Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Virtual Interview with David Meischen

Background

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

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: What are you working on right now?

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

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

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

A Virtual Interview with Susan J. Rogers

Background

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

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

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

Cindy Huyser hosts; an open mic follows.

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CH: What are you reading now?

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

A Virtual Interview with Juliana Maldonado

Background

Juliana Maldonado and Nicole Brogdon will be our features Thursday, May 14, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for information on how to join this virtual event.

Juliana Maldonado is a poet who found her voice through Book Woman and Cindy Huyser’s open mics. She is ever striving to celebrate her mixed Chicana heritage and all things that make her soul sing. She is published in the ACC literary periodical The Rio Review and has featured at Malvern’s I Scream Social. She can only be found in person, so listen while you can!

The Interview

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

JM: My first memory of poetry is my mother reading “The Children’s Book of Illustrated Poetry” to me as a bedtime story. My favorites were Annabel Lee by Edgar Allan Poe and The Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.

I remember first dabbling with poetry around age 13, but I didn’t start exploring writing as a passion until college.

CH: What drew you to poetry? When did you start thinking of yourself as a poet?

JM: I’ve always loved reading poetry. I love the richness of emotion and textured language that poetry provides.

Last year I took a creative writing class which introduced me to poetry in a new light. Through that class I was able to find a more poetic part of myself, as well as a community of similarly inclined people. After completing the class, I felt I had been remade as a poet.

CH: Do you have other literary or artistic interests?

JM: I dabble in various artistic mediums such as drawing and sculpting. I like experimenting with prose from time to time as well.

CH: From what do you draw inspiration?

JM: My biggest sources of inspiration are nature and both my past and present life experiences.

CH: What is your writing process like? How do you make time to write?

JM: Inspiration strikes at various times, so whenever it does I try to jot something down. I try to keep a journal handy at all times. Later on, when I have some free time and free mental capacity, I gather up all the things I’ve saved in my journal, type them up, and edit them. If I’m really unsure about something I’ve written I’ll ask friends or family to proofread it.

I have time set aside every weekend to work on my writing, though I don’t always use it.

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

JM: Poe is probably my biggest influence just because I’ve read so much of his work for so long. I think I’m also influenced by the patchwork of styles I hear at open-mics.

CH: If you could have an hour with any contemporary poet, who would you choose and why?

JM: Honestly, anyone. I still feel so new to this world that I feel I could learn a great deal from any poet. I love to marvel at these brave and beautiful people and I hope that I will be like them.

CH: What are you reading now?

JM: Various old zines I found at Half-Price Books.

A Virtual Interview with ire’ne lara silva

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

ire’ne lara silva is the author of three poetry collections, furia, Blood Sugar Canto, and CUICACALLI/House of Song, and a short story collection, flesh to bone which won the Premio Aztlán. She and poet Dan Vera are also the co-editors of Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands, a collection of poetry and essays. ire’ne is the recipient of a 2017 NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant, the final recipient of the Alfredo Cisneros del Moral Award, the Fiction Finalist for AROHO’s 2013 Gift of Freedom Award, and the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldúa Milagro Award. ire’ne is currently working on her first novel, Naci. Website: irenelarasilva.wordpress.com

The Interview

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

ILS: This is such a big question–I barely know where to start. Everything has changed. My vision and my feeling for what writing is and what it is in my life. How I approach it. What I feel like it does in my life.

A few things that stand out:

Before I published my first book in 2010, I had a vague sense of wanting to write/publish more books beyond that, but I think I had the impression that the sense of urgency I felt would fade. Instead, after four books and an anthology, the urgency to create is a pulsing thing. Every year it seems easier and easier to push away distraction. It seems more necessary to dedicate time and energy. More urgent to shape my life so that it’s aligned with my desire.

This year, I broke all previous records for readings, workshops, class visits, and traveling. There have been so many days where I’ve felt almost stupid with gratitude for these opportunities—and for the richness of sharing and discussing my work with so many people.

I talk all the time about how the most important thing for writing poetry—or anything for that matter—is telling yourself the truth. Over and over again. Always trying to get at deeper truths. I think sometimes I might have reached the point where I’ve told myself the truth so much that the writing comes to me in a way that it never did before. Because I don’t have to fight myself anymore to get to the truth.

CH: In 2017, IMANIMAN—Poets Writing in the Anzalduan Borderlands came out from Aunt Lute Press, edited by you and Dan Vera. Tell us about your experience as an editor for this anthology. What did you learn from working on this project?

ILS: It was an amazing experience—18 months from conception to a book in my hands. We had 225+ submissions and ended up including the work of 54 poets. It all began as a panel I proposed for the 2015 Mundo Zurdo Conference (hosted by the Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldua). Joan Pinkvoss, founder and editor for Aunt Lute Books suggested expanding upon the idea of the panel, and voila, I recruited poet Dan Vera and we were on our way!

The most important thing I learned from that experience is that it’s very easy to be too strict, too restrained, too methodical as an editor. At a certain point, you have to trust your gut, trust your instincts, trust everything you’ve already learned, and use that to make your decisions about what to include and how to shape an anthology manuscript. There’s a point in the process where you have to trust the process itself and allow the space for it to breathe and become what it envisions, what it wants to be.

CH: And now, your third book of poetry, Cuicacalli/House of Song is out from Saddle Road Press. Tell us a little about this new book.

ILS: It poured itself out of me in a near-ecstatic rush, but it’s the culmination of more than twenty five years of thinking about identity, specifically Indigeneity and how it is fundamental to my Latinx/Texan identity. It’s also a meditation on history and survival, on language and how what some might call ‘myth’ still resonates in daily, psychological, and spiritual ways.

Poems about desire and heartbreak and the reawakened soul/heart/body are woven throughout because the soul/heart/body are what connect our lives to history. These poems aren’t purely intellectual exercises—my intention is for them to speak to the urgent question of how we endure and heal ourselves even through oppressive histories and times.

CH: Tell us a little about your experience in publishing this collection with Saddle Road Press (which also published Blood Sugar Canto).

ILS: Don Mitchell and Ruth Thompson at Saddle Road Press are just a dream to work with—they work so hard and do such beautiful work. More than that, they’re excellent communicators, and they support their books and writers in a very caring way. I knew that they would take care of Cuicacalli/House of Song in the same way they took care of Blood Sugar Canto.

CH: You have supported yourself in non-academic jobs and have had significant caregiving responsibilities, yet continue to find space in your life to write and to publish deep, nuanced work. How do you make time for your writing? What systems of support have made a difference for you?

ILS: It’s been twenty plus years of non-academic jobs, and more than one for most of that time…and almost that long as a caregiver. For many years, I talked about ‘stealing’ time and ‘making’ time, but somewhere in the last few years, I decided that I wanted to stop using the language of scarcity around writing. ‘Stealing’ time implies that I’m taking it from someone else. ‘Making’ time means that I’m focused on creating time and opportunity rather than focusing on writing itself. I want to focus on ‘giving’ myself time, ‘giving’ my writing time, and ‘giving’ myself the space and energy to write. I want to be clear-eyed and direct about this—about choosing my writing, about deciding what to say yes to and what to say no to in order to have that choice, and about shaping my life around the desire to create, publish, and travel to promote my work.

