Thursday, August 18, 2016

Light into Bodies wins the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry


Overjoyed to report that my first book Light into Bodies has been selected as the winner of the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry and is forthcoming from University of Tampa Press! More information here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone: Interview

Thanks to Speaking of Marvels for this interview about my chapbook Clouds as Inkblots for the War Prone (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2013). Below is an excerpt from the interview. You can read the interview in its entirety here:
chapbookinterviews.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/nancy-chen-long 

"My arrangement of the manuscript was subsequently changed by the editor. She saw the arc in a slightly different—and better—way. (I cannot emphasize enough what a pleasure it is to work with a good editor.) She suggested that the manuscript open with an ekphastic poem titled “Lament for Icarus” that was inspired by an 1898 painting of the same name by Herbert Draper. In that way, Icarus and the associated myth would be the guiding force that propels the reader through the narrative. She also suggested ending with a poem called “Seeking Asylum,” which brings the reader back to Icarus at the end through the image of the falling sparrows that end the poem. She also commented that the ending image of falling sparrows alludes to the sparrows in the Hall of Souls (the Chamber of Guf in Jewish mysticism), which, to her, further enforced another thread that runs through the chapbook, that of the dangers/ pitfalls of human hubris."



Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Chapbook Chat: Katie Manning Discusses A Door with a Voice







A Door with a Voice
Author: Katie Manning
PublisherAgape Editions - A Sundress Publications Imprint

Publication date: 2016











The Book of Calm
        all that remains of Malachi

the day is coming
like a furnace
every
day
will set
you
on fire
you will go out and frolic like
ashes
on the day
that
dreadful day
when
the LORD
will come and strike the land with
children

originally appeared in the San Diego Reader

*   *   *   *   *

Katie Manning is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Whale Road Review and an Associate Professor of Writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. She is the author of four poetry chapbooks, including The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman (Point Loma Press, 2013), and her first full-length poetry collection, Tasty Other, is forthcoming in November as the 2016 winner of the Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award.

Author website: http://www.katiemanningpoet.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/katiemanningpoet/?fref=ts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/iamkatmann


*   *   *   *   *

[This interview was conducted via email in June 2016.]

Please tell us a little bit about A Door with a Voice.

KM: This chapbook is a selection of poems from a larger project, in which I'm taking the last chapter of each book of the Bible as a word bank and creating poems. For this chapbook, I selected the poems that focused on women, especially mothers, and children. The title is from the closing lines of one of my favorite poems in the collection, "The Song of Sons."

[A Door with a Voice is available from the publisher via free download.]


You mentioned that one of the reasons you started working on the poems was because you were tired of people taking language from the Bible out of context and using it as a weapon against other people, so you started taking language from the Bible out of context and using it to create art. Is the Bible a sacred text for you? How does religion/faith factor into your writing?

KM: The Bible is a sacred text for me, which is why I think it is worth spending the time to study it and to consider the larger contexts of the passages and books it contains. Some people selectively read scripture in ways that affirm (or ignore) their own behavior while conveniently condemning whoever it is they want it to condemn. That seems to me a poor way to treat a sacred text.

I don't think I can ever escape my own identities and concerns when I'm writing poetry. Even if I'm not explicitly writing about the Bible, it's part of me. Even if I'm not writing explicitly about myself, I'm writing as a feminist, a mother, a wife, a daughter, and more. All of my experiences and roles have shaped the way I perceive the world.



In a 2012 Kenyon Review article “The Weight of What’s Left [Out]: Six Contemporary Erasurists on Their Craft,” Andrew David King asks the following:
Usually, the literary self seems to be a positive construction, but erasure challenges that notion, expropriating and subtracting in lieu of adding. Do you think it’s still possible to excavate an identifiable self from your erasures? What about your work is distinctly “you,” if anything?
Here are excerpts from the interviewees responses:
  • Janet Holmes (The ms of my kin): “Why does there need to be an “identifiable self” in the poems? … The concerns of the resultant text are my own, and I think are identifiable as such in the context of my other writing, but I did not explicitly seek to create “a self” that could be identified as me, and have the erasure speak its words.”
     
  • Srikanth Reddy’s (Voyager): “When you erase a text, you’re “unearthing” possibilities of phrasing, voicing, and thinking that are already embedded but somehow buried or hidden within the language. Oddly, though, I did find that as I erased Waldheim’s book, with its ghastly bureaucratic language, I kept finding “my” voice within it.”
     
  • Travis Macdonald (The O Mission Repo): “[T]he act of erasure leads toward the discovery of otherness. … My own role as poet in this process has more closely resembled that of an archaeologist much more than that of an architect.”
     
  • Matthea Harvey (Of Lamb): “Erasure is like any other form—it shapes the content and also leads you to say things you wouldn’t have said without its strictures, but I think some very distinct particles of “you-ness” get caught in that sieve.”
     
  • David Dodd Lee (Sky Booths in the Breath Somewhere): “But it also felt possible I might craft something, using Ashbery’s work as source material, that sounded nothing like Ashbery. I mean, I had no idea, at first, what would happen, which was partly the point… But then, after a while, the poems started to seem like they were mostly mine (I just started feeling that they were).”
     
  • M. NourbeSe Philip (Zong!): “If I were to discern traces of what is “distinctly” me in Zong!, it is to be found less in the writing itself and more in the willingness to risk—to sail in the dark with no compass. With only one’s heartbeat to accompany one.”
Which one(s) of the above, if any, resonate with you and why? How would you answer King’s question?

