been from throughout the US, from Los Angeles and San Francisco to New York City and Washington D.C., from throughout Mexico, as well as from Chile, Peru, Cuba, Hungary, Jamaica, and Hungary.

CH: The last two decades, the news about Juarez has frequently been terrible: the murders of hundreds of women; the rise of the drug cartels and violence associated with them. How have El Paso’s literary and artistic communities responded? How have ties between the artistic communities in Juarez and El Paso been affected by the changing social landscapes on both sides of the border?

DS: The Juárez terrors-femicides and narco wars-and the post 9/11 difficulties imposed on border crossers have reduced bi-national projects to some extent. Everyone in Juárez has been affected, and consequently also friends, families, and colleagues throughout El Paso. Many artists I know are also activists. We demonstrate on both sides of the border, on the bridges, in front of the consulates. Our writing and art serve as testament to the lives lost, the disappearances, the terror endured, the anguish suffered.

CH: How has your work as an activist lawyer influenced your poetry?

DS: Working as an advocate for indigenous people, immigrant workers, and people with mental and physical disabilities blew the borders of my small-town-Texas mind to smithereens. I was able to attend college and law school courtesy of scholarships, loans, my tips from waiting tables, and support from my family as was feasible. Nonetheless, working for and with my clients and colleagues provided a much more direct understanding of the cruelty and stupidity of racism and other forms of exclusion. All of my experiences increased my awareness of the defining differences and commonalities of diverse cultures, and expanded my concepts of the nature of reality, spirit, religious beliefs, philosophy, surrealism, and more, all of which has undoubtedly fed my writing.

CH: 2014 has been a busy year for you, with the reissue of I Am South by Virgogray Press and the publication of Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal by Chimbarazu Press. And Three Sides of the Moon is coming out in 2015 from NeoPoiesis Press. Tell us a little about these books.

Virgogray Press, located in Austin, first published I Am South as a chapbook in 2010. Michael Casares had read my poetry on-line and asked me to send him a few dozen poems. He chose the ones he liked, put the poems in order, chose a title and voila! This year Virgogray reissued I Am South as a perfect bound book.

Poemas ante el Catafalco: Grief and Renewal also came about by the publisher’s invitation. Guillermo Echanique, a performance poet from Brooklyn, started Chimbarazu Press by releasing a few digital books. He, too, was familiar with my work from reading it on-line, and had seen me perform in New York City twice. After my husband died suddenly at age 54 in October 2013, Guillermo contacted me with the concept and title, part Spanish and part English, like my poems. The first half addresses grief born from personal bereavement, public tragedies, and catastrophic events. The second half of the book reflects recovery from grief through creativity, productivity, and loving relationships.

Three Sides of the Same Moon is slated to come out next year from NeoPoiesis Press, of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. They issued a call for submissions and I sent a manuscript relates to women’s roles as goddess, crone, and oracle, the source of abundance, law, writing, healing, and wisdom, and the erasure of those concepts by a violent and misogynous culture.

My most recent good news is that Alicia Winski has informed me that she wants her press, Seattle-based Nightwing Publications, to publish my next book, whatever it might become.

CH: Talk a little about the collection you’re working on for Slough Press. Are other collections also in the works? Do you see your series in Return to Mago eventually becoming a book?

DS: Chuck Taylor asked me to send him a hundred or hundred and fifty poems. He chose several dozen and sent them back to me with instructions to edit them as I saw fit and put them in order. The manuscript contains earlier poems, and so needs more work than my more recent manuscripts. I have great respect for Slough Press, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and want to transform this pile of papers in a manila folder into a strong collection worthy of publication.

I am a contributing editor for poetry for Return to Mago, an international webzine that addresses the divine female principle and women’s roles both currently and throughout history. The other editors have honored me by publishing a number of my poems that address these issues, several of which will be included in Three Sides of the Same Moon.

CH: You’ve had quite a bit of success finding publishers for your work. How have you gone about identifying candidate publishers for your work? What is your process for readying a manuscript for submission to a publisher?

DS: I have been extraordinarily fortunate that three publishers have solicited manuscripts from me. The book with NeoPoiesis Press is the only manuscript I submitted in competition with other writers, and without denigrating the value of my work, I consider myself lucky to have mine chosen. I have been reading NeoPoiesis authors for almost a decade. I own several of their books. I also have Slough Press books, and scads of other books from small, independent presses and far flung writers. I contribute to anthologies and journals, and have over a hundred publication credits to my name. “Cast your bread upon the waters” is the single Bible verse that has stuck with me these decades after leaving church behind me. If you want to be published, you need to buy books by other writers, support independent publishers, and submit individual pieces of your work for publication.

