New Books in Poetry: As One Fire Consumes Another by John Sibley Williams

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with John Sibley Williams about his book As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Books, 2019).

John Sibley Williams’ As One Fire Consumes Another presents a familiar world full of burnings carried out on both the grand and intimate scale. The newspaper-like columns of prose poetry provide a social critique of the violent side of American culture centered within the boundaries of self and family. Although an apocalyptic tension permeates throughout, these poems envision the kind of fires that not only provide destruction but also illuminate a spark of hope.  

“Dust rises from the road & there is
too much curve to resolve the edges
of embankment & asphalt. Backfire
keeps the pastureland carefully lit.
Static keeps us wanting for another
kind of song.”

— from “Story that Begins and Ends with Burning

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


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Poet Spotlight: Juliet Cook on dolls, body, and uncomfortable poetry

Juliet Cook’s poetry has appeared in a small multitude of magazines. She is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks, recently including From One Ruined Human to Another (Cringe-Worthy Poets Collective, 2018), Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises) (Blood Pudding Press for Dusie Kollektiv 9, 2019), and Another Set of Ripped-Out Bloody Pigtails (The Poet’s Haven, 2019). She also has two more chaps forthcoming — red circles into nothing (forthcoming from Clare Songbirds Publishing) and the rabbits with red eyes (forthcoming from ethel). Cook’s first full-length individual poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX. Her more recent full-length poetry book, A Red Witch, Every Which Way, was a collaboration with j/j hastain published by Hysterical Books in 2016. Her most recent full-length individual poetry book, Malformed Confetti was published by Crisis Chronicles Press in 2018.

I enjoy the way your chapbook, Dark Purple Intersections (inside my Black Doll Head Irises), offers a cohesive narrative arc. Please tell us about your collection and how it came into being? Did you plan to have a narrative arc to these poems or did you discover the narrative as you started writing?

For several years, I was working on this collection in bits and pieces. I had it tentatively titled “45” on my computer, because I tentatively planned to complete it when I was that age. It ended up taking longer. Basically, any time I wrote a few poem lines or a possible poem that was focused on personal age related issues, personal body based issues, negative memories of past relationships, and so forth, I’d place it in the collection-in-progress.

So I did plan to have a narrative arc, but during most of the writing process, I wasn’t focused on how I was going to arrange that arc. I was focused on the writing.

When it reached the point where I was ready to actually format it into a chapbook manuscript, there was some revision, including lines removed, lines added, and removing some whole poems — but the most challenging and time consuming part of finalizing the manuscript was deciding how to order all of the poems. I just had various different poems and poem lines semi-randomly bunched together, 2-4 on a page, and had to decide how to format their order, both thematically, and in a certain time frame sort of way — but not entirely past to present, more of a back and forth, semi-circle sort of interrelated intersection. As I was reading and re-reading the poems, I was tentatively numbering them — but then I’d think I had 1-7 numbered the right way, but then I’d end up changing my mind or writing another poem and suddenly having a 5.2 and 5.3 in the mix. Furthermore, I’d occasionally change what had been two separate poems into one whole poem or add another three lines to a poem and so on.

It took some time, but when I finally got all the poems ordered in a way that I thought worked stylistically and thematically, I then removed all of the numbers and bolded the first line of each poem.

Not too long after I had the manuscript completed, I then started to feel kind of weird about the collection, because I feel like it might be almost TOO confessional in a way that makes me seem really unappealing — not in terms of my poetry itself; but in terms of my negativity, my  lifestyle choices, my relationship issues, my body-focused issues and related attributes — but that was what felt the need to come out in this collection, uncomfortable or not.

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New Books in Poetry: Oculus by Sally Wen Mao

A new episode of the New Books in Poetry podcast is up, in which I get to speak with Sally Wen Mao about her book Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019).

