Tag Archives: Vincent Van Gogh

A Virtual Interview with Ann Howells

Background

Thursday, December 10, 2020  7:15 – 9:00 p.m. Contact bookwoman2ndthursdaypoetry@gmail.com for meeting information.

Feature Ann Howells edited Illya’s Honey for eighteen years both in print and online. Her books include: Under a Lone Star (Village Books Press), Cattlemen & Cadillacs as editor (Dallas Poets Community Press), So Long As We Speak Their Names (Kelsay Books), and Painting the Pinwheel Sky (Assure Press). Her four chapbooks include: Black Crow in Flight, published through Main Street Rag’s 2007 competition and Softly Beating Wings was the 2017 William D. Barney Competition winner from Poetry Society of Texas (Blackbead Books). Ann gets involved in poetry whenever she has a chance, attending festivals, belonging to several workshop groups, and offering her services as contest judge when asked. She’s even won a couple local contests. Her work appears in many small press and university journals. She has received seven Pushcart nominations and one Best of the Net nomination.

The Interview

CH: You last appeared in this space in 2017. What’s been going on in your writing life since then?

AH: Later in 2017, my manuscript Softly Beating Wings won the William D. Barney Memorial Chapbook Competition and was published by Blackbead Books, which was a thrill. I read at poetry conferences and festivals, even travelling to Santa Fe – farthest afield I’ve gone to do a reading. And I’ve had two more books published, chaired the Student Poetry Competition for Poetry Society of Texas for two years, and served on their board for one. Of course, I’m still active with my first love, Dallas Poets Community, which returned to its original form as a workshopping group. I attend virtual lectures and classes often.

CH: I know that while you have been in Texas for many years, you hail from the northeast. Tell us a little about your thoughts in regard to the poetry of place?

AH: I hail from the Chesapeake Bay area, mid-Atlantic coast. Much of my early life was spent on an island, among watermen who harvested the bay. I’ve written so very much about the place and the people that I often feel there’s nothing left to say, but next time I sit down to write the place once again steals quietly into the poem. I guess I’ll never stop writing about it.

CH: I was delighted to hear about your most recent publications. What was your journey in writing and publishing So Long As We Speak Their Names?

AH: This book is the one I’ve been writing for twenty years or more – about watermen on Chesapeake Bay, their families, lifestyles, relationships, fears, and strengths. They greatly influenced my character, values, even thought processes. Memories of the area, the time, and the people are etched indelibly somewhere deep inside and continue to seep into my writing. This book is very close to my heart.

CH: What are your thoughts on poetry as portraiture? How can poems bridge time and space?

AH: Many of the poems in this book are character sketches. These were country people: all the women addressed as Miss or Aunt, then their first name. The men were addressed as Cap’n (Captain), a mark of respect in a waterman’s community, followed by their first name. My family appears, their friends, neighbors, and relatives. The poems keep them alive for me.

CH: I was also thrilled to hear about Painting the Pinwheel Sky. How did you arrive at this project?

AH: I became interested in Van Gogh, read several biographies, then his letters to Theo. I wrote one or two poems because Van Gogh’s thought processes as he planned a painting fascinated me. The project spiraled completely out of control. I wrote in Van Gogh’s voice, then in voices of his various mistresses, his family, and his acquaintances, including his doctor/therapist. What was originally intended as a chapbook, became a full-length book, albeit more novella than novel length.

CH: Tell us a little about the role of research as you went about writing the poems of Painting the Pinwheel Sky. As an artist, what did you learn?

AH: This book is a real departure for me. I kept referring to letters between Van Gogh and his brother, Theo, who managed an art gallery in Paris and saw promise in Vincent’s work, set up shows, and helped promote. I was intrigued by the fact that Theo and his wife were supportive while Van Gogh’s mother, a watercolor artist, was dismissive. After his death she burned many paintings that he had stored in her attic. In one letter to Theo, she even suggested that Vincent’s death would be a good thing. The lesson I took away was that if you feel compelled to create, nothing should be more important. You should let no one discourage you.

