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Lyric Essentials: Dan Albergotti reads “A Stubborn Ode” by Jack Gilbert.

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Dan Albergotti reads “A Stubborn Ode” by Jack Gilbert.

Dan, as I searched for a copy of “A Stubborn Ode” I came across your recommendation in Post Road Magazine in which you mention a moment when a friend read “A Stubborn Ode” to you out loud. Was that the first time you were introduced to Jack Gilbert’s work? What else can you tell us about that moment and about discovering the work of Gilbert?

Dan: That was basically the first time. The friend in the anecdote is Melanie Carter, a fine poet whose amazing “Water to Sky” I once discussed in an essay on metaphor in Poets & Writers (Jan/Feb 2012). She’s the person that introduced Gilbert to me, most definitely. At the time, she had recently discovered his work when she attended a summer seminar at Bennington where he was a visiting faculty member. She came back from that seminar singing his praises, but I was skeptical and resistant. In fact, I think her reading that poem aloud to me was probably provoked by a question from me along the lines of “What’s so great about this guy’s work?” I can still almost hear the poem in her voice and see the image of her clutching the book to her chest when she was finished. Within a year, I was a devotee, a full-fledged member in the cult of Gilbert. If any of your readers are unfamiliar with his work, I would encourage them to rectify that tragic situation as soon as possible, starting with his magnificent third collection, The Great Fires, in which “A Stubborn Ode” appears. (I would also encourage readers to seek out Melanie Carter’s work, some of which is available online.)

Chris: What are the particular elements in this poem that illustrate Gilbert’s essentiality?

Dan: The poem seems to compress everything—and I mean everything—down into a hard, sharp gem. It is intimately specific and broadly universal. There is achingly personal grief (for his late wife Michiko, “buried in Kamakura”) and pure empathy for the suffering of others. In one way, it seems like anything but an ode with its aggressively prosy diction and line-breaks. Yet it is certainly what its title claims: an ode, and stubbornly so, damn it. It’s even coyly sonnet-esque in its 14 lines. In a way, the poem seems like it could be a response to Theodor Adorno’s pronouncement “No poetry after Auschwitz” (that’s a common reduction—I think the actual quote is closer to “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”). The poem catalogs disappointments, injustices, griefs, savagery, and despair. It quietly says, yes, yes, yes, yet nevertheless.

Chris: So was it Gilbert’s ability to compress emotion that finally won you over then? Or was it something else in that year of becoming a devotee that made you a convert?

Dan: As with most passions, it’s hard to point to one thing or to condense the experience into a pithy description. All I can say is that “A Stubborn Ode” led me to read The Great Fires, and it was over from there. I jokingly (somewhat) referred to “the cult of Gilbert” above, but my conversion experience is not uncommon. If you want evidence, check out the prices listed for signed first editions of his work by second-hand book dealers.

But in an effort to more fully answer your question, I will point to something I wrote for Borderlands in 2005: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/text/coming-end-his-triumph-retrospective-jack-gilbert. That piece began as a review of his fourth collection, Refusing Heaven, and metamorphosed into a short career retrospective. In that essay, I refer to Gilbert’s entire life being a poem. It’s easy to become a devotee when you perceive that. Happily, I turned out to be wrong about his imminent death and no fifth collection. The Dance Most of All was published in April 2009, and Jack died in November 2012.

Chris: I completely lose it at the tenth line, “All of us wane, knowing things could have been different.” There are several succinct, declarative lines like this in the poem that make the piece—I like how you said it—“a hard, sharp gem.” Is there a line or part of this poem that is especially poignant for you? What do you hope readers of this poem will walk away with?

Dan: The poem begins with a three-word fragment: “All of it.” And it ends with a four-word sentence: “And I say, nevertheless.” Even in their brevity and simplicity, each feels especially poignant to me. Between them in the poem, I believe there is, as I said above, everything—all of it. Everything that Gilbert provides, and everything that the readers feel as well: their own horrors, griefs, sadness, despair. I hope readers feel all of that when they read the poem, and I hope they walk away saying stubbornly, with Jack, “nevertheless.”
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Dan Albergotti is the author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008) and Millennial Teeth (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014), as well as a limited-edition chapbook, The Use of the World (Unicorn Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in The Cincinnati Review, Five Points, The Southern Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and two editions of the Pushcart Prize, as well as other journals and anthologies. He is a professor of English at Coastal Carolina University.

Chris Petruccelli doesn’t know what he is anymore. His chapbook Action at a Distance won the 2014 Etchings Press Chapbook Contest. His poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. In his spare time Chris enjoys running and whisky.

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An Interview with Sundress Author, Colleen Abel

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As a poet, Colleen Abel is a shape-shifter. In her chapbook, Deviants, you’ll find couplets, flash CNF, lists, lyric essays, sectioned verse, and poems that morph across the page. What takes this formal variability to another level is that Colleen’s work is also about form—about the human body, about boundaries and celestial bodies and the Venus of Willendorf. These thirty pages are about a lot. We talked with Abel about Deviants, the way these forms find themselves, and how she found her way to poetry.

Colleen Abel’s Deviants won the 2016 Sundress Publications 5th Annual Chapbook Contest. Her first full-length collection, Remake, won Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize and is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of Housewifery, a chapbook (dancing girl press, 2013). A former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at UW-Madison, Abel has published work in Pleiades, Colorado Review, The Collagist, Southern Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. She lives in Wisconsin with her student loans.

Sundress: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Colleen Abel: I have always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was four. I wrote my first short story around that time, about a vampire and his wife. (I illustrated, as well, but happily I abandoned notions that I was a competent illustrator pretty much immediately.) But even though I always wrote poetry, when I was a kid, I saw myself becoming a novelist. It wasn’t until college when I was encouraged to do an MFA in poetry that I thought, hmm, maybe this is going to be my path. Not that you have to pick a genre and stick with it! The older I get, the less interested I am in staying within genre boundaries.

Sundress: How do your pieces find their form? Do you draft in the form a piece eventually takes, or do you think about form later?

Colleen Abel: I almost always draft a piece in the form it ends up with—the form dictates the intellectual and sonic moves the poem makes, usually, so I like to find the form first. It’s sort of like picking a vessel to hold the thought. But sometimes in revision, I do figure out that the vessel is wrong! “The Photographer’s Model” is an example of a poem that was restless in the original form I had chosen for it.

