Monthly Archives: June 2011

Poet Interview: Esther Lee

This week’s featured poet is a “friend of a friend,” whom I look forward to knowing better. Becoming familiar with her poetic aesthetic these past couple of weeks has been a joy and I am eager to promote her work among my readers. While it’s never possible to truly sum up a poet’s work, Lee’s poems are admirably pithy, wry, and honest – concerned with the things in life and history that are difficult to contemplate. Waste no time acquiring her book “Spit” –  I personally recommend it.

Here is a sample poem and interview with Esther Lee followed by an author bio and information about the book, “Spit.”

Dear ____________est,

I sleep between fits of awake. When luck outruns the
running out, call me, the horrible habit. It’s not our
fault, I scream. At four years old, wearing my mother’s
clogs, my sister balances a tray, on it a cup of lemonade.
She steps like a small elephant clamoring over burning
tires. Glass carpeting the floor connotes the fallen
church, welts my throat for forgiveness. What matters
matters me the least. My sister’s pawing hands hand our
bed-ridden father his antidote and next thing I know
we’re smiling vulgarly. These the days when I mistook
daffodils for tulips and tulips for one-armed men in
gardens, their missing arms the evidence of my betrayal.



1. Tell me a little about your relationship with poetry and how it developed.

I studied visual art as an undergrad, starting with 2-D work (painting, pastels, etc.) but eventually became more interested in installations, performance, and video (albeit, crudely done). I seemed to be attracted to ‘dangerous’ materials like resin, insulation, dead fish, dead bees. The ephemeral and the stinky, the toxic. I’m guessing this may be in part because of my upbringing. My parents once managed a small fish market in Maryland so the smell of crabs and fish surrounded me–in my father’s van, in my parents’ clothes. I learned to have a sick and tender response to those smells but also I was interested in how those ephemeral materials could change a space or performance with their sensory insistence. Those visual art pieces often incorporated language–either overtly with text in a video, or with an audio clip from the media, painted text on the canvas, etc. A mentor at that time encouraged me to seriously pursue writing and film. I’d shelved that advice until after I’d graduated and traveled to Korea. There, I was learning Korean but simultaneously felt this unreasonable fear of losing English, as if I could not have both. I began to dream in Korean and in a desperate attempt to hold onto my English, I started writing.

2. Often poets and writers are involved in a number of creative projects beyond writing. Tell me about some other ways you express your creativity.

Along with visual art, I guess another avenue was definitely music. I’d met this blues singer, Charles Atkins, who let me bother him on a regular basis. He helped me to shape my voice for singing, teaching me songs, always encouraging. He helped me to feel more confident on stage, to letting go while singing. Because of him, I started to sing in various music bands. And that love of music and appreciating how it shares qualities with poetry is still there.

3. In what ways do you contribute to and become involved with the poetic, or creative, community?

Kundiman, the retreat for Asian American writers, has been one of the most valuable experiences I’ve had as a writer. The other folks there–fellows, faculty, staff–are completely supportive during and after the retreat. I’ve never been part of such a chosen family of writers who genuinely lift each other up again and again. A true community like this thrives by cultivating this kind of generous energy and I hope that I contribute back to these communities that have so enriched my life. A priority for me has been to contribute back to marginalized communities. Sometimes that’s taken the form of managing literary magazines that promote writers from more marginalized communities, such as inmates, writers of color, LBTQ artists. As a teacher of creative writing, I hope that I can help my students recognize the value of diversity in all its forms (aesthetic, philosophical, authorial, etc.) and notice connections in the most unlikely places.

4. How do you balance the many demands of life with the demands of writing poetry?

I probably don’t. I’m writing regularly for a minute, then prepping for teaching, sulking about not exercising or whatever, but somehow the writing happens. It doesn’t necessarily happen in the most ideal way, which for me would be getting up and having tea, then writing all day with intermittent breaks of playing banjo and reading. Right now, that’s not my reality, but I am still interested in at least half of what I’ve started, so that’s a good sign.

5. What are projects are you working on now?

The main project I’m working on is a novel based on my mother’s childhood during the Korean War and her adulthood as an immigrant in Florida amid times of racial tension and anti-Asian sentiments. The novel explores the intergenerational nature of trauma—my mother’s early loss of her own mother and coping in war-torn Korea as a girl—and how one person’s experience invariably affects the lives of loved ones, in this case, my father, sister, and myself. It’ll incorporate elements of non-fiction, poetry, maps, and photographs too.

