Tag Archives: Tony Hoagland

A Virtual Interview with Michelle Hartman

Poets Michelle Hartman and Ann Howells  will be the featured readers on Thursday, March 9, 2017 7:15 – 9:00 p.m. at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar #A-105, Austin, TX).

Background

Michelle Hartman is the editor of Red River Review and author of three collections of poetry: Disenchanted And Disgruntled (Lamar University Press, 2013), Irony and Irreverence (Lamar University Press, 2015), and, in 2017, The Lost Journal of My Second Trip to Purgatory (Old Seventy Creek Press). Her work has been featured in the Langdon Review of the Arts in Texas, and appears in such journals as Slipstream, Plainsongs, Carve, Crannog, Poetry Quarterly, The Pedestal Magazine, Raleigh Review, San Pedro River Review, Concho River Review and RiverSedge.

The Interview

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

MH: As soon as I learned to read. Books became my salvation early on and I wanted to be a part of that fantasy. Book reports for school. It was the only homework I didn’t have to be forced to do.

CH: How did you become drawn to poetry? When did you begin to identify yourself as a writer? As a poet?

MH: I originally started with creative non-fiction and fiction. But I really sucked at it. I met Ann Howells at a workshop and she suggested working with poetry, to refine my use of words and voice. When I discovered poetry was no longer dead white guys, and what you could do with it, I was hooked for life. I didn’t identify as a writer until my first real publication.

CH: What was your path to becoming a published poet? As a poet outside of the academy, how have you nurtured yourself and grown your craft?

MH: Well, like everyone else I started with journals getting into more and more and better titles. Workshopping with the Dallas Poets Community, we also help each other with submission info; who’s new, or what kind of stuff they take. Most of my friends are writers, artists and professors. I’m always asking questions and learning. I read incessantly.

CH: Your background in political science and law makes itself evident as subject matter in some of your poetry (I am in particular thinking of the poems of Irony and Irreverence). How would you describe the influence of that background on your work?

MH: Poetry is a fantastic vehicle in that you have a tiny window; in which you have to grab the attention, set up the situation, then lead the person to the point you want to make. I call it the 4g’s of writing: get in, get down, get back, and get away. We live in the land of 15 seconds. We Tweet and Snapchat. If you want to make a point it needs to be fast, easy, and funny. Almost as sharp and quick as a political cartoon, it can go places where the big book or dissertation cannot. Also as a paralegal, I’ve seen slices of life that most have not.

CH: Your poetry is known for its humor, and I certainly find that element in your work. But sometimes the humor is in service of opening the reader to difficult subjects—for instance, the first stanza of “suicide note” (in Disenchanged and Disgruntled). Please tell us a little about the humor in your work.

MH: I learned to be funny early in life. If you could make mother laugh, you had substantially better chances to avoid a beat down. Same influences caused my humor to be very black in nature. The British would say dry and classy but I’m thinking more Sahara and white trash. Using humor, you can get away with more. Take Stephen Colbert. If he just opened each night with a straight list of all the things Trump does wrong, he wouldn’t last a month. But he makes it funny and Bam! Ratings out the wazoo! Humor is that little bit of sugar Mary Poppins use to sing about making the medicine go down. As far as “Suicide” I’ve always laughed at Death. I find its place in our society is hysterical.

CH: Lamar University Press published your first two collections, Disenchanted and Disgruntled and Irony and Irreverence. How did you go about finding a publisher for these books?

MH: Wow, you caught me on this one. I actually was rocking along with journal publications and happy as a fat tick on a big dog when out of the blue this guy contacts me on LinkedIn. Says, I see you are a poet do you have a book? Well, I was gonna say no, but I talked to Ann and she said you have plenty enough poems. Sure enough there was about 84 in the first book and most of those had been published. Lamar was just starting their press and wanted to find writers without going through the slush pile experience. So I’m really an example of how social media is playing a bigger part in the writing life now. The second books came about at the Langdon Review weekend reading. I had the room rolling and afterwards Jerry Craven of Lamar came up to me and said, do you have a book of those funny poems?

CH: Tell us a little about your most recent book, The Lost Journal of my Second Trip to Purgatory. How does it relate to your previous work? Over what period were these poems written?

