Category Archives: Poet Interviews

Interview with Poet Carol Smallwood by Carole Mertz

I am pleased to feature Carol Mertz’s interview with Carol Smallwood.

Carole Smallwood is an interviewer, editor, and literary judge. Her most recent book is Patterns: Moments in Time (Word Poetry, 2019). A multi-Pushcart nominee, she’s founded and supports humane societies. A collection is also forthcoming from Main Street Rag. Their conversation right after this poem by Smallwood:

We Select

a few—the selections random: a melody, morning fog, a path,
knowing with certainty at the time they’ll be ours to the end—
an imprinting sudden as first love with no thought of aftermath:
a sunset, muffled cry, a Thanksgiving dressing, smile of a friend.
Knowing with certainty at the time they’ll be ours to the end,
they return at unexpected moments, their clarity a surprise:
a sunset, muffled cry, a Thanksgiving dressing, smile of a friend
bringing feeling from depths we cannot withhold, disguise.
They return at unexpected moments, their clarity a surprise
an imprinting sudden as first love with no thought of aftermath
bringing feeling from depths we cannot withhold, disguise:
a few—the selections random: a melody, morning fog, a path.

C.M. Carol, from the number of collections you’ve published within the last decade, it’s obvious your work is a rich flow of creativity. Can you tell us a little about your attitude toward work and your writing process? When did you start writing poetry?

Smallwood: Writing never seemed to be work ever since learning to read in school. The whole idea of words—the way they sound, look, evoke, made me feel right away it was a new world I wanted to explore. Of course I had no idea what was involved but knew it was one I wanted to be in. Poetry was a form I didn’t think I’d ever try, as after taking college poetry classes in which one class period was figuring out what a poet meant in one line seemed impossibly hard. But finally I decided to try a few so jumped in and was amazed to get acceptances which encouraged me in 2006 to keep going. Probably dealing with cancer at this time prompted me. Yes, I’m OK now but facing mortality pushes one. By chance I ran across formal poetry and after much struggling came up with a villanelle which gave me so much satisfaction I found out how to do triolets, pantoums, and other forms; the rondeau my latest. I found How to Write Classical Poetry: A Guide to Forms, Techniques, and Meaning (Ragazine) to be of great help. As far as the process of writing, it is illusive, very mysterious. The best comes from our unconscious which we know little. It seems the times I try the hardest are times I do the least and when I am not trying, ideas come. Writers are always writing even if not putting words down as it is a simmering on a back burner we have little to do with. Hemingway wrote The Old Man and the Sea in a very short time as he was ready for it, it was cooked so to speak.

C.M. Do you work mostly at home? If not, how do you establish your routine, for example, if working at a library or another location? In Interweavings, your collection of creative nonfiction, in your essays, and in some of your poems, you refer to visits to the library, and sometimes to the napkins at McDonald’s. I’ve always wondered if you actually took lunches at McDonald’s.

Smallwood: Yes, I work mostly at home now, around 5 hours at the desktop computer. When not at home I often jot down words on paper that is always handy and yes, sometimes when I run out, on napkins or placemats. Lunch out is my carrot to keep me working and I’m a good customer of fast food places—they know me by name and what I order.

C.M. When working at an outside location, what writing tools do you carry in your tote bag?

Smallwood: Just my list of things to shop on back of scrap paper and two pens. Often ideas pop up while I’m driving, so I have a clipboard handy on the passenger seat. It is hard to read on the fly (if you want to read it).

C.M. I’ve admired your essays at Society of Classical Poets on various poetical forms. Does content of your poems dictate the form you choose, or vice versa?

Smallwood: A cinquain sometimes starts as a poem but ends up as a sestina or fiction. My computer screen has a big folder called Unfinished Work that I keep going and often use, that is, finish. My latest notes I took last night long hand watching television.

C.M. Does the material reside in your mind (pre-inscription, as it were) and then you shape the poem? Or do you begin with the formal outline of a villanelle or pantoum, for example, and work the lines into the poem’s formal construct?

Smallwood: Ideas come first and then I write it as a narrative not thinking what form it would fit. The challenge in most formal poetry is not to make it too “sing song” that is, the rhyme must not overwhelm. I often start out with many lines but end up with just a few or toss it.

C.M. In various passages from your writing, you’ve referred to John Galsworthy? How has his writing influenced your own?

Smallwood: I have lunch with John every day even if carrying hard copies in my purse makes it heavy. It was in high school I first read him and greatly admired his style—not knowing about him at all, I just felt it was special and someone I wanted to keep reading. I now have a set (Devon Edition) I treasure that came with uncut pages as well as several autographed books. He has written widely in other forms besides fiction, but it is his novels I keep reading. His The Forsyte Saga has been in at least 2 major television series but I can’t watch it because my image of the characters just doesn’t match those on screen after reading it so often. I often think of his:  “Art was unsatisfactory. When it gave you the spirit, distilled the essence, it didn’t seem real; and when it gave you the gross, cross-currented, contradictory surface, it didn’t seem worth while.”

C.M. Do you have favorite contemporary poets? I feel I’m always trying to catch up on authors I haven’t yet read. Do you feel that kind of pressure?

 Smallwood: Yes, I have that same pressure of keeping up to date. And concluded one just cannot!

C.M. One of my favorite essays from your Interweavings is the one you call “Beginning the Day.” I like it for the “present moment” of the essay and for its reverence of the past, told as much by the scarf the cat played with (made from flour sack material), as by items such as stones saved from the past and reference to an old Department of Agriculture land study. This essay achieved such a balancing of “then and now.” Can you tell us something of how this essay came about?

 Smallwood: Thank you! The things I mention were taken from what I saw. As one that fights to fall asleep, seeing dawn has become very familiar but I can never really capture it—it is an amazing process seeing familiar things take on reassuring form early in the day. The essay was an attempt.

C.M. Your collections are so interesting and so varied, one from the other. In Water, Earth, Air, Fire, and Picket Fences you organize your material according to the earth’s elements, speaking sometimes of the Swan Nebula and sometimes of tea bubbles. The unity of Prisms, Particles, and Refractions, on the other hand, is so different from that of A Matter of Selection where in your preface you address the question of words left in poems and thoughts suggested by what’s left out. When you start assembling your material, do you always recognize immediately the common thread that will make the collection cohere?

Smallwood: Thank you! It isn’t until I’ve written nearly twenty new poems that I can detect a theme to shape a new collection. There is a thread that connects them even if didn’t know it when writing them and it is satisfying to find, pin it down.

C.M. I think readers would be most interested in learning what part of the collection process you find most enjoyable? most laborious? most challenging?

 Smallwood: The most enjoyable is seeing the collection fall into place as a unit out of so many parts. In each collection I use 3-5 Parts in Roman Numerals to place the poems as a further definition. And begin with a Prelude, end with an Epilogue. Give it structure, maybe it is the librarian part of my background. The most laborious is thinking of a new poem: thinking is the wrong word—it just comes when it is ready. Sometimes you are convinced you have written your last one and a new one is a thing of the past; it is all over. The most challenging is to keep yourself open, the waiting.

C.M. If you don’t mind serving further as teacher, could you tell the novice poet how to go about organizing his/her material, or how or when (s)he should approach a publisher?

Smallwood: Once you finish putting the collection together, add requested blurbs, let it sit a month at least, read it with new eyes. Make sure the table of contents matches the order of the poems, spellcheck. If possible, have a friend spellcheck.  This is the way I organized my most recent poetry collection, In the Measuring:

  • Blurbs
  • Half Page (title only)
  • Title/Author Page
  • Epigraph
  • Recent Selected Work
  • Table
  • Foreword
  • Introduction (Preface)
  • Acknowledgments
  • Prelude
  • Names of Parts
  • Epilogue
  • About the Writer

Decide if you want to pay a fee for a contest, or a reading fee. Most publishers go this route but some do not. A reliable list of publishers is by Poets & Writers: Small Presses

Expect to wait, make dozens of submissions as the competition is high. I’ve had 8 poetry collections published so far and another hybrid (not all poetry) is coming out in November from Finishing Line Press; a poetry collection in 2019 from WordTech Editions. John Dos Passos expressed it well when he wrote:  “If there is a special Hell for writers it would be in the forced contemplation of their own works, with all the misconceptions, the omissions, the failures that any finished work of art implies.”

***

Carole Mertz, poet and essayist, is the author of the 2019 poetry chapbook, Toward a Peeping Sunrise (Prolific Press). She writes for various literary journals in U.S. and Canada and resides in Parma, OH. Mertz is the Book Review Editor at Dreamer’s Creative Writing.

The Impact of Unattractiveness: An Interview with Poet Camille-Yvette Welsch, Author of “The Four Ugliest Children in Chrstendom”

I am very pleased to introduce poet Camille-Yvette Welsch to ZPR readers. I met Camille at this year’s AWP conference in Portland, OR and had the great pleasure of reading with her at the off-site reading for The Word Works. I was immensely engaged with her collection of poems and think you will be too.  To illustrate what I mean, here is a sample poem from her book, followed by our interview together.

 

The Ugliest Girl in Christendom Goes to the Gynecologist

When she asks the doctor what it looks like,
the doctor hands the girl a small mirror.  The girl curls
her knobby shoulders forward,  places
the glass between her legs and gasps in fury.
Here, at last, all the missing pigment, all
the rich color, the plump curvature she longs for.

Outside, her body glows white, Siberian hair,
pale eyes, skin white as pneumatic froth.  And thin,
so very thin.  When she swims in front
of the pool light, her siblings see
her every attenuated bone, the long fingers
of ribs closing over her heart.  But here,
between her legs, smiling lipstick.

The doctor raises a questioning brow;
the girl scowls more deeply, shimmies
forward on the table and swings her legs down,
the knock of her knees a dull sound.
The doctor leaves, and the girl pulls
on her bra and shirt, contemplates ways
to wear very short skirts, to bend until people see
her burst, the real rage of her body, this small strip.
She pulls her bikinis up slowly, fuming.
What good is a secret that can’t be told?

Tell us about your book and the process of writing it. Where can readers find out more about your book and purchase it?

The book follows the lives of four children who have been adopted by two anthropologists, bent on doing a longitudinal study on ugliness. They handpicked these four children and keep subject reports on each child, monitoring their mental, physical, and emotional lives, and the impact physical unattractiveness has on those lives. In addition to the subject reports, we hear from the children themselves, get a sense of their voices and what it means to live inside these strictures.

The book got its start in some ways when my mother dragged my brothers and me to church as kids. I grew up Catholic and my mother loved the choir at one church in particular. One of the families at the church was led by a very angry woman who could not believe that she had not been invited to be a part of that choir. To make up for it, she screeched through all of the hymns as loudly as possible. When she and her children made their way up the aisle to accept the Eucharist, the kids looked dumpy and ashamed. I was talking to my parents about that as an adult, dubbing them the four ugliest children in Christendom. Immediately my mother said I should write a poem about that. When next faced with a blank page, I did exactly that.

Still, in the course of writing, and even in that initial moment, I had sympathy for those kids. They were in a tough situation with their mother demanding a kind of negative attention. Loudly and in a church. When I started writing the book, all of the poems were in third person. The narrator was a sort of anthropological voice over, in the early 20th century tradition of staring and studying anyone who was not white, cis-normative heterosexual and Eurocentric. My husband has a doctorate in Anthropology and an extensive collection of anthropology books and the early ones are insanely racist and paternalistic. I found myself wondering if we had gotten away from that or if we were simply more subtly immersed.

I submitted some of the poems to a workshop with Marilyn Nelson and she suggested writing from the children’s point of view. I really liked that idea a great deal, to give these charaters a voice would bring us a step closer to empathy rather than the more distant sympathy. Once I started writing in their voices, I felt I understood them much better and I started to see how the poems could become a novel in verse. Even then, I was in for more awakenings. My former student, Kayleb Rae Candrilli read a draft and told me that I had no climax, and they were right. Back to the drawing board again. I found joy in writing it as a novel in verse because there were lots of narrative, structural problems to solve, but because it was poetry, I didn’t have to do a huge amount of transition between time and place.

The other thing that worked out beautifully for me was sending my manuscript to The Word Works. Should you get a finalist or semi-finalist position, they offer feedback. That feedback was key. I revised again, submitted again, and got the acceptance I wanted.

For those interested in reading more, you can find the book at Small Press Distribution

How did you come up with your book’s title?

The titles all use some version of The Four Ugliest Children in Christendom do X. Because they are so visually marked, I wanted each poem, and the title, to also feel visually marked. The titles also gave me an entry point for each poem. I set up the plot and setting generally in the title, as in ‘The Ugliest Girl in Christendom Goes to the Gynecologist’ or ‘The Ugliest Boy in Christendom Attends the Star Wars Conference.’

Who are you reading right now?

I am all over the place, in part because I review books. I just read In My Own Moccasins, Helen Knott’s devastating memoir about violence against indigenous women, both by rapists and by the Canadian government. I was thrilled by Sarah Blake’s novel, Naamah that tells the story of Noah’s wife. She did all of the packing, the planning, the coordinating, the dealing with the in-laws—all of the mental load that plagues women today. It was a revelation. I am also diving into Lynda Barry to see if I can change up some of the ways that I write and teach.