Esther Lee currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah and is pursuing her Ph.D. at the University of Utah (Literature/Creative Writing Program). She received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Indiana University and served as Editor-in-Chief for Indiana Review. She has been awarded the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize and 2009 Utah Writer’s Contest Award; twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, as well as nominated for a Ruth Lilly Fellowship.

Her first poetry collection, Spit, was published this year and was selected for the Elixir Press Poetry Prize, and her chapbook, The Blank Missives, was published by Trafficker Press in 2007. Her poems and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Verse Daily, Salt Hill, Good Foot, Swink, Cream City Review, New Orleans Review, Hyphen, Columbia Poetry Review, Born Magazine, and elsewhere.

Kevin Young calls Spit, Lee’s debut full-length book of poetry, “filled with bravado and brilliance” which makes “profound use of hollering across the ‘rusted hollows.’”

Purchase a copy  at Small Press Distributors

Visit Esther’s new website at:

Writing Exercise: Map

Draw a map of a familiar location that you either physically survey or remember vividly.  Bear in mind that in addition to highlighting relationships among concrete elements of space, your map can diagram emotional relationships and connections among remembered events and other themes. Mark the places where important events occurred or where interesting, memorable objects are located. Allow reverie and nostalgia to guide your train of thought.

When finished making your map, reflect upon what it has been revealed to you and choose a moment, location or object to write about.  Use the resulting image as the basis for a story, poem or essay. Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

And most of all, have fun.

Summer Solstice Calls for a Poem


This past Wednesday, June 21st, was the longest day of 2011. Not literally, of course, for June 21st did not contain any more than the usual twenty-four hours allotted to that segment of time referred to as “day.” And yet, because more of those hours occurred while the sun was “up” than any other day of the year, we in the western hemisphere label it the “longest day.” Australianson the other hand, recognize it as the shortest.

For today’s prompt, consider what conditions warrant the superlative label of “longest” and juxtapose it with the concept that shortest exists simultaneously with longest. For example, sometimes time drags and brief minutes seem to go on for days as seconds stretch into hours. Recall a moment in your life which seemed to last forever – perhaps due to agony, impatience or bliss. Maybe your memory is of the longest car ride, longest parental lecture, longest wait, longest kiss…or the longest 10 seconds of your life. Maybe it is of the longest poem.

Let the image act as inspiration to craft a poem and share it in the comments section below.

Most of all, have fun!

Poking Your Psyche with a Stick: Fun with Writing Exercises!

Today’s guest blog is written by good friend and amazing poet who goes by the moniker “Oh Hells Nah.” We I met in Albuquerque sometime between 2007 and 2009  through a network of mutual friends (a.k.a – our boyfriends).

I love this writer’s wry sense of humor and honest appraisal of the writer’s life – she likes to keep it “real.”  She offers a frank discussion of the writing process as well as several great writing exercises, including some of the dadaist absurd variety (and my personal favorite).

At this very moment I am spraining my arm from patting myself on the back for being smart enough to ask Oh Hells Nah to write something for ZingaraPoet. Watch for future writings from this featured writer and be sure to visit her blog at In the meantime, enjoy!


My writing process is messy and somewhat nonsensical. I believe ideas grow in my subconscious like moss (or a fungus, depending on what), and that I must excavate them with a metaphorical scoop. Sometimes I see an image and then feel it nestle in the folds of my memory. They hatch eggs in my brain! I know that I may not know how to respond to it at that moment, but eventually, perhaps many years later, it will manifest itself in a poem. I’ll be peeing or washing my hands or something equally mundane and then suddenly remember. I will run to my journal before it disappears, hopefully without my pants around my ankles.

I’ve felt this way since I was a little girl. There were times the sight of something like a green sunset or a glittering puddle would leave me speechless. I think I always had a keen eye for beauty in surprising places and forms. That ineffable feeling is what made me want to write—the determination to make it effable. Needless to say, I didn’t have many friends, so time to write was plentiful. (Also plentiful were bad haircuts and ill-fitting clothes.)