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Sundress:Formally, Deviants is a very eclectic bunch of poems, but the book’s foundation seems to be the 18-page piece titled “Fat Studies.” Speaking of genre, how do you classify “Fat Studies”?

Colleen Abel: I would say “Fat Studies” is a lyric essay. I have been trying to write about obesity for over a decade in my poetry and it never worked–not once. I couldn’t really figure out why. It wasn’t until I shifted my thinking about form that I was able to write about obesity in a way that I was happy with–and “Fat Studies” was the result.

Sundress: In “Fat Studies,” the speaker’s body is described as “deviant.” The piece goes on to investigate the speaker’s life and mind within this “deviant” body. How did this piece come about? Is this stigmatized subject you’ve dealt with before, or is it something that required the building of experience and courage to write about so directly, frankly, and beautifully?

Colleen Abel: As I mentioned, I’ve been wanting to write about obesity for a long time, but could never make headway. A couple of things happened right around the same time that broke open the essay for me. I was sitting in on a fiction class at the school where I was teaching at the time, in 2014. So I was thinking a lot about prose. Then I stumbled across the theories of stigmatized identities by the sociologist Erving Goffman. He had this list of ways that people could respond to having a stigmatized identity, and I immediately thought: that list would make a great backbone for an essay. The third thing was that I had read an essay about physical fitness by John F. Kennedy and was trying to write a poem about it (and failing; see above.) Somehow those three factors collided and “Fat Studies” was born.

Sundress: In “Poem Beginning With A Zen Proverb,” (which, is such a great title), you create a list poem of places to “hide your body.” What are other list poems you have loved or that have influenced you?

Colleen Abel: Great question. The list poem that I think I go back to the most is Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another.” I’m fascinated by how list poems make their way toward endings. They are so hard to write!

Sundress: What’s something you used to believe about writing that you no longer think is true?

Colleen Abel: Wow. I can think of probably a hundred things, from small to hugely philosophical. I was very young when I went into my MFA program and for a while I think I absorbed a lot of the aesthetic preferences of my teachers and saw those as rules of a sort. Eventually, I shook those off–as writers need to do with their mentors, often. I had a teacher who thought poems shouldn’t have questions in them, for example, and for a long time I was scared to ask questions in poems. That’s a small example, but I think the more I read and write and live in the world, the more expansive my idea of poetry becomes.

Sundress: What are three things that every poem needs?

Colleen Abel: 1. Attention to language 2. Attention to arrangement 3. A desire to communicate something to an audience.

Sundress: Can you tell me a little about writing community? Where is yours? What is it like? What were the best writing communities you’ve ever encountered, and why?

Colleen Abel: I am about a month into a two-year writing fellowship. There are about a dozen of us who comprise the inaugural class of Tulsa Artist Fellows, so I am excited to see this fledgling community grow and evolve, especially since it’s multi-genre. I was very, very lucky to be a part of a small group that met frequently for several years in Chicago. I probably won’t ever find anything quite like that again, but I still carry their generosity with me even a decade later.

Sundress: What projects are in the works for you now?

Colleen Abel: [My full-length collection] Remake is coming out this spring! I’m super excited. I have a full-length collection called Caryatid that’s seeking a home, and right now I am just trying to generate work without thinking too much about how it will shape into a book. Wish me luck!

Colleen Abel is the winner of Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize for her collection Remake, which is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of a chapbook, Housewifery (dancing girl press, 2013) and a former fellow at University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Phoebe, West Branch, and many other outlets. She was recently named a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow.

Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT, a literary organization focused on community-building, surprise, and discomfort. An MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, he edits fiction for the Blue Earth Review, co-hosts the radio show Weekly Reader, and leads writing workshops for senior citizens. He’s currently creating a flash-fiction podcast called SHOW YR WORK that will be available online this summer. This winter, you can find his short stories in Midwestern Gothic, Little Fiction, matchbook, NANO Fiction, and No Tokens (and you can always find his jokes at @goftyler). Tyler is originally from York County, Pennsylvania, where, once, as a teenager, he saw a sweatshirt that read “York’s Not Boring…You Are,” and his life changed.

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An Interview with Kelly Andrews, Editor of Pretty Owl Poetry

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Jackie Vega:
How did you come to be involved with Pretty Owl Poetry?

Kelly Andrews: Pretty Owl Poetry was founded in 2013 by myself, Gordon Buchan, and B. Rose (Huber) Kelly. At that time, I was just starting my MFA program at the University of Pittsburgh and was involved with the program’s online literary journal, Hot Metal Bridge, as a reader, but I wanted more experience as an editor. I reached out to Gordon, with whom I had taken creative writing classes as an undergraduate at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), and Rose, who I had befriended while she still lived in Pittsburgh (she’s now in New Jersey). I had relationships with both in terms of sharing work and giving/receiving feedback, either via e-mail (w/Gordon) or through a low-key workshop setting (w/Rose). Though we were all IUP alums, Gordon and Rose didn’t know each other before Pretty Owl, and Rose and I met post-graduation through a mutual friend. All of that to say, they both were people who I trusted as writers and editors, whose taste in literature was similar to my own, and who had different skill sets than I do. From conception of the journal, we’ve worked collaboratively in all that we do when it comes to Pretty Owl, including decisions about how best to move the journal forward in the literary world. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to work with Gordon and Rose on a journal we started from the ground up—they’re both such talented friends.

 JV: How would you describe your poetry aesthetic, and how do you bring that to the publication?

 KA: I’m mostly drawn to gritty poems with substance. Ones where the emotional motivation of the speaker is believable, though the poems needn’t be set in reality or be realistic, if that makes sense. Gage Ledbetter’s “Fully Drawn, Steady Breaths” from Issue 9 is one of my favorite examples of this. The imaginative space in which the speaker exists with their mother and the canyon is exquisite: “Your mother taught the canyon how to shoot a bow, being a champion, herself. The canyon felled entire flocks of birds and you ate well and, after, the canyon taught your mother how to reply the day you told her you have layers of colored sediment and fields of corn right next to one another but no gender.” I love that the speaker is grappling with gender identity in a surreal world. And that there are so many unexpected moves in that poem (“And your mother and the canyon were accused of being lesbians, like a lot.”)