MH: It is probably impossible for Lost Journal to be any more different than my first two books. But they were great training grounds for that type of writing. Some of the poems in this book appear in earlier works. I’d been dancing around this topic for years. But a few years ago I got very ill and was stuck at home in a really low period. No time like the present as they say and I really didn’t think I could get any lower so I let it all out. It took about two months to write all of the book and organize it. Took three years to get it published.

CH: You’re currently publishing collections at a pace of one every two years. What is your writing practice like?

MH: Again this is probably not what you want to hear. I binge write. I once wrote an entire chapbook when the cable went out! But in my head, it is constant. That second voice commenting and describing. I have a chapbook coming out this April based on the works of Edward Hopper. I wrote it in one week.

CH: In addition to being a poet, you’ve also long been an editor of Red River Review. How has your experience as an editor shaped your work?

MH: It makes me want to be a better submitter so another editor is not cussing my name in absentia. But usually it makes me feel very inadequate. All my reading makes me say why can’t I do that.

CH: Who are some poets whose work has influenced yours? What is the last book of poetry that your read?

MH: Alan Berecka, Tony Hoagland, Travis Blair, Alan Gann, Ann Howells, Wilfred Owens, Siegfried Sassoon, A.E. Housman, and T. S. Eliot. Last read was a manuscript by Travis Blair, based on his life in Hollywood.

A Virtual Interview with Varsha Saraiya-Shah

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

Background

Varsha Saraiya-Shah’s first poetry chapbook, Voices, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. Her work has appeared in journals that include Asian Cha, Borderlands, Convergence, and Right Hand Pointing, as well as anthologies from Mutabilis Press, and is forthcoming in BorderSenses.  She has studied poetry in Houston, New York’s Sarah Lawrence College, SquawValley Community of Writers–California, Reed College–Oregon, and San Miguel De Allende–Mexico, and was a poet-in-residence at Noepe Literary Center, Martha’s Vineyard, MA in October, 2015.

Saraiya-Shah’s work is inspired and informed by humans, literature, visual and performing arts, gardening, travels, and an untiring eye for the small wonders of life. She lives in Houston, and currently serves on the board of Mutabilis Press.

The Interview

CH: When did you first become interested in writing poetry? What first drew you to poetry as a means of expression?

VS-S: I believe I got smitten with poetry in fifth or sixth grade.  I wrote it in my mother tongue, Gujarati.  (Gujarat is a western state of India.)

I think it was the fascination for words; what one can do with them.  I’m sure my maternal grandfather’s poetic genes and the teachers gave me the seed of this art.  All of it ignited a lifelong love for poetry.  Being able to write and the freedom to play with words drew me in and will take me through.

I studied Hindi and Sanskrit as part of my education through high school.  Poetry in each of these languages has its own cadence and persona. Recitations were part of the curriculum as well as cultural way of life.  Acting and folk dancing were my two other intimate loves besides math and science.  The dramatic monologues they demanded with the magic of harmonium and the beat of tabla — all of it have contributed to my poetic expression. Performing words on a podium gave me a chance to express myself, and also gave a sense of power over the social constraints in adolescent years.

Learning English as a second language began in the 8th grade; I was thirteen and learning to sing Mary Had A Little Lamb… with my teacher and classmates. I could not have imagined then I would be an English poet with my own book some day!

CH: When did you first begin to think of yourself as a writer? How would you describe your identity as a writer?

VS-S: It came much later.  I guess when Houston Poetry Fest published my first poem in 1999: Tuesday Night Reading, kind of a love poem for my privileged encounter with the poet, Robert Creeley at MFAH.  As if I had arrived once again and knew, I have Miles to Go–– as Robert Frost expressed.

Winning contests for Gujarati poetry and debates deepened my interest and love for poetry.  When I started writing voraciously in English after a long dry spell during years of corporate career and family raising, I sensed a feeling of being “born-again” as a writer.

Writing has always been part of me, rather than a separate identity.  Being a financial professional (a Texas CPA with an MBA from California), I kept my writer side a secret during the grueling work years of “dress for success, failing is not an option, and work hard enough till you break the glass ceiling.” Though, I did enjoy all chances to do significant amount of business/technical writing.  And, grabbed every moment I could to write a poem in pockets of 15-20 minutes at lunch hours and while waiting for my children to finish their music lessons or game pursuits. For last five years or so, I feel grounded in a writer’s mojo.