I wish I still had that kind of time. It’s hard to make myself write after I get home from work exhausted and disgruntled. Sometimes I’m convinced that a lobotomy was performed on me at work when I wasn’t looking. Maybe some sort of corporate gnome stealthily climbed in through my nose and then hacked away at my brain. However, I believe that a major part of being a writer is writing even when you’d rather slow dance with a possum, when you think you have nothing at all to say, when all you wanna do is watch a that nasty show about Brett Michaels.

I admit I have a chip on my shoulder when people I meet tell me they are writers. Many of them say that they write  sometimes when they’re sad or angry or some shit. There is so much I want to say at these moments, i.e. I bet your poems are full of adverbs and crying fairies, but instead, I just keep my mouth shut and smile politely. I suspect this makes me an asshole.

I don’t have a specific writing schedule, but I write, in some form or other, nearly every day. I’ve been writing a lot of prose lately. It’s enjoyable, and in some ways, so much easier for me than poetry. When writing nonfiction, my goal is always to address some sort of timely issue and find a way to make it funny. Poetry, however, requires a different sort of concentration. And poetry is what truly makes my heart flutter.

A major component in writing poetry for me is exploring my subconsciousness and challenging myself to use language unlike my own. I’ve compiled a list of writing exercises that help me exhume the mess in my brain or force me to use words that I rarely use.


I have taught this one numerous times. It learned it from my zany poetry professor in Madrid. It’s weird, but I promise it works. (If it doesn’t, you can find me and give me a severe noogie.) I have adapted it slightly.

1. Before you go to bed, write the word “fish” on a sheet of paper and leave it nearby.

2. Upon waking, write down whatever comes to mind on that sheet.

3. Later in the day, close your eyes and count to 30. When you open your eyes think of the word “needle.”

4. Write down whatever this word evokes. Do not let reason or rationality limit you. Be as absurd as your subconscious allows.

5. Immediately after, write three lines in iambic pentameter.

6. Then write: “This poem is about” then the first 7 words that come you.

7. Write a word that that references the first word, “needle” then take a word from #4.

8. Join these two words in a long line. The reference to “needle” should be the first word and the word from #4 should be the last.

9. Immediately write 6 lines. Lines 1,3,5 should start with the same word. Lines 2,4,6 should end with the same word.

10. Try to use all this hooha in a poem in some form or other.

100 Things Worth Living For

I got this one from an undergrad professor whose guts I ended up hating. I don’t want to name names, but his very famous book has a bird in the title. Man, he was douche… But  anyway, this exercise worked very well. I came up with all sorts of precise images. You will get very specific and surprise yourself, trust me. All you do is write a list of 100 things worth living for. It may seem easy, but it gets difficult after a while. One of my last ones was Pup-Peroni and I don’t even own a dog.

The Ole Translation Exercise

I’m sure most of you know this one. All you do is take a poem in a different language and translate it to English based only on the way the words look and sound. Don’t try to make sense. Your brain will come up with something strange and compelling. I, for example, came up with “octopus carrot orgy ” in one of them. Jealous? I recommend that you use a language that is really unfamiliar to you. I am fluent in both English and Spanish so I find many of the romance languages too familiar. I often use Gaelic, Welsh, or Irish poem. Those languages look funky!

Language Stealing

I know this is wrong, but I call this one poem raping. (Please don’t send me angry emails.) The point of this one is to force you to use another’s language when your diction becomes predictable. I got this one from Kim Addonizio’s The Poet\’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry. From what I remember, you take a poem you admire and then make three lists—adjectives, nouns, and verbs. In each list, circle five words that stand out. Try to use these words in a poem.

Speech Acts

This one I got from my former professor Dana Levin who I believe got it from Helen Vendler. I wrote a lyric poem that I was quite pleased with (and was later published) as a result of this exercise. The point of this exercise is to try to use several speech acts that you don’t typically use.

Here is a short list of speech acts. For some examples, click here.









Those are just a few exercises that help me get some creative juices flowing. I hope your writing is fruitful and unsettling. I hope you unearth some nuggets of weirdness.