As for support systems—there’s my brother, who endlessly believes in me and who is my best editor, my friends, who enrich my life in every way, and most recently, my job, which in the past couple years has given me the flexibility and opportunity to do more traveling.

CH: What are you working on now?

ILS: Lots of prose! My first novel, Naci, which is so painfully close to being completed. About environmental pollution and South Texas and the life and loves of an indigenous/Mexican/American intersexed person. I’m also a few stories into my second short story collection, tentatively titled, the light of your body. Mostly, the stories are focusing on repercussions of the Conquest, the body and desire, and the necessity of art and art-making.

CH: Please tell us about a book you’ve read in the last 4 years that surprised you.

ILS: I could go on about this forever but I’ll resist mightily and confine myself to saying that both the film and the novel, Call Me By Your Name, kicked off a cascade of epiphanies and discoveries and aesthetic explorations that were both surprising and life-changing.

CH: What are you reading now?

ILS: In fiction, Daniel Chacon’s Kafka in a Skirt: Stories from the Wall, which I’m enjoying as much as I did his 2012 short story collection, Hotel Juarez. Thoughtful and thought-provoking author. His narrators are both comfortingly familiar and yet unpredictable.

In poetry, I’m reading or re-reading all of Barbara Jane Reyes’ full length collections: Gravities of Center, Poeta en San Francisco, Diwata, To Love as Aswang, Invocation to Daughters, and the forthcoming Letters to a Young Brown Girl. Reyes is a ferocious and lyrical poet, speaking always to the truths of intersecting identities, and of my contemporaries, the poet I most admire.

A Virtual Interview with Lilli Hime

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

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

The Interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LH: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen

Annelyse Gelman: Excerpts and Insights

Annelyse Gelman will be the featured reader Thursday, November 8, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Feature Annelyse Gelman’s work has appeared in The New Yorker, Indiana Review, BOMB, Verse Daily, and elsewhere, and she is the author of the poetry collection Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone (2014), a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award. She was the inaugural poet-in-residence at UCSD’s Brain Observatory, and has received support from the Academy of American Poets and New Zealand Pacific Studio. She was a 2016-17 Fulbright grantee in Berlin for her work at the intersection of poetry, music, and film, and currently holds a fellowship at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, TX.

Excerpts and Insights

Annelyse engages in a variety of creative expressions. Here is a sampling of links from her website (http://annelysegelman.com/):

Poetry

Three poems from “Heck Land” (BOMB Magazine)

Conch (The New Yorker, October 24, 2016)

Poetry-Films

gag” – reality beach, 2017

Interview

NineteenQuestions published this excellent interview with Annelyse last year.

A Virtual Interview with Jim LaVilla-Havelin

Jim LaVilla-Havelin will be the featured reader Thursday, June 14, 2018 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Jim LaVilla-Havelin is an educator, arts administrator, community arts advocate, consultant, critic and poet. His fifth book of poems, WEST, POEMS OF A PLACE is recently out from Wings Press. LaVilla-Havelin is the Poetry Editor for the San Antonio Express-News and the Coordinator for National Poetry Month in San Antonio.

LaVilla-Havelin retired in 2013 after seventeen years as the Director of the Young Artist Programs at the Southwest School of Art, to write, teach, and consult. He teaches Creative Writing in the Go Arts Program of Bihl Haus Art, in the Writers in Communities program at Gemini Ink, where he teaches at the Cyndi Taylor Krier Juvenile Correctional Treatment Center, and in the BFA program at the Southwest School of Art, where he teaches The Image of the Artist in Literature and Cinema.

He has offered workshops, classes, and public programs for the McNay, San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio Independent School District, Georgetown Poetry Festival, Gemini Ink, and many other sites . He lives in Lytle, Texas, (the “place”,of  “poems of a place” with his wife, artist, Lucia LaVilla-Havelin.

The Interview

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

JL-H: My mother read me Robert Louis Stevenson’s A CHILD’S GARDEN OF VERSES and Mother Goose rhymes, Burl Ives and Belafonte/Odetta/Makeba  and Lenya/Weill poem songs, and Odgen Nash and of course, Dr. Seuss. (That I’m not writing doggerel is a testament to William Carlos Williams and Walt Whitman.)

I was writing stories and puppet plays in third grade, and from there, never looked back.

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

JL-H: Consciously, or probably self-consciously, in high school. It was kind of an affectation,  except I was writing, reading voraciously, listening to Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg. And wrote a novel when I was in high school (that is, thankfully lost forever). Went off to college as an anti-war radical and a writer (pretentious).

CH: I’ve recently been reading your collection, Counting (Pecan Grove Press, 2010). I was struck by the way these poems engage with the larger world, their social consciousness. How has the theme of social consciousness developed in your work over time?

JL-H: Social consciousness has been part of the work forever. Levertov and Piercy, Merton, Gandhi, Whitman, the Beats, Dan Berrigan, Grace Paley – they were all a significant part of my writing life, shaping my sense of the engaged, committed, writer. And while that has changed some over the years – as radicalism has shifted,too. My work is always political.

CH: Tell us a little about your newest collection, West: Poems of a Place. What got you started on this project? How does this book differ from other work you’ve done?

JL-H: WEST, poems of a place, is a book by a city poet who now lives (and has done for fourteen years now in the country. It is about adjusting my eyes. It is different from other work I’ve done in the way that country life is different from city life. It Is much more about the space of the West, the look of a place, the time of it. I think my earlier work was grounded in place and places, and in multi-sensory observation, but I think the country has cleansed my palate (or is it the palette that it cleansed?)

CH: You’ve long been involved in the community as a teacher and an arts advocate, and you’ve been very active as a “literary citizen.” How has this public commitment to arts and to poetry informed your own work?

JL-H: I hear new work. I find great energy and inspiration in teaching, workshops, students of all ages. I listen closely to the sounds of the poems of others and am amazed at how many ways there really are to look at a blackbird. The work gives me hope, sound, courage and often outrage to keep working at my own writing. (It isn’t so different from the social consciousness – in fact it may be my 21st century version of social consciousness.)

CH: What are some of the things you have learned from your students?

JL-H: Given that I work with students across the lifespan – and in a variety of settings, the lessons are varied and rich – from my Golden’s (senior citizens) to my Juvenile Detention kids to Young Women’s Leadership Academy girls, to fellow writers in many workshops I’ve taught –so just a few of the lessons

  • rage and loss fit on the page with the joy in letting them loose
  • memory is a sharpen-able tool
  • every writer will crack it open when they’re ready
  • there are ways to help folks get ready
  • my voice, my poems, my solutions to problems posed in work are generally only about half-right for most students
  • that half is good enough

CH: Thinking back to your early work as a poet—perhaps to your first book, or earlier—what’s changed in your writing? What threads are constant?

JL-H: I love language, words, the sound of words banging against one another. I love the look of a poem on the page.

What’s changed? The scene, my sense of time (both the local-rural time, and aging time). I think I’m more playful now (though that’s up for argument. Probably my definition of the “meditative quality of writing” has shifted some. (again that’s about time.)

CH: What are you working on now?