CH: You’ve studied poetry in a variety of settings, from Squaw Valley Community of Writers to Sarah Lawrence College and San Miguel de Allende. What has motivated you to seek these experiences? How have you gone about selecting the programs in which you’ve participated?

VS-S: I sought these experiences to grow and satisfy that deep hunger to learn from the masters, to get better at the craft and seek critique from my peers away from home base.  A burning desire and innate curiosity to experience and enhance the creative process. To hone my calibre, to push myself in new ways while learning from others’ strengths.  All of these led me to workshops in a variety of settings. Repute and the repertoire of the faculty have been prime deciding factors.  Personal life and time constraints in which I could fit in these workshops also played a role in the selection process.  Then I simply plunged in with faith on taking a chance.

CH: Engaging in formal study takes a good deal of commitment, as does maintaining a writing life. What is your writing process like? How do you balance writing with other activities in your life?

VS-S: I try my best to catch on paper hints of creative sparks, through arrival of a phrase on NPR or a fleeting emotion, or when reading good books.  I’ve often pulled over from driving to jot down a few compelling lines.  At times a whole poem. I’ve locked myself in bathroom for a few minutes to catch my muse in writing when children were young and demanded non-stop attention. Some developed years later in beautiful poems.  My chapbook, Voices, has a few of those.

I’m a compulsive reviser.  But, my role models are––great writers, say Donald Hall, who starts each revision with a fresh draft each morning and whatever it takes–– as many as fifty drafts to make a poem work.  His book, Life Work delves into his process. Occasionally, I do a complete re-write of a poem when the umpteenth version is not working.  Perseverance always prevails and patience with the poem helps me understand what it wants from me.

Balancing writing with other tasks is mostly a matter of discipline.  I do have discipline and focus but easily get channeled into other pursuits. Good distractions, such as practicing on piano, or trimming a bush, or a bike ride, or picking up a book that’s poles apart from what I’m working on, actually help me with synergetic ideas.  Sometimes listening to music or walking long distances help me move on from where I’m stuck or bring in a fresh thought.

CH: What was it like to be poet-in-residence at Noepe Literary Center? How has this experience shaped your work?

VS-S: It was a challenge to stay focused day after day since the nature is so abundant and unique at Martha’s Vineyard (the kind I am not used to in my Houston’s city life). Initially I wanted to play all the time.  I was the only “poet” in residence; the rest were fiction writers, memoirists, creative non-fiction writers.  Though, they introduced me into their challenges of writing life as well.

I learnt that I need more discipline but it’s harder and different for a poet than a writer who’s doing x number of pages a day and writes within a framework/plot, whereas a poet doesn’t.  The residency reinforced my understanding how important it is to just write each day without any excuse, though I still make many and often.  Also the experience underscored:  Read, read and read some more, to be a better writer.

CH: Your chapbook, Voices, will be coming out soon from Finishing Line Press. How did you select the poems for this book? How did you go about finding a publisher?

VS-S: I wanted each of the poems in this collection to have an expression: an inner or outer voice.  Whether it was a sweet potato growing roots on my kitchen table, or a man with one earring precariously leaning out from his window I waved at in traffic jam.  Sky and its myriad manifestations, a piano telling me pay attention to me, an art exhibit that triggers a new dialogue with the faraway motherland.  At the end, all those poems made a cohesive collection.

I sent the manuscript to Finishing Line Press for New Women’s voices competition.  I didn’t win, but they liked my collection and offered to publish.  So, I accepted it.

CH: You list gardening among the inspirations for your poetry. How does the world of gardening inform and intersect with your work?

VS-S: Gardening is about life, about surprise (a poet’s candy) and demise, about living in the present moment and accepting decay.  It reminds me all the time: Begin Again, whenever I get frustrated with certain poems.   There’s no ego.  No fear of growth or contraction.  A weed asks for as much attention as a beautiful plumeria blossom or a wild flower.  Wish I would spend more time out there but for the heat and mosquitoes, that often keep me from interfacing with my lovely space, eh!

CH: I’ve found working as an editor with a small press (in my case, Dos Gatos Press), to be a very rewarding experience. How has being on the board of Mutabilis Press informed your views of writing/publishing?