For poetry, I just re-read Denise Duhamel’s book about Barbie, Kinky. Her book is fearless and funny. She pivots in so many directions with Barbie always at the center. My favorite poem is actually the title poem, where Ken and Barbie switch heads. My students are so alarmed by that poem, but it does everything I want poetry to do—it is startling, inventive, funny, and powerful.

What other creative activities do you take part in? What do you do to take a break from teaching, grading, writing, revising, etc?

A break, you say? I am not sure that I take breaks exactly. I do a LOT of reviewing, but I am also learning how to teach children how to write poems. In two classes I am offering this summer, we are creating our own Rorschach blots and writing about them based on an essay by Scott Beal called “Brain Spelunking.” And, I am writing poems with senior citizens about their lives as a part of the Poems from Life project sponsored by the PA Center for the Book.

I am also raising two children, so I find my creativity lit in that context—I designed an escape room style treasure hunt for my son’s birthday, and a series of ridiculous games for my daughter’s. We paint together and build things and make much of clouds and their shapes. Being with my kids helps me to pay more attention to little things as a caterpillar will stop them in their tracks, thus I am halted and returned to the world, breathless and awake.

What projects are you working on now?

Right now, I am working on poems about the body. Years ago, I wrote a poem entitled, “Ode to the Fat Woman at the Mutter Museum who, When Buried, Turned to Soap.” The alkaline in the soil reacted to the fat as it would to lanolin, thus turning it into soap. Crazy fascinating. The body has so much potential and is so very strange. We haul these bodies around but they are like a totally different galaxy inside with civilizations and outposts that we know nothing about. I find that compelling, and when these miraculous bodies don’t respond as we expected, we are at such a loss. Atul Gawande talks about bodies, or at least doctors’ perception of them, as being somewhere between the uniform melt of an ice cube, and the wildly divergent behavior of hurricanes. As a woman who experienced pregnancy, I know just how bizarre the body can be, the unexpected language attached to it, the ways in which it can suddenly and drastically change a life. The poems range from commentary on the Playboy Playmate who mocked a naked woman in a locker room to poems about being sliced open to reveal a face in your womb. I am both in awe and occasionally skeeved by the body and its manufacturings. I think that is a good place to be in a poem.

Camille-Yvette Welsch is the author of The Four Ugliest Children in Christendom and FULL. She works at The Pennsylvania State University where she is a teaching professor of English and director of the High School Writing Day. For more information, go to www.camilleyvettewelsch.com.

 

 

 

Interview with Caroline Goodwin

I am very excited to share this interview with poet and memoir-ist Caroline Goodwin, whom I have known for a couple of years now. We met through OneRoom, a coaching service for creative writers, and I worked closely with her for a combination of 12 months, first when completing my poetry manuscript and now while working on my own memoir.  Please enjoy this enlightening conversation:

Caroline Goodwin moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1999 from Sitka, Alaska to attend Stanford’s creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Her books are Trapline (2013), Peregrine (2015) and The Paper Tree (2017). She teaches at California College of the Arts and the Stanford Writer’s Studio; from 2014 – 16 she served as the first Poet Laureate of San Mateo County.

The writing process often seems mysterious, even to writers who practice consistently. Tell me a little about your writing practice and how you keep yourself returning to the page. 

I like to see it as an adventure, a process of discovery. When I’m connected to the work (and this has definitely come and gone over the years — I have gone through long and painful “dry” periods), I look forward to seeing what might occur. I find that if I make it a priority to at least look at the work early in the day, then often the rest of the day is at least partially spent connected with the developing poem. For example, I have two texts set up in my kitchen next to the stove, and my laptop opened to the previous day’s work. I make this a part of my nightly routine, like taking my meds. The texts are: Common Plants of Nunavut and Li: Dynamic Form in Nature. I am working on a series of poems that explores the environmental degradation of our precious Arctic region, infused with my grief journey after losing my husband in August 2016. I think of them as a series of love poems, both for Nick and for the Arctic. I have rules: every poem must be seven lines (I am modeling this after my friend Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s wonderful collection Shy Green Fields). I make my tea and stand at the counter until I have seven lines. I love seeing what comes out in each piece, and I look forward to seeing what the next challenge might be. It’s kind of a puzzle, and it feels like a spiritual practice to me because I depend on a lot of serendipity. I am aiming for a full-length collection of these little guys. They are really weird.

I see that you have published two collections of poetry, one with Finishing Line Press and one with Big Yes Press. It’s easy to assume that once a poet gets a book published, it suddenly becomes easy to publish other works. How would you compare your experiences between your first publication and your second? Do you find it easier to publish now than before your first collection? 

Actually I also published with JackLeg Press in 2013 — a print-on-demand book entitled Trapline. So each of my books has been a different experience. Publishing has changed so much in the last twenty years, as we all know, and there are lots of small presses making terrific books. So I wouldn’t say it’s gotten easier, because the creative work itself is the same (VERY hard). It’s a matter of hanging in there, networking, staying grateful and showing up, staying committed to the art form and putting your hand out to fellow poets. I’ve found each of the presses lovely to work with and most days I can’t actually believe I have 3 books in the world! I also have a tiny chapbook called Text Me, Ishmael, handmade by the Literary Pocketbook series in Wales, UK. Oh, and two more self-published chapbooks, Kodiak Herbal and Gora Verstovia. I sewed these books up myself, punching the holes for the spines with a push pin. It was fun.

Since you are also a writer of non-fiction, tell me how the two genres dovetail for you. 

Great question. I recently carved out a writing retreat for myself in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. My goal was to finish a memoir about my daughter Josephine’s life and death (I’ve been working on this for more than ten years). However, I went to the Yellowknife bookstore and found a book by the poet Roo Borson. Well, before I knew it, my writing retreat was overtaken by a long poem that was exciting to me, that spun out from a line I found in her book: “unreadable book that will not close.” That line seemed, to me, to speak to the experience of grief. Poetry “won” and I stayed with that poem and the memoir was not completed.

I also have three pieces of nonfiction published now. One is about my daughter Josephine and Sitka, Alaska (entitled ROY) and another recent piece entitled AMARANTH. This one surprised me because I finished it six days before my husband died, and it’s full of these crazy premonitions. And I just published an essay in the South Dakota Review entitled “What They Do”. Currently, I’m working on an essay about online dating. So I think I’d say poetry and nonfiction dovetail and help each other, distract from each other, feed and deplete each other, if that makes sense. At the end of the day, they simply help me to figure out what I really want to say about something. The prose is slow for me, but I do hope to finish that memoir someday, I just have to let my mind wander where and when it will. 

What other creative practices do you pursue? 

I knit and crochet (I love Granny squares) and hang out with my pug, Jimi Hendrix. I also like to go boogie boarding in the ocean whenever I can and I’m working on my home garden.

I know that you are a writing coach with OneRoom in addition to teaching, writing, and publishing. How do you juggle it all? 

Very, very, very, very, very chaotically and with a whole lot of help from the Universe. My motto is “slow and steady wins the race” and to give myself lots of slack. If I show up for my own creative work, even if I just look at it briefly, that’s a good day for me.

Would you recommend writers get an MFA in creative writing? 

I have always seen the MFA as a gift to the self. I went to the University of British Columbia partly because needed to get out of a relationship, so I didn’t apply anywhere else. I just knew I needed to leave, but still be close to Alaska. Luckily I had the resources to do so. It was one of the best things I ever did for myself. I still am in touch with and admire the poets in my workshop from grad school. It’s a privilege to have an MFA and I remain grateful for the experience and all it taught me about how to be a poet in the world.

Are you working on any projects now? 

Yes, the manuscript is temporarily called Common Plants of Nunavut. Nunavut is the newest, largest and northernmost territory of Canada. I like the name, and the fact that it was nearly named “Bob” (true story). I love the Arctic; each poem’s title is the common name of a plant. 

When I was in Yellowknife I learned that the city is sitting on 237,000 tonnes of arsenic, the byproduct of a shut-down gold mine, the Giant Mine. That’s enough to kill every human on earth. The landscape is incredibly beautiful, and fragile, lots of colorful rocks and lichens. Many of my childhood weekends were spent on a lake north of Anchorage, and these experiences were profound for me. Going to Yellowknife was a spiritual journey back to the landscape of my childhood, so I’m writing about that. I started another manuscript entitled Old Snow, White Sun, which takes its title from a song by the Japanese acid rock group Kikagaku Moyo (Geometric Designs) and is about a recent love affair among other things. I also hope that my writing might play a small part in valuing and preserving this beautiful earth. I studied biology as an undergrad, so I love plant names. Plants are magical. They are the producers, really the only living thing that MAKES something helpful. They give us everything, really. So when I write I let the sounds of the names and also the ideas and emotions evoked come onto the page, interact, be weird, and possibly add up to a poem.

Can you share one of your poems with ZPR readers?

In a Time of Mourning

Interview with Santa Fe Poet Laureate, Joan Logghe

DRESSING DOWN FOR LOVE

Put on your love dress.
Take off your other garments
the ones that cost you most.
Wear your heart out.
Become a transvestite
for love. Dress as a heart.
Establish a municipality
with eyes you meet on the street.
Enter the election for Darling.
Let kindness reign. Put on
no airs. Be plain as feet
which also may carry you away
along the Love Highway.
Hello. What is your name?
I have forgotten. Remind me.

What did you take away from your experience as Santa Fe Poet Laureate?

First of all, this interview reflects today February 20, 2013 at 6 AM and at any other day and moment, you’d get that set of answers.

I called the two years my experiment with Happiness.  I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to do my work, the work I love to do and am suited for, with recognition and appreciation from the outer world.  I also learned that being a poet, being called a poet, is a tricky thing.  It doesn’t depend on the outer nearly as much as the inner, the private act of setting aside time, concentration, opening to inspiration, and hoping to be struck by an idea, a music of phrase that results in poetry.  As for the outer, I was riding a wave of invitation and had energy to do everything asked of me.  It reinforced my experience that when we are on our path, the energy is there to buoy or surf one along.

What were some of the most difficult aspects of carrying out the duties of Poet Laureate?

Having to publicize everything I did was very challenging.  I didn’t want to bother my mailing list friends, the press would only have so much of the Poet Laureate activities.  People would ask if I was writing, and indeed, I was taking notes on my life, on the city of Santa Fe, and I wrote one hundred pages of poetry, some occasional and some my usual writing from the domestic. So that was not a problem.  It was hard to say no to people who asked impossible little jaunts for me, so mostly I said yes. I went on a few poetry goose chases.  Valerie Martinez, the city’s second poet laureate told me she mostly said yes, as it was only two years.  I thought I’d be different.  I would say no.  I m older, have grandkids to mind.  But that was exactly why I kept saying yes.

Tell me how you approach putting a manuscript of poetry together for publication.

I often draw from years of work, once I have a focus, theme, topic, some organizational thrust. So, most of my manuscripts come from fifteen years of work.  The only exception was Rice, where

I began keeping a sonnet journal, informal sonnets of 14 lines that surprisingly spanned a crisis.  Good luck for the poem comes from seemingly bad luck.  Then I spent several years organizing, editing,

and culling the over 100 poems down to 78 in the book.  For that final honing down, I had input from the other two chicas in Tres Chicas Books, Miriam Sagan and Renée Gregorio.  It was amusing as after they read the manuscript, I saw that they hardly ever agreed on which poems to omit. So I had to make that decision.

All the other manuscripts I organize in sections.  I like sections, as I am a pretty chaotic organizer, as evidenced by my office.  The books are my aesthetic opportunity to get it together and make some order in my life.

What has been the role of poetry in your development as a creative person?

Since I was a kid I was making things, gift wrapping elaborately, learning to knit, and drawing horses.  In High school I fell for Emily Dickinson and then the Beats.  Who could be more disparate than Allen Ginsberg plying his harmonium as the Children of Light danced in drag on stage, and Emily holed up in Amherst?  I loved poetry.  Friends of my parents saw that and gave me poetry books.  I got to talk with Flo Levitt this year, in her 90’s and in a poetry group. She and her late husband, Irv, gave me books of poems. I have been thanking people who saw me and encouraged me.

If I hadn’t done poetry, it would have been photography. I took over 100 rolls of film, developed them in a series of funky darkrooms around America.  I applied for a job in photography, got turned down, and that was that. With poetry I never applied for the job.  I did what I thought were poetic things, drove a school bus, lived in San Francisco, substitute taught, and worked in a garden center seven springs.  Poetry mostly was in the background, though for six or seven years when I had my first two children and we physically built this house, I stopped. I never went to graduate school, but when I came back to poetry I was fierce about it.  I went to readings, took little workshops.  I studied with the lesbian feminist Melanie Kaye Kantrowich who introduced me to feminist poets.  My mother was a feminist who ran a beauty shop, so I didn’t know the feminist literary tradtion and missed it in college.  Melanie had a partner called Michael, as I did, only hers was a woman. Birds flew around their house in Santa Fe, no cages, just little finches pooping and chirping as we critiqued.  I wrote about the beauty shop.

I think staying with one art form, having a creative aim, was most helpful.  I know people who do several things and very well.  I looked down on that, but now find myself wanting to paint a little, sew, have some relief from having to be on call for poetry all the time.

Who are you reading right now?