Love and Squalor,

Oh Hells Nah

—- is like hot dogs for your brain! I am a small Mexican American woman who likes to bitch, eat good food, and write poems. I cover some of the following topics: writing, hot dogs, feminism, weird fashion, Buddhism, misanthropy, humanism, culture, Chicago, Muppets, race, travel, time travel, manners, and gnomes.

Highlights of the 2011 West 18th Street Fashion Show, Kansas City

Every year the Crossroads District orchestrates the West 18th Street fashion show pairing local and national designers with area models for the express purpose of showing off new designs. This year’s themes was “Summer in Paris” and featured designs ranging from upscale professional to positively wild and zany. The outdoor show is free, though those wishing to sit close to the runway may opt to pay the $35 or $100 ticket price for the privilege.  Whether a proprietor of a local dress shop or a casual observer, the fashion show provides a great opportunity to dress up and marvel at the creative visions of  up-and-coming or long-established clothing designers. Here are a few of the highlights:

The show began with a Flamenco dance…

introducing the first collection;

Whimsical children’s fashions:

Up next – short, hot and sassy;

El Toreador!

A lovely juxtaposition of metal and fabric in this collection:

This next collection looks as if inspired by Nilsson’s animated movie, “The Point

Next, fun with knitting!

Men’s fashions:

These next designs metamorphose…

My personal favorites:

For a really great slide show of all the designs featured in this year’s fashion show (taken by a professional photographer and not some poor schmuck in the crowd) as well as a list of this year’s designers, go to

Next year’s show is scheduled for June 9th.

Introduction to Creativity Coaching

What is Creativity Coaching?

Many people understand “Life Coaching” as a relationship wherein a trained individual helps another achieve certain desirable life goals and dreams. Creativity Coaching provides the same kind of support but with a concentrated focus on the creative personality and involves individuals who identify themselves as creative persons. A creative person can be described as any individual who is serious about their art, regardless of proficiency or amount of time dedicated in pursuit of honing that art, and regardless of the degree of financial support garnered from their art. In simplest terms, the creativity coach supports the artist through all aspects of the creative process, including, but not limited to, overcoming obstacles, mulling over the meaning of creating, planning projects, maintaining dreams while accepting reality, managing time, and completing stated goals.

Photo by Tony Flaco

Creativity Coaching differs from therapy or other similarly helpful professions in that coaching is more concerned with supporting the client’s state of being than with analysis of the client’s condition. Objectives generally emphasize discovering what creative pathways the client wishes to explore and supporting such exploration through experienced guidance and compassionate interest. When a client is confronted with an obstacle involving confusing or traumatic past life experiences, the creativity coach is on hand to assist in navigating murky waters and untangling that which has become tangled in the psyche, ultimately allowing the individual to return to the important work of living and creating. Even though the focus of creativity coaching is on creativity, coaching of any kind is holistic in nature and considers every aspect of a client’s well-being.

It is very common for coaching relationships to develop through telephone and email communication, or even through a Skype connection. Phone sessions typically occur every week and last between 30 and 45 minutes, depending on the situation, the client, and the coach’s parameters. Typically, coach and client stay in touch through regular email communication between telephone calls. Because coaching does not depend on a meeting location, it is possible to coach, or be coached, anywhere that email and phone connections are available.

Creativity Coaching often yields a high return for clients. Still, it is a relationship and so requires a commitment from both parties. As such, certain characteristics and attitudes are particularly useful to possess when embarking on a journey with a creativity coach. These include: willingness to release resistance, willingness to honestly self- reflect and willingness to truly work towards stated goals.

As a Creativity Coach, I offer a 20 minute free introductory session for interested individuals and am taking new clients. My clients range from novice writers discovering their voice to accomplished musicians putting together a next CD to visual artists arranging their next gallery showing. Whatever your creative endeavor, I am here to help you on your journey.

My email is – write “Creativity Coaching” in the subject line.

