Poet Spotlight: Marisa Crawford on pop culture, feminism, and the value of emotional knowledge

Marissa Crawford

I’m so thrilled to be able to feature Marisa on my site. I met her many years ago when we were both interns at Aunt Lute Books, and it’s been a delight seeing her flourish as a poet in the time since.

Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collections Reversible(2017) and The Haunted House (2010) from Switchback Books, and the chapbooks 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples, 2013) and Big Brown Bag (Gazing Grain, 2015). Her poems, essays, and interviews have appeared in BUST, Broadly, Hyperallergic, Bitch, Fanzine, The &NOW Awards 3: The Best Innovative Writing, and elsewhere, and are forthcoming in Electric Gurlesque (Saturnalia Books). Marisa is the founder and editor-in-chief of the feminist literary/pop culture website WEIRD SISTER. She lives in Brooklyn, NY. (Bio from poet’s website.)

How did you get started as a poet? Why draws you to writing poetry?

I fully credit the movie My Girl for making me a poet — this movie basically destroyed my childhood but also made me the person I am now, and the poem the main character, Vada, writes about her best friend dying made me want to write poems myself. I wrote my first poem in 4th grade when my best friend moved away, and continued writing poems in high school. When I got to college, a few teachers encouraged me to write more and that’s when I started taking myself seriously as a poet. I’m drawn to poetry because I think it’s the way I naturally think — poems can be weird and sad and scary and funny and political and they can about 100 different things all at once. And poetry to me is kind of the pinnacle of valuing emotional knowledge over rational thinking, which is far too often disregarded in our mainstream capitalist culture.

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Poet Spotlight: Anthony Frame on the environmental impact of people and making poetry dance

Anthony Frame
 
Anthony Frame is an exterminator from Toledo, Ohio, where he lives with his wife. He is the author of A Generation of Insomniacs and of three chapbooks, including Where Wind Meets Wing (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018) and To Gain the Day (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2015). He is also the editor/publisher of Glass Poetry Press, which publishes the Glass Chapbook Series and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. His work has appeared in Third Coast, Muzzle Magazing, The Shallow Ends, Harpur Palate, and Verse Daily, among others, and in the anthologies Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books (Minor Arcana Press, 2014), Come As You Are: An Anthology of 90s Pop Culture (Anomalous Press, 2018), and Not That Bad: Dispatches from the Rape Culture (HarperCollins, 2018). He has twice been awarded Individual Excellence Grants from the Ohio Arts Council. (Note: bio from the poet’s website.)

Your most recent collection of poetry is Where Wind Meets Wing. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Frame-Where Wind Meets WingWhere Wind Meets Wing was an odd collection/project for me. I tend to be a project writer — after writing a few poems, I start to become obsessed with an idea or image or rhythm or something like that and then I focus on it until a collection starts to take shape. Of course, by the end of the project, the final manuscript has usually drifted pretty far from the original obsession but that still tends to be my writing process: fiddle around for a while until I get hooked by something.

Wind happened very differently. A lot of things kind of came together organically and independent of themselves and then, suddenly, I had a new manuscript.

I had recently released my first full length, A Generation of Insomniacs (Main Street Rag Press), and, in the time between finishing Insomniacs and finding a publisher for it, I had been writing a lot of poems about my job as an exterminator. The subject matter was very different than my usual poems about Kurt Cobain and Tori Amos. And they were really rough — really narrative, which is fine with me, but there was almost no sense of music to the poems, which wasn’t fine with me. I needed to do something to re-engage with my poetic voice or to evolve my voice to accommodate these narratives I wanted to write about.

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Poet Spotlight: Joanna C. Valente on spirituality and the drive to communicate

Joanna Valente

Joanna C. Valente is a ghost who lives in Brooklyn, New York. Joanna is the author of five poetry collections — Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015), Marys of the Sea (The Operating System, 2017), Xenos (Agape Editions, 2016), and Sexting Ghosts (Unknown Press, 2018). They are the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing By Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017), and received a MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. They are the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine and an editor for Civil Coping Mechanisms. Joanna also currently teaches courses at Brooklyn Poets. (Bio from Joanna’s website.)

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing as a child, around age 11. I always made art, always had a strange, ferocious drive to communicate and make something that spoke to others. That made us all feel less alone. I think that still rings true today. I write because I want to understand myself and others, and connect to the world in a more fulfilling way. I think all art is political, the personal is political and especially in such a contentious time, where we need to shed light on inequalities in order to really create a truly better world, making art that sheds light on different perspectives is important to me.