Such a sensible question.  This morning I read a Gerald Stern poem out loud from American Poet: the Journal of the Academy of American Poets.  I love his voice and the recently deceased Jack Gilbert, my Pittsburgh guys.  I keep a stack of poetry books by my bed and in the bathroom and in my car.  I have stacks that a friend who designed the Penguin Poetry Series gave me.  I find it hard to fall in love, but when I do I am very faithful, like this 40+ year marriage.  I maybe have a dalliance, but I have a monogamy of art form, and I truly love the poets I love.

Do you have a consistent writing practice?

How embarrassing that you asked.  I encourage students to do so, and I am wildly undisciplined.  Yet I am true to the muse.  If a phrase catches me I grab a pen. I write in the middle of the night, in a car, near and far, like eating green eggs and ham. I write at my typewriter, a manual Olivetti just like I had as a girl and through college, and San Fran and the dairy farm in Wisconsin, until it was stolen in Penasco, New Mexico, I loaned to a friend named Rhonda Velkovitch.  So, I say it’s like meditation where you are asked to return to the breath.  I return to the breath of poetry.  So on the short term I am pathetic, but in the long run, and I am lucky enough to have lived 65 years, I have a very consistent practice.

 

Interview with Redmond, Washington Poet Laureate Jeannine Hall Gailey

JHG200x300 (2)I Forgot to Tell You the Most Important Part…

Without this knowledge, you’ll never make it:
it’s one part fashion advice and two parts survivalist.
Learn to talk to people so they think you’re honest
but never be honest. Cooking eggs may save your life,
so crack them, neat and firm, pour into the skillet,
stir gently. Forget about your shoes; people will judge
you by your shine, the imminent light you offer them.
Be a lamppost in wilderness, be the elephant
in the showroom.  If you steal the idol, make sure
to carry a weighted bag of sand. No surprises: we’ve lied
about having it all. It’s either the piano or the pit viper.
Cinderella’s shoe came off at midnight because it hurt,
and Red Riding Hood’s real story involves cannibalism and a striptease.
Don’t wear red lipstick, don’t you kiss your mother with that mouth?
Long bangs hide a multitude of sins. Ask your grandmother
about the herbs she used to swallow while pregnant.
The butterflies here didn’t start out black, they were white
as onion skin – and the forest was more ominous
before the smokestacks. Well, here’s your little basket
and red coat, sweetheart, sweetmeat, smile like you mean it,
shake what you’ve got while you’ve got it,
go out into the world and knock them dead.

Tell me about the moment you learned you were chosen as Poet Laureate for Redmond, Washington.

Well, the process was somewhat complicated. I was nominated, then I had submit materials, then I had two sets of interviews, then I was told I was chosen for the position. I was only the city’s second Poet Laureate, so I think a lot of the process was new for the city. I got to meet with the Mayor as well. That was a pretty exciting day!

What were/are some of your outreach projects as Poet Laureate?

I’ve had a couple, under the umbrella slogan “Geeks for Poetry, Poetry for Geeks!” Since our community is mostly made up of technical workers (among other companies, Microsoft and Nintendo are here) I was working hard to reach out to a techie crowd with multimedia (an art show with comic-book-style illustrations to go along with my inaugural reading’s poems based on comic books and anime, for instance) and bringing in poets and editors from around the community to talk about subjects like e-publishing, social media, and scientific poetry. I’m also working with the local library, choosing a book of poetry a quarter for the “Redmond Reads Poetry” project.

Discuss your view of the role of education in the creative process? Is an MFA an important credential for artists and writers to attain?

Education of some kind is essential for the creative process. That is, I don’t believe you can become a great writer without a good deal of practice as well as a lot of reading. Reading voraciously – the things being published in contemporary magazines, books from thirty to fifty to two hundred years ago, books popular and unpopular, lauded and unlauded – can only help you improve your sense of voice, your sense of where you belong as a writer. I love fiction and literary criticism as well as poetry, and I think a broad knowledge of all genres is helpful when it comes to building your literary “toolkit.” Is that a phrase, literary toolkit? My very favorite instructional guide to poetry is “Introduction to Poetry” by X.J. Kennedy, and I’m particularly fond of the 1969 and 1989 versions, if you can find them used. For me, speculative fiction writers like Margaret Atwood, Kelly Link and Haruki Murakami have all helped me develop my voice as a poet, so you have to cast a large net, as “your” essential writers may be writers you haven’t discovered yet.

You know, I got my MFA fairly late, in my early thirties, and I had been writing seriously for some years before I got it, which I think made it a more satisfying experience than my earlier degrees. I got an MA in English back in my twenties while I was working full-time for AT&T, and just wasn’t able to get the time to go back until much later, but I never lost my interest in poetry. I think if I had kept on with my poetry routine pre-MFA – that is, going to poetry conferences, regular workshops and writing groups and readings, trying to create my own reading list by visiting at Open Books (Seattle’s poetry-only bookstore with very knowledgeable owner/curators) – I would probably have been fine and eventually published my books anyway, but the MFA gave me a boost in terms of confidence and a focus that is only available when you devote yourself to something singularly for a couple of years.  Encouragement from my very kind mentors made me feel like the writing life wasn’t, in fact, impossible. But encouragement from my regular writing group of ten years (!!) has given me a community, which I think is just as important as an MFA to continuing writing through rejection, setbacks, discouragements, and regular life. We can’t think of the writing life as something that only happens in the academy – that’s not a realistic regimen for most people – but something that can occur along with family and job obligations as well, something we can nurture through reading, attending poetry events, cultivating friendships with other writers.

The MFA used to be required for a teaching position, and there is some evidence that today, in a very competitive environment for non-adjunct positions, a PhD is even encouraged among creative writers, which didn’t used to be the case, so if you want to teach at the college level, I’d say yes, it’s probably necessary (either that or the PhD.) It wouldn’t hurt you to win some big book contests or book awards, either. Did I mention that it’s difficult to get a non-adjunct teaching position in creative writing these days?

But I would encourage people who don’t have the time or money (or inclination) for an MFA to look at other resources, such as writer’s centers (such as The Richard Hugo House here in Seattle or The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis,) and the myriad writer’s conferences and writing retreats available through listings in places like Poets & Writers. I’d encourage them to go to readings in their area, volunteer with local literary magazines, and arrange meetings with other writers on a regular basis.  If I haven’t already mentioned it enough, reading a lot – poetry and fiction, both contemporary and the classics – will never ever hurt your writing.

What has been the role of poetry in your development as a creative person?

I’ve loved poetry a long time, ever since my mom gave me her college textbook when I was about ten years old and I fell in love with “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock!” I’m also very interested and inspired by the visual arts, and spend lots of time at galleries and museums, but my abilities with my hands (when I’ve taken art classes) are at odds with the limits of my imagination. I don’t feel the same limitations with the written word. I’m also not much of a public person, and feel much more comfortable with e-mail than phone calls and personal meetings – probably not too strange a characteristic for writers, as we tend to be introverts. I tend to think of “writing projects” in bigger terms – like, a series of poems rather than a single poem, and am often inspired by something – a piece of music, a film, an artifact like a painting or a comic book image – to write an entire book at a time. That, of course, can take years, but the inspiration or idea usually happens all at once.

Who are you reading right now?

I just finished a wonderful re-release, Stella Gibbons Nightingale Wood, a sort of re-telling of the Cinderella story with a Downton Abbey-esque British-class-structure satirical spin  – and now I’m looking (mosty in vain) for her out-of-print re-telling of the Snow Queen called The Snow-Woman. In terms of poetry, I end up reading mostly books I’m sent for review and I always feel I’m behind on my stack – I know I am, in fact – but I must give glowing recommendations to several new books: Annette Spaulding-Convy’s In Broken Latin, Kelly Davio’s Burn This House, and Jehanne Dubrow’s Red Army Red. I’m also really enjoying the tragi-comic poetry stylings of Gregory Sherl and Noel Sloboda’s mythic-with-a-twist Our Rarer Monsters. I’m also reading the new Philip Pullman edition of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm and the new Jack Zipes, The Irresistible Fairy Tale.

Do you have a consistent writing practice?

Besides my blog, which I’ve been keeping faithfully since 2005, I probably write about two poems a week and maybe a piece of essay or flash fiction or pseudo-memoir (I’ve been experimenting with genres outside poetry, mostly for fun, not for publication.) When I have freelance writing assignments, they usually take up all my writing energy until they’re turned in – which ends up being a good motivator for getting those assignments done ahead of schedule.

 

Jeannine Hall Gailey is the Poet Laureate of Redmond, Washington, and the author of Becoming the Villainess (Steel Toe Books, 2006) and She Returns to the Floating World (Kitsune Books, 2011). Her upcoming book, Unexplained Fevers, will be available from New Binary Press this spring. Her work has been featured on NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She was a multiple Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Award winner (in 2011 and 2007) and is a 2013 Jack Straw Writer. Her poems have appeared in journals such as The Iowa Review, American Poetry Review, and Prairie Schooner. She volunteers as an editorial consultant for Crab Creek Review. Her web site is www.webbish6.com.

Interview with poet Devreaux Baker

DevreauxIt is with genuine honor and pleasure that I introduce today’s featured poet, Devreaux Baker. Devreaux’s poetry came into my life when she submitted a poem for the “200 New Mexico Poems” project last year. Her poem “Red Willow People” is number 93 in the collection and was posted on June 8, 2012. In addition, it will be included in the upcoming print anthology.

Not long after posting her poem, I received a copy of Devreaux’s 2011 collection of poetry of the title. It didn’t take long for me to appreciate and understand why it was selected for the 2011 PEN Oakland Award.  Please enjoy today’s interview with Deveraux immediately following her poem.
***
Recipe for Lorca’s Chocolate Cake 

I worked all night on a chocolate cake for Lorca,
filled with light that does not know what it wants,

created from chocolate so dark it sears hearts
and fills minds with dreams of moon and water.

I used cocoa so pure it causes policemen to weep.
I filled the layers with white linen afternoons,

a hint of ginger and essence of rose creating a dancestep
that wakes your spirit to enter the souls of your feet as a whisper

and fill your body with duende, passion of the first kiss,
becoming a river of fire that ignites your thighs,

and sets loose love reflected in all the eyes of men,
women, children and dogs,

so that one bite of chocolate will rest in your belly
like the tender edge of dawn,

lifting your voice out of the dark rooms of earth
where you sleep, rising up like wind or stars

to encircle my body once again
with your words.

***

How long have you been writing poetry and what set you in motion?I have been writing poetry my entire life. Some of my earliest memories are of writing poems as a child and making small books of poetry. I was raised in a home where story telling was a huge part of our family tradition and poems were freely recited to us by our grandmother. I remember taking long car trips with my family and being entertained by many poetry recitations from my grandmother. I also remember being shown hand bound notebooks that had been passed down from ancestors that were filled with stories and poems and this made a huge impression on me as to the importance of poetry as well as stories within a family.—

DBaker_Red_Willow_Front (2)Tell me about the inspiration behind your collection of poetry, “Red Willow People.”

When I received the HeleneWurlitzer Writing Fellowship I thought I would concentrate on editing an existing manuscript which I took with me to Taos.  It became clear after I had been in residence for the first week that I was there to write a book of poems which reflected the inspiration of the land and the many diverse people who live there.  I did not have a car while in residence which was a huge benefit as I walked everywhere and had an opportunity to more directly engage with the environment. Early on I had the good fortune to meet Jocelyn Martinez who is an incredibly talented artist from the Taos Pueblo. I shared some poetry with her and she offered to supply the cover illustration for the book. My connection with Jocelyn was a huge impetus for bringing the book to completion. A year later I was awarded a PEN/Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award for that book.
What, in your opinion,  is the most difficult aspect of getting a book published?I feel very lucky in finding a publisher who believes in my work and is so supportive of my vision. I think one of the hardest things about getting published is not becoming discouraged by rejection. It is so competitive and hard to get anything published these days that I think if a writer finds a small independent press that is a right match for them, they should consider themselves fortunate.

What other creative activities do you purusue?

Some other creative outlets include performance art, radio work, and of course anything to do with being out in nature. For several years I produced a radio program of original student writing for public radio titled The Voyagers Show. Working with students of all ages to produce that show was some of the most gratifying work I have done.  I also enjoy performing poetry readings which incorporate music and have recently staged shows which use live music and masks. I will be returning to Taos      in September for a second Wurlitzer fellowship and am looking forward to producing a new book and a multi media show with several other artists (as yet unknown) from New Mexico. I love the idea of collaborating on a piece that incorporates visual art with the spoken word.
***
Devreaux Baker is a Pushcart Prize nominee and winner of the 2011 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Poetry Prize for her book, Red Willow People. She is the recipient of the 2012 Hawaii Council of Humanities International Poetry Prize, and the Women’s Global Leadership Initiative Poetry Award. Her poetry fellowships include a MacDowell Fellowship, the Hawthornden Castle International Fellowship, three California Arts Council Awards and two Helene Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowships. She has published three books of poetry; Red Willow People, Beyond the Circumstance of Sight, and Light at the Edge and conducted poetry workshops in France and Mexico. She has taught poetry in the schools with the CPITS Program and produced the Voyagers Radio Program of original student writing for KZYX Public Radio.