KM: Several of these resonate with me, but especially the answers from Janet Holmes and Matthea Harvey. I didn't set out to read myself into the biblical texts that I used as word banks, but my concerns certainly crept into the language that I selected and the ways that I formed my poems from those limited words. This project was a self-assignment that kept me writing after I became a mother, finished my dissertation, and started a full-time job--a chaotic time when it would've been easy to stop writing poetry. Without intending to, I wrote several poems for the larger project that focused on mothers and children, which happily led to this unexpected chapbook. I imagine that these poems would have a different focus if I'd written them at a different time of life.



One of the attractions of chapbooks as a form is that they can be beautiful, limited-edition works of art, poetry-as-artifact. A Door with a Voice is an e-chapbook, which means it’s digital. Why did you choose the e-chapbook as a form for your manuscript? How does the e-chapbook form benefit your work?

KM: Honestly, I was hesitant about publishing an e-chapbook at first, but Fox Frazier-Foley (Editor of Agape Editions) "got" my project and was so excited about these poems, and she wants to publish chapbooks digitally to make the work more widely available to readers. I love getting to share my project with anyone who wants to download it, and it's a relief that I don't have to sell anything!

At the same time, I love the hand-bound and limited edition chapbooks that I had published by Boneset Books and Yellow Flag Press in 2013. They are special. I also love my chapbook The Gospel of the Bleeding Woman, which is perfect-bound and widely available through Wipf & Stock, Amazon, and elsewhere. I'm so glad there is this great variety in chapbook publishing.



What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

KM: As I already mentioned, one of my very favorite poems in this chapbook is "The Song of Sons." It was so fun to work with the language from Song of Songs, which is very familiar to me, and to make the words feel new. I love how the language of lovers in the original book shifts into an unspoken language of love-longing from a nursing infant to his mother in my poem. Since I have two sons, this poems feels especially close to me.

The Song of Sons
         all that remains of Song of Songs

if I found you
I would
drink
the nectar of
head
and
arm

wake
mother

place me
over your heart

your arm
is
strong as death
unyielding as
love

a
breast
is a door
with
a
voice

let me hear

(first published in Queen Mob's Teahouse)



You shared that you started working on the manuscript because you needed a prescribed project in order to keep writing poems: You’d just finished your dissertation, given birth to your first child, and started a new full-time professor gig. (WOW!) What was it about working on these poems that kept you engaged?

KM: I'm still sick of people causing harm by taking verses from the Bible out of context, so that motivation never left me, but I was also driven to keep writing by the strictures of the project: I always knew what to work on next. The words were right there for me to use, which was especially handy in the throes of new motherhood and sleep deprivation. Getting enthusiastic feedback from writer friends also kept me going, especially when I got partway through the first drafts and wondered if anyone else would ever want to read these weird poems.



Have you given a public reading of the work? What was the audience response? Did you encounter anything you were not expecting?

KM: Yes, I've read them to a variety of audiences: to a small group of friends, at a pop culture conference, and even in my Jesus costume at a Poetry Circus! Since I was so earnest in my writing of these poems, and since I was afraid no one else would want to hear or read them, I was shocked the first time I shared them and people laughed! I was certainly not expecting people to laugh or to be moved by them, but I've gotten really enthusiastic feedback every time I've shared these poems.



What else would you like readers to know about you or your chapbook?

KM: I've already said a lot about myself and my poems, so let me say that I'm thrilled to have David Adey's art as the cover image for A Door with a Voice. He's one of my very favorite artists, and I think of my Bible word banking project as a kind of "kindred art" to his work with magazine covers and ads. You can check out more of his work at http://www.davidadey.com/



What are you working on now?

KM: I've just completed a full revision of the larger Bible word banking project, which still needs a title. I'm also working on a series of poems that use board games as a starting place to explore relationships and memory, and I'm working on a series of prose poems that are addressed to my late granny (and that also explore relationships and memory... perhaps these sequences will merge). Thanks for asking!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Broadsides

"The Second Fallacy"

Poetry broadsides are single poems printed on one side of a sheet of paper, sometimes with artwork, sometimes not. I think of them as a cross between written work and artwork because they're usually beautiful and suitable for framing. It's not uncommon for a literary journal or press to publish a broadside from one of their publications, such as the broadside of "Good Bones," by Maggie Smith from her book book Weep Up published by Tupelo Press. It's not uncommon for broadsides to be signed by the poet, for example the letterpress limited-edition prints from the Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review Broadside Series and those offered by the Academy of American Poets.

You can make your own broadside. You can use plain paper if you wish. I like to use card stock or paper with a finish, such as linen. While broadsides can be larger, such as poster size, 8.5 x 11 and postcard are more common sizes. You can print them yourself or have them printed at an office store or local printer.  If you're looking for free artwork, trying searching for images in the public domain or the Creative Commons. Wikipedia has a list of public-domain image resources. And the Creative Commons (CC) has created a wonderful portal that will let you search various sites for CC images, e.g., Google, Wikimedia, and Flickr each have a Creative Commons component. Here is the CC portal: http://search.creativecommons.org/

If you're interested in broadside contests and publishers, I've listed some contests and publishers below. And for more information about poetry broadsides in general, see:

* Babcock Books: "What is a Broadside?"
* Kyle Schlesinger: "A Look At Some Contemporary Poetry Broadsides"
* Maureen E. Doallas: "Poetry Broadsides Roundup"