As far as preparing a manuscript, I begin by combing my computer folders and throwing potential poems into a folder with some general title such as goddesses or physics or raza. When I feel that I have gleaned most of the poems pertaining to the subject, I print them out and read them, revising as I go, then shuffle them like cards, shuffle and read, shuffle and read. The sequence of the poems is fluid, and I’m not sure where it comes from, some intuitive place, I think, more than calculation. I print out the revised versions and read them through. At this point, I create a Word document and copy and paste the poems into that document, hard page breaks separating each poem, and making the font, spacing, margins, and other format matters uniform. I create a prior publication list a page for a dedication and another for acknowledgements, then add pagination and a table of contents. All this said, I’ve only prepared two manuscripts of my own, and one chapbook for another person. So my advice may or may not be of value.

CH: Name five of your favorite poets.

DS: This list can change from day to day, or even hour to hour, but perennial favorites are Pablo Neruda and Federico García Lorca. At the moment, high on my list would be Will Crawford, Petra Whitely, Phibby Venable, Luke Buckham, Eduardo Galeano (who is technically a historian, but his histories are poetry). Oh, I see I named seven. Math has never been my strong point.

CH: 2015 will be the 20th anniversary year for the founding of the Tumblewords Project. What inspired you to found it? What has sustained you in continuing to be engaged with it?

DS: I modeled it after writing groups in Santa Fe using a series of timed writings, each followed immediately by each person reading aloud what had just been written. After attending my workshop at the first Border Book Festival in Las Cruces, two women from the New Mexico Arts Division took me to lunch and on the basis of a handshake and a subsequent telephone call, I received funding for my first series of weekly workshops. From the beginning prominent writers were willing to both present and participate. In 2001, after the death of my 44 year old partner, I quit writing grant proposals, and ever since have paid presenters by passing the hat. Nonetheless, renowned writers from across the US have been willing to present workshops and give performances year after year.

Tumblewords is a gift to the community, but also a gift to myself. New people continue to come to the weekly workshops I organize, while others have been coming throughout two decades. Writing and reading aloud improves a person’s craft. Hearing other writers read aloud is a learning experience. Weekly participation creates a large body of work and extensive lists of publication and performance credits.

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

DS: Lupa and Lamb by Susan Hawthorne

A Virtual Interview with David Meischen

Poet and fiction writer David Meischen will be the featured reader on Thursday, November 13 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for November’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


David Meischen has been writing poetry and teaching the writing of poetry
for thirty years. He has had poems in The Southern Review, Southern Poetry
Review, Borderlands, Cider Press Review, and other journals, as well as Two
Southwests (Virtual Artists Collective, 2008), which features poets from the
Southwest of China and the United States. Meischen has participated in four
collaborative poetry and art shows, most recently Ekphrasis: Sacred Stories
of the Southwest (Phoenix, AZ, Obliq Art, 2014).

Also a fiction writer, Meischen has recent stories in The Gettysburg Review, Bellingham Review, The Evansville Review, and elsewhere. Winner of the Writers’ League of Texas
Manuscript Contest in Mainstream Fiction, 2011, and the Talking Writing
Fiction Contest, 2012, and he has finished a novel in stories. Meischen is a co-founder and Managing Editor of Dos Gatos Press; he lives in Austin, TX, with his husband—also his co-publisher and co-editor—Scott Wiggerman.

The Interview

CH: You and I first met in the workshop for publishing Layers (Plain View Press, 1994). How would you describe the evolution of your poetry since the publication of Layers?

DM: Layers was early in my development as a poet. At that stage, my poems were almost exclusively narrative. Many of them were confessional. They helped me to look at myself, to come to terms with myself, as a gay man.

At some point, I grew tired of traditional narrative approaches, of poems that moved chronologically down the page without the variations, the surprises I expect when I read poetry. I discovered several poetry exercises designed to break out of strict narrative, strict chronology, strict logical sense-making.

I’m still a story teller at heart, but these days my poems find their way into narrative in a variety of ways. Recently, I’ve taken several failed poems and recast them in paragraph format, experimenting with prose poems, flash fiction, flash nonfiction. I want to remain open to the many ways words can lead us into poems.