JL-H: Many projects – a double-chapbook called Will Be a House / Will Be a Book –

dedicated to my father (house) and my mother (book) is done, looking for someone to love it; PLAYLIST a ten year project, finished, in the hands of two very good readers – a narrative poem about jazz; the second book of a five book sequence of narrative poems which started with SIMON’S MASTERPIECE. So I’m onward to the third book (hoping it doesn’t take 10 years)

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

JL-H This list is very long. It starts with William Carlos Williams, Walt Whitman, Philip Levine,and Pablo Neruda. But includes local and regional poets, friends.

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

JL-H: THE LAST SHIFT by Philip Levine; VOICES IN THE AIR  by Naomi Shihab Nye and books or manuscripts by Charles Darnell, Linda Simone, Laura Quinn Guidry, and Michelle Hartman.

A Virtual Interview with Huston-Tillotson University’s Katherine D. Oldmixon Garza, Jennine “DOC” Wright, Ryan Sharp, and Mike Hart

Background

Katherine D. Oldmixon Garza, Jennine “DOC” Wright, Ryan Sharp and Mike Hart will be the featured readers Thursday, October 12, 2017 from 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX),

Katherine Durham Oldmixon is Professor and Chair of English at Huston-Tillotson University, and the author of a chapbook, Water Signs; she also co-directs the Poetry at Round Top Festival and is a senior poetry editor for Tupelo Quarterly. Jennine “DOC” Wright holds four Slam titles, and is an MFA student at Spalding University. Ryan Sharp is the Coordinator of Huston-Tillotson University’s Writers’ Studio, and editor of Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review; he is also the author of the chapbook my imaginary old man: poems (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Fiction writer Mike Hart is an Assistant Professor of English/Communications at Huston-Tillotson University. His work has appeared in a number of publications, including Southwestern Review, The Southern Review, The Southern Anthology, and The Greensboro Review.

The Interview

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

KDOG: I must have been about eleven when I began writing about a long essay on Queen Esther (she from the Old Testament), and another about the ghost named Timothy who sat on my bedroom window and sometimes followed me outside in our wooded yard. I thought of myself as a writer then, and then in high school, I began writing poems, which were more like letters to myself. For a long time, I mostly wrote letters.  I also draw, and sometimes when I didn’t think in words, I would draw.  I didn’t think of myself as a visual artist, though.

RS: I remember, back before Netflix and DVR, flipping through the cable channels and happening upon Saul Williams’s Slam. The 90s were an interesting time for poetry in mainstream pop culture. There was the continued development Hip Hop in general, often sporting poetic interludes and skits in-between tracks and in intros and outros. Tupac and Janet Jackson had starred in Poetic Justice about five years before Slam, and Mos Def started hosting HBO’s Def Poetry Jam about five years after. All were incredibly impactful for me. Yet, nothing struck me quite like seeing Saul spit “Amethyst Rocks” in the jail yard, literally rhyming his way out of a butt-whoopin’. I saw that and thought I want to do that (except maybe not while confined within prison walls or under the threat of violence).

Still, I am a little insecure about claiming the title of “poet.” I am no doubt a person who loves to read and write poetry, but I am not sure if I have a clear idea of what criteria is necessary when distinguishing between a poet and a person who writes poetry, or if even such a distinction is necessary. I am also working on my dissertation right now, so I guess I am also sharpening my craft as a scholar. And, while I am excited by the prospects of my project, I am cautious to make too large of claims there as well. That being said, it was a pretty great feeling to get a box full of my imaginary old man chapbooks from Finishing Line Press recently. That felt like a moment that made me feel a bit like I was becoming a poet.

JDW: It really wasn’t until this year that I even thought about it. Before, I just thought of myself as a poet, and even that title took time to accept. I was so much in awe of other poets to include my mother that I never acknowledged my own work on that level. It wasn’t until I started competing in slams that I took myself seriously as a poet. This year I wrote a children’s book and finished writing a musical so it took venturing out of poetry to consider myself a writer.

MH: I have written since I was little. Even, perhaps, before I had the discipline to hand-write or type prose, I was “writing” stories I imagined: stories about my childhood, toys I had, people in my life, dreams I had. I would re-write real conversations, sometimes as they happened, to make them fit narratives in my head. As I got to my teens, I would occasionally write actual works of fiction, maybe for an assignment, maybe because I had to get those internal narratives out. Then, in college, I finally started to focus on craft, on the discipline and focus it usually takes to become a writer. Even then, though, I don’t think I really understood either craft or dedication to it. Maybe I began to understand those things in grad-school. Maybe that’s when I started to imagine that I could be a writer.

CH: How has your career as an educator influenced your growth as a writer? What is one thing you’ve learned from a student (or from teaching) that you carry into your writing life?

MH: When I talk to students about writing, we usually build from the ground up: terminology associated with craft, fundamental principles of writing a story (character, desire, conflict, danger, crisis, denoument, etc.). I find that revisiting those principles with my students, helping them wrestle with how best to apply them to their own writing, makes me reconsider how I’m able to use them in my own writing. From my students, I’m often reminded that good story rarely starts out as a grand idea, a “statement” perhaps about human experience, whatever that is. Instead, story starts with the basics. With an image of a character or a situation or an event. Story is built from tiny parts, from the ground up.

KDOG: Reading literature (and reading a lot of literature) so as to teach and thinking about writing so as to teach writing must be the most significant influence from my profession on my growth as a writer.   Preparing to teach requires deep learning (which is why I require my students to teach in every course.)  One thing I’ve learned from students and from teaching (and from everyone in my life): listen.  Listen before you speak (write); listen more than you speak (write.)

RS: The first thing that comes to mind is the old teaching adage: “The best way to learn is to teach.” Having to not only have thoughts and ideas, but be able to teach thoughts and ideas to has forced me to be a more critical thinker and communicator. Having to present knowledge in interesting and innovative lectures and discussions forces me to reevaluate content in a way that further deepens and strengthens my own knowledge. Furthermore, no matter how many times I have read Their Eyes Were Watching God, or any text for that matter, I find that I am still surprised, and in awe of, the unique readings and perspectives students are able to bring to the text(s). The same goes for poetic forms. I have sat and wrote haikus with students and have been struck by how their fresh approach to the form and their use of language inspires me. All of that colors my reading and writing life, which, in turn, impacts my poetry.CH: Katherine, how did you go about writing and constructing your chapbook, Water Signs?

I imagined the concept of the three linked sonnet crowns, each set in the season of one of the water signs of the western zodiac. Simultaneously with conceiving the braid, I began in Scorpio, which is my sun sign, on a day in my garden, cutting basil flowers. (That crown would move to the center of the three crowns.  So in a way, I worked inside out to the edges.)  I went into a meditative trance, as crazy as that may sound to people, each time I would write, drawing on, weaving together personal, lived memory and present moments, global and intimate. I held the rhythm in my head and let the rhymes and other music come.  I shifted the voice slightly in each crown, as each is a different season in my life, as well, like turning a crystal prism in my palm.  As I write this, I am reminded of my students asking me when we are analyzing a poem or a passage in prose: “Do writers really think of these things when they’re writing?” Yes, yes, I do – but it isn’t calculating.  It’s listening.