Broadside Contests


Heartwood Broadside Series Contest

  • Prize: $500, plus 25 copies of a letterpress broadside of the poem
  • Contest runs from Apr 1 -  Jun 1
  • Entry fee: $15, includes a mailed copy of the winning broadside
  • Submissions must be previously unpublished and can be one poem or flash prose piece (fiction or nonfiction) of 250 words or less
  • Previously published work allowed: No
  • Winner selected by July 1
  • See website for complete details: http://www.heartwoodlitmag.com/contest/

Hit and Run Press Annual William Dickey Broadside Contest

  • Prize: $1,000, plus the publication of a limited edition of letterpress broadsides
  • Contest runs from Sep 1 -  Nov 31
  • Entry Fee:  $10.  One entry per poet
  • Poems must between 12-30 lines
  • Previously published work allowed? Yes
  • See website for complete details: http://www.mrbebop.com/annual-broadside-contest/

Littoral Press Poetry Prize

  • Prize: 50 letterpress-printed broadsides of the winning poem
  • Contest runs until Aug 12.
  • Entry fee: $10 for the first poem, $5 for each additional poem
  • Poems must be no more than 30 lines (This line count includes lines for stanza breaks.)
  • Previously published work allowed? Yes
  • Winner announced in September
  • See website for complete details: http://littoralpress.com/web/current-events/


Omnidawn Publishing Single Poem Broadside Poetry Prize

  • Prize: $1,000, plus 50 copies of a letterpress broadside of the poem, and publication in OmniVerse, Omnidawn Publishing's online journal.
  • Contest runs from Aug 1 -  Oct 17
  • Entry fee: $10 for the first poem, $5 for each additional poem
  • Poems must be between 8 and 24 lines (This line count includes lines for stanza breaks.)
  • Previously published work allowed? No
  • Winner announced Apr 2017
  • See website for complete details: http://www.omnidawn.com/contest/poetry-contests.htm#broadside-contest


Broadside Publishers


Broadsided Press selects poems to publish. See their website for submission guidelines.

Thrush Press selects poems to publish. See their website for submission guidelines.

Smokey Road Press will print your poem as a broadside. See their website for fees and other information.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Chapbook Chat: Kelly Fordon Discusses The Witness

[trigger warning: child abuse]






The Witness
Author: Kelly Fordon
PublisherKattywompus Press

Publication date: 2016











The Witness #2

The Witness is just like you and me.
Most days he doesn’t feel like saying
anything antagonistic. Most days
he’s happy with toast and tea, a little
bit of television, a stroll, but every
now and then The Witness is struck
down mid-jaunt. Every now and then,
The Witness tumbles down the stairs.
The water in the shower comes out
scalding hot. The Witness’s hair
falls out in clumps. The Witness
can’t remember his name, he can’t
even get out of bed. Shake it
off? There is nothing he would like
more. If you run into The Witness
at a dinner party, he will not bring
it up. He’ll listen to your suburban saga
politely. He’s been known to suck
down a shot of vodka, a snort or two.
In other words, he could be you.
If you had witnessed it. If you
were on your merry way one day
when you were very small and everyone
around you was very very tall.
The Witness can not talk about this
like a normal person, which is why
they sometimes lock him up,
they keep him under observation.
Like a faucet that’s lost a clot,
he can’t seem to make the images stop.

originally appeared in Mudlark

*   *   *   *   *

Prior to writing fiction and poetry, Kelly Fordon worked at the NPR member station in Detroit and for National Geographic magazine. Her fiction, poetry and book reviews have appeared in The Boston Review, The Florida Review, Flashquake, The Kenyon Review (KRO), The Montreal Review, Rattle, Red Wheelbarrow, The Windsor Review and various other journals. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, On The Street Where We Live, which won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest, Tell Me When it Starts to Hurt, which was published by Kattywompus Press in May 2013 and The Witness, released by Kattywompus Press in January 2016. Her short story collection, Garden for the Blind, was published by Wayne State University Press in April 2015 and has been chosen as a Michigan Notable Book. She works for the Inside Out Literary Arts in Detroit as a writer-in-residence.

Author website: http://www.kellyfordon.com/

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kellyfordonAuthor/

LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kelly-fordon-aa095a10

Twitter: https://twitter.com/kfor24

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kfor2260/

*   *   *   *   *

[This interview was conducted via email in March 2016.]

Please tell us a little bit about The Witness.

KF: This book was written in response to my personal experiences as well as the 10,000 pages of testimony provided by survivor’s of sexual abuse at the SNAP  network (http://www.snapnetwork.org/) , as well as the Center for Constitutional Rights (http://www.ccrjustice.org/category/project/snap).



As the title suggests, these poems, written in response to the testimony of those abused by Catholic priests, bear a lyrical witness. Please tell us a bit about your process of creating poetry out of another person’s story or testimony. In her essay “Reading the Living Archives: The Witness of Literary Art” (Poetry, May 2011), Carolyn Forché wrote “In the poetry of witness, the poem makes present to us the experience of the other, the poem is the experience, rather than a symbolic representation.” Is that the case for you?

KF: Generally speaking I would think twice about co-opting another person’s experience, even if I felt I was doing it with the best intentions. In this case, I am very close to the material because I was raised in the Catholic Church and I was an altar girl. However, this chapbook is not about “me” in particular or my personal experiences, and I don’t want my personal experiences to cloud anyone’s reading of this work. Anyone who wants to read about the genesis for these poems should refer to the snapnetwork.org website and the Center for Constitutional Rights website.



