New Books in Poetry: Born Again by Ivy Johnson

Ivy Johnson-Born Again

A new episode of New Books in Poetry is up, in which I speak with poet and performance artist Ivy Johnson about her book, Born Again.

The poetry and prose in Ivy Johnson’s Born Again (The Operating System, 2018) beautifully dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, this collection gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. The work blends sensuality and spirituality, merging the grounded reality of existing a physical body in the world with a sense of worship, prayer, and spell casting.

“I submerge my hands in ink and smear them across the wall
I cover my body in rich purple paint and rub against white paper
I place a sticker of the Virgin Mary on my bedroom window next to the fire escape
She hurts with the glow of blue frost
I race down the stairs to make snow angels in the dog-piss
Fill the silhouette of my body with marigolds”

— from “Take a Moment to Gather Yourself”

You can listen to the episode here.

I’m still in the process of figuring out how to be a good interview podcast host, how to shuck off my own nervousness and dig up confidence enough to feel strong in these interviews. But whatever limitations I believe I have at this moment, they are more than surpassed by the intelligence and insight of my guests so far.


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New Books in Poetry: A Cruelty Special to Our Species by Emily Jungmin Yoon

Yoon-A Cruelty Special to Our Species copy

My first podcast interview at New Books in Poetry is live! I had a lovely conversation with Emily Jungmin Yoon regarding her  first full-length collection, A Cruelty Special to Our Species (Ecco Books, 2018), which examines forms of violence against women. At its core these poems delve into the lives of Korean comfort women of the 1930s and 40s, reflecting on not only the history of sexual slavery, but also considering its ongoing impact. Her poems beautifully lift the voices of these women, helping to make them heard and remembered — while also providing insight into current events, environmentalism, and her own personal experiences as a woman in the world.

I loved this collection of poetry, which was so moving in how it addressed intense subject matters. Her words are lyrical, vivid, and enriched with a playful examination of language, the way mean slips depending on perspective and how language can be a powerful tool. These poems help to give voice to women whose stories are not commonly told. It’s beautifully done.

Book Love: If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

 If They Come for Us by Fatimah Asghar

I fell in love with Fatimah Asghar’s writing as soon as I heard her fantastic slam piece, “Pluto Shits on the Universe,” in which she gives Pluto voice and the power of chaos. So, when I learned that her collection, If They Come for Us, was available, I knew it was a book I had to own.

As described by Goodreads, “In this powerful and imaginative debut poetry collection, Fatimah Asghar nakedly captures the experiences of being a young Pakistani Muslim woman in America by braiding together personal and marginalized people’s histories. After being orphaned as a young girl, Asghar grapples with coming-of-age as a woman without the guidance of a mother, questions of sexuality and race, and navigating a world that put a target on her back.”

If They Come for Us is a stunning collection of poetry, lyrical and powerful and moving. There are many things I love about this book, from the way Asghar addresses the political through the personal to the ways she plays with language and uses humor to drive home meaning.

Among the things I adore is the beautiful physicality found in many of these poems, in which the body is sketched out in vivid detail — and not just the pretty bits, but the full reality of a body that makes up a human being. A body is where “mosquito bites bloom” or where exist “hairs crawling out.” In “Oil,” she writes, “The walk to school makes the oil pool on my forehead / a lake spilling under my armpits.” The specifics of existing in a human body in these poems feel as though the speaker is declaring their existence in a world that doesn’t always want them. It’s a lovely way to claim space.

Asghar is inventive with the poetic form, not only presenting poems in free verse, but using words in unusual ways whether it’s putting a stanza upside down so that the book has to be flipped over to be read, or whether it’s situating her words within the constructs of a “games” in the form of a bingo card, mad libs, map, or cross word puzzle. The poems in this collection in their beauty and variety offer continual surprises and wisdom each time I read them.


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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.

Continue reading “Poet Spotlight: Stephanie M. Wytovich on staring down your demons”