Sexting Ghosts by Joanna ValenteYour most recent collection of poetry is Sexting Ghosts. Can you tell us about the project and how it came into being?

The project is an interesting mashup of different things I started writing immediately after finishing my MFA in writing. I was, and am, so obsessed with spirituality, the universe, and where we sort of fit in. I was raised in a religious household and while I largely rejected a lot of the sort of “status quo” ideas of Eastern Orthodoxy (what I was raised in), I do believe in God/the universe, and it is important to me to explore this. I think, for awhile, I felt like I had to reject religion or spirituality, because it alienated me as a queer person — and because of the rigidity of it.

But now I’m comfortable with it, and a fluidity of traditions and approaches — I largely consider myself a witch with a mashup of Eastern Orthodox/Jewish beliefs, which is because of my relationships and upbringing and interest in largely just being authentic and true to myself. So this book is largely an exploration of that as a queer person, using the first part to explore gender and sexuality and dysfunction in the tradition family setting, while the other parts explore this within the technological realm. What does spirituality look like with texting, what does it look like when we look at the universe as a living thing separate from humanity?

Several of the poems in Sexting Ghosts are laid out in a Q&A format, while others explore free verse, prose poetry, and other forms on the page. When approaching a poem, how do you decide which form is best for the piece?

I let the piece speak for itself. With every poem, I think of it as a blank canvas. How does the structure better allow me to tell the story that needs to be told? With lineation, everything counts, everything creates a new and dual meaning — and the rhythm, pacing, stresses, and tension are all built into this. I’m very meticulous when it comes to structure — and once I get in a habit, I want to break it. Challenges are how we grow as writers. I never want to write the same poem forever, I want to grow and change and be a better version.

Is community important to you as a writer? How do you stay connected?

Community is everything. Support is everything, no matter what it is — a writing community, a religious community, a romantic partnership. Being part of an artist and writing community means you have people who can be your friends who get you but also your readers, and the people telling you what you need to hear, those uncomfortable truths (even if it’s just, this poem isn’t your best) or having the bigger discussions around sex, race, gender, etc. We learn through discussion and conversation. Movements don’t happen alone. They happen in a group, and I’m very focused on political change.

I stay connected in any way I can: texting, social media, writing letters, phone calls. You name it, I do it. I’m flexible because I care. I care about people. And honestly, it’s fun to meet people and foster new relationships, in person or online.

Do you believe poetry can create change in the world?

Definitely. I believe art changes the world. I think it’s also very easy to see that, from the obvious changes that Allen Ginsberg and Maya Angelou made. It may seem cliche and obvious to name them, but I think that’s the point. Their ideas and their art literally changed the course of history — and changed humans for the better.

Name a poet more readers should know about.

Srikanth Reddy.

What are you currently reading?

RAT PARK by Katie Della-Valle and Stacy Skolnik.

What can the world expect from you in the future?

A lot of strange poems about Werner Herzog as a cat, some David Lynch/Twin Peaks poems, and a novel about ghosts and figuring out how to live in a queer body after trauma.

Poet Spotlight: Saba Syed Razvi on the interplay between dark and light

In honor of Women in Horror Month — which celebrates women working in the field of horror writing, film, art, etc. — I am stoked to spotlight Saba Syed Razvi.

Saba Syed Razvi is the author of five collections of poetry, including In the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions), heliophobia (Finishing Line Press), Limerence & Lux (Chax Press), Of the Divining and the Dead (Finishing Line Press), and Beside the Muezzin’s Call & Beyond the Harem’s Veil (Finishing Line Press). Her poems have appeared in a number of journals and anthologies and her work has been nominated for several awards. In 2015, she won an Independent Best American Poetry Award.

She is currently an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston in Victoria, TX, where in addition to working on scholarly research on interfaces between Science and contemporary Poetry, she is researching Sufi Poetry in translation, and writing new poems and fiction.

Your most recent collection of poetry is heliophobia. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

heliophobia by Saba Syed RazviThis collection came about through my experiences in the world, and took shape over a span of many years. I started to write the poems in this collection as a student of literature in a university setting, but not really for any of my classes. For me, writing has always been a way to understand and navigate the world, to experience it with authenticity rather than obligation. It has always been an intimate part of who I am, so my own coming of age found its expression in these passages, easily.