Interview with Kansas Poet Laureate Caryn Merriam-Goldberg

CarynCaryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the 2009-2013 Kansas poet laureate, which has not been an easy feat when one realized the Kansas Arts Commission was eliminated in mid-2011. Despite lack of the state’s support as epitomized by this gesture, Caryn has  managed to successfully put together two different anthologies, Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems, which celebrates Kansas’ Sesquicentennial,  and the subsequent To the Stars Through Difficulties: A Kansas Renga in 150 Voices, both of which began as daily blog postings. Caryn is the third Kansas Poet Laureate and continues to serve as the state continues its search for the next its next distinguished poet to serve in this office.

Please enjoy today’s interview which immediately follows the poem by Caryn:

***

Supercell     

Did you think your life was straight as this road,
something that could be time-lapsed into a predictable gait?
Did you ever try to map lightning, predict when
the thunderhead would pause and fold in on itself?
Have you pointed to a place in the clouds and said,
“there” just before a ghost cloud twisted briefly into form?
It is all nothing, then supercell, multiple stikes through
the clouds while the tips of the grass shimmer awake.
From the deep blue that narrates your life
comes the pouring upward of white curves and blossoms.
From the dark, comes the thunder. Then the violet flash.
From the panorama of what you think you know
comes the collapse of sky, falling on you right now
whether you’re watching the weather or not.
The world dissolves, reforms. What comes surprises,
motion moving all directions simultaneously, like the
losses you carry, talismans strung through your days, singing
of those you’ve loved deep as the blue framing the storm.
It rains for a moment in the field, in your heart,
then the weather stretches open its hand of life and says,
here, this whole sky is for giving.
***

 begin againTell me how you felt the moment you learned you were chosen to serve as the third Poet Laureate of Kansas.

I was thrilled and honored. After working for so many years as an activist poet, helping others find their voices and use those    voices to effect change and bring great meaning and healing to their lives, I had spent a lot of my work life lifting up other writers (which I still feel is a sacred calling). But to be recognized for my work in the community and also for my poetry was one of the greatest honors in my life.

Have you worked with previous Kansas Poet Laureates?

Yes, I worked very closely with the previous poet laureate, Denise Low, and also with Jonathan Holden, our first poet laureate. I also have worked and am still collaborating with poets laureate of other states, especially since I organized a national convergence of poets laureates that brought 20 poets laureate to Kansas for two days of readings, workshops and visiting. I’m about to go to New Hampshire for another such gathering, this one focused on poetry and politics, and I’m looking forward to more generative projects coming out of my time with other state poets laureate.

You mention on your website that when you were very young,  you told your Grandfather that you were going to live in Kansas someday. Can you recall your early impressions of Kansas before you ctually visited? What did Kansas represent to you or how did you imagine it?

All I really knew about Kansas was from the Wizard of Oz movie. When I first got on a plane to go to Missouri — I lived in Columbia, MO and then Kansas City, MO for a total of 4.5 years before I moved to Kansas — I didn’t really know where the Midwest was even, and certainly didn’t know anything about Kansas.

There is often a deep connection to place for Kansas poets. Can you tell me a little bit more about the relationships you are building with“the particulars” of Kansas?

renga-cover-rough-darkI think many poets many places have deep connections to the earth and sky where they live because what better way to get    inspiration? With Kansas, the beauty of this place is far more subtle than in Colorado, where the Rockies blow your mind, or the shores of Lake Superior in Minnesota, which dazzles just about anyone. Here, the main attraction is as much the sky as the land because the weather is astonishing, big-hearted, subject to rapid change, vivid and dramatic, and always happening. I also love the land here — the tallgrass prairies of eastern Kansas (where I live) where the grasses turn red each fall and need to be burned each spring; the Flint Hills and further west, Smoky Hills; the rock formations way out west and wide valleys throughout the state. Kansas is very varied, and the more I live here, the more I see the variety and also the patterns of who migrates through and what tilts each season.

How do poetry, teaching, and community interconnect for you?

All three are woven together so tightly that it’s hard for me to see the separate strands at time. I write, and because I write, I have a writer’s point-of-view when I teach: I can help students revise and strengthen their work, find overall patterns, clear away what keeps them from hearing the calling of the piece of writing. Because I also do a lot of community facilitation –workshops, meetings, etc. — I’m often hearing, in one ear, what my writing and teaching has to do with making community and making positive change in the world while, in the other ear, I’m in tune with what the words we write want to say and how we can best help them.

What role does revision play in writing and how do you approach revising your own work?

Sometimes revision is everything and sometimes not. This is to say that I have revised some writing for years. My novel, THE    DIVORCE GIRL, about to be published is something I started in 1997 after writing it in my head for decades. I spent over a decade simply revising it to the point that I feel like I have sections of it memorized at this point. I have books of poetry I’ve worked on for over a decade, revising some poems dozens of times. I also have things I write and just put out — like most of my blog posts and    some poems — that just come, and that’s that. But I think they tend to “just come” because I’ve written like a maniac since I was about 14, so those trails in my mind lead easily to writing on the page.

You are involved in numerous wonderful projects. Tell me how you maintain balance and protect your writing time while also keeping up with these projects? How do you prioritize?

FrontCoverWebPromosI struggle with this at times, and at times, I feel the    balance. It’s an ongoing practice Today, for example, I had a    meeting with the program director of the Individualized MA program    (in which I teach) about ways to help starting graduate students,    then had lunch with the former poet laureate, Denise Low, to catch    up on writing projects an talk over a contract I was offered on my    book on the Holocaust — NEEDLE IN THE BONE: HOW A HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR AND POLISH RESISTANCE FIGHTER BEAT THE ODDS AND FOUND EACH OTHER. I’m answering emails now, then finishing a letter to a Goddard student, then working on a book proposal for another book before going to teach a writing and yoga workshop. That’s today, and tomorrow will be very different – I’m meeting Kelley Hunt to write some songs, and working on some poetry or fiction (depending on my inclination at the time). I try to do something physical for an hour each day: yoga, walking, going to the gym. I’ve also been sleeping outside on a futon bed on our screened-in porch lately, which is only possible with ease during a handful of days each year (when it’s not too hot or too cold), and being outside helps me most of all to keep balance. I also talk with my husband daily, sharing all kinds of moments from our lives, and I see my friends and kids and other family a lot. It all helps. How I prioritize is to balance the work I need to do (workshops, work with my students, etc.) that’s bound to deadlines with the work I need to do for my soul (my own writing), making room for both. If I feel off kilter, I’ll switch things up a bit.

What’s next?

The Kansas Poet Laureate program is now part of the Kansas Humanities Council, which will be announcing a new poet laureate later this month.

I’m also working on two writing projects which will probably take me over the next year or two: revising a novel on the story of Miriam, from the bible, but set in the U.S. from the 1960s to the present; and writing poetry to go with photos from Stephen Locke, a weather chaser and brilliant photographer (www.tempestgallery.com) for a book on storms and wild weather that we’re pitching through my agent to various publishers.

Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 16 books, including four collections of poetry, most recently Begin Again: 150 Kansas Poems (editor, Woodley Press); Landed; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); a forthcoming novel, The Divorce Girl (Ice Cube Books); a non-fiction book, Needle in the Bone: How a Holocaust Survivor and Polish Resistance Fighter Beat the Odds and Found Each Other (Potomac Books); a beloved writing guide, Write Where You Are (Free Spirit Press); and several anthologies. She co-edited An Endless Skyway: Poetry of the State Poets Laureate (Ice Cube Books) with Marilyn L. Taylor, Denise Low and Walter Bargen. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master’s program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word – at Goddard College where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats. She writes columns and serves as poet-in-residence for http://www.TheMagazineOfYoga.com. Here daily blog posts, “Everyday Magic,” plus occasional podcasts and writing exercises are at http://www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.wordpress.com, and her websites are http://bravevoice.com/ and www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.com.

Interview with Texas Poet Laureate, Larry Thomas

Larry Head ShotI learned about Larry Thomas by way of “200 New Mexico Poems” when I accepted and subsequently posted his poem, An Aged Navajo Artisan” (#57, April 17, 2012). When I discovered that he is a former poet laureate of Texas, of course I had to interview him. I am impressed with Larry’s hard work and dedication as a poet and find his approach to writing poetry sound. We also share a few favorite prose writers.
Please enjoy this conversation with Larry immediately following his poem, Tide Pool Touch Tank. You will also find Larry’s professional bio directly after the  interview.
***
Tide Pool Touch Tank
for Frank

The dank air
of the Maine State Aquarium
is pungent with brine
and the nostril-flaring
smell of fresh fish.

Little children huddle
around a tank
like primitives in a ritual.
Their heads swim
with flashbacks

of moonless, blue-black skies,
of luminous bodies
sparkling through the slats
of their cribs
beside the windows,

ever beyond the reach
of their fat, groping fingers.
Wide-eyed, entranced
by the miracle beneath them,
they take deep breaths,

ease their hands into the black-
green holiness of seawater,
and, with the fingers of gods
trembling in the heavens,
stroke the spiny skin of stars.

(from The Lobsterman’s Dream; first published in The Texas Review)

***

Tell me about your experience as Texas Poet Laureate. What sort of outreach projects did you initiate or further during your term?

My one-year term as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate began in April 2008 and ended in April 2009.  As soon as my appointment was announced, in April 2007 (my appointment occurred one year prior to the commencement of my one-year term), I received a flood of requests for interviews and invitations to speak/read my poetry to schools, community colleges, universities, and civic organizations such as the Rotary Club, historical societies, poetry societies, and numerous other groups.  I did my best to honor each invitation I received, from throughout the large state of Texas, and only on a couple of occasions had to decline an invitation due to a scheduling conflict, etc.  I never required a speaker’s fee for a presentation; only reimbursement for travel expenses and lodging at a modest motel.  Many schools, especially public institutions, don’t have ample funds available for this sort of activity, so I wanted to make it as financially reasonable for them as possible.  I was privileged to receive a $2,000.00 grant from the Ron Stone Foundation for the Enhancement and Study of Texas History (based in Houston), and I used the entire grant for travel/lodging expenses to venues which didn’t have funds available for such activities.

As to outreach projects, I particularly enjoyed my visits to public schools and college/university creative writing classes.  Many public schools, most unfortunately, have dropped poetry from their basic curriculum, and I really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to the students about the importance of poetry in their lives and share with them examples of my own work.

Another outreach project, which I initiated, was to set aside time from my busy schedule to work one-on-one with young poets of promise.  I met with them primarily in coffee shops (such as Starbucks), critiqued their work, and answered any questions they had about my own creative process.  I charged no fee for my services, and feel that these young poets benefitted greatly from the time I spent with them and were encouraged to keep reading and writing.  My opinion of their work and the time I spent with them seemed to significantly enhance their confidence as young poets of seriousness.

Does poetry need community?

I feel very strongly that poetry needs community.  Poets spend countless hours crafting and revising their poems for hopeful publication in a distinguished journal or a collection, and do so to share their work with a “community” of appreciative readers.  Otherwise, they would just stash their work in diaries for their eyes alone!

Secondly, although I personally have never been one to join writers’ groups or participate in workshops, I am very much in the minority as a poet in this regard.  Virtually all of the serious poets with whom I am acquainted aggressively seek out and participate in quality workshops, and are members of writers’ groups which meet regularly.  This gives them a chance to present their work to and receive honest feedback from others whose work they respect, and to have their work seriously critiqued for necessary revision.  They feel that their participation in such a group is critical to their own artistic development.

Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Feel free to discuss your writing space, the time of day you write or any rituals you have which help you with your process?

I write in a small study on a rustic Mexican table which I regard as my desk.  My desk sits beneath a window overlooking the Davis Mountains of the Great Chihuahuan Desert.  For years, I composed first drafts on the back side of used computer paper secured in a clipboard, and I always wrote with a cartridge fountain pen.  During the past couple of years, however, I have composed on my laptop.  I generally write in the mornings, and I almost always write to the music of Beethoven which I play at a rather loud although not uncomfortable volume.When I begin my writing process, I often have no conscious idea of what I will write about that morning.  I often start with an image around which I feel I can construct a first draft, and I pay little attention to syntax, line or stanza integrity, or any other sense of “crafting” the poem.  I think that “play with language” is a critical part of the writing process, and that I should “let the words flow” before I begin the strenuous and critical revision process.  After the “play” has ended, I start shaping the amorphous mass of words I have before me, and begin what will be an extensive revision process.  I first start shaping the words into poetic lines and then see if the lines cohere in some manner into stanzas.  Most of my first drafts undergo twenty-five to thirty revisions during my initial writing session before I am reasonably comfortable with them.  I then return to the finished draft for several days, fine-tuning it, until I get the poem where I think it should be.  My “gut” lets me know when it is time to move on to another composition.

How do you approach the large task of putting together and arranging a manuscript? 

Before I even think about putting together a manuscript, I make sure that I have a very large body of published or “publishable” poems of thematic unity, well over one hundred, from which I can select fifty or so for the first draft of the manuscript.  I then approach the shaping of the manuscript in much the same manner I shape an individual poem, placing careful emphasis on theme, tone, consistency of syntax, etc.  I believe that a manuscript should be as seamless as possible, and that each poem in the manuscript should effectively serve the collection as a whole.


What non-writing activities do you practice that inspire creativity and fuel your writing?