JDW: I think I look at it in the opposite. It is my writing that influences me as an educator. I write about social justice issues and identity and tend to incorporate those ideas into my teaching. I often perform poems for my students to introduce topics or to introduce myself in new classes. I also think my poetry presents my passion for my subject so it helps to have an instructor invested in the content. No one wants the coach forced to teach a science course so they just pass out worksheets while they dream about being on the field. Practice what you preach! It wasn’t until I was teaching a unit on poetry and had a student share a poem she wrote about her grandmother that had recently passed to realize it. She cried and the whole class got up and surrounded her. It took bravery. After that I wrote about losing my mother, a poem that I had put off for so long.

CH: Ryan, what was your process in writing and constructing your recently-released chapbook, my imaginary old man?

RS: Patricia Smith was a visiting faculty member during my final semester at Pacific University’s low-residency MFA program, and I was blessed to get to hang out with her quite a bit. She mentioned to me that she had become interested in exploring the formal elements of poetry and talked about how furthering her knowledge of meter and rhyme has enhanced and expanded her poetic tool set.  She had been recommended I check out Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled. After graduating, I sat down and started going through a section describing all of the ways that masterful sonnet writers are able to signify on the form. During one of the book’s iambic pentameter exercises, it dawned on me that, if I were to write ten-syllable—or decasyllabic—lines without much regard for rhythm or poetic feet, I might be able to write lines that seem like really creative iambic pentameter; folks might give me credit for an acrobatic use of a spondee or a dramatic weak ending, when I was actually just writing ten syllables under the guidance of the natural rhythm of American English. The first line I wrote was something like “My imaginary old man is dead.” I thought that was an interesting idea. I am really into giving myself constraints, so I started building a form: decasyllabic lines, no punctuation or capitalization, ambiguous phrases that could be read as parts of different clauses. I had worked with Marvin Bell while at Pacific, so his Dead Man poems started to influence my imaginary old man in how he and his narrative are not static. The form gave me an interesting entry point through which to explore my own complicated paternal relationships and how I was, and still am, processing my childhood. I was obsessed with my imaginary old man for a few years. Some of the poems began to get published. I was invited to do some readings, and people seemed to receive them well.  That encouraged me to start grouping them together, and, luckily, Finishing Line Press liked them enough to give me a chapbook.

CH: Doc, what was your process for writing and constructing you chapbook, A Long Time Coming?

JDK: The title kind of says it all. I put the chapbook together because every time I would feature at a venue, people would come up and ask for copies of poems or ask if I had merch. I chose the poems based on what was being requested as well as including poems that weren’t typical 3-minute slam poems. It took years to even think I could put something like that together on my own. Onc you surround yourself with creatives you know you can really do anything.

CH: As professionals working for a university, how do you make room for your creative endeavors during the busy academic year? What advice would you give someone struggling to find that work / creativity balance?

JDW: I really have no idea. I guess I incorporate poetry/writing into my classes so it is just part of my life now. I still perform on weekends and write in my free time or along with my students when I give them writing prompts. I guess my advice is to love what you do and do what you love so it never feels like work. I am a mother, wife, writer, student, and activist, and all of those require creativity.

KDOG: This is a hard one for me.  I have to think back to before my life ruptured [Garza’s husband and life partner, musician Arturo Lomas Garza, passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in May 2016].  In the past seventeen months, I have written very few poems or toward poems, although I have written a lot of memories, meditations, letters (to myself and others.)  A very few poems.  I did begin another sonnet crown, and made it to the seventh poem, and then I put it down.  I’ve made more with my hands, visual arts, non-linguistic.

Well, when I was an active poet, I wrote mostly in the summer and between semesters, or, rather, I drafted all year, but I worked on poems and the manuscript (another kind of composition) in the interims between teaching.  My writing circles, poet friends who met (meet?) regularly, helped me to keep writing during busy times.  They helped me hold myself accountable, or keep my writer self from disappearing, I guess you would say.

RS: With all I am balancing right now, I have struggled to carve out time to dedicate to writing poems. However, I tend to be of the opinion that there is not such a great distance between the academic and the creative—for me, they seem to be working the same muscle. I am lucky that my work—teacher, editor, PhD candidate, husband, and father—is all about the creative, so I don’t feel like I am all work and no play. My struggle is more with time. I don’t have a lot of it these days. Pursuing my PhD has all but consumed the time I used to dedicate to writing poetry, and I do miss that quite a lot. I have had to try to be slick about how I sneak poetry into my day. One thing I do is that, Instead of listening to music in the car or while mowing the lawn or at the gym or so on, I try to listen to poetry podcasts. My favorites are the Poetry Magazine Podcast and VS, which is a new podcast hosted by Danez Smith and Franny Choi. I have downloaded a few of the Yale Open Courses, and I listen to them as well. When I am at a stop sign or at one of my kids’ soccer games, I use my phone to record bits and pieces of poems that, when I have a moment, I try to sit down and work on or I squirrel away for when I will have the time. I follow my favorite poets on Facebook, and read the poems they post when I can. Also, editing keeps me very engaged in poetry. Sticking with my muscle metaphor, while I am not writing as much as I would like, I still feel like I am exercising my poetry muscle, so, when I do have more time, I feel will be ready to get back to work.

MH: I don’t. Frankly, because of how I write, I find it almost impossible to sit and write during the school semester. I might try to take a little time here or there – between work or parenting or being a person involved with the world – to some prose, but it’s nearly impossible. My advice for someone struggling to find some balance is to wake up earlier. Go to bed later. Carve out time to separate yourself from your real life so that you can live inside constructed narratives for a while. If you can’t carve that time out, be patient. The job will slow down. Kids grow up. Story will always be there, so you’ll have time to create later.

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

RS: There are so many! I already mentioned Saul Williams and Marvin Bell. My teachers: Kwame Dawes, Dorianne Laux, and Joseph Millar. Being a student of Dorianne and Joe’s and having been raised in Portland, the Dickman twins’ poetry have been incredibly influential to me. I’m a big Lucille Clifton fan. Ted Berrigan’s The Sonnets is an important book in my development as a poet. Yet, Terrance Hayes will forever be one of my favorite poets. He is my poetry role model—the way he plays with form and words and rhythm. He does everything that I hope to one do be able to do.

JDW: People that I look up to are mostly other spoken word artists and rappers. The ability to tell a story and bend metaphors like putty is an art that I will forever try to master. Dr. Kat at HT [Katherine Durham Oldmixon Garza] and other English instructors made me feel like my ideas were valid regardless of how the words came out and they made me trust in my own voice.

KDOG: Joy Harjo, for certain, and a small group of poets/memoirists with whom I was present in her master class at Taos one summer.  Jane Hirshfield, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Gregory Orr, as well, for spirit.  Derek Walcott, John Donne, Pablo Neruda, for language.  But those are only a few, the few who happened into my mind tonight.

One of the exercises that Joy had us do was to trace our poetic ancestors, those we read who have influenced us.  My list is long, as I am old, and a life-long reader and literary scholar, but I recognize some among all the writers whose work I’ve read entered my ear and moved into my hands.

MH: Flannery O’Conner, Yusef Komunyakaa, Barry Hannah, Fay Weldon, Richard Ford, Margaret Atwood, George Saunders, Adam Johnson.

CH: What has your literary citizenship given you as a writer?

KDOG: Co-directing Poetry at Round Top and editing Tupelo Quarterly (and several other literary magazines) have given me very different things, but in both I am grateful for the opportunities to commune with others, to read and listen. P@RT is a listening experience for me.