VS-S: Cindy, I concur fully with you; my work with Mutabilis Press has been rewarding indeed.  I have been involved with Mutabilis from its conception days at Inprint Houston.  Through this small service, I feel like an integral part of my writers’ family here and elsewhere.  I’ve come to understand and appreciate the arduous process of selecting for an anthology through reading pages and pages of submitted poetry day after day. It has taught me “how to read a poem” as an editor as well as a poet.  My ability to discern from good to mediocre has grown tremendously.  I also work as their treasurer; a stint using my left brain. I appreciate the vital role small publishers play in promoting poetry which is hardly a lucrative business.  It is sheer labor of love for the literary arts and service to humanity. I feel grateful to be a tiny part in that endeavor.

CH: Please name a few poets whose work has influenced yours. How does your work reflect that influence?

VS-S: That’s a tough one to answer since I read many of them simultaneously.  And, there are numerous new poets too that I find inspiring and energizing my creativity.

Here’s a few of the many who’ve influenced my work: Octavio Paz, Jorge L. Borges, R. Maria Rilke, Rumi, W.Szymborska, Edward Hirsch, Tony Hoagland, Robert Creeley, Robert Hass, Naomi S. Nye, Sarah Cortez, Lorenzo Thomas, Reetika Vazirani, Mark Strand, William Stafford, Antonio Machado, F. Garcia Lorca, Jane Kenyon, Ruth Stone, Yehuda Amichai, Anna Akhmatova, Rabindranath Tagore, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Gulzar, Ghalib.

A lot of these poets invite me in to emulate their voice or style.  Or, like a jazz artist, take me into a  “Call and Response” spin. Others linger under my skin till the inspiration ripens. I’m a product of multi-cultures, so I find translated poets intriguing and challenging for my own expression i.e. blending of my roots and experiences as an Indian American.

Western and Latin American poets’ teachings have instructed my work the most.  Especially studying the craft books like Richard Hugo’s “A Triggering Town” and Edward Hirsch’s “How To Read A Poem”, and “ The Demon and The Angel”. Late Lorenzo Thomas was my first English creative writing teacher; my Reverend Poet. Thanks to him, thanks to Naomi Shihab Nye, and also to Edward Hirsch for giving me “thumbs up” on my talent in my early years of writing.  Their initial advice on how I need to read a lot of contemporary poetry and spread my wings, to submit, share, and work with my community of poets. Their advice nurtured the roots of the tree I am now.  A communion received in my early forties when most successful poets have published at least a book or two. I knew I had a lot of catching up to do, to continue the new chapter of my writing life as an English poet.  Many thanks to Inprint Houston for giving me a sanctuary, kind of an ashram to study poetry.

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

VS-S: Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen — An American Lyric”.

A Virtual Interview with Liza Wolff-Francis

Liza Wolff-Francis will be the featured reader for the 2nd Thursday Poetry Reading and Open Mic at BookWoman (5501 N. Lamar) on Thursday, June 9, 2016  from 7:15 to 9:00 p.m.

Background

Liza Wolff-Francis is a feminist poet and writer with an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She was co-director for the 2014 Austin International Poetry Festival and a member of the 2008 Albuquerque Poetry Slam Team. She has an ekphrastic poem posted in Austin’s Blanton Art Museum by El Anatsui’s sculpture “Seepage” and her work has most recently appeared in Poetry Pacific, Edge, Twenty, Border Senses, the Di-verse-city anthology of the Austin International Poetry Festival, and on various blogs. She has a
chapbook out called Language of Crossing (2015, Swimming with Elephants Publications), which is a collection of poems about the Mexico- U.S.border. Every day she eats both popcorn and dark chocolate and she currently lives in Albuquerque, NM.

The Interview

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

LW-F: I began writing in a Ramona Quimby diary when I was twelve. At thirteen I had a diary named Felicia, which I named after a popular red haired girl in seventh grade. I confided quite a bit in that diary. From those diaries on I always wrote, but I’m not sure I really took myself seriously as a writer until about ten years ago and at that point I really knew I needed to keep consistently writing. It became so important to me that I couldn’t not do it.

CH: What was your first exposure to slam poetry? How did you go about getting involved in the slam scene? How has that experience shaped you as a writer?