I also love poetry that is inventive and creative in its use of language. One poem that comes to mind is Ryan Downum’s “Painfeel” from Issue 7. That poem has so many beautifully created words like “fieldbloom,” “nightmouth,” and “bloodloom.” I remember how excited I felt when reading that submission because it was like nothing I had read before. That feeling is rare as an editor and overwhelming in the best possible way. And I love poetry that is fraught with complicated emotion. Mostly, I want to feel things when I read poetry. I love when a poem (or any art form) can make me cry—or even better, cry and laugh in the same space.

JV: What do you value the most in poetry?

 KA: There’s so much that poetry can do for people. Writing poetry completely changed my life course—after graduating high school I was working multiple jobs and partying nonstop, with no real plan in place for what I wanted to do with my life. But then I joined a poetry workshop, and the encouragement I received from my mentors, Susanna Fry and Jessica Lauffer, really pushed me to apply to college. My future before taking that workshop was very uncertain and bleak. I can’t imagine what my life would look like now if it weren’t for their belief in me as a writer, if I hadn’t fallen in love with writing poetry.

More broadly, I value how poetry can affect people—it can be comforting in times of grief or pain; it can be an expression of love; it can evoke empathy; the list is endless of the things that poetry can do for people.

JV: What are some of the challenges of being an editor for an online publication? On the flip side, what are some benefits?

KA: One of the biggest challenges for us as an online journal is making sure our website is easily readable both online and on mobile devices. And because technology changes so often, nearly every year Gordon has revamped the look of the website in some way. Initially we started off with the work embedded into a web page, then moved to having it in a PDF. There is talk of maybe moving to a different platform like Issuu in the future, but that is probably quite a ways off.

The benefit of being an online journal is that we can reinvent our look/platform fairly often. Also, we can push our deadlines back if need be, whereas if we were a print journal, we’d have a much stricter printing schedule. And of course, the general cost of running an online publication is quite low. Since switching to Submittable, we’ve given readers the option to make a small donation with their submission if they’d like, but this is not required. The money is used to cover costs like our domain name/website and food/drink for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh. I love that we can share work with the world without having to charge readers a subscription fee.

JV: What can we look forward to from Pretty Owl Poetry in the next year?

KA: We have a great lineup already for our winter 2016 issue that will be released in early January, and we’re still reading submissions for that issue right now. Gordon just finished another revamp of the website’s homepage. I’m hoping to get some readers lined up for our Spotlight Reading Series in Pittsburgh, with the possibility of some out-of-town contributors making an appearance. And hopefully, lots more great poems, art, and fiction!


You can read Pretty Owl Poetry here.

andrewsKelly Lorraine Andrews is an assistant managing editor for the American Economic Association and a recent MFA graduate from the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of the chapbooks The Fear Archives (Two of Cups Press, forthcoming), My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing (Porkbelly Press, forthcoming), I Want To Eat So Many Kinds of Cake With You and Mule Skinner (both out from Dancing Girl Press). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in [PANK], Prick of the Spindle, Weave Magazine, and elsewhere. You can read more about her past and future publications and look at a slideshow of her cats at her website.

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Jackie Vega is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University’s Writing program currently residing in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During her time at GVSU, she served as Editor-in-Chief for fishladder, their literature and arts journal. Her poetry has been featured in Brainchildand on WYCE’s Electric Poetry radio program. She intends to pursue an MFA in (you guessed it) poetry.

 

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An Interview with Katie Longofono

Katie Longofono is the author of Angeltits (Sundress Publications, 2016). Her poems traverse between intimate and breathtakingly visceral imagery, between narratives on the body and the objectification of bodies, into a lyrical testament and commentary on sex and modern-age relationships.

Longofono spoke with our editorial intern Brianna McNish to discuss her literary inspirations, her writing process, and the influences that helped create the poems in Angeltits.

Brianna McNish: What were your biggest literary inspirations while writing Angeltits, and why?

Katie Longofono: As I recall, I was reading a lot of essays and fiction at the time I was working on these poems. I had just finished my MFA, so I guess that was my rebellion from soaking in poems pretty much exclusively for two years. Specifically, I think I was re-reading Mary Reufle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, which has some great thoughts on sentiment which stuck with me. I was (and remain) super into being overly sentimental, or obvious, on purpose, in poetry. I’m the kind of weirdo who thinks it’s fun to see how many times I can say “very” in a poem without inducing gagging (or maybe in order to). I played with that idea a lot in these poems, I think.

I also was very inspired by Plath’s journals, which most people would be able to point to immediately. Lots of anger at men, etc. You know the drill!

BM: What left me in awe about your poems was how your fixation on bodies creates beautifully visceral language. What does the body represent in your poetry, and why do you use it as a common motif in your work?

KL: I guess this might be a disappointing answer, but really the body represents… the body. These are all poems that are pretty explicitly about sex. Sometimes it’s joyful, but now that I’m looking at it, yeah, these are poems about the ways a body can be in pain, the ways a body can let itself be hurt, the ways sex reveals the bodies’ soft spots and the aftermath of that vulnerability. I’ve always been fixated on the body in my work. I’ve written ecstatic body poems in the past, but for this collection, the central idea was objectification—hence the title, Angeltits—because so often women are reduced to their bodies. Fine, dudes, you wanna play that game? I’m gonna lean into it, then. Here’s an entire book about tits. It’s not sexy. You’re welcome.

BM: How would you describe your writing process?

KL: It’s definitely a cycle—I’m not one of those people who can sit down and write every day. I have, for short bursts of time, been able to force myself into that routine, but mostly I just try to remain aware of when I feel ideas forming and allowing myself a moment to write them out. I was lucky to have a pretty low-pressure job at the time I was working on Angeltits so I could easily switch into writing mode for the amount of time it took me to at least jot something down.

BM: What’s also striking about your chapbook is how the poems develop from “Who can fault me for loving / the fault, for tonguing the crack / we crumble within?” in “Dollface” to “I am not a bird or a symbol. / I am a woman burning,” in “We Grind Ourselves Out”. The poems unravel in a linear fashion with effortless transitions from the next poem to the next, which leaves me curious about how you would describe the development of the women who inhabit these poems from “The Outline” to “[When a man says no]”?