CH: You’ve been writing and teaching the writing of poetry for many years, but your MFA is in fiction writing. What motivated you to go back to school for your MFA?  What made you choose fiction as your concentration area?

DM: I enrolled in an MFA program because I wanted structured experience as a writer and because I respond well to deadlines set in a school environment. I actually applied in poetry because I was sure I’d have a stronger application packet, but that was a mistake. It’s not that I had nothing to learn about writing poetry but that what I really wanted from an MFA program was to learn how to write short stories.

As I’ve already said, I’m a story teller. I wanted to spend time with expert fiction writers, with others learning the craft, and with deadlines. The MFA program worked for me. I was a neophyte short story writer when I went in. I came out with enough practice, enough instruction, that I have been able to develop my strengths as a fiction writer on my own.

CH: How has your work in fiction informed your writing of poetry? How would you identify yourself as a writer?

DM: For me it’s the other way around. I find that poetry informs my fiction writing. Writing poetry taught me the art of close attention to language, concentrated attention on line, on image, on figurative language, on the music of words as we read poems aloud. I’m convinced that my stories profit from this kind of attention to language at the sentence level. As to how I identify, I think of myself as a short story writer with leanings toward a novel. But these days, I’m writing and submitting poems again.

CH: I understand you have a short story collection that is now in circulation. If you would, please tell us about it.

DM: I have a novel in stories, tentatively titled A Certain Slant of Light—after a line from an Emily Dickinson poem. I have an agent to represent this manuscript. I’ve revised two of the stories. We’re still negotiating about possible titles. I’m  really excited about this! I’d love to have a full-length work of fiction in print!

CH:  If I were a new writer, and I was looking to publish my first poem or short story, what advice would you give me?

DM: My advice would be to do some research on the journals, both print and online, that are publishing what you write, then to start submitting the best of what you have. Keep meticulous records of what you send and where you send it. And be prepared for many publications to say no before anyone says yes.

CH: What’s next for you as a writer?

DM: I’ve written a chapter toward a memoir about growing up gay on a farm in the fifties. I intend to finish a manuscript in the next year or so. I have an overlong short story that will not work as a story. I want to see if I can do the work of turning it into a novel. I’ve submitted a chapbook of gay-themed poems to a chapbook contest. I want to pursue other possibilities for publishing it as well. I have enough poems about my rural upbringing that I think I could assemble a chapbook from those. And I love writing short stories. I have notes for a dozen or more new stories. I want to work on some of those too.

A Virtual Interview with Natalia Treviño

Poet and novelist Natalia Treviño will be the featured reader on Thursday, November 13 from 7:15 to 9:00 at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for November’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic.


Born in Mexico City, Natalia grew up in a Texas where her mother taught her Spanish and Bert and Ernie gave her lessons in English. Natalia has won several awards for her poetry and fiction including the 2004 Alfredo Moral de Cisneros Award, the 2008 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2012 Literary Award from the Artist Foundation of San Antonio.

Her first book of poetry, Lavando La Dirty Laundry, is available from Mongrel Empire Press and most online bookstores.

A member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop, Natalia has been working to increase young adult literacy since 1992 in her teaching career and through programs sponsored by the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, Gemini Ink, and the Bexar County Juvenile Detention Center.

The Interview

CH: I am intrigued by the title of your new book of poetry, Lavando La Dirty Laundry. How did you choose this for the title? How would you describe the role of code switching in the title, and in the book as a whole? in your writing in general?

NT: it was never my intention to code switch in my work since English is my dominant language, but I have been trained to use the right words as a poet for as long as I remember, and more often than not, Spanish gives me the right word. I need to call things as they are, and so there is a difference between saying sweet bread and pan dulce. Pan dulce gives us not only the thing itself, but its context as well, its location, its heritage, and its presence in our community, but it also offers sonorous beauty as well. The word lavando in the title poem does as well.

The title poem is about laundry, washing, but the story happened in Mexico, and I wanted to keep that history and geography alive in the poem to honor it and to name it correctly. After reading the works of Latina and Chicana writers like Mora and Cisneros, I knew I not only had permission to let Spanish into the poems, but I also had a responsibility to do so. And of course in college we read Eliot, Tolstoy, Hugo, and other greats, struggling with their freedom to use the languages they heard. We also teach students that what made Mark Twain so great, aside from his wicked satire was his devotion to truth, and that came out in his diction as well,  his use of the vernacular English, capturing the way people sounded, alternating spellings of words, so that we experience them and gain their context, their location, as well as their heritage.