Editing has given me awareness of, well, editors, what editors see, hear, look for.  Has this helped me as a writer?  I’m not sure.  One would think I would be more rhetorically astute in submitting, but I am not regular about submitting, especially now.  I really don’t think editing particularly helps me as a writer. It helps me as a teacher.

RS: This dovetails off the previous work-creative balance question. My literary citizenship has given me community. My work at Borderlands not only allows me to be immersed in poetry, but has also afforded me the opportunity to get to meet and talk with so many fantastic poets. Same with Poetry at Round Top. I mentioned Terrance Hayes as my poetic role model. Two years ago I got to eat meals and talk about poetry and fatherhood with him for a whole weekend! I think that “citizenship” implies that I am giving something, which may be true, but I get way more than I give.

JDW: More than anything it has been a way to pass on to youth and minorities that their voices matter [Wright mentors writers in communities]. I have a better grasp on being able to leave the world to future generations if they feel confident to speak up and speak out for change.

CH: What are you working on now?

JDW: I am finishing up my MFA program so I am starting my creative thesis. It will be a collection called “a’SKIN for Trouble.” The collection will look at the intersections of race, gender, and identity. I am also working on the music composition for my musical, which is a fusion of medieval hip hop. It has Morgan Lefay as its protagonists and includes the knights of Camelot, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and some Chaucer’s Tales.

RS: My dissertation takes up the majority of my writing energy in this current stage of my life. In short, I am crafting an argument around how contemporary Black American poets are employing personae to redress and complicate archival representations of Blackness. I also have a related, but separate, project that I am trying to launch that consists of a collection of interviews I have conducted, or aspire to conduct, with contemporary Black American poets. Yet, I have been slowly working away on a newer group of poems that I call my 3 brothers poems. Similar to the my imaginary old man poems, they operate under a series of constraints. Also, similar to the my imaginary old man poems, they are another angle through which I am exploring my family history. The dream is that, once I finish my dissertation, I might take some time to focus on poetry, maybe even apply for a workshop or two, and develop the 3 brothers poems into its own collection.

MH: Now, when I work on stuff, it most frequently leans towards what can be characterized as speculative fiction. Maybe as magical realism. I’m interested in how the impossible interacts with the everyday. However, I live in the everyday, and it’s not something I’m very interested in writing about. I have a collection that I’ve considered sending out, but I haven’t yet done it.

KDOG: I have a medicinal garden.  I’m learning how to make tinctures and salves. Sometimes I give fragrant leaves as gifts.  I walk in the garden and touch our plants. I’m listening to my husband’s music.

A Virtual Interview with Jan Benson and Agnes Eva Savich

Literary haiku poets Jan Benson and Agnes Eva Savich will be our features on Thursday, April 13, 2017 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX).

Background

Jan Benson is an award-winning haiku poet living in Fort Worth, and her work
has appeared in translation in several foreign languages. Her haiku have been published in many of the world’s leading haiku journals and magazines as well as regionally in “form poetry” magazines.  In 2016, she won or placed in three international haiku contests. She s a member of Poetry Society of Texas and The British Haiku Society, Jan Benson’s haiku poetry and public profiles can be viewed at The Living Senryu Anthology (http://senryu.life/poets-index/80-index-b/benson,-jan.html), The Haiku Foundation Poet’s Registry (https://www.thehaikufoundation.org/poet-details/?IDclient=1980), Twitter: @janbentx, Facebook: Jan Folk Benson.

Agnes Eva Savich lives in Pflugerville with her husband, two kids, & four cats. She has been writing poetry since she was 12 and haiku for over a decade. She has over 100 haiku published in literary journals such as Modern Haiku, Frogpond, and Acorn, has been translated into 5 languages, and has placed in international haiku contests. She has an early collection of poetry, The Watcher: Poems (Cedar Leaf Press, 2009) and a first haiku collection in the works.

The Interview

CH: What first attracted you to writing? What is your first memory of writing?

AES: Writing was a vehicle for awareness of self. I was 12 and my two best friends and I were at a sleepover. Sometimes our group dynamic was such that two of us would be on the same wavelength, leaving the 3rd one out for a bit. On this occasion, faced with just my own thoughts while they were busy with something else, I grabbed a pink sheet of lined notebook paper and tried to write the stream of consciousness thought process I was experiencing of their bonding together and my feelings of alienation. When I read it to them, they cried (tweens and their emotions!) and I realized what a powerful tool for expressing and channeling emotions poetry could be.

Of course my next poem was a vehicle for the silliness of being young, called Ode to a Nerd, which we turned into a ridiculous rap (loosely based on the Beastie Boys) using a Casio keyboard and a cassette tape. So even in the beginning I knew poetry could also be a vehicle for the lightness of being.

JB: My first memory of an impetus to write was at age 26, one year after the birth of my daughter. I had been keeping a journal-style record of her days, using first person.

At her first birthday, I decided I had a life too and began to journal. The practice has continued to this day, though with a couple of interruptions. First, in the mid 1980’s when my mother was fighting cancer; Second, in May 2014 when a medical procedure in the hospital caused me to lose my brain… down to no capacity for speech, no short-term memory, no sequencing skills, no writing at all.

CH: What was your exposure to poetry while you were growing up?

AES: I can’t say that I remember reading much poetry in grade school, but by 8th grade they had us memorize The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe and I was also obsessed with The Jabberwocky from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (which I still have mostly memorized). I also went to Polish school (like a good little Polish immigrant in Chicago; all the way through high school), where they made sure we memorized the Invocation from Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz in Polish and would test us on it every year (yup, still have that in my brain too).

I was also heavily influenced in early high school by the poetry of Jim Morrison, and I’m sure I was introduced to the classics in my AP English courses. I was more into literature than poetry, but I did get a comprehensive tour of the fundamentals in a great poetry course I took at Northwestern University. From there I came away with a healthy appetite for Sylvia Plath, Gary Snyder, Wislawa Szymborska, ee cummings, Robert Pinsky, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Bukowski.

JB: The long made short, there was little poetry.

Mother occasionally read children’s books to my sisters and I. She had no inclination for poetry, except for songs and ditties. I clearly remember the song “Three Little Fishies” that had a chorus of: “boop boop diddum daddum waddum choo / and they swam and they swam / all over the dam.”

In 6th Grade we were putting on a play for the PTA that Spring and I wanted to be in the play. My English teacher insisted I could not audition for the play until I memorized Walt Whitman’s “Oh Captain! My Captain!”  Which I did, auditioned for the play, and took one of the speaking roles.

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

AES: That was in high school for sure. I started my own zine with a friend; I submitted to the district student writing publication; my friend anonymously submitted my poem to her high school’s literary magazine where she had some editorial powers, just so I would see it in print; and I wrote about many experiences through the lens of poetry when they seemed to have meaning beyond just journaling about them.

The first poem that felt like a real work of art I wrote the summer I was 16 and attending band camp at the University of Kansas. There was a boy involved that I had a crush on and the poem I wrote about him afterwards really felt like a masterpiece to me! It was powerful to me that I could use poetry to describe an experience abstractly which would yield the same feelings in the reader that I had in the experience. It was also key that writing was a way to channel unrequited energy; he had a girlfriend back home or something, so it was just puppy love on my part, with no reciprocation or activity beyond talking. I would say after that summer, I felt like writing was my thing (along with playing oboe of course, which is what I was doing in camp, and still do to this day.)