You also mentioned that a good number of the poems are written in the voice of a “witness,” and it got me to thinking about persona poems. In a March 2015 Girls Write Now post “Challenges & Rewards In Persona Poetry: A Mentee-Mentor Perspective,” Cindy Chu, in an interview with Katie Zanecchia, writes: 
At its core, persona poetry forces poets to better identify themselves in order to take on another’s perspective. After all, how do you become someone else without defining who you are, in addition to who they are? While poets construct poems from the view of their chosen characters, the resulting poetry is their own. Whether through use of vocabulary, syntax, or punctuation, poets shape others’ voices into wholly unique works of art. Therefore, persona poetry says as much about the poet as it does her subject. The way that personas are presented on paper provides great insight into poets’ sense of self. 
 Did you find the above true for you? Please tell us a bit about voice and persona in your poems.

KF: I wrote an earlier chapbook called On the Street Where We Live which includes persona poems in the voices of imagined women on “my” street. They were not, in reality, the women I knew, but an amalgamation of all of our experiences—divorce, abuse, loss, career aspirations, motherhood, etc. In those poems I had the sense that I was writing someone else’s story and trying to ascertain what it felt like to be going through the experience of domestic abuse or estrangement etc.

In this new chapbook, I was overtaken by the witness; I felt completely merged with the witness, and the voice materialized out of that rage. I hired Laura Van Prooyan as a manuscript consultant (she is excellent by the way!) and she said “Did you mean to mention the white robes and the penitent’s belt so many times?”

I did.

If I had been writing the poems with my poet hat on I would have looked for different images, but it is true to this witness that the white robe and the penitent’s belt come up over and over again. The witness is obsessed and the repetition is organic to the voice.



What difficulties or challenges did you encounter in writing some of the poems? Have you given a public reading of the work? What was the audience response? Did you encounter anything you were not expecting?

KF: I have not had a problem publishing the poems. Both William Slaughter at Mudlark and Sammy Greenspan at Kattywompus Press have been very supportive. I have only read the poems once at a conference in Windsor. Several people who were affected by the scandal came up to me afterwards, including Mary Ann Mulhern, a former nun and poet, who published When Angels Weep, a poetry collection about the Father Charles Sylvester sexual-abuse case in Canada.

That being said, I feel tentative about presenting this work in public and if/when I do readings, I always begin with a content warning in order to allow people to leave the room if they need to—it can be very hard to hear. It’s also difficult to broach this material with my Catholic friends and family some of whom may see these poems as an attack on the church. There’s nothing I can do about that, unfortunately.



What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

KF: I like "The Victim’s Testimony." It’s one of the more graphic poems, but it illustrates how I feel about the whole debacle—angry, frustrated, violated, and dismissed. The image of the filing cabinet door closing on all of the 10,000 pages of victim testimony (some estimates are now at over 100,000 victims worldwide) felt like an apt metaphor.

The Victim’s Testimony

I’m stuck in this file cabinet.
Who wants to finger me?

My words are onion paper thin.
Easily crumpled, easily tossed.

In French class I say,
“S'il vous plaît ne faites pas ça.”

Shower me with holy water
and I scream like Asmodeus.

The first robe is always white
but the outer one changes

like his performance. It was purple
that day to remind us of our sins.

As if I could forget.
As if God could. The light

above my box is always red,
which means stop, a word

I use more than any other.

(published in The New Poet and Mudlark)



Please discuss the choice for a chapbook. For example, why did you choose the chapbook as the vehicle for your poems rather than a book-length manuscript or a section in a book? When you started, did you intend to create a chapbook? How long did it take to write this chapbook (or, alternatively, how did you know it was time to stop writing)?

KF: I wrote these poems in a very short period of time when I was immersed in reading the SNAP testimony. When I was finished, I had around twenty poems. I have published with Kattywompus before and so I naturally sent the work to Sammy. She said yes right away and I was happy they found a home and an advocate. I am still working on the full-length collection, but I have had to take some breaks along the way because the material is hard to face day in and day out. There have been periods when I can’t do it and then I come back to it a month or two later.



What else would you like readers to know about you or your chapbook?

KF: I would like the survivors who have given testimony to know that they have made a real difference in people’s lives. I for one, will keep advocating. The film Spotlight highlights how many people were complicit in the cover-up—no one wanted to challenge the Catholic Church, even though there were children’s lives at stake. How scary is that? Hopefully now people realize silence is reprehensible.



What are you working on now?

KF: I’m working on a full-length poetry collection and a novel.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Chapbook Chat: Janet MacFadyen Discusses In the Provincelands







In the Provincelands

Author: Janet MacFadyen

PublisherSlate Roof Press

Publication date: 2012









The Future Melts by Janet MacFadyen

You could hold it in your mouth
like chocolate.
What comes of this is desire, and if you taste it
what comes is plenty, it is so sweet.
Then what comes
is that point of stillness inside the body.
That is why cats are so liquid.
That is why the leaf
floats down and down in the warm air though it is fall,
and thoughts slow like a train
coming to a halt in the middle of a cornfield,
at night, in October, leaves glinting on the ground.
You could get off here in the darkness with the
others, quietly talking and looking up at the stars,
whose light has traveled from so far away
and so long ago.

originally appeared in The Daily Hampshire Gazette

*   *   *   *   *

Janet MacFadyen is the author of three works of poetry, including her Slate Roof Press chapbook, In the Provincelands, a full-length work, A Newfoundland Journal (Killick Press), and an earlier chapbook In Defense of Stones (Heatherstone Press). A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has published widely, including in Poetry, The Atlantic, The Southern Poetry Review, Rosebud, and Malahat, and is forthcoming in Crannóg. Janet has held a seven-month residential fellowship at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, as well as writing residencies at Cill Rialaig (County Kerry, Ireland), and at the Fowler and C-Scape dune shacks in Provincetown. She lives in woods of Shutesbury, MA, with her husband, the photographer Stephen Schmidt.