KL: Well, people are complicated. It’s amazing and weird that a person can hold defiance, rage, and two middle fingers inside the same body that also holds shame, loneliness, and hurt. It’s really difficult to capture all of that in one poem, let alone one book, so this was my attempt at trying to get all of those angles. A big part of this series was thinking about how (personally) I often feel victimized because of my body, but not like a victim—I really resent that label. That comes out in these poems—there’s a lot of anger here, a lot being challenged because I think it’s reductive to put people into boxes.

BM: What is the best piece of advice you have received as a writer?

I’ve received a lot of helpful advice over the years, so this is hard to narrow down—but what comes to mind is early on somebody told me, at the end of the day, you get to call the shots. You can (and should) listen to advice, tips, workshopping comments, whatever, but you don’t have to use it all. It’s your writing and your process. It was really helpful for me to basically be given permission to ignore advice if I didn’t think it was coming from a useful place for my writing.

KL: If you could describe yourself as a poem, which poem would you be?

A dirty limerick. I think this question was probably meant for a specific poem but I don’t feel justified in comparing myself to any of the poems I admire!

Katie Longofono’s Angeltits is available as an e-chapbook on Sundress Publication’s website here.


Katie Longofono received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder of Dead Rabbits Reading Series, a monthly literary salon that takes place in NYC. Her first chapbook, The Angel of Sex, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2013. She has a chapbook forthcoming from Sundress Publications titled Angeltits. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tinderbox Poetry Journal, South Dakota Review, Juked, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She may or may not be on Twitter. She lives in Brooklyn.

Brianna McNish is an undergraduate student studying English and literature at the University of Connecticut. Her fiction has previously appeared in or forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Juked, Unbroken, among others.

 

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Lyric Essentials: Janeen Pergrin Rastall reads “Weather Picture” and “Allegro” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton.

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Janeen Pergrin Rastall reads “Weather Picture” and “Allegro” by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton.

Janeen, I’m a total lover and believer in the power of the small poem and we’ve got that going on here in both the poems you’ve read for us today. Is brevity and concision typical of Tranströmer’s poetry? Are those characteristics something you implement in your own work?

Janeen: While Tranströmer does have some longer narrative pieces like “The Baltics”, brevity and precision are characteristics of his poetry. Tranströmer wrote, “I have tried to write as unsentimentally and nakedly as possible…” I, too strive for a stripped down poem. I try to write with immediacy; perhaps my decades of writing computer code could be to blame. I admire Tranströmer’s ability to create drama with so few lines. He wrote collections of haikus including this one:

Here’s a dark picture.
Poverty painted over,
flowers in a prison dress.

From The Great Enigma: New and Collected Poems by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robin Fulton (New Directions, 2006)

Chris: Why did you choose to share these two poems together? Is there a similar essential feature present in both? Or, does each poem have its own unique essential elements?

Janeen: I chose these two poems to show Tranströmer’s use of language. Both poems are concise yet approachable and full of amazing imagery.  The subject matter and tone make his poems feel contemporary. “Weather Picture” is from an early collection, Secrets on the Way and is a classic example of how he captures a place, in particular the sea and islands of Sweden. Living across from Lake Superior, I connect with these landscapes. The line “a dog barking is a hieroglyph…” is such a perfect and unexpected simile. Reading his poems is like having synesthesia or living in a Dali painting. The world becomes hyperreal. Like so many of his poems, “Allegro” appears deceptively simple. Tranströmer played the piano and music was a vital part of his life. The poem could be seen as a joyous celebration of the Hayden’s compositions. Tranströmer was a psychologist. Is the poem also a prescription: wave music, a haydenflag against depression?  “Allegro” was published in 1962 shortly after Tranströmer’s trip to the Middle East, the building of the Berlin War and dark days in Vietnam, Hungary and Alabama. Perhaps the poem is a brave statement about how art can teach us to survive and protect us from the madness of the world?

Chris: “Allegro” is interesting to me because it has the potential to be horrific, especially with the couplet “The music is a glass-house on the slope/ where stones fly, the stones roll.” There’s no way this glass house is going to make it, but Tranströmer negates the whole scene when he states that each stone passes through the house and “each pane stays whole.” Which, it just dawned on me, is that a play on whole/hole? But more seriously, what do you make of this sort of duality of the home—a thing seemingly fragile yet it’s able to go unharmed?

Janeen: Exactly, Chris. He is waving his haydenflag, letting us know as the stones are flying at us, when we feel most vulnerable that we will be okay. We will not splinter, crack. We have music and art. We can take everything thrown at us, absorb it and remain unchanged.

Chris: You mentioned that reading Tranströmer is like living in a Dali painting. Is embracing the weird (for lack of better words) something that you always enjoy doing when you read poetry? Or is Tranströmer’s weirdness just particularly well done? And, if you enjoy embracing the weird, are there other poets who you enjoy reading that make you feel like you are in a Dali painting?

Janeen: I love poems that lead me to unexpected places. I also love Imagists. I have a list of poets’ whose books sit beside my bed. Some of them are: Czesław Miłosz, Charles Simic, Wisława Szymborska and Anna Swir.

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Janeen Pergrin Rastall lives in Gordon, MI (population 2). She is hopelessly in love with Lake Superior, the great saltless sea. She is the author of In the Yellowed House (dancing girl press, 2014) and co-author of Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, 2016). Her chapbook, Objects May Appear Closer won the 2015 Celery City Chapbook Contest. Her work has been twice nominated for a Best of the Net Award and for the Pushcart Prize. Visit Janeen at her author page: janeenpergrinrastall.wordpress.com

Chris Petruccelli is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). His poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and Still: the Journal. Chris is currently severely hung over in East Tennessee.

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Lyric Essentials: Caolan Madden reads “Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices” by Sylvia Plath.

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Caolan Madden reads “Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices” by Sylvia Plath.

Caolan, this is a really interesting, unique, and powerful poem you’ve read for us today. I’m sure Sylvia Plath needs no introduction, but what about this poem? Who are the three women?

Caolan: Three Women is a verse play that Plath wrote in 1962, not long after the birth of her second child. I had always kind of assumed it was a closet drama–a play that wasn’t meant to be performed–but it was apparently commissioned by the BBC and produced as a radio play in August of 1962, with three different actors voicing the three women. So the “three voices” were really three different voices, not three voices that you imagine inside your head, or three aspects of one voice like they are in my recording.