JB: Truly, it was in a court ordered class for defensive driving after I was caught speeding in 2000 (Alvarado, TX) returning from a poetry fest in ATX.

In the car, as the officer was writing the ticket, I knew I was high on poetry, lost to the world of rules. But did not recognize myself as a poet until the class monitor asked our names, and what we do.

“Jan, I’m a poet”

CH: How did you become interested in Japanese poetry forms? How did they become the focus of your work?

AES: I became interested in writing shorter poems as a way of having fun and communicating experiences and feelings in a more condensed way. There’s this awful website, poetry.com, which back then had a couple of fun haiku contests going: magnetic poetry, where you had to make a short poem with only their given subset of words, and a “haiku this photo” contest. So for about a year I wrote a bunch of these pseudo-haiku, having no idea what the form was really about in the literary world. I threw a lot of metaphorical, poetical dense word clusters into 5-7-5 syllable, three line format and rejoiced at this neat little art form that could encapsulate my writing without having to go the distance of a full length poem!

But then I wanted to know what was being written in the ‘professional’ world of haiku, so I went and picked up a copy of Cor van den Heuvel’s Haiku Anthology. By the end of the book, I knew haiku was a much more complex and nuanced writing genre, far beyond the 5-7-5 form definition being thrown around by school teachers and mass media. Eventually I joined the Haiku Society of America, subscribing to the foremost haiku journal Frogpond, where the true literary power of haiku as a genre really blossomed for me.

JB: In 1999, Fort Worth, at one of the various poetry venues, I made friends with a haiku poet and got interested in the concept of juxtaposition. I had to adjust my mind to the “new” rules, moving well away from my “elementary school” understanding of 5/7/5. I joined the group, workshopping and writing haiku, until I moved to S.C. in 2001 just after 9/11.

When I scratched my way back to Texas in 2010, I immediately picked up the practice again, learning even more devices and advancements in the genre.

In May 2014 when I lost my brain, it was a slow recovery. After about 9 months I thought I might be able to do haiku again, as a therapy. Haiku requires an equal balance of right and left brain activity.

After struggling alone, I joined The Haiku Foundation (online) for their haiku workshops. There I met the mentors, Alan Summers (Britain) and Marion Clarke (Northern Ireland), who were patient with my limitations.

CH: When I think of haiku, I think of its precision and richness. For me, it connects to and opens into the natural world and the movement of time. How do you experience haiku?

AES: Yes, for me haiku is the singular expression of a brief moment of time in which I feel deeply some facet of or delight in the meaning of life. Often this moment feels inexplicable, intangible, so all I can do is write down its details and recreate the scene so that the reader might too feel the subtle poignancy. Rooting it in season elicits richer commonly shared connotations and draws those in to add further flavor to the haiku.

JB: While I do use haiku as a therapy, I find it opens nature in me and provides a connectedness to the universe not before experienced.

Truthfully, I experience haiku through the academics; the research of this growing form is unlike any other under the umbrella of poetry. The devices are not at all common to Western genres of poetry and are a challenge to approach and sort out. Incorporating just the beginner level haiku devices has seen me grow to international notoriety as a haiku poet. I will gladly be sharing those devices during my presentation at BookWoman on April 13, 2017.

What encourages me forward are the ever unfolding and new devices that can grow my current catalogue of haiku and never allow the work to become boring.

CH: How has the practice of short forms influenced the way you approach writing?

AES: When I wrote longer poems, I would wait for inspiration to strike me. I am a natural introverted watcher of things, so inspiration would come at me just from being in the world.

With haiku, that happens sometimes, but most often I consciously create space for the inspiration to happen. I pointedly observe the details of the world around me and try to conjure forth what’s special. Sometimes it’s like tuning fully into a radio station and a perfectly formed cluster of words will come at me! But I am ok with editing that later, or taking incomplete pieces as they come – I spend a lot of time, say a lunch hour, just jotting down plain observations and then seeing on the page how these juxtapositions interact, and then try to dig deeper into what else I’m experiencing while observing the natural world. What thoughts was I just having, what else is going on in life, what memories just popped up out of nowhere? And then I apply that layer to what I’m observing and see how those things cook together.

A lot of my haiku get born that way. Staring at a pond full of lotus flowers and realizing I was just thinking about whether I’ll have any more kids, and how can I package that moment into a poem. Or even being in a work seminar and realizing the sound of everyone shuffling their papers has a magical feeling, and trying to capture that in a poem. I’ve also realized that not everything I write has to be amazing – some haiku are there just to be bridges to the really good ones.

JB: Oh, Brevity! Power and Joy are thy names!

I do believe it might do well to clarify here, that English Language Haiku is currently the most broad expression of the genre, and even the writers of Japanese haiku acknowledge its domination in the world of short-form poetry.

CH: When I think of your work, I think first of your haiku. How have the Japanese forms in particular influenced other writing that you do?

AES: Writing haiku has really sharpened my Occam’s razor: the simplest way to write something is the best way! I’m very influenced by the brevity and simplicity of haiku, which is rooted in my earliest literary love: Hemingway. I like to find a simple, direct, and clear way to say something, which then elicits connection and emotion. When I write a longer poem or prose, I wind up gravitating towards simplicity. When I edit an initially dense word cluster, I see how many words I can cut away for it to still have meaning.

JB: As I am yet recovering my brain capacity, I am all-haiku all-the-time. But yes, even in correspondence I notice and count on the resonance of words. Well worded brevity can be a powerful influence.

CH: How do you nurture yourself as a writer? As a non-MFA writer, what paths of growth have you followed?

AES: I self-assign myself a lot of reading (online and print journals, forums, and books) as well as involvement in the haiku community. I have a robust journal and contest submission schedule (Google calendar) and tracking system (Excel spreadsheet) for all my haiku. In the early days I was a frequent participant in several yahoo discussion groups where many of today’s best haiku writers were active, and now it’s mainly Facebook groups and The Haiku Foundation Forums.

The kill-your-darlings path of workshopping poems in online forums is particularly conducive to growth. I am protective of my haiku but without question I have gotten very valuable feedback that’s nudged work towards a polished gem as seen through others’ eyes – because ultimately haiku belongs just as much to the reader as the writer. It’s all about recreating your experience for someone else to experience in their own way. It’s amazing what depths are added when you bring another person’s viewpoint into evaluating your work!

I also think it’s important to collaborate. I’ve participated in renku, which is collaborative writing where there’s a leader and you take turns (sometimes competitively) adding to a chain of haiku according to specific rules. I’ve also started collaborating, notably with Jan Benson, on haiga, which is art or photography combined with a juxtaposed haiku.

I also try to push myself into presentation roles such as leading a haiku workshop at an Austin Writergrrls retreat, speaking at Waco Wordfest, and reading at BookWoman events. I am also planning on attending my first Haiku North America conference this fall in Santa Fe, NM. Immersing myself in workshops and lectures and meeting many of the haiku community in person will be an amazing experience.