LW-F: The National Slam Championship came to Albuquerque in 2005 and Albuquerque won. I went to watch many of the competitions and realized slam could be motivation for writing and also that my writing could improve with community input. Plus it seemed fun. I began to read my poetry, then to memorize it, then to compete. I was suddenly surrounded by community and art and felt a real push for creativity. Slam has opened my ears to many voices I might not have otherwise heard. It has also shaped my poetic voice to always be conscious of an audience.

CH: What motivated you to get an M. F. A. in Creative Writing? How did you go about choosing Goddard?

LW-F: I wanted to get an MFA to be able to write better, especially in fiction. I chose Goddard because it was a low residency program and it was liberal. I wasn’t able to move somewhere else and liked the adventure a low residency program afforded. I found Goddard at AWP (when it was held in New York) applied there and nowhere else, got in and went. It felt like the perfect school for me.

CH: What changed in your writing as a result of the M. F. A.? What was its single biggest gift? Its biggest drawback?

LW-F: The MFA focused me in on my writing even more. I believe it helped my writing improve. It also introduced me to many wonderful writers I would not have otherwise known. I enjoyed my experience but I don’t know that everyone has to get an MFA to be a writer or to improve their writing, that was just something I wanted for myself.

CH: There often seems to be a schism between “stage poetry” and “page poetry,” but you have inhabited both worlds. What has been your experience moving between these worlds?

LW-F: This is always an interesting question and one that continues to come up. I love both performance poetry and page poetry. I think some performance poetry is really meant for performance and that is where it really shines and there is definitely some “page” poetry that would be enhanced if the reading/performance of it was improved. That said, if there is a meet in the middle coming together of the two, I think it can reach more people, bring people together, and be really fun and dynamic as well as improve the craft. At this point in my life I have people from both camps in my life and enjoy that. I definitely think slam poetry has made poetry more accessible to voices of people of color and that I think is not only necessary but amazing.

CH: I know you identify strongly as a feminist poet. How does your feminism shape your poetry?

LW-F: My writing is informed by the fact that women’s voices, writing, and work is undervalued and often dismissed and ignored. My writing voice adds another woman to the canon of writers and often advocates for gender equality both directly and indirectly.

CH: Tell us about your new chapbook, Language of Crossing. What inspired these poems? How did you decide on collecting this group of poems for the chapbook? How did you go about finding a publisher for your work?

LW-F: I work with Spanish speaking immigrants in the U.S., who are primarily Mexican. I have heard many stories over the years about border crossing and have seen the effects that undocumented border crossing has had on people. I wrote a play on undocumented border crossing from interviews I did in Los Angeles after 9/11 about people’s experiences crossing the Mexico-US border and at the time wanted to bring attention to the issue. When teaching a workshop in southern Tucson at a border conference, I began to write poetry about the border and border crossing and the fence. I was seeing these issues still present and that people are still dying at the border. I wanted to call attention to the issue from a poetic perspective hoping people would be able to feel compassion and learn about the humanitarian crisis that has been and continues to be going on there. I wanted to help push education about immigration- hoping eventually there will be even more of a push for immigration reform. Swimming With Elephants Publications sees the issue as important and one that has been silent; they were excited to publish the chapbook and raise awareness about the issue.

CH: Like many women, you have many roles, including mother, partner, professional. How do you fit writing into your life? What is your writing practice like?

LW-F: My writing practice at this time in my life fits in where I can fit it in. I try to write every day, though that doesn’t always happen. I write best early in the morning so when I can, I wake up and go to a coffee shop or hide out in my office at home for a couple hours before work. Days that I can’t do that, I write at night. I know it is impossible for me to leave writing behind so I make time for it where I can. I feel happier when I write regularly.

CH: Please name some poets whose work has influenced yours. How has your work been shaped by theirs?

LW-F: There are so many poets who have influenced my work over the years, including local poets who I have read with, through slam or at open mics in different places and of course some of the bigger names as well. It’s hard to make a total list so I’ll just name a few who I have been enjoying recently like Lucille Clifton, Sharon Olds, Tony Hoagland, Patricia Smith, Robert Haas but I have also enjoyed Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman and many more. Truthfully, there are some poems and poets that call to me at different times and have influenced my writing more at different times, but I think every poem I have ever read or heard has influenced me in some way. It’s that power of poetry.

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

LW-F: Juan Felipe Herrera’s Notes on the Assemblage.