I live in a bicultural world, and I want to capture that world on paper.

CH: What inspired you to write this book? How long did it take to write? How did you go about organizing the work?

NT: Great questions! The book did not come out as a book at first. I was writing poems, practicing my craft with poetry that did what I thought was the work of poetry–calling attention to the survival of the human spirit, dealing directly with those things that inspired awe, that required meditation and mourning, that stunned me into awareness. I had no mosaic in mind, no conscious thread. I was learning to write. And of course in poetry there is the boundary that dictates acute attention to the first level of meaning, the second, and the third. And then there is the layering in of sound, image, and metaphor to evoke understanding.

At least one of the poems is from my first class in poetry as a college student, “Zapatos Blancos.” And as a young person who was deeply in love with her grandmothers, I spent time with their stories, not to interlock them together in a book, but to do the first job of poetry, to tell. Most of the poems were written between 2003 and 2008, with more editing in the last few months before publication. I take my time as a writer because I teach, I am a mom, and I have a full time job.

When I had a number of poems, enough to make a book, I then looked for a theme. I knew some poems went together, but others did not. How do you weave in Penelope and my own love story? And then I remembered. Ah! Remember what Toni Morrison said. She once said every one of her books is about one word: love. When I thought about it like that, it became easy. Love is how I organized the poems, its layers, its troubles, its hope.

CH: In addition to writing poetry, I know that you write fiction; I understand you have a novel-in-progress, La Cruzada. How do writing fiction and poetry intersect for you? How do they diverge?

NT: Writing fiction is hard because there are a lot of words to herd into a cohesive document that makes sense to others. Also, since I am a poet, my fiction is lyrical, and that makes it hard to read for some. I’ve had potential agents say, “If you could scale back those liberties you take with language, then . . .”

While yes, the primary job is telling, but for me it is about telling it well, and so my fiction does merge with my poetry. There is a female protagonist who is filtering the world through her mind. She has no education, and she thinks in images. Nature is her teacher, and nature teaches through metaphor. But I also have to keep a plot moving, and I have to manipulate time and space, so that the world in the novel remains seamless. I am transporting the reader the way a film does, and so these are new and difficult skills for me.

That is why I decided to get my MFA in fiction when I went back to school. With poetry, time is just another color of thread. With fiction, it is the controlling force, and while the book is non-linear, I have had to learn how to meld scenes together lyrically, so that it moves in a way that makes sense. I do not struggle with this in poetry because the poem can move from scene to scene in a stanza or in a new line. With fiction, that kind of leap is too jolting, a remove from the goal and delight of fiction. With poetry, that kind of leap is energy, so writing a poem right now is like playing hooky from my novel, but the novel is giving me a good education. I won’t give up.

CH: How would you describe yourself as a writer? Do you have a primary identity (e.g. poet, novelist …)? How do you see your writing changing over time?

NT: Since I have been working on the novel heavily since 2008, I began to believe I would never write another poem again. It is such a different mental space in writing, but I was pushed back into it by a painting I saw two years ago. And so, yes, there is a second book of poems in the works.

I am comfortable being a dual citizen in writing, a poet and an aspiring novelist. I want to get more comfortable with the novel though, so I am reading different kinds of novels to get a grip on their structure, their control of that rascal, time, and that other rascal, the arc of emotion. I want to smooth those rascals out, but still keep the lyricism as a strong element in my fiction, not only because I want the fiction to be beautiful, but because lyricism is the pathway to great truths that can be shared across cultures and across reading levels. People get metaphor in the heart, and hearts are what can change the world.

CH:  How does your work as a writer intersect with your teaching work? How does the teaching work inform your writing?

NT: I decided to be a teacher so that I could be in constant study as a writer. I would be teaching the great writers, and therefore, while giving a lesson, I would also be getting the lesson. It was a very selfish career decision when I was in my early twenties. I could not believe there would be a paycheck for talking with students about Joy Harjo or William Carlos Williams.