At the beginning of the poem, each of the three women is pregnant. (The setting for the play–the only stage direction–is “A Maternity Ward and round about.”) They go on to have three different experiences of hospital birth or miscarriage. The First Voice’s story is maybe the most familiar–it’s the kind of birth narrative that our culture, and even more so Plath’s 1960s Anglo-American culture, tends to celebrate: she gives birth to a baby boy and brings him home to the nursery she decorated for him. The Second Voice, a married woman who has been trying to conceive, has a miscarriage. The Third Voice, an unmarried college student, has a baby girl and gives her up for adoption. In the excerpt I read, which is from the very end of the poem, the women have all left the hospital and are starting their lives back up again, with or without children.

Chris: What made you decide to read this Plath piece above all her other poetry? What’s in this poem that makes it essential to you and your writing?

Caolan: Plath was the first poet I really loved–I first read her poems when I was thirteen, and for that reason she might be the only poet whose work I will ever love in this fundamental, visceral way. Obviously falling in love with Sylvia Plath at the age of thirteen is not an uncommon experience! But I wish more people were aware of the tenderness and humor and wonder in her work, as well as its fascinating, ambivalent relationship towards women’s popular culture. When people talk about, for example, Plath’s Mademoiselle internship or her desire to be the perfect housewife, they talk about these things as oppressive structures Plath had to strip away in order to become her true self, the avenging spirit of the Ariel poems. In reality that relationship is much more complicated and was, I think, much more generative than these narratives allow.

So that’s one reason I didn’t pick a really famous Plath poem like “Daddy” or “Lady Lazarus”–I love those poems, but I love to introduce readers to less familiar aspects of her writing. I’ve always been especially drawn to Plath’s accounts of domestic interiors, to the clear, focused attention she brings to the details of home décor, children’s toys, clothes, accessories, stuff, and the processes of maintaining and preserving that stuff–painting, sewing, polishing, gardening. I think Plath uses this stuff to write about love–not necessarily as metaphors for love, although that’s probably true, too, but more as a way to enact or perform love within the poem and in the real world.

“Three Women”–particularly the section I’ve read–is really a goldmine for that stuff. The First Voice painting the nursery and the Second Voice sewing her material are both doing creative, domestic work that is also protective or reparative. There’s darkness there–traces or more than traces of acquisitiveness, selfishness, compulsion, codependence, delusion, denial, complacency–but there’s also so much tenderness, determination, courage, generosity, creativity, resourcefulness, patience, attention, labor, care.  All those things are part of how I understand my own writing process, as well as my own relationship to the people I love, and the spaces and things I love, too. And I tend to express love, too, by making things and places and poems for people, and I think that’s one thing that draws me to good-student-Plath and happy-housewife-Plath, the Plath who a lot of people dismiss or deride.

Chris: What do you make of Plath’s juxtaposition of these three experiences? Why this sort of format as opposed to having three separate poems, or more than three voices?

Caolan: Well, we can read Three Women biographically, as describing Plath’s own experiences: she gave birth to both a son and a daughter, she had at least one miscarriage, she worried about unwanted pregnancies when she was a student at Cambridge. I hesitate to even say that, because readers’ fascination with Plath’s biography can get in the way of reading her actual poems. But in this case, I think biographical detail helps us understand that the poem is working both to represent a range of experiences with pregnancy and birth and to suggest how all of these experiences might be part of a single person’s life. There’s a productive tension in the poem between universality and particularlity, which is reinforced by the tension between the poem’s performance history as a radio play performed by three different actors and the experience you have reading the poem on the page, or listening to my recording here, where you realize Plath didn’t do much to differentiate the voices from one another in terms of diction or rhythm. One powerful effect of that tension is that it becomes almost impossible to make moral judgments about these women. For example, if these three voices actually belong to the same woman, we can’t think of the First Voice, who keeps her child, as a better person than the Third Voice, who doesn’t. Another effect is that the poem discourages us from psychologizing the woman or women as character(s), and instead focuses our attention on its concrete descriptions of what are often considered taboo bodily experiences. Earlier in the poem, describing her contractions, the First Voice says “I am used. I am drummed into use”–an incredibly evocative and brutal description of labor that I, personally, don’t think I fully  understood before the birth of my daughter, but that probably helped shape my expectations for what childbirth might be like.

So we can think of the poem as describing three aspects of one intense, complicated experience–kind of like  Robert Graves’s idea of the Triple Goddess, whose three aspects are the Maiden, Mother, and Crone. Plath was really into Graves, and really into three as a magic number, especially when you’re talking about groups of women: there are three Fates, three Graces. So that’s one reason there are three voices, not four or five or six.

Chris: You spoke earlier of how you enjoy introducing readers to the less familiar aspects of Plath’s writing. Is this poem one you came to know early in your reading of Plath? Also, what Plath poems in addition to “Three Women: A Poem for Three Voices” showcase the things you love about her poetry?

Caolan: I remember reading this poem in eighth grade, when I was reading almost anything by Plath that I could get my hands on. But before I opened my copy of Plath’s Collected Poems to make this recording, I’d forgotten what an involved history I had with “Three Women.” There are notes in the margins from papers I wrote when I was in college and grad school; there are also notes that suggest I must have performed some of the Second Voice’s sections as a monologue in my high-school drama class. And in college I took the title of my senior thesis, which was about Plath’s depiction of domestic space, from one of the First Voice’s lines: “I Have Painted Little Hearts on Everything.”

If you’re looking for it, you’ll actually find a lot of the things I love about “Three Women”–the attention to material domestic detail; the interconnectedness of creative work and love and protection; the TMI physicality–all over Plath’s writing, including her most famous poems, her prose writing, and her journals. But some great poems to revisit are “Letter in November,” “Last Words,” “Nick and the Candlestick,” “Morning Song,” “By Candlelight,” and “Kindness.”
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Caolan Madden holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins and is currently a PhD candidate in English literature at Rutgers. Recent poems have appeared in Bone Bouquet, Cartridge Lit, glitterMOB, Split Lip, and Black Warrior Review; some of her essays on literature and popular culture can be found online at weird-sister.com. Girl Talk Triptych, a collaborative chapbook she co-wrote with the feminist poetry collective (G)IRL, was published this spring by dancing girl press; her chapbook VAST NECROHOL is forthcoming from Hyacinth Girl Press. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Chris Petruccelli is snackin’ on some cornbread and debating what kind of gravy he should have for breakfast–sausage, or red eye? His poetry has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. Check out his chapbook Action at a Distance from Etchings Press. In his free time, Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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Lyric Essentials: Nancy Reddy reads “Walmart Supercenter” by Erika Meitner

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Nancy Reddy reads “Walmart Supercenter” by Erika Meitner.