Author's LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/janet-macfadyen-4864b637

Slate Roof Press Collective Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/slateroofpress

*   *   *   *   *

[This interview was conducted via email in February 2016.]

Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook.

JM: In the Provincelands is the fruit of my work with Slate Roof Press, a small western Massachusetts publishing collective established in 2004. Somewhat like Alice James, or Sixteen Rivers in San Francisco, collective members work for several years before, during, and after the publication of their chapbooks. The poems are vetted by the collective in advance (these days we run an annual chapbook contest). Also we are fortunate to have a wonderful letterpress printer as a permanent member, who works with each of us in the production of the book. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say my chapbook is a beautiful object. In addition to the special papers and hand-sewn binding, the cover has a die-cut sliver moon, which grows to a full moon on the fly leaf and title page, behind which is a full-color impressionistic photo, shown here:

Photo credit: Stephen Schmidt 


You mentioned to me earlier about the themes of the book, “…food, the body, animals, and merging of self/confusion of self.” Having read in your speaker bio for the 2015 Massachusetts Poetry Festival that you were dubbed the Vegetable Queen of Poetry, I had to smile when you told me you identify with root vegetables sometimes more so than you do with being human, which I think I see reflected in your poem “Fetch” (http://www.sweetlit.com/4.1/poetMacFayden.php, the last poem on the page.) Could you expand on some of the themes of the chapbook a bit more for us? And I’m curious, about your title Vegetable Queen of Poetry, and especially curious: Why root vegetables?

JM:I have never fully disentangled from the sense that vegetables are not so different from people. If you look at DNA, we share much of our genomes with vegetables and are a lot more closely connected to a cabbage than we might wish to think. But I also am playing out an old family drama in my poems set in the kitchen, where I watched the food getting chopped, diced, boiled, roasted; and witnessed the power that women wielded there (I grew up in the 50s, when the kitchen was a female domain). It seems to me a grotesque system that nature has put into place, where we must eat other living plants and animals in order to remain alive. So I have always wanted to know why: why, in order for some people to prosper, do others have to be destroyed? Why are some people in charge, and others under the boot? "Fetch," "For a Dog," "Your mission," "Through the Eye of a Potato," and "Night of the Mushroom" all explore these ideas in one fashion or another.

Tying into the above, much of my early and middle life I spent trying to escape depression and underlying feelings that I did not have a right to live — I was underground, underfoot. I have mostly thrown the depression off, but many of my poems still start in the dirt. I may approach the subject with humor or whimsy (as in "Through the Eye of a Potato"), but the subject itself is not funny. So when you ask Why root vegetables?, the answer is because they are tough-skinned, live in dirt, and survive the winter; humans consign them to the dust of cellars, but they still sprout and grow furiously. They are also rib-sticking food; you might not describe them as delicious, but they will keep you alive if you are starving.

At the same time, my other poems —fully half of the chapbook — explore journeys through dreamscapes or landscapes in which I am either disoriented or — amazingly and gratefully — grounded in my own body, in love with the world, my mate, and myself. I am 63 years old but in some fundamental fashion I still don't know who I am, or where I am. I find it completely disorienting to walk around in this world as if I belonged here, as if it made sense for us to be here, on this piece of rock flying through space. I have a hard time calling one's dream life at night "false," compared to the waking life, which most everyone would consider to be "true." Or at least, the waking life is so amazing and bizarre if you really look at things, that it does not seem so very different from dreams.



You also said that you used to play the flute. Ezra Pound once wrote:
Poets who are not interested in music are, or become, bad poets. I would almost say that poets should never be too long out of touch with musicians. Poets would will not study music are defective. (Literary Essays of Ezra Pound, New Directions Publishing, pg 437)
What impact to you think being a musician has had on the way you write and/or read poetry? What are your thoughts on what Pound said?


JM: Ooof, Pound is awfully judgmental in the quote above. I have read and heard poetry that was not based in musicality and took its punch from voice or integrity. For example, Adrian Oktenberg's The Bosnia Elegies do not strike me as being musical, but her book brought me to a full stop into an understanding of war that no other poet has done for me—and she achieved this by being so amazingly blunt and unwavering about what happened in that conflict. However, I do believe musical resonances in poetry exponentially expand its impact, and can take a poem that reads like gibberish and give it some wild integrity apart from meaning. My poems oftentimes start with a semiconscious rhythm, though not necessarily from music; it can be the thump and thud of boulders in a current of water, something that's under my skin that becomes audible, and I'll think: what's trying to surface, what's trying to be heard?

The other sonic devise that is really important to me is the breath, and how the line follows the impulse of the breath. In my poems focused on journey I wanted the lines to roll in one after the other like breakers ("Florida Revisited" or "In the Provincelands (I)", both of which appear in Sweet.)