JB:  Being classically trained as a musician in my youth did teach me discipline. One of my therapies prior to returning to haiku was regaining my musical knowledge. To this day, I will put down a haiku journal to listen to a concert or musician. Pop music as well as classical do the same for me…replenishing my spirit!

A learned drive is now built into me. I enjoy researching the academics of haiku. Further, many of the BBC and PBS series of dramas feed me. As well, I avoid images of war, and greed.

CH: Please tell us about poets whose work has influenced yours. How has your work changed in response to their work?

AES: I pick up clues that influence my writing from reading my favorite haiku poets. Jack Kerouac’s haiku teaches me that haiku can be cool; Chase Gagnon teaches me to stay authentic and that urban grit and detailed personal experience are amazing in haiku; Marlene Mountain teaches me that one line haiku can capture the multisensory gist of a moment in as little as 5 words; Jim Kacian, John Stevenson, and George Swede all teach me that what seems like a fleeting thought can be a universal truth; Chiyo-ni teaches me to appreciate nature juxtapositions with the eyes of a child; Johannes S.H. Bjerg teaches me to dive head-first into the abstract; Jan Benson teaches me to dissect and clarify the possible interpretations of words; Alan Summers and Mark Brooks teach me to be playful with nature and thought; Alexis Rotella teaches me to look for the true delights in any given natural scene; Jane Reichhold teaches me about tenderness and deep listening; and finally Peter Newton, whose work I am most heavily crushing on right now, inspires me to write about the indescribable by catching seemingly disparate clues out of thin air and putting them together like a chef using exotic ingredients to create a multi-dimensional experience. There are so many more that are universally delightful and inspiring, but those are some of the specific lessons I’ve picked up from this set of poets.

JB: In the haiku world, these dozen poets most influence me:

Marlene Mountain (USA), for her brevity.

Johannes S.H. Bjerg (Denmark), for his experimentation in the form

Roberta Beary (USA), for ubiquitous presence, and feminism

Debbie Strange (Canada), for her unique expressions of nature

Chen-ou Liu (Canada), for his tenacity to publish and be published

Agnes Eva Savich (USA), for her sophistication and knowledge

Brendon Kent (Britain), for his whisper-soft juxtapositions

Marietta McGregor (Australia), for her unique images

Ben Moeller-Gaa (USA), for nuances in Midwestern observations

Marion Clarke (N.I.), for her deft hand at shahai (photo haiku)

Michael Smeer (Netherlands), for his international mentorship

Alan Summers (Britain), for his ability to teach students the value of a close

read in haiku and mentoring others to see themselves as “more-than”.

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

AES: I’m usually in the middle of like 6 books (it’s ok, with haiku you can skip around!) but the most recent favorite I’ve read is Christopher Patchel’s Turn Turn. He’s the kind of writer that whatever piece I read in whatever journal his work pops up in, I immediately feel like he’s reached into the deepest nethers to illuminate a universal truth and simultaneously stretched the boundaries of what haiku could be. He is currently the editor in chief of The Haiku Society of America’s Frogpond publication. I highly recommend his book, each poem is delicious like a French pastry baked from scratch.

JB: I read at least three books a week online. Fortunately, haiku has many PDF files on specific sites that one can access for free.

The most recent perfect-bound book I’ve read is the international anthology, “Wild Voices”, in which both Agnes Eva Savich and I have poetry. We will be reading from this book at the BookWoman Event.

 

 

 

 

 

A Virtual Interview with Usha Akella

Usha Akella and Varsha Saraiya-Shah will be the featured readers Thursday, September 8, 2016 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman.

Background

Usha Akella has authored four books, scripted and produced one musical. Her most recent book, The Rosary of Latitudes is published by Transcendental Zero Press with a foreword by Keki Daruwalla. Her poetry awards include the Open Road Review Poetry Prize, Egan Memorial Contest Prize, Nazim Hikmet Poetry Prize and the  Wine Poem Award at Struga Poetry Evenings.  She was selected as a creative ambassador for Austin in 2014-15. She has been invited to many international poetry festivals in Colombia, Macedonia, Nicaragua, Mexico, India, Turkey, Slovakia, Slovenia etc. In August 2015, she organized the first South Asian Poetry Fest ‘MATWAALA.’

She is the founder of the Poetry Caravan in Westchester County, NY and Austin. The caravan provides free readings at senior homes, women shelters and hospitals. The NY chapter has offered more than a 1000 free readings and the city of Austin proclaimed January 7th as Poetry Caravan Day. She will pursue a Masters in Creative Writing at Cambridge University, UK in the Fall of 2016.

The Interview

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

UA: I do remember the magical moment. I was very young; perhaps a fourth grader or fifth, studying in St. Anns, Hyderabad, and my English teacher Mrs. Eva read a poem about ‘The Naughty Boy’ by John Keats. That poem was an arrow and found its mark. I knew in a kind of dim witted, inchoate sense that that’s what I wanted to do too- write hypnotic sounds like that. I took my pen to paper for the first time. Rereading the poem, I am struck by it again- for I am much like that boy in the poem- it was really a metaphor for my self-I use the words marvel, wonder and bewilderment to describe my state of mind in response to life. Who knew!

For years, I’d forgotten who the poet was and looked it up this morning to answer the interview. What a delight! It’s John Keats who took my soul again with ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ as a Grad student in India. Keats and I go a long way! Thank you for starting my morning with this epiphany.

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

UA: Right around the time the Keats poem fell upon my ears, I guess. My mother says I announced I would be a poet when I was 6. That feels a bit of an exaggeration birthed from maternal pride. I wrote till I was 27 in Hyderabad without the notion of publishing, workshops, open mikes, creative writing programs, journals or mentors in Hyderabad. And I still wrote with no goal, as it was my form of breathing. (literally, as I was a chronic asthmatic while growing up.) The impulse to write was organic. It may be genetic as I come from a family of Telugu writers. No one asked me to write, there were no classes or prompts. I just wrote every day. If your primal response is to seek words to formulate you Self and the world you are a writer.  Through all my disappointment in my life as a poet I always remember that young girl writing for 20 years with no thought of external validation. For whom did she write?

CH: Your success as a poet has been marked by the publication of four collections as well as a number of prizes. What habits as a writer have contributed to your success? What stumbling blocks have appeared along the way?

UA: There’s only one habit- and that is ‘Write’. And the other is ‘Read’. You can’t give up as a poet- that’s a cardinal rule.

I have no fancy terms or guidelines- no favorite place or time, notebook, colored index cards, no inventions of comfort or superfluous embellishments of first world writers. I don’t keep a pot of sharpened pencils or a magical pen. I write anywhere, with anything that is available; Writing to me is a basic drive, it is unpretentious, and I keep it basic.  Maybe it’s my roots. I grew up with very little and we were never sustained by material definitions. Writing and the industry of poetry are two separate things.

I work hard I think, but I am incapable of routines. That’s a personal failing, perhaps. Struggles happen on two levels. Wanting to become the poet you want to be, requires dedication, honesty and work; it gives you a delicious unrest within. My weak links sting like ants: punctuation is a torture and I stumble on prepositions. I have to remind myself constantly about the premise of show and tell.