In OculusSally Wen Mao explores exile not just as a matter of distance and displacement, but as a migration through time and a reckoning with technology. The title poem follows a girl in Shanghai who uploaded her suicide onto Instagram. Other poems cross into animated worlds, examine robot culture, and haunt a necropolis for electronic waste. A fascinating sequence speaks in the voice of international icon and first Chinese American movie star Anna May Wong, who travels through the history of cinema with a time machine, even past her death and into the future of film, where she finds she has no progeny. With a speculative imagination and a sharpened wit, Mao powerfully confronts the paradoxes of seeing and being seen, the intimacies made possible and ruined by the screen, and the many roles and representations that women of color are made to endure in order to survive a culture that seeks to consume them.

“I’ve tried to hard to erase myself.
That iconography—my face
in Technicolor, the manta ray

eyelashes, the nacre and chignon.
I’ll bet four limbs they’d cast me as another
Mongol slave. I will blow a hole

in the airwaves, duck lasers in my dugout.
I’m done kidding them. Today I fly
the hell out in my Chrono-Jet.”

— from “Anna May Wong Fans Her Time Machine”

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


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Poet Spotlight: Ashley Miranda on surrealism, pop culture, and navigating trauma

Ashley Miranda is a latinx poet & teacher from Chicago. Most of their work is an exploration of mental health, gender, and trauma. Their poetry collection Thirteen Jars: How Xt’actani Learned to Speak was recently published by Another New Calligraphy. They have a chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl, which focuses on sexual abuse and reclaiming Dolores Haze, published by Glass Poetry. Their work has been previously featured by Yes, Poetry, Rising Phoenix Review, MAKE magazine, and other publications. They tweet impulsive poetry and other musings @dustwhispers and you can learn more about their work at agirlaloof.com.

Tell us a bit about your new chapbook, dolores in spanish is pain, dolores in lolita is a girl.  What is the collection about and how did it come into being?

The collection is primarily focused on navigating sexual childhood trauma and how pop culture compresses and complicates dealing with trauma. It’s partly a critique of pop-cultural reimagining of Lolita/Nymphets/Dolores Haze and an attempt to navigate the gravity of sexual trauma, how it reaches out and resonates, ripples into everything you see.

I first started working on poems without a clear idea of a chapbook about two and a half years ago. At first, I started with responses to Lana del Rey’s Lolita and the shop Dolls Kill, which featured a Lolita-inspired collection, both referencing Nabakov’s Lolita. Despite my love of Lana, I had an inherent issue with the idea of inhabiting Lolita in a positive light. And that’s grown. Commercialization of ‘Nymphets’ is growing – from clothes, to songs, to lipsticks. As someone who has dealt firsthand with that trauma, I felt immensely troubled by how normalized and sexualized young children were becoming through the media they were consuming.

From there, the chapbook realized itself. I wrote about trauma a lot, though I wouldn’t call myself a ‘trauma’ writer. It surfaces in my work because it needs to at times. Because I feel that the aftermath, the triggers, the PTSD, the mental health, the way others and I see the world are important. I wanted to voice that in my poems. I eventually began critiquing the novel Lolita, which is a novel that I have a hate-love relationship with and I have immense empathy for Dolores Haze, who is often an afterthought despite being the epicenter of the sensual representation of a ‘lolita’. Some of my poems are directly in response to lines describing Lolita, some poems are response to rape culture, some a response to strength. Whatever strength that those who have survived such events can capture.

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Poet Spotlight: Steven Withrow on formal and speculative verse

Steven Withrow

Steven Withrow is a journalist, poet, storyteller, and teacher from Falmouth, Massachusetts. His poetry books for children are It’s Not My Fault (Bloomsbury, 2016) and A Poem Is a Chameleon (self-published, 2019). His first speculative/weird poetry chapbook, The Sun Ships & Other Poems (self-published, 2019), includes poems appearing in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Star*Line, Dreams & Nightmares, Spectral Realms, Eye to the Telescope, and Epitaphs: The Journal of the New England Horror Writers. The title poem was a 2016 Rhysling Award nominee from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.

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

I started writing stories, poems, and plays in elementary school and have never stopped. My first “professional” work was a stage adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time in sixth grade in 1986. The more I read and the more I learn about literature, the more I want to write. It’s a mixture of envy of good writing by others and a desire to make something that holds together even for a short time. I love the sculptural aspects of verse as much as the communicative aspects of poetry.

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