Poet Spotlight: Meg Johnson on Illness, Persona, and the Performance of Poetry

Meg Johnson

Meg Johnson is the author of the books Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press, 2014), The Crimes of Clara Turlington (Vine Leaves Press, 2015), and Without: Body, Name, Country (Vine Leaves Press, 2020). Without: Body, Name, Country was nominated for the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards. Her writing has appeared in Bust Magazine, Hobart, Ms. Magazine, Nashville Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Sugar House Review, Verse Daily, and others. 

Without: Body, Name, Country by Meg JohnsonYour latest book of poetry is Without: Body, Name, Country. Tell us a bit about the project and how it came into being. 

Without: Body, Name, Country is my third book. It was published by Vine Leaves Press in 2020. Vine Leaves Press had previously published my second book, The Crimes of Clara Turlington. My first book, Inappropriate Sleepover (The National Poetry Review Press) came out in 2014, and my second book came out in 2015. I had Guillain-Barré syndrome after my second book came out, and it was a long recovery process. I was writing throughout the entire recovery process, but I didn’t stress about writing a certain amount because I was focused on my health. I think because there wasn’t very much time between the first book and the second book coming out, I didn’t feel the need to rush the publication of the third book. I waited longer to submit the third book for publication after finishing it than the first two books. 

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New Books in Poetry: Catrachos by Roy G. Guzmán

Catrachos-poems by Roy G Guzman-New Books In Poetry

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up. I had a riveting conversation with Roy G. Guzmán about their new book Catrachos (Graywolf Press).

Guzmán’s Catrachos is a stunning debut collection of poetry that immerses the reader in rich, vibrant language. Described as being “part immigration narrative, part elegy, and part queer coming-of-age story,” this powerful collection blends pop culture, humor, with Guzmán’s cultural experience to explore life, death, and borders both real and imaginary.

“This isn’t supposed to be a history book, and yet it is,” says Guzmán in discussing Catrachos, explaining that the book is not supposed to be anthropology, sociology, or a testimonial either, and yet it is. “Those are the contradictions, especially when you’re a marginalized writer, your words are always operating on so many different frequencies at once.”

Here’s a sample of Guzmán’s writing from the book:

“It is not a fallacy that the pulpería owner who wakes up
dressed in a tunic of warriors’ pelos, or the milkman

pressing his rough hands against the cow’s tectonic body,
remembers the skirted boy with an ovarian lipstick for a tongue,

the boy who offered a tenth of his knees to the teeth
of a country with dentures.”

— from “Finding Logic in a Crushed Head”

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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New Books in Poetry: Leave It Raw by Shakira Croce

Leave It Raw by Shakira Croce - New Books in Poetry

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Shakira Croce about her book Leave It Raw (Finishing Line Press, 2020).

Athena writes:

Like a storm waiting to break over a plain, Shakira Croce pulls at tensions and heartstrings in a debut collection filled with longing, wit, and intelligence. Through masterful imagery, Croce floats between the rural and urban with ease, pulling back the veil to see what lies beneath. These poems do not shy away from looking at life in all its beauty, violence, or complexities because within those boundaries we can begin to understand what it means to be human. As she writes in Homecoming,  “It’s about finding/the space/to bring out what’s already/inside you.” In Leave It Raw, Croce makes that space and empties out the heart for all to see.

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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New Books in Poetry: Freedom Knows My Name by Kelly Harris-DeBerry

Freedom Knows My Name by Kelly Harris-DeBerry - New Books in Poetry

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which the fabulous Athena Dixon speaks with Kelly Harris-DeBerry about her book Freedom Knows My Name (Xavier Review Press, 2020).

Athena writes:

In Freedom Knows My Name, Kelly Harris-DeBerry creates the world anew from scraps of memories and rhythm. She bounces between the pages, as well as the accompanying audio version of the poems, with confidence. Kalamu Ya Salaam writes in the introduction “The poet’s task is to turn words into song, utter incantations that heal, inspire, be more than ordinary talk” and Harris-DeBerry has a voice that encompasses each other those tasks. It is strong and it is unwavering. Whether she is on the page or in readers’ ears, Harris-DeBerry’s poetry is a bounty of culture, womanhood, home, and possibility. In an age where everything can be, and is, commodified for profit and the cool factor yet the actual Black artists producing the work can be undervalued, Harris-DeBerry’s poetry honors and respects the legacies of Southern migration, the Midwest, and Blackness.

You can listen to the interview here or on the podcast app of your choice.


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Poet Spotlight: Rebecca Hart Olander on the Flaws and Snags of Love

dressing the wounds-rebecca hart olandera

Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry has appeared recently in Crab Creek Review, The Massachusetts Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. Collaborative work made with Elizabeth Paul has been published in multiple venues online and in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press). Rebecca is a Women’s National Book Association poetry contest winner and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee. Her chapbook, Dressing the Wounds, was published by dancing girl press in 2019, and her debut full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats, is forthcoming from CavanKerry Press in 2021. Rebecca teaches writing at Westfield State University and is editor/director of Perugia Press. Find her at rebeccahartolander.com and @rholanderpoet.

dressing the wounds-rebecca hart olanderYour new collection of poetry is Dressing the Wounds. Tell us about the project and how it came into being. 

The new collection is also my first collection, and it came into being in kind of an unusual way, at least for me. In sum, I created it with a specific press in mind, and I didn’t get feedback on the manuscript as a whole before submitting it for consideration. To explain further, in the summer of 2018, I was feeling pretty discouraged by the lack of success I was having placing my full-length manuscript. I had finished my MFA program three years prior, and each year I was having a steady incline in individual subs being accepted, but lots of rejections (and a nice bunch of semi-finalist/finalist nods) for the book. I felt like it was high time I had a book in the world, and it began to seem silly that I hadn’t even had a chapbook out yet. Even students of mine were publishing chaps, and I was feeling like I’d skipped a step trying to go from individual publications to placing a full-length manuscript. 

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