Category Archives: Poet Interviews

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.