But teaching changed for me over time. While at first, it was about the subject, it later became about the student. My friend Dr. Dennis Gittinger says he teaches math, but mostly, he teaches students. And that is what is happening to me as a teacher. I am teaching them what they need, and sometimes, they simply need to validate their own stories. They can learn commas and theme and plot in a number of ways, and they are living in a world that drowns out their own voice. I want to give them that, their voice.

In return, I hear so many voices, so many stories, so many ways of thinking, and that gives me ample material for developing voices, characters, and logical systems that are foreign to my own, but still real and believable. I can’t think of a better way to prepare as a writer. However, it is not so peachy and simple. Teaching full time takes time and mental space. There is little time left in the week to write, and my writing career has gone very slow because of the focus on teaching. There is what my husband calls, my silent decade, when I was unable to write anything, when I had given up. Thank goodness a crisis came along so that writing could not only save my life, but re-emerge as my original purpose.

CH: What advice would you give to a poet who has yet to publish a book?

NT: Focus on the quality of the poems. Do not focus on getting published until you have really spent time with the quality of each piece. Write, revise, read, revise, and pay attention to the gem that is in front of you, its leaps, its wisdom, and its energy. It has loose ends, iffy line breaks, sloppy verbs, general terms. It is a draft until you know each comma and each word is working in several dimensions.

The poem does also have a reason for being, and remember what that is. Do not get distracted by the glitter of language just to show how good you can tweak an image or verb phrase. That comes after you know its center. The center of the poem is actually not so hard to find if you listen carefully. Silence what you think it is about and what you want it to be about. Silence the ego, and allow the inner wisdom come forward, not from thought, but from feeling. And image and voice will come because you are already a poet.

Once your collection is done, you can either focus on small presses in your community to build your presence in the community in which you live, or you can send wide, to strangers on the other side of the country. There is a rationale for both, and that depends on how you want to relate to your audience. A new book is not done when it is published. It is just beginning to live.

CH: What’s next for you?

NT: I am working hard to promote Lavando La Dirty Laundry this year, and I will continue to do that as much as I can, but I am also working on new poems for my next collection. I am finalizing La Cruzada to begin sending it out, which is going to be a huge process I imagine. I am eager to learn how to better balance my life as a professor, mother, and writer. Motherhood has to take precedence over everything else, and thankfully, my role as a wife does not compete with that or my professional goals. My husband is a total support and a refuge.

A Virtual Interview with Janice R. Campbell and Toni Heringer Falls

Poets Janice R. Campbell and Toni Heringer Falls bring their collaborative poetry performance, Braided Stream: A Poetry Duet, to BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) for October’s 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic on October 9, 2014 from 6:45 to 9:00 p.m. The evening will start with music from guitarist Renée Suaste beginning at 6:45 p.m., followed by Braided Stream at 7:15 p.m. Campbell and Falls will sign their book, Braided Stream: A Poetry Duet after the open mic.


Janice R. Campbell and Toni Heringer Falls are the co-authors of the collaborative performance and book Braided Stream: A Poetry Duet.

Janice Rebecca Campbell (right) is a poet, artist, photographer, and graphic designer. Her poems have appeared in anthologies and publications including bottle rockets, The Dreamcatcher, Passager, San Antonio Express-News, tinywords, and Verses, a poetry exhibition celebrating Contemporary Art Month in San Antonio.

Campbell is the author of two books of poetry, pink merrymaking allowed in the midst of green geometry and A Disturbance in the Field: Collected Poems 1971–2013, and co-author of Braided Stream: A Poetry Duet, a collaborative performance and book with poet Toni Heringer Falls.

Toni Heringer Falls (left) graduated from Southern Methodist University (Dallas, TX) with a BS in elementary education and from St. Mary’s University (San Antonio, TX) with a MA in counseling. She is a retired teacher, psychotherapist, and an inactive Licensed Professional Counselor. Formerly from Jonesboro, Arkansas, she now lives in San Antonio with her husband and an ill-mannered dog.

Falls’ poetry has been published in anthologies and publications including The Dreamcatcher, San Antonio Express-News, Sustaining Abundant Life, Texas Poetry Calendar, Voices Along the River, and Voices de la Luna. The poem “Gift” won first place in the San Antonio Poetry Fair, 2010.

Falls is currently seeking a publisher for her completed manuscript, Snow in Summer.

The Interview

CH: How would you each describe your own work? How would you describe each other’s work?