Non-writing activities which I feel inspire my creativity are art museum/art gallery attendance, music listening (especially classical), and serious reading.  I spend a lot of time reading the collections of numerous contemporary poets of noteworthy achievement, and short story collections by distinguished fiction writers.  I believe that the short story is the “poetry of prose,” in compression, use of imagery, heightened use of language, etc., and I find a number of literary techniques in well-written short stories which are certainly transferable to the composition of poetry.  Among the contemporary short story masters whom I have found helpful to my development as a poet are Raymond Carver, Breece “DJ” Pancake, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tobias Wolff.

When people ask you what you write about or what your poetry is about, how do you respond?

The subjects of my poems are quite multifarious. I have published complete collections of poetry about the Texas Gulf Coast (The Lighthouse Keeper), the backwoods denizens of deep East Texas (The Woodlanders), the flora, fauna and denizens of far West Texas where I was born and reared (Amazing Grace, Where Skulls Speak Wind, and Stark Beauty), outlaw bikers (The Fraternity of Oblivion), paintings and the properties of color (The Skin of Light), the bird or avian world (A Murder of Crows), wolves (Wolves), and quicksilver (mercury) miners (The Red, Candle-lit Darkness).  When people ask me what my poetry is about, I often reply that it is heavily inspired by the natural world, but also by anything which captures my interest at any given time.  A poem, at least to me, is first the artistic use of language, and secondly a means of transporting the reader to the heart of the mystery, beauty and terror of existence.

What projects are you working on or planning now?

I just completed a chapbook of poems set on the coast of Maine (The Lobsterman’s Dream), forthcoming from El Grito del Lobo Press in a handset letterpress edition with original woodcut illustrations, tentatively scheduled for publication in late spring/early summer 2013.  I also have a book-length collection, Uncle Ernest, forthcoming from the Virtual Artists Collective (Chicago).

***

Professional Bio:

Larry D. Thomas, a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate, has published nineteen collections of poetry, his most recent book-length collection of which is A Murder of Crows (Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago, 2011.  He has two additional books of poetry forthcoming: The Lobsterman’s Dream (El Grito del Lobo Press, Fulton, MO) and Uncle Ernest (Virtual Artists Collective, Chicago).  Among the publications in which his poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming are 200 New Mexico Poems, The Texas Review, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Sugar House Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and Southwestern American Literature.  His New and Selected Poems (TCU Press 2008) was long-listed for the National Book Award.

Web site: www.LarryDThomas.com

Intereview with Poet/Editor, Leah Sewell

Leah SewellI am finding it very difficult to write an adequate introduction for today’s interview guest, Leah Sewell, whom I know from my undergraduate years at Washburn University. Since our years in the English program at W.U., where our paths crossed frequently in writing circles and workshops, Leah has found inventive ways to resuscitate, and in some cases create, an arts and literary culture in Topeka. The many worthwhile projects she has begun or contributed to are crucial to a small city like Topeka and qualifies her for grand accolades, though I know that Leah’s efforts come from a place of conviction, her love of  the creative process, and her dedication to her home town; not from a desire to be recognized. I’ve always known Leah to be exceptionally talented and the writer of great poetry and am thrilled whenever I hear about her accomplishments, whether they be a recent publication or the continued success of her lovely family. Topeka is fortunate to count Leah among it citizens, and I feel equally fortunate to count her among my friends.

Please enjoy Lea’s interview immediately following her poem, “Marionette.”

***

Marionette

I dreamed I returned from the bar to find you
holding chopsticks & fresh-rolled sushi, only
they were really crochet hooks that dipped sharp heads
in apology at my ovaries round as dumplings.

I flapped like a stuck moth against the wall.
All my accoutrements — hairpins, false eyelashes, earrings —
sloughed off my body like dust. I unfurled my proboscis
to speak but the voice was a pastel feather. Out in blue night,

our friends saw shadows on shades.
Your limbs chopped like a marionette. They applauded
because you are a scientist who slips pills
into their drinks. I can’t remember why the wall

gulped open like a bruised esophagus to swallow —
maybe I tickled it apart when I shuddered. Your arm
clamped on my waist woke me next morning. On your breath,
evidence—sawdust. I rose & unrolled my plaster tongue.

(forthcoming in Stone Highway Review)

***

Tell me about your involvement in publishing in Kansas?

When I was a junior at Washburn University, a good friend and fellow English major Ande Davis convinced me to join the university’s newspaper staff. I eventually became an editor and had to learn to design the entertainment section and a monthly entertainment magazine. After I left Washburn, I still wanted to be involved in magazine publication, and I searched out Kerrice Mapes, who was a few issues into publishing this little glossy arts and entertainment magazine called seveneightfive. I went from being a staff writer to a copy editor to managing editor and ultimately the editor-in-chief. During my time there, I learned a lot about Topeka and came to love it and have strong feelings toward it and wanted to help improve it in many ways. I became involved in organizing poetry and art events and doing volunteer work in several organizations. I also wanted to make sure that local writing and writers were given due space in seveneightfive’s pages. Today, the poetry spread is still going strong under the editorship of Topeka poet Dennis Etzel Jr. who publishes work by local authors, interviews and reviews. Nearly seven years later, seveneightfive continues to have a huge presence in the city, a massive following of readers, and does great work with community arts activism. When my family grew with the arrival of my daughter, Sylvia, and my son, Oliver, I gradually became aware that the city could benefit from a family A&E magazine that emphasizes art, reading and community involvement for parents and children. With Kerrice’s enthusiasm and support, we created XYZ Magazine, and I shifted my focus to editing XYZ while Kerrice stayed over at seveneightfive. When I started grad school, I handed the reigns of the EIC position over to Janice Watkins, fellow Washburn English grad (English majors make great editors!) and I’m currently still involved as the art director. All of this experience in publishing led me to designing books, which I get to do now on a freelance basis, producing titles in poetry and prose for Kansas presses like Woodley, Coal City and Mammoth. I’ve also begun an assistant editorship with Coconut Poetry Press based in Atlanta, Georgia, founded by publisher Bruce Covey. My first book design project with Coconut is the book, of the mismatched teacups, of the single-serving spoon by Chicago poet Jenny Boully, which is set to be released this month.

You are also involved with the Topeka Writer’s Workshop. Tell me more about this organization and your role in it.

About four years ago, I realized that I lacked a generative atmosphere, a scene like the one I’d found at college where other writers were sharing their work, talking about poetry, and offering insights to my own work. I saw that the Lawrence Arts Center had a writers workshop, and every Tuesday, I’d hand my colicky newborn son over to my husband, go out into the freezing night and drive down the highway to Lawrence, where I found a group of writers who were welcoming and helpful, but they also seemed like an already cohesive community. I didn’t feel like I could fully enter that community because of the physical distance. I knew a handful of writers in Topeka, and decided to round them up for a Topeka writers workshop. By July of 2009, and with help getting the word out through seveneightfive, I had a group of nearly twenty people, both friends and strangers, who met bi-weekly in the sweltering back room of a furniture warehouse and gallery in Topeka where bats swooped in the rafters and the writing dialogue thrived and bloomed. The numbers eventually dwindled, and rightly so (I think of those first days and wonder how we were able to get everyone’s work looked over), and today the 10-12 regular members of the Topeka Writers Workshop participate in more of a collective model. We each bring a little money to the group for copy costs, reading promotions and the like. We’re an eclectic group, composed of a stay-at-home dad, a painter, a federal judge, a pastor, a couple who live and breathe poetry when they’re not slogging through their day jobs, an adjunct English professor, a graphic artist, a PhD candidate in English, a railroader, mothers and fathers and musicians, and myself, the facilitator. The diversity of the group is perhaps its best characteristic. No one snubs anyone else; all forms, styles and “levels” of writing are welcome. We’re also great friends who support each other but aren’t afraid to offer the occasional gutting critique. Ultimately, our goal is to help each other move forward with our writing and to give unpublished work its first chance to be read and appreciated. We also hold readings twice a year and have put out print materials in the past and plan to do more. We often discuss ways we can engage in community activism, and if I can get everyone in alliance with me, I’m hoping to begin to do just that in 2013 by bringing writing into areas of the community that could benefit from this incredibly gratifying form of expression.

Outside of editing and the Topeka Writer’s Workshop, what writing projects are you engaged in – writing projects for you, I mean?

I’m currently participating in my second semester of the low-residency MFA program at the University of Nebraska, which will culminate in a full-length poetry manuscript, so I’m amassing reams of poems at the rate of up to thirty per semester. I have a chapbook-length manuscript that is sort of languishing and gathering dust while I’m creating all this new work, and in my spare time I’ll go in and do some revisions on that to further its path to eventual publication. My minor as an undergrad was women’s studies, and I’m very interested in exploring themes of feminism and women’s issues in my work. I love to write in persona, and I’m also incredibly interested in the back-stories of women made famous by their boldness; the women of blues and jazz, women notorious as heartbreakers, criminals, or blatantly lustful women. I can feel the stirrings of a uniting theme among my poems in this way, and my eventual full-length collection will most definitely contain a few of the voices of these “wild women,” as my poetry mentor Teri Grimm calls them.

What techniques have you found to help you juggle work life, family life, and writing?

I have this awful tendency to say “yes” to everything. My daughter often tells people that her mom has five jobs (not the least of which is being a mother to her and her brother). But I’ve learned over the past year to begin occasionally saying “no.” I’ve scaled back my involvement in volunteering with community organizations, which hurts me to do, but I have to tell myself that there will be time for that after – after my kids are both in school full time, after I complete grad school, etc. I’ve turned down book design projects when I feel my plate is already full. I really have to prioritize, and the two most important things for me are, of course, my family and my writing. If I’m needed in any way beyond that, I have to ask myself if it benefits one or the other – my family or my writing. It also helps that I’m married to a poet, Matt Porubsky. Matt understands when I need poem-time and will scoop the kids up to let me be alone to focus. It’s possible to write when a baby sleeps nearby or lies on the carpet gumming a rattle. But it’s utterly impossible—at least for me—to write with a 4- and 6-year-old nearby. He understands this and is almost always willing to lend a hand. Another thing that I’ve found helpful is to always keep a pad of paper handy, and no matter what I’m doing, if an idea or a line or a string of words pops into my head, to write it down. My poetry mentor from my first semester of grad school, the amazing author Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, urged me to write at least an hour a day. When I bemoaned the difficulty of finding a solid hour in a day to write, she said, “Then write in 15-minute increments.” While I still struggle to achieve this on some days, for the most part, I can say that I find myself writing, whether it’s journaling or free writing or trying to compose an agonizing villanelle, for close to an hour a day. It’s a pretty attainable goal.

How do you cultivate creativity?

I’m blessed to be immersed in creative endeavors—I get to work on things like magazine and book design, creating recipes in my part-time job as a vegan chef, and even building block towers or coloring with my kids. There really isn’t too much in my life beyond the mundane everyday stuff that doesn’t involve a creative mindset. So this allows me to remain open, to receive ideas and slip into imaginative threads of thought. I never censor my thoughts or push poem-think into the back of my mind for later, when I can utilize the ideas on the page. I’m an incessant daydreamer, and I’m content with that. When the time comes to write, all that daydreaming will be put to good use.


Leah Sewell is the art director of XYZ Magazine (Topeka, KS), assistant editor at Coconut Poetry Press (Atlanta, GA), founder and facilitator of the Topeka Writers Workshop and a part-time vegan chef and mother to two youngsters. Her poetry has appeared in [PANK] Magazine, Rufous City Review, Weave Magazine, Flint Hills Review, Midwestern Gothic, Mochila and other journals, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012. She is a freelance graphic designer whose work has created over a dozen poetry and prose books and countless magazine editions. She won the 2010 Women Making Headlines Award in the media category from the Topeka Chapter of the Association of Women in Communications and has been a recipient of the PenWomen Award for Letters. She is a graduate of Washburn University in English with a minor in Women’s Studies and is currently a candidate for a Masters of Fine Arts in Poetry from the University of Nebraska.

Interview with Maryfrances Wagner

Maryfrances PhotoI post today’s long-in-coming interview with great pleasure.

Maryfrances Wagner is exceptionally active in the Kansas City poetry community and contributes countless hours and energy supporting, directing, and generally overseeing innumerable activities and events at The Writers Place. I know her to be a dedicated, passionate individual and have had the genuine pleasure of working with her on a few projects. She is as serious about fundraising as she is about teaching and writing, has a  witty sense of humor and, being a woman after my own heart, enjoys a glass of wine after a job well done. Please enjoy today’s featured interview following  a selection of Wagner’s poetry from  her collection Light Subtracts Itself:

On The Wheel

See, she hissed when he broke
his nose. Feel the tongue’s lie?
When the iron singed an arm,
she nodded. God punishes.

At the ocean, we don’t think
about the absence of ocean,
the deep hold of darkness
swallowing us over and over.

Here’ the broken toe from sneaking
out the window, the severed tendon,
the chipped tooth, debt picking up
interest. For every lost promise,

every tingle and rush, every night
of slipping further out, of looking
back, waiting for the ghost to pass
through the wall, the wheel turns.

– – –

What are the origins for the poems in your “Red Silk” collection?