CH: You now have several titles to your name. How has your approach to poetry changed over time? What’s remained the same?

AH: More than before, I tend to become immersed in a single subject and write many, many poems exploring different aspects. Some duplicate subject matter, but I find that my thoughts evolve. When that happens, I destroy earlier versions or incorporate parts into newer poems. I write almost entirely in free verse, a few longer pieces now and some poetic series. The biggest change is that I now occasionally write about places other than Chesapeake Bay. Also, I am currently in a writing partnership with a friend. Writing response poems has expanded my manner of thinking about poetry.

CH: The isolation and stresses of the pandemic have affected people in so many ways, and 2020 has certainly been an “interesting time” in terms of our national life. What impacts has your writing life felt in 2020?

AH: In April, I took the April Challenge and wrote a poem a day. April extended into early May, though I sorely missed being able to workshop them. After that I had a dry spell until late September when I began writing furiously again, through September, October, and into early November. Now I’m in a dry spell again, but I spend my time revising and submitting. I’m a terrible housekeeper; I’d much rather be writing.

CH: What are you working on now?

AH: Currently I’m putting together two tiny volumes of tiny poems which I plan to send to a few friends and have available at readings I hope to do when the pandemic ends. Each volume holds about twelve poems. I’m calling them Hip Pocket Poems I and II. I may end up selling some at readings for a dollar each.

CH: What are you currently reading?

AH: In addition to poetry, I enjoy Scottish noir. And recently I’ve been reading about WWII, especially novels that take place in England. I’ve read that America observed the war while England lived it, and I’m finding that true, frequently shocked by what the English suffered. I also read poetry books recently published by friends – J. Todd Hawkins has a great one just out, tracing the blues through the south. Also, Ken Hada, Ken Wheatcroft-Pardue, Don Stinson, and Roy J. Bekemeyer have wonderful new books. I always keep one novel and one poetry book in progress.

A Virtual Interview with Ann Howells

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

Ann Howells is editor of the Dallas Poetry Community’s literary magazine Illya’s Honey and author of Under a Lone Star (Village Books Press, 2016), chapbooks Black Crow In Flight (Main Street Rag Publishing), The Rosebud Diaries (Willet Press), and Letters for My Daughter (Flutter Press). She is also the editor of Cattlemen & Cadillacs, an anthology of D/FW poets. Her poems appear both domestically and internationally, and she has four Pushcart nominations.

The Interview

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

AH: In third grade I wrote a poem that was chosen for publication in my school newspaper. That planted a seed — not only could I write but others might actually be interested in what I had to say — a rather momentous realization for an eight-year-old. Still, I remained primarily a reader, quite indiscriminate, even literature that came with cough syrups and on backs of cereal boxes. It was a family joke that I was always curled in a quiet corner with a book. I believe, though, that first publication set the foundation for my writing. In college I shared poems, primarily angst-ridden, with other equally angst-ridden poets, doesn’t everyone? After that, I didn’t return to poetry until my daughter was diagnosed with cancer. My husband traveled, and family lived a thousand miles away. I put on a cheerful face and dealt with my fear through poetry.

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

AH: I have always enjoyed a good story, but stories tell what is happening, leave little room for interpretation. A poem has a different meaning for each person who reads it; we each bring our own experience and expectations to it. I should explain that I was a visual artist, and in fact, taught oil painting for several years. I enjoyed lush and vivid images; they were important to me, but found myself turning more and more toward written images as opposed to visual ones. I suppose it was sometime after I became involved with Dallas Poets Community that I began to see myself as a poet. Our founder had recently completed his MFA and was concerned with the manner in which a writer “gives himself permission to be a poet,” that is, to self-identify as a poet. I grew into that identity slowly and didn’t fully identify as a poet until my work was being regularly accepted by journals.