The stumbling blocks within the industry of poetry is another whole topic. It brings up issues of race, marginality and exclusion. There are walls and doors so politely construed they are invisible but exist. For example, I have been invited in the top tier world festivals of poetry but the local Round Top or most of the universities and colleges won’t acknowledge me as a poet. When you don’t acknowledge you make a person invisible, there is erasure from history, from the roster, from the industry. I am not called in for interviews when I apply for teaching posts or admitted to the local MFA/PhD programs. I’ve given up on the US, in some sense. ‘Matwaala’ was formulated as a very specific need for the South Asian poet to create ones’ own platform. And of course, there has also been support and kinship with some of the community of local poets and the city of Austin. I am grateful to them. I don’t forget these people.

CH: You’ve been invited to a number of international poetry festivals. How have these experiences shaped your sense of poetic community? How have they influenced your work?

UA: The invitation to international poetry festivals has had a volcanic impact on my view of the world and my Self. Since a little girl, I knew somehow, very early on that everything was ONE. Poetry has pushed me into the experience of that truth with these travels. So my poetics and my spirituality is the same. Poets belong to the world.  What I experienced in Medellin and Struga festivals is poetry as a mighty current; as a large open fist in poor countries;such generosity of hospitality can nowhere be found in the US; thousands of people present at opening and closing ceremonies like an olympics of Poetry;a reminder that Poetry is a pulse in the human soul. The industry of poetry is a more recent phenomenon.

Community for me is not local by circumstance. As a mother with a much-traveling husband my ability to physically participate in the local scene has been very limited. So the virtual community of poet friends the world over is my family and source of strength. I’ve learned to live with physical isolation and loneliness.  There is the curse of course all artists experience –being outsider in one’s own; the necessity of exile. I can’t seem to belong to the Indian community in whole either. Poets are always questioning and resisting something in the search for justice and harmony.

Becoming aware of poetics from other countries has been profoundly educative to pitch my own aspirations as a poet and understand what I would like to achieve. Take some Eastern European poets for example- the suggestive power of the poem dominates- that echoes with the Sanskrit concept of dhvani in poetry. There’s a gossamer, cultured and fine effect in poets like Nikola Madzirov. At times I like that. Or to learn that Filipino poetry has a long history of oral traditions is akin to traditions in Sanskrit history. Or the hypnotic  magic via repetition in the ghazal. To be able to make connections is a treasure hunt.  The appeal of Poetry for me as sound or as chant may be rooted in the Sanskrit slokas and hymns that abound in my life.

It has recently dawned on me that my own organic poetics would fall South to the border. The rhythms, power of the image and metaphor, outreach, tumult, energy and bread of the form in South American poetry is what I instinctively produce. More and more, I become restless with the contemporary American voice in poetry; the MFA factory manufactured voice. It is too constipated for me.

CH: The Rosary of Latitudes, now out from Transcendental Zero Press, is your fourth book. How did you select the work that became that book? How was the formulation of this book different from your earlier work?

UA: “Rosary of Latitudes” is specifically hinged on travel- inner and outer and the effect of each realm on the other; a place shapes my work, my poem shapes the place; a poem has a convex-concave rhythm. Did Northrop Fry say this? The book was formulated gradually as I traveled; I was stunned and marveled at what I was experiencing so travel articles first became the means to capture details as I have the most short termed memory you can find; I wanted to hold a country in my palms as waters to gaze in; the book got longer and bigger in its concerns- identity, immigration, home, self, memory. But it reflects what is in all my work- I am looking for my Self everywhere, for home.

CH; When I think of your work, what often comes to mind is its strong spiritual bent—for instance, the poems of Kali Dances, So Do I bring with them resonances with the ecstatic Sufi poems of Rumi. How do you see the presence of spirituality in your poems?

UA: I come from India. I cannot escape religion or spirituality or mythology; it’s dislodgable. My sensibility is shaped by it. The Vedantic  quest for the self is perhaps the underlying anthem to my work. I look for reference points from my cultural heritage. My poems seem to broadly fall around two poles- Kali and Rumi. Poems of transcendence from the centering self with underlying Sufi joy, bewilderment and marvel. And poems of immanence, of the body, rage from the black goddess, poems of activism, fighting patriarchy, racism, gender inequality. These are my obligation to write as a woman, my duty to the planet. I am peaceful now in the acceptance that both strains are a vital part of my soul not contradictory, but complementary.

CH: Among your many accomplishments, your founding of the Poetry Caravan in Westchester County, New York and Austin, Texas stands out as a way to extend poetry’s reach in the community. How did you first arrive at the idea of a Poetry Caravan? What has kept you working on that project?

UA: The poetry Caravan was birthed in the knowledge that Poetry is a great healing power. And I must take it to people who are incapacitated to experience its joy or avail of opportunities; that poets can make a difference every day and need not win a Pultizer to be validated as a poet. I wanted poets to feel this empowerment. When I read to a senior (sometimes there is just one senior waiting for you) I come back with a peace and validation unlike anything. It leaves me with the basic awareness of what poetry is and can do. Touch one heart at a time. Make bridges. Alleviate loneliness. The very quiet and true mission of poetry.

CH: India has a strong tradition of poetry, one that you have helped extend both through your own work and by contributions such as organizing the MATWAALA South Asian Poetry Fest in Austin in 2015. Which Indian poets have inspired you? If you were to recommend two Indian poets whose work has not received the attention it deserves in the U. S., who would they be?

UA: There are so many great voices in Indian English Poetry both in India and abroad. I have to spill out names in a long tongue to do justice but you’ve asked for two. I will mention two names of senior poets -Keki Daruwalla and Dilip Chitre. Fabulous anthologies have come out in recent years acknowledging so many poets Sudeep Sen’s Harper Collins anthology, “Dance of the Peacock” etc. I feel a sense of pride for all of them.

CH: I understand you’ll soon be at Cambridge University, UK, working on a Master’s in Creative Writing. How did you decide to embark on this path?

UA: Cambridge was destiny I guess. I don’t have the luxury of going away for long term studies as I am a mother.  UT Austin was my first choice as a mother-poet. I unfortunately had a very unpleasant experience in the application process that I don’t want to elaborate. If we are to walk guided by the wounds in our life, we would be paralyzed. Jack Hirschman says broken-heartedeness is the sign that the heart is alive. Poetry is a finally an inner guide and sustains us irrespective of outward signposts of success and failure.

It was my husband who discovered the low-res programs in Oxford and Cambridge and so here I am on the threshold of 50, going back to school fueled by the desire for knowledge. I found the interview process intense and fair, fair even when I was rejected by Oxford last year.

CH: Please name a few of your poetic influences. What is the most recent book of poetry you’ve read?

UA: I read multiple books at a time- a schizophrenic method. So here is what’s happening now- Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Lorca, John Burnside, translations of Urdu poetry, Lewis Turco’s Book of Forms, Edward Hirsch’s How to Read a Poem, Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook. Also some drama and short stories on the Cambridge reading list.

Poetry influences: Eliot, Romantics, Rumi; woman poets- Sexton, Kamala Das, Plath, Olds, Mary Oliver;

Absolute favorite- Yehuda Amichai;

Poets who fuel me- Whitman, Octavio Paz, Szymborska, Nazim Hikmet, Keki Daruwalla, Ram Prasad, Mohammad Dawish, Nguyen Thieu, Nikola Madzirov.

And so many poets I like, I hope I will be forgiven as I cannot name so many.