I found myself thinking often of the mythology of the classics I encountered, with their archetypal appeal and their visceral logic. I also found myself shaped by the simple delight of old school Goth Clubs, filled with the elaborate plumage of attire and hair, the masks of makeup, and the exquisite sincerity with which dancing and the vibrant wail of music opened up a sense of living against the inevitable call of death, everything with the taste of duende.

Of course, growing up in Texas, as an Asian American and Muslim American, meant that I was often in many worlds at once; I found that the stories of my own dreams and darkness carried faces, melodies, and narratives that often brought a sense of belonging by way of story or shared memory. In this fusion of spaces and sensibilities, markedly ancient and demonstrably contemporary, at once part of the ordinary and outside of it, visibly able to evade certainty and yet always certainly peripheral, I found that defining anything became a kind of puzzle or quest. I wrote constantly, always capturing aspects of the world around me. And, I wove these ideas together with a sense of dream and diaspora, trance and abandon, definition and composure.

Many of these poems are encounters with literature, art, culture, and subculture, but the poems aim to create a tension between the ordinary discourse of reading through the dominant lens and the painfully intimate joy of connecting through the artifacts and elements of our various interpretations of cultural processes. The collection aims to disrupt the notion of definition as a singularly knowable thing. So, I suppose these poems are some kind of unholy fusion of museums, goth clubs, meditations, and global diaspora — all rewritten through dream logic, in some kind of ink made of the timeless decay of memory!

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Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons

In honor of Women in Horror Month — which celebrates women working in the field of horror writing, film, art, etc. — I am pleased to spotlight Stephanie M. Wytovich.

Stephanie M. Wytovich

Wytovich is an American poet, novelist, and essayist, working primarily in the horror genre. She is the author of five poetry collections, including the Bram Stoker Award-winning, Brothel (Raw Dog Screaming Press) and her most recent collection, Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare (Raw Dog Screaming Press). Her debut novel, The Eighth, is published with Dark Regions Press.

She is the poetry editor for Raw Dog Screaming Press, an adjunct at Western Connecticut State University and Point Park University, and a mentor with Crystal Lake Publishing. She is a member of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a graduate of Seton Hill University’s MFA program for Writing Popular Fiction.

Follow Wytovich on twitter @SWytovich.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic NightmareYour most recent collection of poetry is Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare. Tell us about this collection and how it came into being.

Sheet Music to My Acoustic Nightmare is a collection that was inspired by heavy doses of bad decision making, traveling down lonely roads, sleeping in the back seat of my car, and drinking too much whiskey after the bars closed. I’ve done a lot of growing up and calming down over the past three years, and after intense periods of self-care and therapy, I felt ready to stare down my demons and write about them in a way that was more autobiographical than what I usually do. Sure, there are still elements of horror and dark fantasy interspersed throughout, but this one is more about me and the trauma that I carry.

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Poet Spotlight: Sarah Blake on leaving earth and finding home in poetry

Sarah Blake - poet

Sarah Blake is the author of three poetry collections, including Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West from Wesleyan University Press; Named After Death, a chapbook from Banango Editions; and most recently, Let’s Not Live on Earth, a full length collection, also from Wesleyan.

She lives outside of Philadelphia and travels to participate in readings throughout the year. She is also the author of a forthcoming novel, Naamah (Riverhead Books), a reimagining of the story of the wife of Noah.

Let's Not Live on Earth by Sarah BlakeLet’s Not Live on Earth is your most recent collection of poetry. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

About a year after my son was born I started writing a lot again, but I didn’t have any ideas about what the poems could be doing together. During that time, I wrote “The Starship,” a book-length poem told in second person narration, all about leaving Earth. When it came time to put a book together, I knew I wanted “The Starship” in it. I looked through years of poems to find the ones that were in conversation with “The Starship” and that’s how the book found its shape.

Your collection includes the epic poem, “The Starship,” in which a woman shifts her perception of existence when a spaceship suddenly casts her home in shadow. What is your process for writing longer form poetry? How do you balance the narrative arc of the poem with a sense of poetic immediacy?

The process is very similar to writing a shorter poem for me. The poem is all encompassing and it’s hard for me to do much else. I found myself writing pieces of “The Starship” on my phone at the Y and in bed. With a shorter poem, it’s ok to have one strange day like this, but with a longer poem, I have trouble sleeping and find myself constantly thinking about the poem for weeks. I’ve resisted writing longer poems since “The Starship” because of how it wrecks me.