I did play the flute when I was younger, but I was too shy to perform so I turned to writing, an easier art to do in solitude. The flute brought me a visceral sense of creating a complete musical phrase, of using your breath to propel an idea, melody, or tone to fruition. Added to this, as a teenager I believed the flute would bring home my absent father; it had a siren song quality about it that I thought no one could withstand, not even the hard rock of my father. Something of that feeling of loss gets translated into my poetry via the incantatory sound of words and lines.



You’ve got a full length book out, A Newfoundland Journal (Killick Press), as well as third, In Defense of Stones (Heatherstone Press). For In the Provincelands, what drew you to the chapbook form? If I understand correctly, some of the poems took years to write. What’s the oldest piece in the book? the newest? How did you know you had chapbook? Was it difficult to integrate the poems?

JM: I don't actually favor either form, the chapbook or full-length work. I think they are haphazard categories, and what matters is whether the length fits the material. In my case, I joined the Slate Roof collective when I had two potential manuscripts in process — one was A Newfoundland Journal, a short work by full-length standards which I considered trimming in order to publish it via Slate Roof. But I was glad when I got the offer for a full book from Killick Press in St. John's, Newfoundland. The other manuscript could also have been full-length, but the process of putting out the chapbook forced me into choosing poems that I felt were both my best work and fit together in some intuitive way. I wanted the chapbook to be a showcase of what I could do and possibly be a teaser for a later, longer work; it didn't matter to me if the poems were old or new. I have worked the same material over and over in my life with newer work sometimes gaining insight that wasn't to be had earlier, and older work sometimes nailing an issue in a way that I could not recreate now.

My chapbook In the Provincelands alternates between the "in the dirt" food poems, which can be stanzaic, and more surreal, free-flowing dreamscape or journey poems; and I have had that same oscillation now for forty years. If I am lucky enough to have a poem that lives on past me after I die, no one will care whether I wrote it early or late in life. Out of the 20 poems, eight of them were old, with "Your mission" being the oldest; about the same number were new at the time of joining Slate Roof (the newest being "Fetch" and the two title poems). "The Luna Moth" I began in the 90s, radically rewrote it in 2011, and published it in 2012. Does that make it an old poem or a new poem? It only matters when people try to judge whether an artist's career is on the ascendency or descendency, with some kind of an assumption that only the new work matters. But to me, we are simply following our life's outflowing, and our work reflects that flow.



What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

JM: My favorite poems vary, but "Through the Eye of a Potato" is — at the moment — the most important poem to me because it most directly expresses the issues I described earlier in the second question above, about feeling buried, about my right to live and grow. It is told through the point of view of a potato, and I read it as a call to arms, as a liberation poem, a resurrection poem about potential rebirth. (The birth is not actual because in 2012, at the time I published the chapbook, I did not understand the roots of my depression as well as I do now.) Like "The Luna Moth," its genesis was decades ago, and it took about 10 years to get it into shape, with its final form happening only in 2012.

Through the Eye of a Potato

Lying there in a black furrow I saw
how sunlight lit the hard earth, stroked the brown
wrinkled face of my grandfather dozing beneath me.
Sooner or later his head would flower: already

he loved burlap and brown paper bags and in my greening
I mimicked him, brushing marl and peat from a dozen eyes.
I sensed an uprising out of everything dark
and underfoot, and possibly out of my own heart

if only I knew how to see. My grandfather wheezed.
He said, "Study it, girl, it's there for the taking."
I copied his dusty squint, lying motionless by the hour
until rain burst open the green heart of the ground,

and I knew I loved water and round,
ugly things: puffballs and toads grunting in litters.
Everything living was demanding its right
to grow round and fat and put down roots.

My grandfather drilled frilly corkscrews in fields and in
my mind, reeled out vine after vine of pale fuzzy
leaves until he was wreathed in them like a happy
harvesting god. And though I was full to bursting,

I knew nothing of the blossoms that on moonless nights
potatoes dream of, clustered together in clods of dirt—
and nothing at all of roots, except how to hold tight
to my grandfather as he tightened his grip on the earth.



You were a poetry finalist in the Terrain.org 5th Annual Contest with your poetic sequence "Five Ghazals from a Provincetown Dune Shack." Please tell us a bit about writing in form. Do you do it frequently? Were these poems experimentation with the ghazal or do you write in that form often? Tell us a bit about the deviations from the standard form that you took in some of the ghazals in "Five Ghazals from a Provincetown Dune Shack."

JM: I don't frequently write in forms, though I am drawn to internal and end rhymes, and use them whenever they present themselves. However — now I will contradict what I said earlier about working the same material over and over — in 2011 I started a totally new collection inspired by ghazals and drawn from many years of keeping trip journals. The core poems came into being after a residency in a Provincetown dune shack. There I rode out a powerful October storm — the rain and sand blew sideways, a window flew open in the night, the walls vibrated as if the shack was about to take off, and the woodstove howled like a banshee from wind across its vent pipe. And there was no road out — only a three-quarter-mile footpath over open dunes to get to town. I thought I was going to die. The experience galvanized me in a way hard to describe. I had been reading Robert Bly's ghazals, Aga Shahid Ali, and Allen Ginsberg, but Bly's 12-syllable triplets were etched in my mind. (Classic ghazals use 18-syllable couplets, but both formats work out to 36 syllables per stanza.) I now have a full-length manuscript of what I dub "American" ghazals," which do not employ the refrain nor the repeating word at the end of each stanza, but do feature stanzas which stand thematically and emotively alone — with greater or lesser intuitive leaps between them. Some of my poems are quite narrative and others much more leapy; some are more true and others less so to the conventions of the ghazal. I have used the poet's signature in the ultimate stanza when it moved me to do so, and overall I tried to remain true to the ghazal's implied dialog between the speaker and some external presence (lover, spirit, reader, friend); and the key elements of longing and intoxication.