Most of my poetry comes from what I experience and what I observe.  Red Silk is divided into sections.  One section involves teaching and students.  I taught composition and creative writing for many years.  Another section, and where the title of the book comes from, is about the experience of being married to a Viet Nam vet.  Poets have written many poems about war, but these poems try to address what happens after the vet comes back home and has to adjust to life after war.  The poems try to show the effect war can have on loved ones and relationships, especially in a war that had so many casualties and didn’t honor its soldiers when they came back.  My ex-husband, Gale, received three medals, including the Silver Star, and they were mailed to him without a ceremony.  He came back wounded and spent three years on and off at Fitzsimmons military hospital in Denver. Gale returned from war a changed man that had years of emotional and physical stress.

After you published your first book of poetry, did you ever doubt that you would complete and publish a second?

Well, I think most writers would say that they have already written quite a few new poems before their book gets published.  It usually takes at least a year before an accepted book gets published.  My book Salvatore’s Daughter took almost three years.  By that time, I had enough material for another book.  My first two books, now out of print, were actually chap books during the early stages of writing.  Salvatore’s Daughter was my first full poetry book, followed by Red Silk, and Light Subtracts Itself.

Describe your process for ordering poems in a collection.

The process varies.  I’ve actually done the ordering of poems for both of my husband’s books as well as a few other writers.  I read all of the poems through, and then I read them again and start to sort them into piles that seem to flow together.  The third time through, I arrange what I think serves as a logical or chronological order.  Sometimes this might be what seems a chronological flow if most of the poems are narratives, or it could involve a logical order of ideas as they unfold.  A book, to me, should unfold throughout. Sometimes I group poems into sections that seem to fit together and carry similar themes or subject matter.  To me a book needs to come together in some way, not just be a collection of random poems.  At the beginning of the book, I tend to put one or two poems that carry a theme, symbol, or idea that represents much if not all of what the book adds up to say.  At the end, I try to put poems that finish or close the book.  At the same time, I think the book ought to open with a strong poem that engages the reader and makes him want to read on and a closing poem that leaves an impression that lingers.

Can you talk bit more about your experience working with Robert Bly?

I think every writer ought to have a great experience and connection with a significant writer.  It can be so energizing.  At least, that was the experience I had with Robert Bly.  He was probably the most dynamic and engaging person I’ve ever met.  I took at class with him over the summer, and we met for five or six hours every day, sometimes longer.  Every day was a new surprise whether we were walking along a beach or pounding away at the difficulties of translating a poem.  I don’t think I could do justice to how amazing the experience was or include all of the experiences we had.  As a Jungian scholar, Bly had us recording our dreams every night with the instructions that we were to record them only, not read them afterward, and he had us doing writing exercises that elicited the subconscious.  He also put on persona masks and recited poems in the voice of different people—like the politician, the philosopher, or the executive.  He was always trying to shut off that logical, thinking brain to get us to the “third brain.” From the beginning he told us that he was not going to workshop our poems or help us edit them.  He said, “I’m going to teach you how to work, how to create material for a book.  When you leave here, you should have enough material to produce a book.”  We wrote three rough drafted pieces each day, and he always wrote with us, so he was creating his own manuscript of work.  Two of the three poems we wrote each day he stimulated with assorted exercises, and the third we wrote at night on our own.  Each of us did have enough material to develop a book by the time we left.  He told us if we were stuck or needed more input, then we should go back and read from our recorded dreams.

He also invited a number of poets to visit our class and discuss something concerning the craft of poetry.  One day he had a drummer come, and we listened to beat for hours.  He had us translate and then share the translation.  There were such differences in translations that we learned how hard it is to choose the right words and what part of the poem (the sound, the rhythm, the words, etc.) we were willing to sacrifice because it’s not possible to get everything the poet has done in his own language into English.  We could really see it when eight people had eight entirely different translations.

We had lunch and dinner together, and all of his class sessions were engrossing.  Most of the time we spent outside instead of in a classroom.  One day we were walking along the beach, and he asked a fisherman if he could borrow one of the flounder he had caught, and the fisherman agreed.  He threw it on the sand, where it started flopping.  We all watched it die.  Then we had to engage all of our senses in describing the fish and our experience in watching it die.  It was powerful for us because he then had us comparing it to specific things that he named.

He has over a thousand poems of other people memorized, and he often asked us if we knew this poem or that poem, and he would recite them for us, always saying first, “Let me give it to you.”  He recommended we memorize poems we loved and “give them” to people when we’re standing in grocery lines or waiting at the theatre.  I think people would have a hard time getting the level of involvement Bly gave his students.  He had a wonderful sense of humor, and if he thought we were taking him too seriously, he said, “Don’t write that down.  How do you know that I know what I’m talking about?”  Sometimes I felt like I was with a psychologist, a philosopher, or a poet.  We never knew what to expect, but it was always a surprise. It was almost magical.

After I went back home to Missouri, I did start working on the poems, and they formed the book Salvatore’s Daughter.  The day that I received my published copies, I sent one to Robert Bly, and about a week later, he sent me a copy of his new book that came out on the same day.  His book had many of the poems we started in his class.

What projects are you working on now?

I am always working on the next poem, the next book of poems.  I have about half of the poems finished for the next book.  I’m always working on about a half dozen at a time at different levels of completion.  I’m also arranging the poems of my husband’s new book and helping him edit those poems.

I am one of the co-editors of the I-70 Review, a literary magazine of poetry and short fiction, so that keeps me fairly busy too.  We accept submissions from July 1 to Jan 31, so for anyone interested in submitting, he or she can visit our website at www.i70review.fieldinfoserv.com or friend us on Facebook.

I continue to work as a board member and volunteer at the Writers Place.  I am the chair of the programming committee, and our goal is to help writers get the opportunity to read their work, whether at The Writers Place or at the Neon Gallery.  A couple of years ago, we formed a partnership with Tom Cobian of the Neon Gallery, and four times a year, we have a collaboration of the arts.  We call the event Music+Poetry+Art.  Tom is a Neon artist and displays his work as well as the work of others, I supply the poets, and Martha Gershun and Rick Malsick supply the musicians.  I’m also always helping with fundrasiers and grant proposals at The Writers Place.

I am in a writing group, and it helps keep me focused on writing new material.  Sometimes it’s easy to get bogged down in endless revision.  I also mentor writers, give readings, writing workshops, and do assorted freelance writing projects that are interesting.  Lately, I’ve been collecting ideas and writing fragments of material for a possible memoir about teaching.  I have had so many students with interesting stories, and I wanted to capture them in writing.  I first tried doing it with poetry, but it isn’t quite working out because each story requires too much background.  So, it may end up a mixture of poems and memoir.  I never really run out of ideas, only time to do them.

– – –

Maryfrances Wagner’s books include Salvatore’s Daughter (BkMk) Red Silk (MidAm) and Light Subtracts Itself. (MidAm).  Red Silk won the Thorpe Menn Book Award in 2000.  Her poems have appeared in literary magazines including New Letters, Midwest Quarterly, Laurel Review, Beacon Review, anthologies and textbooks including Unsettling America:  An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books) and The Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation).  Work from that book was chosen for American Audio Prose and was translated into Italian for Trapani Nuovo in Italy.  She is a co-editor of the I-70 Review. 

 

Interview with Hakim Bellamy, Albuquerque’s first Poet Laureate

Most Albuquerque-ans are familiar with  Hakim’s contribution to the Albuquerque creative community, and, of course, his great success as a slam poet. I hope that this interview, done before his appointment as city poet Laureate, will provide a small glimpse of Hakim’s generous character and his approach to creativity. As always, a poem and a brief biography follow the interview.

1. Tell me about your current projects and what they mean to you.

Lately, it’s been about experimenting and putting what I do (poetry and performance) in “unsafe” spaces. Beyond the typical criticisms of the poetry slam scene from which I come, it is oddly a very safe space (in regards to artistic risk). Once you figure out your performative voice, you will be hard pressed to be challenged beyond it. Beyond the measure of the slam (i.e. wins, losses, teams made, championships won, etc.), you want to be challenged as a writer/performer to do something innovative. I prefer to measure success by how diverse is your repertoire of work, or how many different people who would NEVER go to a slam, have heard and appreciated your work. The risk is not in preaching to the choir, it’s preaching on the street corner to atheists, who walk away contemplating believing in something…even if that something is belief in another human being or humanity itself. To that end, I’ve been shape-shifting my poetry into music lyrics, my performance into theater and my events into jazz/hip-hop hybrids at Jazzbah ABQ on the 1st Tuesday of every month. I am working with my creative brothers Carlos Contreras and Colin Diles Hazelbaker on putting together a tour of Urban Verbs: Hip Hop Conservatory and Theater for the college/music/theater festival circuit in the spring of 2012. The Urban Verbs outfit recently became officially represented by 1680PR and is a format that allows us to put poetic dialogue in front of non-poetry audiences. But poetry will always be my ground, and right now I am preparing pieces for the new year, which really means MLK Day and Black History Month, for my 4th year at Amy Biehl High School’s Day of Service and the NAACP MLK Ceremony at the Roundhouse in Santa Fe. Writing poems about the #Occupy movement has been fun and easy lately, because it is easy to write about something you are passionate about.

2. How do you “cultivate creativity?”

By living with reckless abandon. You have to fall, and hurt, and get up and fall again to be able to write. I’ve been falling my entire life. Falling in love, falling for bullshit, falling up and learning from it all…and then writing about it. I immerse myself in other arts. As a writer, I need to hear music, see a show (theater), watch documentaries (I am a documentary junkie), play with my son in the park, take in an art exhibit…creativity begets creativity. That’s why movements like the Harlem Renaissance, Black Arts Movement, Beat Movement, are contagious. Viral paradigm shifts that permeated everything from film and music to cooking and architecture…I think that creativity is a context, not a construct and it can be created rather than waited on…like a strike of lightning.

3. Is poetry important to community? How and were do these concepts intersect for you?

Poetry IS community. When we start talking AND listening to each other, becoming aware of one another, and ultimately, are forced to acknowledge and perceive each other, we have a relationship. A community is a web of relationships. Poetry fosters community. Buying a book by a local poet supports the local economy. That’s community on a small scale. However, going to a slam where 12 poets read beside the feature (perhaps the author of said book), allows 13 voices into the fray, with the requisite attendance and participation of the studio audience, and voila, people are feelin’ other people. Community is what most people’s poetry is about, with all of it’s marvelous imperfections, profundity and absurdity.

4. How do you protect your creative space, both literally and figuratively?

I don’t. I leave my creative space exposed. That works for me. Doesn’t work for most people. Most people feel like there is some sort of decorum or maturation in the masquerade of public/private life. They pretend that someone who, as I like to say, lives their life out loud is either obnoxious, egotistical or immature. They think the teen that tweets their every emotion, relationship failure or heroic moment is vain or juvenile. I look at them as brave and transparent. Yes, my poetry is like my Facebook status or my Twitter feed (and soon Google+, so lemme show them some love here!). I will show you my self-righteous, save the world side (probably too much as my critics say), however will also show you my flawed, petulant, hurt and scared sides…there’s no need to pretend I always act 33 and positive when I do not. So expose my closet of skeletons in my poetry and my social media. However, that door to that closet has to be as open to air dirty laundry as it has to be open to shine some light and import some creativity in as well. The open wound has always been attractive to poetry audiences. Being open to failing in front of an audience increases the possibility of succeeding in front of an audience…even if it is audience of self, an audience of one. Everyone wants to look like they have the answer in the public eye, or like they have it together. We know from some of our greatest artistic geniuses that there is nothing “together” about brilliance. And though I certainly do not yet conceptualize myself as brilliant, I’m a fan of NOT having the answer. I’m a fan of thinking out loud. Thinking in public should be just as valued as always having the answer in public. As a matter of fact people should think in public more often. Unlike thinking in private, it rarely gets mistaken for not thinking at all.

5. Discuss the interdependence among performance art, performance poetry, and written poetry (or poetry on the page).

I think I touched on that. They are all part of a paradigm, the waves of influence in an artistic movement all dance in the same ocean. They move ships on the surface and in that regard, they shape our reality. They are the varying axes of a Cartesian coordinate system. The x, y, and z axes correspond to performance art, performance poetry and written poetry. Together they locate an object in a specific place, time, era, generation…like three people looking at a glass on coffee table from different angles and providing data on where that glass actually exists in time and space and what it looks like. We need them all to have an accurate description of reality, however subjective that is.

Preamble: It is quite an honor to be asked to sort of, interpret, in a way, Kathleen Ryan’s compositions. 3 pieces, I was given, Tangle Release & Bless. Around 3 and a half,  three and 2 and a half minutes, respectively. I fell in love with them all because they series…Tangle, Release and Bless, mimic the cyclical nature of life…fight, let go or flow, and reward…whether that be in experience, understanding, prosperity, or just the satisfaction of getting past it…whatever it was. It felt complete…and before I interpret Kathleen into Hakim-speak…I must say, “complete” is a great adjective to describe Kathleen’s work. My interpretation:

Silent Sanctuary – by hakim bellamy

The poet entered the sanctuary
As a cynic not a sinner
As a seer
Not a sayer
This time

This time
He was looking
For the word

This time
He needed inspiration
More than he needed
To be inspiring

And he was listening
For once
Maybe twice

The poet entered the sanctuary
As a sentencer
But not like them
Not a judge
But one who strings words
Into rosaries
That protect us
From not talking to each other
That shackle us to communities
For life

The poet entered the sanctuary
Stood in the doorway of silence
Praying to be met with
Music, mantra, melody
or even magic

He was met with none
As he crossed the threshold
Between craft and creation
As he has learned
On the street

That science ain’t shit
Without sanctimony
That anyone can read the notes
But it’s how you play’em
Anyone can write and read
A word
But it’s how you lay’em
How you say’em
Anyone can read a holy book
But it’s how you live it
People sleep under sheet music
All the time
And don’t give a fuck

It’s how you make love

The poet entered the sanctuary
To have his French pardoned
Amongst other things

But was disappointed
Because there would be more French

Disappointed
That God’s people
Were worshipping with mouths closed

Disappointed
That God’s people
Were worshipping with asses still

Disappointed
That Heavenly people
We’re afraid to love one another
To touch one another
To dance
Together

Confused
That they could read
A whole book
And have nothing to say
That they could read
An entire hymnal
And have nothing to sing
Nothing to dance

Who could read
And entire volume
Of divine poetry
And then pray in silence?