Interview with Poet Juan Morales

Today’s featured poet, Juan Morales, resides in Pueblo, Colorado where he is acting Director of Creative Writing at Colorado State University-Pueblo, a small public university. I know Juan as a conscientious and hardworking poet as well as a supportive friend. Here, Juan discusses the nuances of putting together a manuscript for publication as well as how to balance work with writing poetry. First, this poem from Juan:


I used to play in Sacsayhuaman,
a neglected fortress that stretched
above everyone into tidy tiers.  I felt

my smallness walking the overgrown trail,
gliding hands along smooth limestone, interlocking
perfection, which once walled out

enemies and elements.  Every day I watched men haul
stones to town, quartering the angry spirits, leaving only
enough rock to defeat its height until a day

when wind rushed past like a broken army’s
murmur.  I heard Sacsayhuaman call me
beyond its crenulated walls, to the doorway

into its long plunging arteries, passages under Cuzco,
where light waned and chambers carried
my voice deep into the labyrinth.  I stepped inside,

to meet its haunted past, tumbling over
like the hunger of rockslides, the heat
of banked fires searing inside my innocent mind.

(Previously published in Pilgrimage Magazine)

1. Tell me about the publication of your first book of poetry.

The first book of poems, Friday and the Year That Followed, originally started as my MFA thesis at the University of New Mexico, and I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work on refining it while I was in graduate school.  I submitted the manuscript to several contests and was a finalist a few times.  A short time after I defended my thesis and moved back to Colorado, I got a phone call from Tony Gorsline, Editor of Bedbug Press, who informed me I was the winner of the 2005 Rhea and Seymour Gorsline Poetry Competition.  Over the next year, I worked closely with Tony on editing, revising, and shaping the book as Bedbug was a smaller press.  He was very supportive and willing to give me a lot of input on the finished product, which helped me learn a lot about the publishing process.  The book was published in 2006.  Sadly, the press recently closed when Tony Gorsline passed away and with no one else to take up his cause. As previously mentioned, Bedbug was a small press and delivered beautiful books.  Tony Gorsline’s passing is a real loss to the poetry community.  He gave a lot and showed a lot of love for the written word.  Since the publication of the book, I have spent a lot of time doing readings at large and small venues and whenever they present themselves in the vicinity of Colorado and occasionally in other states.  The process of publishing and promoting have been an ongoing process that takes a lot of work and discipline, but I feel very lucky to get my book out there in the world.

2. What anxieties arise around putting together a manuscript and how to you negotiate them?

Assembling a manuscript can be an exciting experience, but it’s also pretty challenging and humbling.  After putting together the first book and my continued efforts on the second manuscript, I find one of the challenges is keeping the work fresh after spending so much time with the poems.  You live with the work so long that there’s a risk of getting lost in the revision process and overlooking the good work in there.  Sometimes when I read older poems at readings, I surprise myself with how much I like the poem.  With Friday, I had the experience of workshop and the publishing experience to figure out the right order, and I try to take those lessons into this new manuscript.  The original organization had an elaborate theme that wove the poems together with some specific epigraphs, but my readers became very confused about who was involved in the poems, where the poems were taking place due to all the jumps in time and place.  Ultimately, I simplified the manuscript with the organizing principle of geography: part one in Ecuador, part two following my father’s military career, and part three entering the supernatural.  The grounded approached helped the complexities emerge with the moments and snapshots in the poems.

Now with the new manuscript, a book of encounters between the Incan empire and Spanish conquest, the anxiety for me comes with finding a way for the specific era of history matters to the contemporary reader while showing more of this world to the readers.   Stylistically, I want to make sure the book is concise but that it’s also in the right order, but the current manuscript also demands a sort of chronology to it as well.  I am working to navigate long sequence poems with concise choices inside them to give the reader enough time to pause and reflect on how these sections of poems become weaved into the larger tapestry.   By nature, I am very narrative with my work, so I hope to touch the lyrical more as I go on.  I guess the other anxiety is whether or not the intended organization will reach the readers or not, but I think all poets wrestle with this.

3. How do you balance the duties entailed with your position as Director of Creative Writing at your college and writing poetry?

I am finishing up my fourth year as the Director of Creative Writing at Colorado State University-Pueblo, which is a small public university.  My role as Director requires me to teach in multiple genres, advise creative writing major and minor students, act as faculty sponsor for Tempered Steel, CSU-Pueblo’s student literary magazine, and also curate the Southern Colorado (SoCo) Reading Series.  When I first started the position, I was overwhelmed with all the roles I had to play and the administrative side of the job, but it slowly came together.  Over the years, I have come to learn that my writing time has to be balanced with my role as a teacher.  Both are worthy pursuits and they overlap well.  One way I navigate my writing is keeping notebooks everywhere and writing whenever time permits.  I also make sure my courses overlap with my areas of interest and I also start every class I teach with 7-10 minutes of writing to help students get in the routine of writing and to keep me on track.  I used to think writers should always be writing, but I know now that we can go through times when we don’t write and emerge unscathed.