I balance the narrative arc with poetic immediacy by building the poem out of small sections, which each get the attention of a poem. I love experimenting with the gestures language can make that feel satisfying, in just a few lines and across a book-length work.

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Poet Spotlight: Athena Dixon on finding voice and taking action

Athena Dixon is a poet, essayist, and editor. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, a phenomenal publication that she launched in 2012 with the aim of increasing “diversity in publishing by encouraging work from writers traditionally underrepresented in the industry.” Her own work has appeared both online and in print in various publications. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Best of the Net nominee, and a Callaloo fellow, and has been a presenter at both AWP and HippoCamp.

Athena’s first chapbook of poetry, No God In This Room, is now available from Argus House Press.

Athena Dixon

You recently published your first collection of poetry, No God in This Room. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came into being.

Back in 2016, I came across a contest announcement from Argus House Press. They were seeking intersectional manuscripts from poets in or from the Midwest. I thought I was a pretty good fit and pulled together a chapbook I thought best represented me as a woman, an African-American, and a Midwesterner. In recent years I’ve concentrated on essays about growing up in the Midwest, so it was nice to be able to find a home for my poetry on the same topic. This was actually the first contest I’ve entered and to my surprise I won! The collection was originally titled Way Station, but after Bianca Spriggs read the manuscript she suggested a new title. No God in This Room was the hands down winner.

The pieces in the collection are all very image driven. In my poetry and my prose, I tend to concentrate on a central image or thread and then spin the work out from that axis. Some of the poems take something as small as a bee on a window sill and weave a story. Others tackle images directly related to police brutality and shootings. Each of them gives a bit of sweetness and sourness.

No God in This Room - Athena DixonWhat lessons did you learn in the process of pulling together your debut collection of poetry? What was the biggest challenge in finishing the project?

Most of my lessons came after I entered the manuscript. I thought I was a good fit, but I’d never submitted more than a few poems at a time. After I was selected, I started worrying about what I’d included and whether or not the collection was cohesive. I toyed with the idea of withdrawing it altogether or entering into major edits because I wasn’t confident that people would like what I’d put together.

I’m a writer who reads everything aloud obsessively and I wasn’t sure the mouth feel and sound of the poems was right. Thankfully, most of my doubts were quieted when I read the blurbs, stepped aside, and listened to my colleagues.

In the future, I’d take quite a bit more time organizing the pieces and finding both the inner threads and outer structure of the manuscript in advance.

Do you have a favorite poem from No God in This Room? Why is it your favorite?

I’d say my favorite is the opening poem, “Boxes of Andromeda”. I wrote it for my mother. I was sitting on the floor at AWP back in 2015 and I scribbled it down in one sitting. I think it captures my mother perfectly. She was a factory worker, but was still very much a feminine figure. I wanted to honor her sacrifice of body in order to give me a different path.

How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I started writing short stories when I was young. I’d write what was pretty much fan fiction featuring R&B singers and groups. I still have a suitcase full of them at my parents’ house. They are pretty embarrassing!

I wrote my first poem in November 1990. When I was in the 8th grade, I had a student teacher who taught us poetry for a grading period. She was very encouraging of my writing. She told me I wrote like Emily Dickenson. I had no idea who that was. So, I started to reading poetry and writing more. From there I wrote for any venue I could. From middle school through college, I wrote for an endless number of newsletters, online magazines, poetry forums, student magazines on campus, and did freelance work.

I keep writing because of two main reasons. The first is because on those days I am feeling confident I know I am a damn good writer and I love what I produce. Those are the days I want to share what I craft with the world. The second is because I need writing to be my voice. I’m pretty quiet and sometimes I feel invisible. Writing lets me speak in ways that I sometimes can’t muster out loud.

As the founder and editor-in-chief of Linden Avenue Literary Journal, as well as being a writer, what advice would you offer to writers just getting started?

First and foremost is to be yourself! Find your voice and find what you love to write about. Knowing that allows you to be confident and vested in what you are creating. That doesn’t mean it won’t, or can’t, change over the years, but if you have some real connection to what you are writing it will show in the final product.

It may seem that you have to follow trends or like certain writers or presses, but that’s not true. The writing world is vast and eventually you will find your niche and your community. When you do? Support it and it will support you!