So the poet left the sanctuary
Back to the curbside pulpit
Where pain
And worship
Both have to be louder
Than the traffic

Where God is like a superhero
And you only ever see her
When your life’s in danger

And unlike the church folk
Cause of the nature of how he lives
He sees God everyday
Doesn’t even have to pray

But when he does
And when they do
They have a novel on the tip of their tongues
And God like stories
A lot

But what the poet forgot
Is that their poetry
Comes from silence
Not from sounds

And such poetry
If its good
Leads back
To silence
Again.

Amen.
(c) Hakim Bellamy August 20, 2011

Hakim Bellamy is a national and regional Poetry Slam Champion and holds three consecutive collegiate poetry slam titles at the University of New Mexico. His poetry has been published in Albuquerque inner-city buses and various anthologies. Bellamy was recognized as an honorable mention for the University of New Mexico Paul Bartlett Re Peace Prize for his work as a community organizer and journalist and was recently bestowed the populist honor of “Best Poet” by Local iQ (“Smart List 2010 & 2011”) and Alibi (“Best of Burque 2010 & 2011”).He is the co-creator of the multi-media Hip Hop theater production Urban Verbs: Hip-Hop Conservatory & Theater that has been staged in throughout the country. He facilitates youth writing workshops for schools and community organizations in New Mexico and beyond. Currently, Hakim is the Strategic Communication Director at Media Literacy Project. You can also read poetry by Hakim at 200 New Mexico Poems: http://200newmexicopoems.wordpress.com/category/hakim-bellamy/

Interview with Poet and Editor, Tanaya Winder

Upon our nearly simultaneous returns to Albuquerque after adventures took us afar,  I had the opportunity to catch up with friend, fellow poet and former work-shop peer Tanaya Winder. She has been busy  in the most worthwhile of ways since our days of collaborating poetry in Joy Harjo’s poetry class, and clearly understands the challenges of an emerging writer. I am happy  to share tales of Tanaya’s experience and strength in today’s interview. Please enjoy Tanaya’s lovely poem, which is followed by our interview.

—–

measure by measure: the body begs  
by Tanaya Winder

at the soul’s release please do not leave.
The last crescendo – breathing and
the body intertwined, two hands
offered as a gesture like grasping at butterflies,
longing to hold something precious.
The legatos of trying –
hear the search in continuous acts,
the staccatoed beats.
Dal capo al coda,
go back to the beginning
in the music of being human,
the final score and the counterpoint:
hands outstretched as if
to say I cannot stay

—-
You have accomplished quite a lot since we attended a Joy’s  poetry workshop at UNM together. Tell me more about what you have been up to.

Since Joy’s workshop in 2008, I’ve been writing as much as I can. Entering the MFA world was quite different than I expected. I imagined entering a community of fellow writers who were all so passionate about writing that they’d discuss it continuously, and through that discussion inspire each other. This isn’t to say that I didn’t find any inspiration at UNM, I did. I met fellow writers who enjoyed writing and even some who felt it was their life’s calling; but still, I felt something was lacking. Fortunately, Joy Harjo took me under her wing and agreed to let me take an independent study with her the semester after our poetry workshop. That independent study ended up helping me get involved in my biggest and most influential project so far, “Soul Talk, Song Language: Conversations with Joy Harjo.”

Joy mentioned wanting to put together another collection of interviews. We ended up really connecting in our views. I read her work and she read mine, so it made sense for us to collaborate. I spent the next two years assisting her with her book and was credited as co-editor of the collection. During those two years, I also ended up taking time off from the MFA program. I felt inundated with the teaching load and coursework. I wanted space for clarity and time to read what I wanted to read, to write what I wanted to write. I moved to Boulder, Colorado to work as the Assistant Director for the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Upward Bound Program. It was a good move for me physically and mentally.

In Boulder I started training for my 1st half-marathon and since then have completed 4 half-marathons. I also was able to take classes in CU’s MFA program, which offered a variety of courses and subjects that weren’t available at UNM. One month in my lyric poetry class gave me the inspiration and insight I needed to view poetry in a completely different way. Inspired by the coursework, I wrote the poem “The Impermanence of Human Sculptures” in an eight-hour sitting. I went on to edit the poem twice and submitted it for the “A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Spring 2010 Orlando Prize in Poetry” and ended up winning a $1000 first prize. I took that as I sign that I was where I needed to be.

You’d be surprised how much writing/work you can get done with a steady 8 to 5, 40 hour a week job. I read what I wanted to in the evenings, jotted notes, and even started a writing schedule. I’d wake up at 6AM every morning to write for at least 30 minutes, even if it was just stream of consciousness writing. On weekends I didn’t have any “homework” that I was required to do, no grading, or prepping for classes – all I had was time and I was grateful for it. I found a writing partner who recently moved to Boulder after completing her MFA in screenwriting. We met at coffee shops on Saturdays and Sundays to write and chat about writing. It was then that I realized – I am, indeed, a writer. I didn’t need a program to write, I didn’t need a teaching assistantship and I didn’t need a “workshop.” All I needed was determination to write. A poet-mentor of mine told me that the hardest part of finishing the MFA is continuing to write; he told me he believed I’d make it if I kept up with the writing I was doing. In my time away from UNM and my MFA program, I published 12 poems, 1 interview, 1 essay, and got the book deal with Joy Harjo through Wesleyan University Press.

I did realize that while I don’t need a MFA to be a writer, I do need it if I want to teach. As someone who absolutely believes that poetry is important to the community, I want to be able to teach in both university and community settings. In my first year at UNM, I felt the intersection between community and poetry was somewhat lacking, so I decided to drive home to my reservation once a month to teach a writing workshop at our local library. I loved it. It fed my soul and people enjoyed it. They kept coming back each month.

I think it’s important for poetry and writing to have presence in the community because it reminds you why you’re doing what you’re doing. Sometimes writing can be so solitary. You write, research, write, edit, revise, and write some more. You submit, get rejected, submit again, and again until (hopefully) acceptance. Aside from the occasional reading/performance we writers rarely get to see and interact with our readers, but in community work you get to interact with readers and help others learn how to render their own experiences through story and words. I am a person who hopes my own writing and poetry reflects the times and the needs of society; without interacting with the community the poetry cannot attempt to reflect communities and so I believe poetry must intersect with community. Poetry has the potential to create community for people who are searching for it by providing a space to interact and share experiences on the page.

But finding balance between teaching, community work, and writing can be difficult. I try to think of writing like working out: you don’t find the time for it – you make it. Like exercise, I find that poetry is necessary for me to maintain my health. Now that I am back teaching at UNM and finishing up my MFA I don’t wake up at 6AM to write. Coursework and all that is involved in teaching takes up a lot of time, but I still make sure that I put in at least an hour of “writing work,” which means researching or revising if I am not creating something new. I use goals to help force me to write by looking up special calls for submissions and tell myself that I am going to apply to them. I find deadlines and use a planner to fill in dates where I tell myself that I will submit to at least 3-5 magazines/journals a month. Even if I don’t have something “ready” I send it anyway to keep myself in the habit of writing and submitting. All of these, of course, are small goals in terms of the big plans I have.

It’s important to dream big. In the back of my mind I tell myself I want to have collections of poetry published and one day even have my 1st collection win a 1st book prize. I want to be a Stegner Fellow and dream of becoming a U.S Poet Laureate. I’m well aware of the odds of some of these things actually happening but that doesn’t keep me from dreaming because the dreaming pushes me to work harder. I know I have a lot of work to do before I get to where I want to be with my writing, but that’s the fun of it. You don’t get to where you want to be without putting in the work, and that’s true of both life and writing. Sometimes you sit there and re-work a poem revising lines, individual words, and structures until it seems like a big mess and then…clarity. The funny thing is you wouldn’t have gotten to a point of clarity without diving into the wreck and coming out on the other side. And hey, that’s life, that’s writing.

“Soul Talk, Song Language” by Joy Harjo and Tanay Winder are available at Wesleyan University Press  through their website at http://www.upne.com/0-8195-7150-4.html

—-

Biography:

Tanaya Winder is from the Southern Ute and Duckwater Shoshone Nations. She graduated from Stanford University in 2008 with a BA in English. Tanaya was a finalist in the 2009 Joy Harjo Poetry Competition and a winner of the “A Room of Her Own Foundation’s Spring 2010 Orlando Prize in Poetry.” Her poems have appeared in Cutthroat magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, Adobe Walls, and Superstition Review, amongst others and are forthcoming in Drunken Boat magazine. She teaches Composition and Introduction to Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico where she is currently pursuing her MFA in poetry. She is currently the Assistant Director for the University of Colorado-Boulder’s Upward Bound Program – a college prep program for over 85 Native American high school students from different reservations all across the country. In her free time she enjoys coffee, karaoke, and teaching a monthly writer’s workshop at the local library in her hometown, Ignacio, CO.

Tanaya also writes a blog “Letters from a Young Poet” at  http://tanayawinder.wordpress.com/

Interview with Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low

This week’s interview with Denise Low marks the beginning of the new Poet Laureate Series here at ZingaraPoet. Check back frequently for future interviews with Laureates from all over the U.S.

I first became familiar with Denise Low when I was an undergraduate student at Washburn University and was given a copy of “Kansas Poems of William Stafford,” which she edited. I read the collection, found legitimacy in its pages and figured anyone who put together a collection like that was all right by me.

Later, I discovered and read Low’s early collection of poetry, “Spring Geese.”  I think it resonated with me because, like the poems I write, this collection contains poems about that Kansas environment and natural history.

Fast forward to November 2010. I’m living in Kansas City  and learn that Denise Low, second Poet Laureate of Kansas, will be reading at The Writers Place to promote her latest collection,  “Ghost Stories of the New West.”  Nothing could make me miss it.

The reading that night was well attended  and Low did not disappoint. She is a dynamic reader and a gracious poet. I was thrilled to get a few minutes of her time to discuss poetry news and brag about my Alma Mater – home to Kansas’ first poet Laureate, Jonathan Holden. I did not know then that I would someday be asking her for an interview, but when the idea for a poet laureate series nudged my imagination, she was the first person I thought of (and, consequently, the first I asked).

In this interview, directly following Pocahontas, Denise discusses her revision process, the current state of the arts in Kansas, and encourages poets who may be questioning their dedication to their craft. Her biography follows the interview as do links to her blog and website.

Emjoy!

Pocahontas: A Portrait

                                In memory of Paula Gunn Allen

Oval face     eyes turned aside    

high collar, ruffled.     Once: a favored child              
cartwheeler      envoy between camps
student of  English      daughter of Powhatan           

 wife of Kocoum      political gamepiece          

kidnap victim of Argall      forced bride
converted wife of Rolfe      lady in wooden rooms
awaiting a child           mother of Thomas

literate Christian      forest Madonna

tobacco cultivator     London celebrity
ailing martyr.      Her words “Everyone must die.”
and “It is enough that     the child lives.”

Oil portrait filigree    tatting on a stamp

lace-wreath collar     the woman named Matoaka
narrowed-eyes look     a few days before the grave
frozen obliqueness      now the last oval face.

——

What did you take away from your experience as second Kansas Poet Laureate?

Being poet laureate of Kansas was a great honor, and it helped me appreciate the educators, writers, arts administrators, and librarians across the state. Sometimes in a capitalist society the arts, especially poetry, can seem frivolous, but I came to understand how word arts connect to most skilled fluency with language. Literary uses of language impel readers to learn history and context. This is not a time in history when superficial reading will suffice. Poetry trains its readers to read closely and with a mind open to unexpected associations. It is essential to understand multi-layered communications in the public, social media, and private realms.

How does poetry bring or add meaning to your life?

1. First, I became involved with poetry so young, that it is hard to tease out how it, among other experiences, add meaning to my life. It’s a spiritual practice—I do believe that learning the discipline of language is one of many paths to enlightenment. It requires engagement with reality, not neuroses. Observation and reflection are the polarity, and syntax the means along the way. So poetry keeps me connected to immediate experience, and it makes historic tradition collapse into the present moment. We use ancient words, and each use reinvigorates them. I cannot imagine my life without poetry.

2. Also, poetry helps me understand my multidimensional identity. It connects emotion, ideas, and spirit to the locus of body. And so it helps sort out the chaos—with grammar, syntax, image, and sound all coordinated into coherence. If a person visualizes a crystal, that sense of order is soothing. Likewise, and on more levels, poetry creates serenity—even poetry about hard truths.