THF: Almost all my work consists of stories—stories from my life and from the lives of others. I’ll know when a poem is about to “come up.” (That sounds like I’m preparing to throw-up, but instead, my body resonates, starts to hum, and a central line will begin running through my head non-stop. It won’t stop until I catch it and pen it to paper.) Most of my poems are rather long; it seems to take me awhile to make my point.

Janice’s work is altogether different. We write about many of the same subjects, but she usually writes very short, concise, straight-to- the-heart-of-it poetry. She loves haiku and nails everything within those three short lines. I’m jealous.

JRC: I think Toni’s work and my work have some similarities: The poems are honest and accessible, and we each strive to make poems that are clear-eyed lenses on the world. But our styles and voices are different: Toni’s poems are lush, and longer; my poems are spare, and shorter. We make a good braided stream!

CH: What inspired you to engage in the collaboration that is Braided Stream? Is this your first collaborative work?

THF:  I bow to Janice on this question. The idea of collaborating was entirely hers. She invited me to read with her at Floyd Lamrouex’s “Awaken the Sleeping Poet” venue in San Antonio at Barnes and Noble last September. Then she suggested we try to pair our poems with like-themes and asked what I thought of the title “Braided Stream.” I was all in, even though it was/is my first collaborative work.

JRC:  Braided Stream began as a performance. I was invited to do a one-hour reading and wanted to do something different, shake things up, push the boundaries. I had an inkling that Toni’s and my poems might make a good call-and-response; that two voices, alternating, would be more interesting than one voice; and that an audience might be intrigued listening for echoes.

This is my first poetic collaborative work.

CH: What was your collaborative process? How long did it take to develop your book?

JRC: After our first poetry performance was well-received, we were invited to read at another venue. Toni called to say “Let’s make a book!” It took about six weeks from phone call to having books-in-hand for the second performance. Prep for the first performance consisted of sitting with our two stacks of poems and attempting to match them up one by one—that was a nightmare. The breakthrough came with the idea to put poems in thematic “buckets.” After that, it was a matter of sequencing the poems to make an interesting journey for an audience. The performance has 40 poems; when we decided to make a book, we revisited our work and matched and sequenced 80 poems.

THF:  We met at Janice’s the first time. We piled all our collective work on the table and shuffled paper around for several hours. I left Janice’s that day feeling exhausted, frustrated, and wondering what-in-the-world were we thinking. All we had at that point were some tentative themes coupled with some individual poems that met our criteria. After that first difficult meeting, it all seemed to fall together rather easily. At this point we were only preparing for a sixty-minute reading. We hadn’t even thought about a book.

The book happened months after our first reading, when we were preparing for a second reading in the spring at The Twig Book Shop. I said we’d spent so much time on the venture—why not do a book? I thought Janice might hit me on the head, but she’s a graphic designer by trade and answered, “Why not!”

We fleshed out the themes with additional pairings and the next I know, Janice had done the book! She’s amazing. An electronic moron, sometimes I feel like I’m just along for the ride.

CH: How has this collaborative process changed your own process? What impact has working in a collaboration had on you artistically / personally?

JRC: I don’t think my process changed, but I have tried using some of Toni’s “strategic spacing” in poems, and liked the results. Mostly, I was thankful to have Toni as a partner on this project. She wasn’t deterred by the “staring into the abyss” part of the creative process; she had good ideas for moving things forward; and she was an excellent sounding board.

In the process of choosing poems for Braided Stream I read Toni’s manuscript Snow in Summer and thought it transformational; reading it was life-expanding.

THF: I don’t think the collaboration has changed my own process. Artistically, I would say I now write with a leaner frame of mind. In the beginning I used poetry as a therapeutic process; now I write with more of a world view and social consciousness.

Personally, the impact has been enhancing, enriching, mind expanding. I feel like a universe that’s continually growing, a horizon that’s forever reaching out. Working with Janice has stretched me, humbled me. She’s generous, exacting and always in all ways seeking the truth. Our minds have become so connected that she’ll mention something that’s been on my mind, too. The braided stream has become our relationship.

CH: What’s next for Braided Stream? and what are you each working on now?

JRC: What’s next for Braided Stream: sharing Braided Stream with as many people as are interested. My next project is an illustrated memoir, in poetry.

THF: Janice is encouraging me to publish a manuscript that’s been gathering dust for a number of years. On the other hand, we have Braided Stream bookings through next March; I am content to keep my seat belt fastened and concentrate and on this wild, miraculous ride.