Nancy, there’s so much to love here. I myself love the moist dimes being traded for honey mustard because I’m all too familiar with pulling soggy dollar bills out of my pocket to pay for a coffee. Also, coming from the bible belt I really dig “God is merciful and gracious, but not just.” What are some of your favorite parts of this absolutely brutal and beautiful poem?

Nancy: I love the (for lack of a better word) thing-iness of the poem, the way it’s full of the stuff of ordinary life – the honey mustard and moist dimes you mention, the flip flops and lounge pants, the plastic shopping bags. This poem takes in the world, and not just the parts that are obviously beautiful or “poetic.” And it places that stuff alongside these really sharp, moving explorations of mercy, forgiveness, justice, as in the line that jumps from the seven abandoned kittens to the cashier speaking about small mercies. It’s rooted in incredibly close attention the material world, but it’s also capacious in its scope.

Chris: How about the qualities that make this poem essential? What are the elements that elevate this poem above others?

Nancy: I’m obsessed with how this poem moves. It starts in this utterly ordinary place – a trip to Walmart for juice, Pampers, tube socks, and it arcs up into a meditation on mercy and justice. It alternates between the speaker’s maneuvering of the shopping cart and a multitude or quirky and horrible things that have happened at Walmarts all around the country. These are the kind of stories that seem to just constantly arrive unbidden – every time I log in to Facebook or flip through the radio dial or catch the local news, there’s some fresh horror, usually something unimaginable that’s happened to a child. As a poet and as the mother of two young boys, I don’t know what to do with that. But this is a poem that doesn’t look away. It doesn’t try to impose any kind of neat moral, but it grapples, and it holds these really lovely, tender moments – a friendly old man on a scooter waving, the girl buying honey mustard sauce – against the other awful things. To me, this is a poem that demonstrates just how much poetry can hold. I think we need more of that.

Chris: Is that something you experiment with in your own poetry—testing how much a poem can hold?

Nancy: Absolutely. (I think our obsessions in reading often track really closely with our interests in writing, right?) So right now I’m working on a second collection of poems that’s about – in part – pregnancy and motherhood, and alongside those central themes, I’m also thinking about quantum physics and primates and evolution and human ancestors and theories of scientific mothering, among other things. Copia (the book this poem’s from) has been really essential as I write my way through connections and digressions and juxtapositions. Meitner’s work is just so capacious (to be a little punny), and it’s helped me to think about the poem in terms of capacity and breadth.

Chris: You discussed the movement earlier and it really is totally bonkers—it feels like a one player game of weird Walmart one-upmanship. In terms of the justice/mercy where do you think the narrator lands one the issue? Is Walmart and what it represents forever a place of struggle? Or, is there a light at the end of the tunnel?

Nancy: One of the things that I really like about this poem (and about the other poems in this book, which take place in convenience stores and rest stop bathrooms and Detroit) is that it doesn’t judge the place. It doesn’t have an ironic distance from Walmart – like, oh isn’t it hilarious that I’m here, buying my domestic goods? – and it also doesn’t look down on Walmart or its shoppers, which would have been really easy to do. For me, the role of Walmart in this poem is just that it’s actually such a central place for so much of America. Part of my family lives in a pretty rural part of central Pennsylvania, and for my stepsister, growing up, Walmart was just where you’d go with your friends to hang out. If you stayed there long enough, you’d see the whole town go by. And in this poem, the same thing’s true at a much bigger scale – if you scan the news for Walmart long enough, all the horrors in the world will happen there. But there’s also some beauty and some kindness, too.
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Nancy Reddy is the author of Double Jinx (Milkweed Editions, 2015), a 2014 winner of the National Poetry Series. Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Horsethief, The Iowa Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. The recipient of a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation and a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, she teaches writing at Stockton University in southern New Jersey.

Chris Petruccelli is eating offal and drinking Tecate in Northeast Tennessee. He is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press) and his poetry appears or is forthcoming in journals such as Appalachian Heritage, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere.

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Poets in Pajamas: An Interview with Sam Slaughter

The Poets in Pajamas Reading Series launches this week, hosted by Sam Slaughter, author of God in Neon and Spirits Editor at The Manual.  Below, Sam shares some of the inspiration behind Poets in Pajamas and what you should expect from this cozy new virtual reading series.  sam-slaughter

Kristen Figgins: What was the inspiration for Poets in Pajamas?

Sam Slaughter: We wanted to create a reading series that wasn’t contingent on location, one that would—as long as you have access to the internet—allow anyone to participate. Obviously, any major city is going to have multiple reading series to go to/participate in/etc., but not everyone can live in those cities. As writers, we’re often wherever the job market dictates—from Alaska to northeast Georgia to Thailand. Depending on the type of work we do, we can be just about anywhere in the world. Because of this, we wanted something that overshadowed that. That way, you would be able to participate and not feel like you’re missing out because you can’t be in Brooklyn or LA or Chicago.

KF: How are reading series important to the literary landscape?

SS: They provide connection with other readers and writers that we as artists need, considering most of us—regardless of artistic preference—spend a good deal of time alone, staring at a screen or a notebook or a canvas. They also allow readers and writers to show off their work or try out new stuff in an environment that is ready for it. You can get some immediate feedback from friends or other people there to see if that piece you’re working on is clicking or if you need to go back to the drawing board on it. Both of these points come back to the main thing: community. A reading series helps to build a community of readers and writers pursuing similar paths in the world and gives everyone an outlet to express themselves.

KF: What is your favorite memory from a reading series (either as an author or an attendee)?

SS: A great memory I have is from the first time I attended AWP, in Minneapolis in 2014. The first night I was there was the Literary Death Match, and I got to see readers like Matt Bell, Ben Percy, and Roxanne Gay battle it out, if you will.

