Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooksNever Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned(Porkbelly Press) andExcellent Evidence of Human Activity(The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming fromPleiades,DIAGRAM,Booth,Prairie Schooner,Hunger Mountainand others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.
This collection manifested in a material culture theory class during my MFA. In this class, we contemplated objects in literature and how those objects were handled in these literary worlds. We were challenged to choose our own objects and engage with them critically and creatively, and after a lot of research into my various interests, I found an old book in our library that lead me on a strange journey into the world of taxidermy. This book, Taxidermy and Zoological Collecting: A Complete Handbook for the Amateur Taxidermist, Collector, Osteologist, Museum-Builder, Sportsman, and Traveller by William Temple Hornaday (published in 1891) became the nexus of this collection.
This chapbook explores the received images of the feminine in fairy tales. The women and girls in this collaborative chapbook resist the common tropes of red riding hoods, gilded mirrors, and iced palaces. Every girl becomes the wolf because every girl has the power to tear apart the cultural conceit of wicked stepmoms, heartless mothers, and voracious monsters. Witches, hags, and mothers of damaged creatures from myth, movies, and lore prowl through this poetry. Lilith settles in to enjoy the county fair rib-off, Grendel’s mother holds her son close, and the Sphynx bears the weight of mythic secrets. Mothers demand their own freedom, daughters refuse gendered expectations, and wives leave what spoils with rot behind. As they wrestle with their place in these stories, they transform into figures outside of the victims or villains they have been perceived to be.
In other poetry chapbook goodness, I completed the work on my kickstarter-funded erasure poetry chapbook, titled Your Molten Heart / A Seed to Hatch, which has been printed and shipped to backers! This was a lot of fun to put together, and I’m thrilled with how it all turned out.
I have quite a few left to sell ($10), so email me if your interested in receiving your own shiny new copy.
For January, Kickstarter is hosting the make/100 challenge — essentially urging creators to created a limited edition something (100 tee shirts, 100 sculptures, etc.). It’s concept I found fascinating and I really wanted to participate when they launched the challenge last year, but I had too many projects going on at the time and it didn’t work out. So, this year I was determined to put a project together.
After thinking about what would work best, I decided to do an extension of a 30/30 poetry challenge I did in April, in which I created 30 new erasure poems based on Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer as source material.
The Kickstarter project — A Fearless Chapbook of Erasure Poetry — is to print a limited-edition chapbook of erasure poetry, compiling 20 of these already completed poems and 20 new poems that I am making during the course of the project.
I wanted to keep it simple, so I have only three reward levels:
$1+ — get a pdf of the chapbook and a thank you on my website
$10+ — get a signed print copy of the chapbook
$40+ — get an original of one of the erasures I create, in addition to everything else
Simplicity seems the best way for me to make it through the challenge with the least amount of stress (especially considering all the other projects I have going on simultaneously).
I’m trying to approach it in such a way that I’m asking for money without directly asking for money. Essentially, by posting a new erasure poem every day with a link to the Kickstarter included, I’m hoping that it will draw enough attention to achieve my goal.
So far, this idea is working well — I’m four days in and have achieved 26% of my goal. Yay! Although, I have a feeling I may need to be more direct as the project goes on… kind of like this:
If you have a buck or two to spend on some poetry, I would be thrilled if you could head on over and back my project.
(Whew. Not so hard.)
Anyway, it’s a strange, fun experience so far (making the video was a journey in itself), and I’m excited to see how it will all turn out.
My day three poem:
“I’m decades in to being a poet, but it continues to hurt to write them,” notes Karen Craigo in her excellent post, When the poems don’t come.
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.
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.
What 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.
Chella 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.
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.
You’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).