Do you feel community is important as a writer? How do you stay connected?

Community is important, but it is also important to know that every community isn’t for you. Sometimes, especially in the age of social media, we get the idea that a writing community has to be a group of witty and cool people who riff off of each other on Twitter and other apps. Sometimes community is that. Other times, and for me, community is a couple of people who keep me grounded via e-mail and in a private setting. This works for me because of my shyness. My community also consists of people of varying ages and backgrounds. This allows me to have fresh eyes and perspectives on my literary pursuits and questions.

Do you believe poetry can create change in the world?

I believe that it can, but it needs to be coupled with action as well. Bringing awareness to topics via our creative works is massively important, but it can’t stop there. As I said earlier, if you find your voice you are going to be vested in what you are writing. That passion and interest can manifest in many ways, but I think those actions should extend beyond writing into volunteer work, fundraising, protesting, campaigning, or any other manner of engagement.

Name one poet no one knows but should.

There are a quite a few, but those writers that I find really exciting usually come via the submissions at Linden Avenue. Two that come to mind are Daschielle Louis and Rosie DeSantis. We recently published both of them and I was very impressed with their work.

What can the world expect from you in the future?

Hopefully, my collection of essays will find a home and be sent out into the world. I’ve been crafting and publishing these essays for about the last two years and it would be wonderful to finally share all of them with the world. I also have two poems in the forthcoming Black Girl Magic anthology from Haymarket Books. That will be available in March 2018. There are a few things in the works that I have to keep to myself for now.

And of course, I will continue to publish Linden Avenue along with my staff because it’s one of my priorities to offer a place for all writers get their work out to the world.


Poet Spotlight: Kolleen Carney

Kolleen Carney
Photo by Jessica Lynne Furtado.

Kolleen Carney is a Boston-born, Burbank based poet with an undergraduate degree in English from Salem State University and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has published two chapbooks — Me and the Twelve Step Program (Salem State Center for Creative and Performing Arts) and Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament (Grey Books Press, 2017). Kolleen is currently the social media coordinator and managing editor for Zoetic Press, as well as an assistant poetry editor. She is also the editor-in-chief and social media coordinator for Drunk Monkeys.

Your new collection of poetry, Your Hand Has Fixed the Firmament, has recently been published by Grey Books Press. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

I fell in love! As silly as that sounds. To be honest, some of the poems I had started years before, like “Bestia” and “A Very Distant Rooster”. This collection is obviously an unfolding relationship, the start of a romance, of a true love — something I am not sure I had really experienced in the past, at least not with this intensity. When Fritz and I finally got together, I wrote more and more about our experiences before and after the fact. They came easily. He’s easy to write about. Everything he does is a poem in the making, and I am constantly memorizing it all.

The poems in your collection explore intimacy and sex with a mixture of fire and decay, creation and wonder. They seem to speak to the way love can be both comforting and frightening all at once. Does this reflect your personal belief or understanding of how love is? How do you bring this intimacy to your poetry and how do you bring poetry to intimacy with others?

I absolutely believe love is a terrifying thing. To love someone is to become vulnerable, and I hate being vulnerable. But in the same way, I love the comfort of a life with someone, a routine. A warm shoulder, another body next to you at night.

I used to think I didn’t really know how to love anyone beyond my son; like, I loved people, but not that sort of real love where people die holding hands or whatever. Now I do. Now I know.

I love the idea that decay leads to new life, by the way. That fire that decimated the hill? Because of that, pinecones opened up, seeds fell, and someday that hill will be filled with new trees. It’s amazing.

Love poems are sort of a new thing for me. I have never written anything so positive. I guess yes, that intimacy comes through in the poetry, because I am just trying to frame how I feel in a way that sounds nice. As for bringing poetry to intimacy, I just try to keep this feeling going, to make everything a little magical. Sometimes even going to the store can be an adventure.

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Poet Spotlight: Stacey Balkun on the elusive in history and mythology

Stacey Balkun
Stacey Balkun. (Photo by Karl Ault, Kault Photography.)

Stacey Balkun’s poetry has been described as nuanced, insatiably curious, and fearless. She is the author of two chapbooks, Lost City Museum (ELJ Publications 2016) and Jackalope-Girl Learns to Speak (dancing girl press 2016), which has recently been nominated for an Elgin Award. She is also co-editor along with Catherine Moore of Fiolet & Wing: An Anthology of Domestic Fabulist Women Poets, a teaching artist at The Poetry Barn, and Chapbook Series editor for Sundress Publications.