CH: What was your path to becoming a published poet? How have you nurtured yourself and grown your craft?

AH: Another poet in my workshop pressed me to submit, suggesting venues that might be open to my writing style. I wasn’t eager; in fact, I was teaching oil painting for the City of Carrollton at the time, and feeling some of the ideas expressed in my writing might be offensive to a rather conservative city government, I published my first poems under a pseudonym. Seeing my work in print seemed a sort of validation. However, it has only been in the last five or six years that I have made regular submission a part of my routine. I try to keep most of my completed poems under consideration somewhere. When poems return, I reorganize the ones not accepted and send them to another journal. I also attend as many conferences and festivals as I can, meeting other poets, learning, taking and giving advice, keeping up with what contemporaries are writing. I buy a lot of poetry books, and I frequently trade books with other poets.

CH: Tell us a little about your chapbooks Black Crow in Flight and the Rosebud Diaries. Over what periods were the poems for these books written? How did you go about finding publishers for each of the chapbooks?

Black Crow in Flight was written after my father’s death. He was patriarch of our family with children, step-children, grandchildren, and numerous great-grandchildren. He held our family together. All the poems in the book were written during the three to four month period following his death. I submitted the chapbook to several contests, and it became a finalist in two competitions. M. Scott Douglas of Main Street Rag called my home. My chapbook was first runner-up, and he wanted to publish it. He asked if prize money was a consideration or if I was more interested in the publication. Publication, of course! I accepted his offer; I’d understood from the beginning that no one grows rich writing poetry.

The Rosebud Diaries has a similar story. My daughter had a child whom, in the context of the poems, I call Rosebud. Following her birth, my daughter was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. Fearing I was too old to raise a child, she chose a cousin to adopt. Legal difficulties slowed the process, and I cared for both my daughter and her daughter for eighteen months. Poems in the chapbook were written during that period and shortly after. I sought out a small publisher who worked with limited editions to publish that one. Copies of the book were given to family and friends. And, by the way, the cardiologist subsequently found my daughter’s heart condition a temporary aberration.

CH: Tell us a little about your most recent book,Under a Lone Star. What inspired this collection? How does it relate to your previous work?

AH: Under a Lone Star has a completely different story. First, we had moved to Texas explored the state on every two week vacation and three day weekend. I photographed around 200 of the state’s 254 courthouses and  probably saw more of the state than many natives. Second, after I began editing Illya’s Honey, the fifty-five became a popular form of flash fiction. The idea was to tell a complete story in exactly fifty-five words. There were few rules, which I applied to poetry, then utilized journal entries I had made while travelling the state. These poems began life as prose poems written without punctuation. They evolved into free verse poems with a lot of white space. At that point an artist friend, J Darrell Kirkley, asked if I’d like him to illustrate a few of them. I gave him the manuscript, and he returned it several months later with an illustration for every poem. Then, Dorothy Alexander (Village Books Press) accepted the manuscript for publication and took the poems back to a prose poem format but organized like short newspaper columns rather than extending the width of the page. These poems are really quite different than anything else I’ve written.

CH: What was the biggest challenge for you in putting together a full-length collection? How did that experience compare to your experience with Black Crow in Flight and the Rosebud Diaries?

AH: Under a Lone Star just happened. I had the journals, and I was experimenting with prose poems. My artist friend came along at just the right time. My current manuscript, So Long As We Speak Their Names, is more closely aligned with the two chapbooks. It is semi-biographical, containing poems about growing up among watermen along Chesapeake Bay. I have been writing about this subject most of my life. The manuscript grew unwieldy over a number of years. I cut. I shuffled. I replaced. I repeated this countless times. I narrowed the focus and began again. Still it felt disorganized. I finally understood that I was too close to the material to be subjective. Currently, I have a completed manuscript of approximately seventy poems edited by Cindy Huyser. It is now ready to send to prospective publishers. Thank you, Cindy.

CH: Tell us a little about Letters for My Daughter. What was the inspiration for this work? How did you decide on the publishing route for these poems?