What poets did you look to for inspiration?

JM: Aracelis Girmay is currently the poet whose work I return to when a poem-in-progress is too directive or constrained; or if my tendency to tie up the ending in a pretty bow has gotten the better of me. I love how her work just unfurls in this glorious stream of ideas and images so grounded in physicality. Her poems have helped unblock me numerous times. Audre Lorde and Adrian Oktenberg (mentioned above) also have influenced me in giving me courage to speak out and in my slow evolution towards the more political writing that I am doing now. Oh, who else? Robert Bly influenced me hugely in recent years, as has Allen Ginsberg. Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, Seamus Heaney, and Walt Whitman were old influences. Blake and Keats. I return to all of them.



What are you working on now?

JM: I view my chapbook as a preliminary, veiled exploration into power dynamics, both the survival of the fittest imposed by nature, and power dynamics imposed by human society. I am currently working on this theme with much more clarity in a full length manuscript (different from the manuscript of ghazals described above). A lot of the new poems start in the dirt, but my dream is to have them fly by the end.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Chapbook Chat: Robert Walicki Discusses The Almost Sound of Snow Falling







The Almost Sound of Snow Falling

Author: Robert Walicki

PublisherNight Ballet Press

Publication date: 2015









First Snow by Robert Walicki

Even when it came and afterwards, it hits me like a surprise wind.
The last clothes of the summer on a line:

Transparent flowers on my sister’s spring dress still wet and swinging,
or the long threadbare robe of my fathers’ that finally tore itself free,

hung there in the air is if weightless
held by something I couldn’t see.

A waiting, something slow like that.
Pausing and stopping, like music gone quiet

and starting again. Cool as a fridge door opening,
a breeze when a car is moving. Watching children run in a soccer game.

And cheering. Pizza so hot it burns the roof of my mouth, that walk over frozen mud
to get a bottle of water

to cool it and I am suddenly alone with what I’ve taken, what I can’t leave behind.
Not even that small boy covering his ears outside, the woolen hands

that hold the wind back to stare at something so large and black above his head,
while the pieces of something keep falling as if torn,

pages from a book that sat open by his parents’ bed:
In the beginning, God created the heavens, and the earth

was formless and void
Words I never got close enough to read or understand,

only that whiteness.
That miracle of 2 am when the roads have no memory.

Sidewalks, unbroken by footsteps.
And no one awake at this hour to sweep it away.

from The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015)

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Robert Walicki is the curator of VERSIFY, a monthly reading series in Pittsburgh, PA. His work has appeared in HEArt, Stone Highway Review, Grasslimb, and on the radio show Prosody. He won 1st runner up in the 2013 Finishing Line Open Chapbook Competition and was awarded finalist in the 2013 Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. He currently has two chapbooks published: A Room Full of Trees (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015).

Author Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Robert-Walicki-1961568937400784/


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[This interview was conducted via email in January 2016.]

Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook.

RW: The Almost Sound of Snow Falling follows my last collection, A Room Full of Trees, in a fairly chronological way, moving from the inevitable acceptance of loss as a state of existence, but then moving past that aftermath to explore identity and self. I think more so than anything, it's about growth, a trial by fire so to speak and the transformation that occurs as a result of these experiences.



Some of the poems in The Almost Sound of Snow Falling touch on issues of masculinity and gender identification. Could you speak a little to this aspect of the book?

RW:  I had been interested in challenging stereotypical roles of masculinity after working for years in the construction trades industries. Society in general, can be very judgmental to individuals that don't fit into the expected or preconceived gender roles.When one is ostracized for their personality and make up, or even what they look like, it can be a very painful experience. This applies to many people and in many different fields and walks of life. The makeup of identity was something important to me and something that I wanted to understand to a deeper degree. Combing through hurt feelings and taking a candid look at what it means to be a man, and that being sensitive and caring didn't make you less masculine, was something that appealed to me a great deal.



The poems in this collection read as explorations of memories. Here are two considerations of memory in poetry:

[M]emory is unstable and idiosyncratic, and follows a structure and procedure much like narrative … [E]motion is the basis of long-term memory, and our reactions to the world around us are a complicated concatenation of the narratives we’ve written and continue to write in our brains in conjunction with reactions to new stimuli, which is often interpreted according to old patterns. Everything we 'know' is a narrative construction based on sometimes idiosyncratic interpretation.
What is the role of personal memory in your poems? When you’re writing your poetry, do you find memory to be something more solid, like Roberts examined the first quote—an inseparability between self-identity and the past? Or is it more permeable, as discussed by Heywood?