Your most recent collection of poetry is Lost City Museum. Tell us about the project and how it came into being.

Oddly enough, the phrase “Lost City Museum” came to me after a poetry reading by New Orleans poets Elizabeth Gross and Geoff Munsterman. Both read fascinating poems about loss, water, and preservation: all of the themes linking my most recent poems. The idea of a lost city and a museum commemorating it made me realize exactly how this project would come together.

Lost City Museum by Stacey BalkunI’m interested in how these poems incorporate imagery of both the concept of museums as buildings for artifacts and objects kept static and preserved behind glass cases, untouched, and imagery of water in the form of sea, rivers, and rain as a constantly moving force. Can you talk about what draws you to this kind of imagery? Did the imagery provide a focus for forming the collection or did you discover the theme after having written a number of individual poems?

I’m fascinated by weird, under-known history as well as mythology, both of which seem elusive to a degree and ever changing, ever moving. I wanted to somehow capture that tenuous energy to reflect an emotional landscape. Some of these poems were written during my MFA, and some came later. I lost my father about a month before my wedding. For months I wondered, how can a person feel the most lonely at a gathering of friends and family meant to celebrate her love? I struggled to write about this tension, and I think images of ocean and rain or desert and drought helped me explore and understand that odd momentum of gain and loss. This type of tension has always been there in my work, yes, but as these poems came, I sort of re-discovered it and saw a thematic thread that helped order the poems, though not necessarily narratively.

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Poet Spotlight: Jessie Carty and Shopping After the Apocalypse

Jessie CartyJessie Carty is the author of eight poetry collections, including the full length collection Practicing Disaster (Aldrich Press, 2014) and the the chapbook An Amateur Marriage (Finishing Line, 2012), which was a finalist for the 2011 Robert Watson Prize. Her work has placed third in the St. Louis Poetry Center’s 2008 contest and has been nominated for the Best of the Net Award, and she has been a finalist in a number of poetry and chapbook contests. Her latest collection of poetry, Shopping After the Apocalypse, is now available from dancing girl press and was nominated for an Elgin Award.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get started as a writer? What keeps you writing?

I always think of myself first as a reader. I feel very strongly that you can’t be a writer without being a reader. I have very clear memories of wanting to read before I could actually do it. As an avid reader, I found myself, from a very early age, wanting to play with words.

I’m actually in a little bit of a lull as a writer right now, but whenever that happens I return to reading. And not just poems. I read across genres. You just never know what you’ll read that will spark you to write even if it is just for yourself. Never discount the power of just writing for yourself! I also find, when I’m not feeling “the muse,” that it helps to mix things up. I’ll try out a different way of composing: using a pencil instead of a keyboard or a different size notebook.

So what keeps me going? I think at the heart of us all is the storyteller. The troubadour. The record keeper. Because, as I wrote as a teenager, I write to free myself from myself. Or maybe now I’d say, with a little less angst, I write to be and know who I am.

Shopping After the ApocalypseYour most recent chapbook of poetry is Shopping After the Apocalypse. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.

This was an unusual project for me in many respects. I had not been writing that much when the title came to me just out of the blue. (I love how the mind works!) I don’t normally write from titles. In fact, I usually don’t title a poem till well after it is done. Heck, when I read poems I don’t always read the title before I read the poem in case it “gives something away.” Instead of immediately writing I just started musing about this idea of what it would be like to shop after the apocalypse. It occurred to me that the first place I’d probably shop would be at my home so that’s where I started. Then I made “myself” into a character and wondering what I would do next? Where would I go? And thus the poems became a journey from location to location with the idea of “shopping” to keep me writing until I got to a final destination.

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Poet Spotlight: Pamela Taylor on balance in life and poetry

Pamela TaylorPamela Taylor is a data guru by day and a poet by night. She has a doctorate in social psychology from UCLA, a MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and is a Cave Canem Fellow. When she is not working or writing, she’s dancing Argentine tango in the Boston area. Her first chapbook of poetry, My Mother’s Child, was published by Hyacinth Girl Press in June 2015.

You recently published your first book of poetry, My Mother’s Child. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about. Is this your first collection?