AH: Letters for My Daughter contains twenty-eight poems that were written for or about my daughter over the years. I didn’t write any new poems for the book. I simply realized one day that     I had a good group of poems about daughters and the mother/daughter relationship that might appeal to other mothers and daughters. I pulled them into a chapbook, and my friend, Darrell Kirkley designed a cover using my photos, some ribbon, and letters of his own. It was a spur of the moment thing. The book was published, though Flutter Press utilizing CreateSpace for printing. Sandy Benitez (Flutter Press) had published a chapbook by a friend who couldn’t praise her enough, so I sent my manuscript to her. She accepted it. Later I learned she also published four of Steve Klepetar’s chapbooks and recently accepted one by Jeff Alfier. She does not read full length manuscripts, but I recommend her highly for chapbooks.

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

AH: I became editor for Illya’s Honey in 1999. It is a job I enjoy greatly. In 2013, we gave up printed copy and went on-line. At that time I invited Melanie Pruitt, our primary poetry reader, to become co-editor. This turned out to be a wise decision. It allows me time to write and submit. I’d likely never have gotten either my book or the latest chapbook published if I hadn’t done that. I also edited Cattlemen & Cadillacs, an anthology of greater Dallas/Fort Worth area poets, during the period when Melanie was editing last winter’s Illya’s Honey. She edits summer and winter; I edit spring and fall. I currently have only one copy of Cattlemen & Cadillacs left from the original press run, but I am considering going into a second printing as demand has remained strong. The anthology contains work by seventy-six area poets, including two former Texas Poets Laureate. Work includes everything from haiku to performance to sonnet and free verse. Though Illya’s Honey publishes poets from around the world, it was my work on the journal that awakened me to the wide spectrum of good poetry originating in north Texas.

CH: What are you working on now?

AH: Currently I am concentrating on finding a publisher for So Long As We Speak Their Names and completing a small chapbook about Van Gogh and his work, which is as yet untitled. I have always been fascinated by “Starry Night”–who hasn’t? But I recently began studying some of his other works, particularly his portraits, and reading biographies. One fact that particularly struck me was that he was named after a brother, stillborn, exactly one year before his own birth. Each Sunday as he left the church where his father was minister, he passed the tombstone bearing his name and date. How could he have escaped melancholia with that beginning? That fact inspired my first poem about the artist, and the more I learned, the more I was drawn in.

In addition, I have been working on the spring issue of Illya’s Honey, which I now feel is complete with forty-four poems. Melanie and I recently began requesting poets to refrain from submitting for the two issues following publication. This gives us an opportunity to promote other voices, and ensures that individual poets will be read alternately by Melanie and me.

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

AH: Pattianne Rogers influenced me greatly. I carried a copy of Geocentric  for quite a while. A poet friend once told me she usually began a reading with something by another poet whom she admired. If no one liked her work, at least they’d know she had good taste. I frequently opened with a poem by Pattianne Rogers. Marge Piercy is another who inspired me. I also enjoy Linda Gregerson, John Grey, Lola Haskins, Jane Hirshfield, Philip Levine (My friends call him Phil.), Donna Masini, Charles Simic, Sue Ellen Thompson, and Natasha Tretheway among many others, not all well known nationally. I enjoy reading poets whose work I’ve admired in journals and poets I’ve published in Illya’s Honey. I follow their careers.

The last books of poetry I read, almost simultaneously, were The Crone at the Casino by Janet McCann (I’m a long time fan), The Distance to Nightfall by Patricia Hamilton (whom I  publish in Illya’s Honey), and A Cut-and-Paste Country by Kathleen Hart (whom I recently met at the Windhover Festival). I read as many or more books by writers I’ve discovered through journals and writers I meet at conferences as I do books by “big names.” I try to subscribe to two journals annually, changing titles each year. And, of course, I read submissions for Illya’s Honey, and poems of those in my workshop group.