4. Do goal setting and planning play a role in your creative process?

As far as goals and planning go, they vary depending on deadlines and other things going on in my life.  I am always amazed when I see poets produce books and manuscripts so quickly, some of them being every other year or so.  As far as my process goes, I don’t like to rush it; instead, I want the product to be as polished as possible.  I’m a young writer so I still have a lot to learn.  My writing process starts with handwritten versions, then typed, and then sometimes I go back and write them by hand again to see how I can compress them further and remove instances of reporting.  I like to think that the poems can tell you when they are done, but I keep chipping away at them while also giving myself distance from them to return to them fresh.

5. What creative endeavors, poetic or otherwise, are in your future?

As I mentioned, the second manuscript is on track to be finished soon, so I hope to have that ready to submit to publishers in the near future.  I also find myself writing poems and flash fiction/prose poem pieces that do not fit the new manuscript.  The first two books have had specific focuses, so it’s exciting to write some poems with no plans or expectations, to see them grow organically into a project I can’t identify yet.  I also hope to start working on a larger fiction project that has been in my head for awhile.  That’s the fun thing about teaching so many genres at my university because the students and the different genres can be quite inspirational.  Hopefully, more work will find its way into the world very soon.

Juan J. Morales is currently the Director of Creative Writing and Assistant Professor at Colorado State

University-Pueblo. He is curator of the Southern Colorado Reading Series as wells as the student literary magazine, Tempered Steel.

Read “My Eco Crimes” and “How My Father Learned English”, both by Juan Morales.

“Friday and the Year That Followed” (ISBN 9780977197354) is available for purchase at Amazon

Other books by Juan Morles include The Siren World—Poetry collection published by Lithic Press, 2015, and  The Ransom and Example of Atahualpa,” a limited edition poetry chapbook published by Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press, 2014.



More Fun with Cut and Paste

Pick up a daily newspaper from your local newsstand or newspaper machine – or your neighbor’s recycling bin. Leaf through its pages and randomly select and cut out interesting words and phrases as you encounter them. Don’t worry about making connections during this stage.

After you have collected a respectable number of cut-outs – enough to build a poem – arrange and paste them onto a piece of paper; you get to pick the controlling pattern.

Take a digital photo of your new poem and post it on your facebook status or other preferred social network.

Summer Image Poetry Prompt

Photo by Anthony Flaco

Photo by Anthony Flaco

Summer. The season when daylight and warm temperatures prevail and vacation plans come to fruition. Unless of course you are a gardener – in which case you have probably been examining seed catalogs since February and plotting flower beds and furrows on graph paper since January.

For this first week of June, which marks the seasonal beginning of the summer season if not the astronomical, write a summer inspired poem. That is, write a poem based on whatever summer images inspire you, whether its swimming pools and car trips, camping by the lake or in the foothills, or canning tomatoes in a steamy kitchen.

Or perhaps you are a person who prefers winter months over summer and who finds summer not so much an inspiration as something to survive. Feel free to use your discontent as fodder for your poem.

Below is a summer inspired poem  to spark a creative flame (or a bit of malcontent) to help get you started:

by Louise Glück

In your extended absence, you permit me
use of earth, anticipating
some return on investment. I must report
failure in my assignment, principally
regarding the tomato plants.
I think I should not be encouraged to grow
tomatoes. Or, if I am, you should withhold
the heavy rains, the cold nights that come
so often here, while other regions get
twelve weeks of summer. All this
belongs to you: on the other hand,
I planted the seeds, I watched the first shoots
like wings tearing the soil, and it was my heart
broken by the blight, the black spot so quickly
multiplying in the rows. I doubt
you have a heart, in our understanding of
that term. You who do not discriminate
between the dead and the living, who are, in consequence,
immune to foreshadowing, you may not know
how much terror we bear, the spotted leaf,
the red leaves of the maple falling
even in August, in early darkness: I am responsible
for these vines.

Share your poem in the comments section below.