My Mother’s Child is my first chapbook. I wrote these poems over a 5 year span. Until I put a collection together, I never understood it when poets said their books took them years to write. I think the earliest poem (“The Climb”) was written in 2009 when I attended a small poetry generative workshop. Many of the poems about my professional life were written during my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Others, like the closing poem (“There’s a Graveyard in My Belly”), were written during the week-long Cave Canem retreats for Black poets.

When I thought I had written enough poems to go into a book, I printed them out, put them in a logical order, and sent it out as a full collection. That strategy got me nowhere. So I focused on the poems I had gotten published in literary magazines and journals and a few others I thought were good poems. This time, I laid them out and let them speak to each other. The poems arranged themselves in two distinct groups. I sent both out as chapbooks to separate contests. This collection was a finalist for the Imaginary Friend Press chapbook competition. One of the readers, Margaret Bashaar, had her own press and asked if I would be willing to let her publish my collection with Hyacinth Girl Press.

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Poet Spotlight: Jenna Le on Whales, Womanhood, and the Writing Life

Jenna LeJenna Le lives and works a as a physician in New York and writes poetry, fiction, essays, criticism, and translations, which have been published in numerous periodicals, both in print and online. She is the author of two full-length collection of poems, Six Rivers (NYQ Books, 2011) and A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora (Anchor & Plume Press, 2016). She has been a winner and finalist of multiple awards, including the Minnetonka Review Editor’s Prize, the Pharos Poetry Competition, and the William Carlos Williams Poetry Competition, among others.

Her poetry has been described as visually precise, culturally aware, poignant, sensual, intriguing. In this interview, she speaks about her most recent collection, her writing process, and about the inherently political ways human beings relate to the natural world.

Your most recent book of poetry is A History of the Cetacean American Diaspora. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.

Well, my first book of poetry, Six Rivers, came out in 2011. In the years that followed, I wrote a poem here, a poem there, without any conscious thought of putting a second collection together. As this stack of poems grew, I became increasingly interested by the puzzle of how to tie them all together. I had many, many false starts: I initially thought about using superheroes as the unifying theme for this book (I’m crazy about superhero stories!). Another idea I considered was to organize the collection around the idea of diseases that are transmitted from mother to child, both literal and figurative.

But the obsession with whales snuck up on me, unexpectedly liberating me from the mother-child dyad that had structured my way of looking at the world for so long. I found myself writing more and more poems about the shadowy idea of the whale and what it meant to me. There was something deliciously anarchic about it; it let me rewrite stories that had grown old to me through familiarity in a fresh way. Eventually the sheer preponderance of whale poems in the collection left me with no choice but to make that the central conceit of the book.

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Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being "at home with voice and vision"

Chella CouringtonChella Courington grew up in a family of storytellers. Seduced by the written word, she pursued her Ph.D. in literature from the University of South Carolina and her MFA in poetry from New England College. In addition to teaching literature and writing at Santa Barbara City College in California, she writes and publishes poetry and fiction, which has appeared in several books and chapbooks. Here, Chella speaks about her two latest publications, a flash novella and a new collection of poetry.

Tell us a little bit about your recently released novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow.

A life in flashes, it tells of Adele and Tom, a writing couple now in California. Told from both points of view, the novella explores the increasing distance between two artists trying to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is another’s failure.

But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and aging. A woman born in the Appalachian South yet finding home in California, she tries to understand who she is through the past and the present.

The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow by Chella CouringtonYou’ve described The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow as a flash novella. How did flash fiction as a structural form lend itself to the telling of a larger tale

Flash fiction is not naturally a form that lends itself to a longer traditional narrative (one with a mainly linear plot line). But flash fiction does lend itself to a pointillist novel/novella where each flash provides a point, an emotional brushstroke. The combined points, artfully arranged, tell a tale.

The flash novella is a good choice for writers with time constraints because the structure allows for the creation of many individual pieces of art that can be written in bursts of limited time. Each piece is small with a focus on language and imagery, rewarding close attention and revision. The flash novella does not depend on an outline nor require high drama (murder and mayhem).

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being "at home with voice and vision"”

Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being “at home with voice and vision”

Chella CouringtonChella Courington grew up in a family of storytellers. Seduced by the written word, she pursued her Ph.D. in literature from the University of South Carolina and her MFA in poetry from New England College. In addition to teaching literature and writing at Santa Barbara City College in California, she writes and publishes poetry and fiction, which has appeared in several books and chapbooks. Here, Chella speaks about her two latest publications, a flash novella and a new collection of poetry.