How do you protect your mental and physical creative space?

I have arranged my days to create writing time—easier now that my child- and elder-caring years are behind me. The importance of my writing is an essential understanding in my marriage. I’ve claimed a small but nice room in the house for an office—it has a great view of the back yard—which is critical to my writing. My family, especially my husband, understands this is my calling. That support is invaluable.

Tell me how you approach revising your work.

Often. I write and rewrite. I have blind spots and repeat obvious words or miss opportunities. Once in a long while a poem comes out in one piece, but not often. To me, the editing is also very creative, and it gives me the opportunity to make better crafted writing. I’ve often been in a writers group, and I’ve worked with editors, so I’ve become impersonal about trying to improve work rather than treat it as a precious emanation from the great-poet-cosmos. Like William Stafford used to say, “Editors are our friends.”

In your 2006 interview with Miranda Ericsson, you mentioned you were thrown lifelines at crucial moments in your life. Can you elaborate on these lifelines? How did they manifest and how did they help?

I was about to abandon poetry and commit to developing prose projects when I won the Kansas Arts Commission Literary Arts Fellowship in Poetry, in 1991. That program was one award every two years to a poet in Kansas, and it was $5000. That was summer support plus a computer. Then in 2007 I became poet laureate for Kansas through the KAC, again. Of course, all those programs are suspended because of politics right now. These awards really helped me have the time needed to write and publish. I have been so fortunate to see so many aspects of the writing process and how it connects to audience. My next mission is to help restore these essential programs.

Currently, I am president of the board of directors for the Associated Writing Programs, and through this role I’ve been able to see a wide range of programs that serve poets and other writers. All these experiences deepen my understanding of how crucial creativity is to being a conscious, contributing citizen. Creative writing is, I believe, the deepest form of literacy. If you can write a poem, you can assemble your children’s toys, maintain your car, troubleshoot your computer, write grant applications, and select factual information from the bovine excrement in the news media.

How does keeping a blog fit in with your overall creative endeavors?

I’ve had some illness this summer, so I’m very behind on my blog. I want to use it as a forum for book and reading reviews, because my region and my literary genres are so underserved. Some fabulous writers get overlooked because of poor distribution and poor publicity. Blogging helps me feel empowered to present writers of merit. For starters, I’m thinking of Robert Day’s terrific book of essays The Committee to Save the World, Jo McDougall’s memoir, and William Trowbridge’s amazing Ship of Fool. These are terrific, first-rate works that will not be in the New York media. But the internet blogosphere is democratic, and I hope to take advantage of its strengths to promote some good writing.

Have you any advice to share with writers who may be struggling to continue their craft?

1. Yes—first, be professional. The novelist David Bradley told me this at a critical period in my life. A few people are able to work at other jobs all their lives and keep a parallel writer’s life going. These are few. Commit yourself to taking classes, being involved in a writer’s group, and other faster ways to learn than trial and error. I see many people who put off writing during their most productive years, retire, and then expect to have writing skills in a few weeks. My mentor Carolyn Doty told me it takes ten years to learn how to write a novel. I believe her. Putting off writing for practical reasons is the most risky choice—for example, your health may not hold up, and when you retire, you may not be able to write.

2. The second bit of advice is to get up early in the morning and write—you have some good hours before work schedules. Go to bed early, skip TV, and use those early hours.

3. Third, read as much as you can of writing that you admire and that relates to your field. One of the great paradoxes is people want to write poetry in great numbers, but they don’t want to read others’ poetry, even the greats. Trust me. Reading great poetry will not stifle your own originality.

4. Write about topics that matter. Reynolds Price did a great presentation at AWP one year about looking for material that will make a difference rather than self-centered cleverness. Hundreds of thousands of books are published and self-published every year. As a writer, what contribution can you make? I find myself impelled to document as much as I can of suppressed histories and voices. This led to the Langston Hughes in Lawrence project and many others.

What’s next?

Oh, so many projects. I have a number of articles that need revising. A book of essays about Midwestern literature—Natural Theologies—is coming out from The Backwaters Press of Nebraska later this year. I believe this is the first critical book entirely about contemporary literature of this region. I’m finishing a grant on Cheyenne ledger art, which is amazing conjoining of image and glyphic text. I’m trying to write a memoir about my grandfather who was of American Indian background. I want to get back to some research on Langston Hughes’s family. More.

Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-2009, has 20 books of poetry and essays, including Ghost Stories of the New West (Woodley), named one of the best Native American Books of 2010 by The Circle of Minneapolis and a Notable Book by the Kansas State Library & Center for the Book. Other books are To the Stars: Poets of the Kansas Ad Astra Project (Mammoth/Washburn University Center for Ks. Studies) and Words of a Prairie Alchemist (Ice Cube Press), both Kansas Notable Books; and Thailand Journal: Poems, a Kansas City Star notable book (Woodley). She has taught creative writing and literature at Haskell Indian Nations University, the University of Kansas, and the University of Richmond. She is 2010-2011 president of the board of directors for the Associated Writers and Writing Programs, and she has served that organization as vice president and conference chair. Awards are from the Academy of American Poets, The Newberry Library, Lannan Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, Kansas Arts Council, and Kansas Center for the Book. Her MFA is from Wichita State University and her PhD is from the University of Kansas. Her blog is http://deniselow.blogspot.com and website is www.deniselow.com

Interview with Poet Amy Beeder

Amy Beeder is the author of Burn the Field (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006). Her next book, Now Make An Altar, will appear from the same press in early 2012. Her work has appeared in POETRY, Ploughshares, The Nation, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review and other journals. She lives in Albuquerque and teaches poetry at the University of New Mexico. Amy has lived and/or worked in France (student), Mauritania (Peace Corps teacher), Suriname (elections) and Haiti (elections and human rights observation). Before teaching, she was was also a sous-chef, a freelance writer, and a political asylum specialist. She has been teaching at the University of New Mexico for ten years, is married and has two daughters.

1, Tell me a little bit about your history with poetry – the when, why and how of your experience.

A. Like most writers/poets, I started writing when I was in grade school: mostly poetry. I also took poetry workshops in college, but I never even thought of trying to publish anywhere beyond the small departmental magazine.

I spent a lot of time after college (and then after graduate school) working overseas or in DC . I never wrote anything but journals during those years

Basically, poetry remained an occasional hobby until I went to graduate school. There, even though my major was literature, I started taking workshops with a poet named Gerald Barrax. That’s when I started writing seriously.  A few years later (after another stint in Haiti), I decided I wanted to publish−a sudden mania!−and started sending out to magazines and contests. My big break came when I won the “Discovery”/The Nation Award in 2011. On the strength of that I was hired as an adjunct to teach poetry at UNM, which I’ve been doing ever since.

2. Many writers have regular writing schedules and rituals which contribute to their writing and creative product. How about you?

On mornings I don’t teach, and after my kids go to school, I sit at my desk with coffee and a sharpened pencil (which is only for fiddling around with or scribbling notes, I actually write on the computer). Often I spend awhile looking at other people’s poems, usually from whatever journals I’ve received in the last month, looking for a word I like, or looking through books on other subjects for an idea or interesting phrase.  I keep telling myself I need to write on a laptop at the coffee shop like everyone else. But I haven’t done it yet.

3. How do you maintain mental creative space when you can’t be at your work?

I talk to myself a lot.

4. In your experience, how do writing and teaching influence each other?

I love teaching poetry, but the influence it has on my own work is mostly to keep me from it.  I think most writers, if they’re being honest, would admit this. Both writing and teaching require considerable time and dedication, and both are kind of intoxicating when things are going well. It’s easy to let teaching push writing out of the way.

There’s a great essay by Stephen Dunn called “The Poet as Teacher: Virtues and Vices,” in which he says that teaching can’t hurt your writing as long as you remain more of a poet than a teacher.  I try to keep this in mind. If a poem is going well and I need to keep writing, the lesson plan, critique, grading, etc., can wait a day or two.

5. Tell me about any current or upcoming projects you are working one or hope to begin working on. How do your early creative dreams guide and inform these projects?

My second book, Now Make An Altar, will come out either late this year or in January 2012.  I am working on the third book, which will probably take a few years. I write slowly.

Read more about Amy Beeder at The Poetry Foundation. “The Sunday Poem” by Amy can be read at Duke City Fix

A copy of Amy’s book Burn the Field can be purchased at Amazon.com

Poet Interview: Colleen Maynard

I met Colleen Maynard in Kansas City when I attended a poetry group at the Writers Place for which Colleen was facilitator. I felt an immediate affinity for Colleen and her style for approaching poetry, which is both perceptive and intuitive. We became friends outside of the group and though she is now in Illinois and I in New Mexico, we remain in correspondence and feel certain our paths will cross again some day. Colleen is among the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever known and one of the many friends I am happy to have made during my eleven-month stay in Kansas City. I love what Colleen shares in her interview about living the artist’s life

Here is Colleen’s poem, Kindling Walk, followed by our interview together. I’ve also included Colleen’s professional bio.

Enjoy!

Kindling Walk
by Colleen Maynard

1.
After several blocks
the welts from the sticks
began to sear our cheeks.
So we decided we had gathered
enough kindling from the front lawns.
The red door loomed around the bend
just as
one stick pierced Nora’s stockings.

2.
He took injured and dying things with him
in the space underneath the scraggly pine trees.
The way he spoke to them,
there was a certain prodding in his voice
that inspired shy kids to speak.
Coming outside from the warm house,
it was so dark he felt like whispering.

Other of Colleen’s writings can be found at Fiction 365

I know that you are a visual artist in addition to being a poet. Discuss how visual art and poetry intersect or synthesize for you. 

As both writer and visual artist, words, images and ideas fuel my interest in the world. As a writer, my training as a visual artist remains firm, and as an artist I return to words and collecting. Growing up I burrowed into books and invented movie sets for their protagonists, i.e. re-fabricating a babysitter’s house as the creepy mansion in Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, or the local Detroit Art Institute as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in From the Mixed up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler. I also inherited my parents’ love of old movies; by nine, my siblings and I were creating our own scripts, songs and choreography to perform and film. These performances had a gloss of imagination I applied to my life. I began noticing richness in place and site. I started writing poetry, where my characters lived in these exaggerated worlds yet held fast to some sort of transcendence or escape. My visual work focuses on technique and process, drawing attention to things like landscape and language. Lately I have been working on a body of work using tiny, accumulative pinpricks to create short, prose-like sentences upon paper. The writing and art-making play nice together. I cannot do one without the other and having two loves makes me feel less limited.

Do you have any practices or rituals which help inspire you to work on your art?

I wish I could say I’ve got down a morning routine–the writer in me most appeals to mornings–but my visual artist side tends to be more nocturnal, so I’m a little bipolar in my practice. Overall though, when I need to write or make something with my hands I react as quickly to it as possible–usually giving myself a 24 or 48 hour period to do it in. I find to get that extra surge of motivation I often need to write or create, I have to do something physical–a hard bike ride or short run helps without fail. It gets me out of the house, into a density of experience, and thinking in concise, fast terms.

How do you make certain to spend time on your art or writing on a regular basis?

It’s important to balance out research/inspiration and actually doing the work. When I’m strapped for time or low on energy I allow myself to hibernate, using the time to read, take notes, look up artists and materials, reconnect with any friends I may have neglected, etc… it’s important to have real-life experience from which to reflect your work. It’s easy to get lost in the big picture thinking at times– “in order to be the writer/artist I want to be, I have to work harder, be there more often”–but let’s face it, it’s crippling to put yourself and your work on such a pedestal. By breaking it into steps– “today, I’m going to spend 40 minutes in studio, edit one poem, and send it off to one journal” –it feels more fluid and honest–not to mention doable and tactile, which, I have to remind myself at times, is the main reason I create; to get messy, to get to carry it over to another day as an integral part of my life. Living a real artist’s life, I think, is much more heroic than creating a masterpiece that hangs in a museum.

While most poetry doesn’t fit into any specific genre or adhere to any one description, there are useful ways to describe its aesthetics. Can you describe the aesthetic that your poems speak to or exemplify?

Much like children that grew up idolizing books and movies, the characters in my bodies of work constantly confront their expectancy for larger-than-life physicality and emotions, and the alternating euphoria and discrepancies that emerge from this expectancy. I’m attracted to human vulnerability and moments of violence counteracted by calm narratives. My work comes off soft-spoken and not developed to shock the eye, yet once read, precise and unforgiving.

Tell me about your future projects.

As well as continuing the pin-prick on paper series, I’m doing a lot of fine-line drawings using pen, ink and collage that center around the idea of a child’s version of a fictional landscape (i.e. miniature dollhouse and plastic toys amongst items a bird might scavenge in an urban setting for its nest). I’m lately drawn to cast-off toys that I grew up with  and re-examining the relationships I had to them (toy as child, toy as talisman, toy as obligation, etc.). I’m also working on more narratives in the same vein as my 2010 self-published chapbook, Tiny Things, with its various girls and their ways of experiencing that adults often do not.

——-

Bio:

Colleen Maynard is a poet and visual artist. She is a 2007 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and has taught visual and language arts at the Mattie Rhodes Art Center in Kansas City. Her writing has previously been published in such places as the Australian-based Ceramic Art and Perception, and she is currently making a chapbook containing prose and drawings.