A second fond memory I have is of the There Will Be Words reading series, hosted by J. Bradley in Orlando. I’ve been a part of it and I’ve attended multiple others and every time it was a great, engaging event. The people are great and the words are better.

KF: One of the great things about reading series is that they create a personal connection with authors and their audience.  How do you imagine retaining that personal connection while utilizing the Periscope app?

SS: Well, the easy answer is that there will be a ten-minute Q&A portion of each reading, allowing viewers to type in questions that the reader can respond to. Periscope has taken care of the interaction portion for us. Another thing is that a reading series like this can spread by word of mouth/Facebook post/tweet. Helping connect more readers and viewers can enhance the community and allow for new connections to spring up that might not have happened otherwise.

KF: If you could have a literary slumber party with any group of poets, dead or alive, who would be on the invitation list?

SS: My list wouldn’t be just poets, but regardless, I’d want to put together a slumber party that would be a hell of a good time—light on the slumbering, heav(ier) on the partying.

  1. TC Boyle
  2. Harry Crews
  3. Julia Child
  4. Anthony Bourdain
  5. Lorrie Moore

You can find out more about Poets in Pajamas including upcoming readings and how to get involved, on our website! Be sure to Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter as well!

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Lyric Essentials: Hazem Fahmy reads “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.

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Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Hazem Fahmy reads “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” by Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib.

Hazem, this is an incredibly poignant, powerful poem you’ve read for us today. What can you tell us about Abdurraqib’s poetry for those folks who might not be familiar with his work?  Also, have you had a chance to read his new, debut book The Crown Aint Worth Much?

Hazem: Hanif’s work is so rich and captivating, I really don’t think there’s one way to exactly encapsulate its power. I’d say my favorite thing about it is his incredible weaving of pop culture and personal experience to create a mythos out of his native Columbus. I know of no other poet working today who has such an impeccable ability to immediately and thoroughly familiarize the reader with their hometown and, really, whole world.

I actually just recently ordered the book and it’s on its way now!

Chris: What are some of the elements that makes “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” essential to you as a writer? Are there certain qualities in this poem that you try to emulate in your own work?

Hazem: This poem really highlights three things I am actively concerned with in virtually all of my work. It’s a powerhouse narrative that works with culture’s relationship to trauma and empowerment and brings the history alive through the voice of a city. As a Cairo native navigating American spaces that continually demonize and ostracize my culture and identity, I find immense power in this kind of emphasis on cultural history as a means of validating both the self and the identity to which the self belongs.

Chris: I’m curious about your take on the opening line of “After the Cameras Leave, in Three Parts” where the narrator says, “They listenin’ to the wrong music again, child.” What do you think the narrator is trying to communicate about the wrong music (“Mississippi Goddamn”) and right music (“Sinnerman”)?

Hazem: I am not very familiar with Simone’s work (let alone nearly as familiar as Hanif is), so I won’t attempt to analyze the dichotomy between the two songs too much. As I understand it, both songs are a response to extreme violence, but in slightly different ways. “Sinnerman” seems to be more concerned with sheer grief whereas “Mississippi Goddamn” focuses more on rage. This poem takes a long, hard look at the trauma and grief marginalized communities often can’t find the time for, often because the brutal marginalization is ongoing, and in that sense I see why Hanif would pay more attention to “Sinnerman”.

Chris: Cultural commentary, conceptions and receptions of the self, and “powerhouse narrative” as you put it seem especially important to poetry today which calls to mind a lot of incredible books—Marilyn Nelson’s My Seneca Village is one, Suck on the Marrow by Camille Dungy is another. Hanif tweeted the other week about his poem, “On the Filming of Black Death” being shared after the recent events in Tulsa and Charlotte (Hanif’s poem references a different, earlier shooting in Tulsa). Are there writers in addition to Abdurraqib that you feel people need to be reading right now?

Hazem: In general, people absolutely need to be reading more poets of marginalized identities, especially ones who’re actively attempting to craft new narratives out the of histories and cultures we’ve been born in. If I have to pick a few, I’d start with Safia Elhillo. Reading her work means being in a master class on how to see the world, in all its beauty and pain, through the smallest and most seemingly commonplace facets of our lives. Ocean Vuong has similarly changed the way I think of writing on the self, especially in the way he weaves his personal and family history with that of his country. I can also never recommend Danez Smith enough. I can’t think of any other writer who has such a thorough ability to wrestle with trauma and the horror of oppression while also creating space for hope and breathing.
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Hazem Fahmy is a poet and critic from Cairo. He is currently pursuing a degree in Humanities and Film Studies from Wesleyan University. His poetry has appeared, or is forthcoming in Mizna, COG and HEArt. In his spare time, he writes about the Middle East and tries to come up with creative ways to mock Classicism. He makes videos occasionally.

Chris Petruccelli is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: the Journal, and elsewhere. Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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An Interview with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the author of the forthcoming collection of poetry Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge  (Sundress Publications, 2016). Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is a feminist collection of poetry straddling borders, and arose when daughter of Mexican immigrants, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, traveled from Los Angeles to the Tucson-Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border in August 2011 to volunteer with the humanitarian aid organization, No More Deaths. She hoped to gain a concrete understanding of the “wall,” and the result was a book illustrating a speaker driven to activism by a need to honor her family’s journey.

Bermejo spoke with our Editorial Intern, Kristin Figgins, about her influences, her family, the work that helped inspire the collection, and more.

Kristin Figgins: Cacti are present throughout Posada.  What do you find so intriguing about the cactus as a plant or as a symbol?

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: Before I went to the Tucson-sector of the border, I imagined it as a sandy, desolate plain vacant of any life. But when I got there, I found breathtaking peaks and canyons as well as all kinds of animals and vegetation. I think I was drawn to the cacti for their resilience in inhospitable terrain, and I found their blooms hopeful. They turned into a symbol for the people crossing in the area.

With the prickly pear cactus, the nopal, I feel a connection to my grandmother and my Mexican heritage when I see them. I like how they grow wild all throughout California, and how they can thrive with so little. They make me feel proud.

KF: Many of the poems in Posada are after other poets.  Who are your biggest inspirations or influences as a writer, and why?