Tell us a little bit about your recently released novella, The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow.

A life in flashes, it tells of Adele and Tom, a writing couple now in California. Told from both points of view, the novella explores the increasing distance between two artists trying to occupy the same space: one writer’s success is another’s failure.

But finally, the story is Adele’s as she struggles with relationship, self and aging. A woman born in the Appalachian South yet finding home in California, she tries to understand who she is through the past and the present.

The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow by Chella CouringtonYou’ve described The Somewhat Sad Tale of the Pitcher and the Crow as a flash novella. How did flash fiction as a structural form lend itself to the telling of a larger tale

Flash fiction is not naturally a form that lends itself to a longer traditional narrative (one with a mainly linear plot line). But flash fiction does lend itself to a pointillist novel/novella where each flash provides a point, an emotional brushstroke. The combined points, artfully arranged, tell a tale.

The flash novella is a good choice for writers with time constraints because the structure allows for the creation of many individual pieces of art that can be written in bursts of limited time. Each piece is small with a focus on language and imagery, rewarding close attention and revision. The flash novella does not depend on an outline nor require high drama (murder and mayhem).

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Chella Courington on being “at home with voice and vision””

Poet Spotlight: Kristina Marie Darling on Mapping Heartbreak

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty collections of poetry and hybrid prose. Her writing has been described by literary critics as “haunting,” “mesmerizing,” and “complex.” She has been awarded with a number of fellowships and grants by both U.S. and overseas universities, institutes, and organizations. She is currently working toward both a Ph.D. in English Literature at S.U.N.Y.-Buffalo and an M.F.A. in Poetry at New York University. Here, Kristina shares a bit about her latest collection of poetry, hybrid art forms, and the act of writing as catharsis.

Kristina Marie Darling

Your most recent book of poetry is Failure Lyric. Tell us a bit about this project and how it came about.

Failure Lyric began as a series of erasures. I took a black marker to my four year correspondence with a male writer, who, out of respect for his work, will remain unnamed. What started out as an act of destruction became generative, since the hybrid prose pieces ultimately grew out of the erasures at the beginning and end of the book. Once I had erased every last email, note, and inscription, I started to write flash essays, which map my heartbreak and all of the unexpected places it brought me to: Saint Louis, Iowa, Burlington, and the now infamous Dallas/Fort Worth airport. So my initial attempts to destroy artifacts of the relationship became a documentary project, charting the crazy orbits that grief set me on.

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Poet Spotlight: Laura Madeline Wiseman — Mermaids, Myth, and Community

Hello, lovelies! I’m thrilled to introduce my first poet spotlight, Laura Madeline Wiseman. She is author of numerous books and chapbooks of poetry and fiction with a speculative bent. Her work explores myth and folklore, history and pop culture. She has collaborated with artists on projects such as broadsides and calendars and has taught a variety of courses in poetry, creative writing, literature, and women’s and gender studies. Here, Laura shares about her latest collection of poetry and her love of community.

laura madeline wiseman, 2014

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Artist Spotlight: Jill Allyn Stafford

Jill Allyn StaffordJill and I have been friends for a number of years and her work has delighted and inspired me from the start. Using a combination of magazine clippings, tissue paper, newsprint, and photographic transfers along with modeling paste extender, pumice gel medium, and other mediums, Jill Allyn Stafford creates richly textured mixed-media art the expresses conflict, love, humor, and loss. Her style and techniques have evolved and grown over the years and am excited to announce that her work featured in her first solo show.

In addition to making art, Jill is a mother and a legal assistant in a small health-law law firm. She actively works to fund raise and increase awareness for children’s literacy and for breast cancer research. She donates art to multiple non-profits and charities and attempts to coax other artists into sharing their work with the public. Jill also helped form the nonprofit arts group Vox Sacramento, and is a current board member of 916 INK.

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What got you interested in creating art? What draws you to mixed-media art?

I stopped making art when I was in the 6th grade. I became so disillusioned with my inability to draw anything realistically, and so threw in the towel and labelled my self as “not creative.” Fast forward to my 30s when I felt this urge to create. I still couldn’t draw, but I could cut up magazines and put the images together. It just fell together that way. And that’s also why I enjoy mixed media art — you can have no drawing or painting skills, but if you have an eye for putting things together, you can!

Continue reading “Artist Spotlight: Jill Allyn Stafford”