RW: I think for me, it's a combination. It really depends on the poem and the voice that leads me. I'm very much a believer of letting the poem determine what it's going to be, so in that sense, I feel memory is a very fluid thing. For example, there are poems like "First Snow" or "Ostaria" that attempt to capture the uncapturable or indescribable. Memory, when layered with emotion, often gets very complicated. There can be a lot to unpack and equally, so much of what I remember is colored by emotion and shaped by it. Truth, or what really happened, changes when I write, because what is more important to me, is whether a poem is "emotionally true" and not necessarily 100 percent factual. I'm fascinated most of all by concrete imagery as a doorway into memory and emotion. It's almost involuntary for me, like Proust. It's a very serendipitous thing. A shirt ripping on a nail reminding me of the loose buttons on a mother's coat in a photograph and suddenly, I'm writing the poem "In The Years Before Color," and everything a simple black and white photograph evokes from the past, and the future.



Why did you choose the chapbook as the vehicle for your poems rather than a book-length manuscript or a section in a book? When you started, did you intend to create a chapbook? How long did it take to write this chapbook (or, alternatively, how did you know it was time to stop writing)?

RW: In general, I find it easier to focus on a chapbook length collection. I'm very attracted to shorter length formats in terms of a sharper, thematic focus, although I'm currently working on a full-length. I don't think I ever sit down consciously and say "I'm ready to write a chapbook." It happens organically and I think the best ideas come from that aesthetic. I never stopped writing after my first chapbook came out and in a very fertile period for me, I suddenly had a lot of poems that I felt were speaking to each other. My style was, and still is, evolving, especially from A Room Full of Trees, my first chapbook. I felt I was loosening up, was more frank in my language and was moving on from many of the things that I was obsessed about in the first book, namely my father's death and how that changed me as a person. However, one could make the argument that a few of the early poems in this collection could fit right in thematically with that first book.



What is one of the more crucial poems in the book for you? Why is it important to you? How did it come to be?

RW: That's difficult,but for me, the most crucial poems in this book are the work poems, because they were the hardest to write and the most important. As I've said before, I feel this book is about growth and I think these poems illustrate that process in a profound way for me. Those experiences changed me and forged me into the person I am, worlds away from the person I was before these events happened.

It took years to write this one in particular (it's not quite a year old), mostly because it was extremely difficult for me to find the poetry or "music" in these hard experiences. I also needed some emotional distance from what happened and perspective so I could write with the clarity and the restraint necessary to do justice to the material. I finally came to the conclusion that a simple frank and matter of fact tone was the best approach in writing about this kind of work. This poem is called "Rain Leader."

Rain Leader
(on running storm pipe under a bridge near Akron, OH, 1997)

When the only heat is from the coffee
at 5am, and less than 4 degrees outside,
you'll learn to wear enough layers,
or better yet, keep moving.

Some biker dude will laugh, blow frost,
Marlboro smoke in your face.
First day, it's "Hey rookie" and "Don't look down"
It's lift this 8 inch, cast iron pipe.

First day, It's " Go down to my truck and get
my pipe stretcher" ,and then you'll realize
there's no such thing 4 stories down.
First day, men will want to break you,

Like they've been broken, their riverbed faces,
grizzled beards twisted like dry rotted wire.
Last night's whiskey, sweating from dirty skin.
You will nearly lose your finger, when the ice forms

on the pipe, straps loosening, metal slamming flesh.
If you can make it past this, there's a Miller Genuine Draft
There's a welder sitting next to you, buys the first round,
lays his steel hands on your shoulder

Like the father who couldn't bear it.
If you can make it past tomorrow,
you'll have to trust the pig iron,
this foot width of rust,
and walk this I-beam,50 feet of cross cut steel
falling into nothing. There's a strap that holds
your waist, a broken man who leads you.
he'll walk like a free man across 4 inches of steel.
He'll never look back.

originally appeared in The Kentucky Review



You curate a monthly reading series for poets. How do you feel about spoken-word or performance poetry versus poetry on the page?

RW: I have learned from personal experience that when preparing to do a reading, I choose work based on readability and my audience. Knowing one's audience as well as having a balanced set list of poems is a real key to a successful reading. There are beautiful poems that I've never read for example, because I feel that they are either too "quiet" or "contemplative" or better on the page than ones that either have more movement in them, or are more accessible to a wider audience.

Regarding performing, I've had a few poets who qualify as performance poets in my series and I am always in awe of the energy that's brought to a poem by a gifted performance poet. It's a different aesthetic than more traditional poetry,but I often think that traditional poets could learn from performance poets in terms of being better presenters of their work, and performance poets could learn from the traditional poets as well. However, everyone has a unique gift to share with the world, and my goal is to celebrate that, give them a platform.



What difficulties or challenges did you encounter in writing some of the poems? in publishing the collection?

RW: There's always a fear that certain poems can be misinterpreted or something may offend someone, but I made a decision while writing my first book: Do I want to be a truth teller, or I do I want to play it safe and write pretty, lyrical poems for the whole family? Being a "tell all" kind of poet can be very difficult and a sometimes painful road to go down. It's something I continue to struggle with, although I've made peace with who I am as a poet.



Have you given a public reading of the work? What was the audience response? Did you encounter anything you were not expecting?

RW: I recently gave my first reading from the chapbook in Cleveland for my press, Night Ballet, at the wonderful Max Backs Books. I love to do readings in general, but this was a special night and the crowd was warm, attentive and engaging. I'm looking forward to going back!



What are you working on now?

RW: I have several projects that I'm working on currently, a full length manuscript, as well as another chapbook which is going to be a big departure. All of the poems will have or be inspired by pop culture references, so that's going to be a fun project when it's finished.