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: 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: 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!

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