XJB: The biggest influence is Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us. She doesn’t have a poem in my book, but when I read her poetry in grad school, it was the first time I saw how my passion for activism and my poetry could marry. I don’t know that there would be a Posada without Forche. Another great influence was Michele Serros’ Chicana Falsa. I thank her in the acknowledgements because I read her book around my 3rd or 4th revision, and I fell in love with her voice and how unpretentious she is. After reading Chicana Falsa, I went back into my poems and tried to simplify–to look for those spots where I was trying too hard. I’ve always felt dumb, and had a fear of people discovering that, and because of that I sometimes overcompensate, so I was really thankful for the reminder.

KF: There are many beautiful relationships in Posada: mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandfathers.  How much do you draw upon the real relationships in your life in your poetry?

XJB: This collection was written for my grandparents and my parents. I don’t know what will happen with future poems, but this one was all about them. From a young age, I knew my parents were immigrants, and I was interested in their stories and celebrating immigrant stories. I think I was always acutely aware of negative words, sentiments, and policies toward immigrants when I was a kid because that meant mom and dad. I wouldn’t have gone to the border if it weren’t for them. They are a huge part of my poet identity, and they are huge supporters of my work. In Sandra Cisneros’ new memoir, A House of My Own, she talks about how she had to move away from her family to be a writer. But for me, I couldn’t be a writer without my family.

KF: You write at the end of Posada that you were influenced by your work with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which polices the Mexico-U.S. border.  How did that experience inspire or influence your writing?

XJB: I wouldn’t call it policing. They patrol migrant trails for support, medical care, and to be a witness to Border Patrol atrocities–but they aren’t policing anyone. They are fighting for accountability.

When I went to the border, I was two years out of an MFA program. I thought I was writing a book, but I didn’t really know what I was writing about. When I went and worked with No More Deaths, my book got its center, and I had something to put the other poems into context. I didn’t really have a book until I went, and though only half of the book is about the desert, it’s all in context with that journey, who the speaker is, and why she went.

KF: Posada is very interested in borders, not just in the sense of the Mexico-U.S. border, but also in the sense of pathways, being lost, and not quite fitting within the tidy borders of the world.  Do you think poetry can help people feel like they have more structure, tidier borders as it were, or can help them feel found?  Is this true for you?

XJB: Gregory Orr’s book, Poetry as Survival, talks about how writing a poem helps to bring order in chaos, and I definitely think that’s true. Through a poem, I think it is possible to create new structures, new understandings, and break out of old patterns. I think I wanted the poems about being lost or not fitting in to be a comfort.

KF: Throughout Posada, you play with language and what it means to be bilingual.  One of my favorite poems is “to chew     the empty spaces,” which omits articles and some prepositions, a common grammar “mistake” of bilingual individuals.  How does being bilingual influence the way you think about language?

XJB: I wouldn’t call myself bilingual. I grew up in a Spanish speaking home, the youngest of four, and though my two oldest brothers are fluent, me and my other brother aren’t. I was spoken Spanish to my whole life. My grandparents only spoke Spanish, but with my parents, I always answered them in English. So I know Spanish, and when I speak it, it sounds pretty good, but I’m not fluent. I tried to show that with “Ode to Pan Dulce” with the way the Spanish weaves in and out. I feel like that’s how Spanish feels in my ear and on my tongue, it comes and goes without much thought. With the first half, I was trying to illustrate that sense, but with the second half, I wanted the Spanish to honor the language of the people I came into contact with as their first language.

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KF: “Meditation for Lost and Found” opens with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges and then follows a labyrinthine pattern.  Other poems, like “Photograph of a Secret” seem to flirt with magic(al) realism.  Do you ever find yourself inspired by Latin American authors like Borges, who use magic(al) realism as a way to portray the emotional reality of the daily lives of people living in countries that are dealing with economic and political upheaval?

XJB: Those two poems are heavily influenced by Borges and the possibilities held in a moment. I like to use magical realism to find possibilities when there don’t seem to be any, or to create some purpose, honor, or visibility when there isn’t any. “Meditation for the Lost and Found” is for the desaparecido, a word that has no direct translation in English, but means those who cease to be, disappear from the world without a trace, usually at the hands of a corrupt government. My hope with that poem is that by forcing the reader to focus on the words through its strange form, I am making a journey, a life visible again. I try to do something similar in “Our Lady of the Water Gallons.” The poem is intended to be the safe place because there are no safe places in the desert.

KF: What book is on your nightstand right now?

XJB: I just finished the YA novel, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s about a 13 year-old girl who immigrates to the US from Aguascalientes, Mexico when her family experiences a tragic change of fortune. It’s a Depression era book, and I’m reading it for inspiration for my current project, which is a novel set in 1930s California.

KF: What piece of advice have you been given that was instrumental to your development as a writer?

XJB: Eloise Klein Healy told me to push myself to be personal and to do the work. It was her advice that encouraged me to volunteer with No More Deaths, so it was pretty instrumental in the development of this book. Before that, I was doing a lot of persona poems on immigrant stories I found in history books, mostly from the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment. Her advice made me realize why I cared so much about immigration rights and reform, and it all stemmed from my own parents.

Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is now available for pre-order with free shipping from Sundress Publications!

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a first generation Chicana born and raised in San Gabriel, California, who fondly remembers weekends spent haciendo traviesos with her cousins around her grandparents’ Boyle Heights home. She wrote this collection while living in a house in the shadows of Dodger Stadium in historic Solano Canyon.  Bermejo is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and was previously honored as a Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange poetry winner, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund/Money for Women grantee, and Los Angeles Central Library ALOUD newer poet. Her poetry received 3rd place in the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books literary awards and has been published with The American Poetry Review, The Acentos Review, CALYX, Crazyhorse, and Tahoma Literary Review among others. She has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED. She received a BA in Theatre Arts from California State University of Long Beach and an MFA in Creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles where she is currently a book coach and workshop instructor with the inspiration2publication program.
Kristen Figgins is a writer of fabulism, whose work has appeared in such places as The Gateway Review, Sleet Magazine, Hermeneutic Chaos, Sakura Review, Menacing Hedge, and more. Her story “Track Me With Your Words, Speak Me With Your Feet” was winner of the 2015 Fiction Award from Puerto del Sol, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Micro Award, and Write Well Award. Her first chapbook, A Narrow Line of Light, is available for purchase from Boneset Books and her novella, Nesting, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in the Summer of 2017.

 

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