profiles in poetics: Rosebud Ben-Oni

Rosebud Ben-Oni 2013Rosebud Ben-Oni

Websites:

RosebudBenOni.com

How much does language and cultural influence affect the unique visibility of core identity? You know, those surreptitious elements of ourselves we romance into the most endearing and particular parts of our self?  Poet Rosebud Ben-Oni’s first creative stimulus was musical; “electricities and soporifics … something between sleep and meditation.” This exonerates her personal mosaic. Ben-Oni explains, “I grew up hearing English, Spanish, Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew and each seemed impossible to claim as my own.” The explicative spread of perspective enumerates the weight of history and how this affects one’s own sense of self. The stipulative task, “[unpacks], all the misunderstandings, fears and questions that I still harbor from my youth.”

Ben-Oni’s work SOLECISM out from Virtual Artists’ Collective provokes perspective-painted-supple-threaded strokes; ones she describes as, “that wiring, went awry since birth”. Ben-Oni accepts the displacing diversity of this music. It is how the complications and alternative experience of different languages occurs, stating, “the only weight that exists after experience is her language— what else could she carry, in order to make her own? She takes another’s perception of her skin, her family, her way(s) of speaking, and responds. She had to begin there.” The act of reclaiming one’s own language and perspective is necessary to how we connect and encounter others. There are historical elements whose visibilities alight important aspects of our identity.

This is how we communicate and accept otherness. She continues, “I don’t know why we need one voice to identify a country [America] that’s multicultural and divided in so many ways. Rather than try to conform or copy, we should be open to ideas beyond singular definition.” A particular emphasis in this interview is how, what is “quintessentially American,” is a fabricated false construction, which many times becomes authoritative and leaves diversity out. HER KIND addresses how some use these strains to overt power over others in questionable positions of authority. She says, it “has been a wonderful experience in honoring the diversity of women’s voices,” just as we listen to and honor Ben-Oni’s own respective story.

Born to a Mexican mother and Jewish father, Rosebud Ben-Oni is a 2013 CantoMundo Fellow. A Leopold Schepp Scholar at New York University, she won the Seth Barkas Prize for Best Short Story and The Thomas Wolfe/Phi Beta Kappa Prize for Best Poetry Collection. She was a Rackham Merit Fellow at the University of Michigan where she earned her MFA in Poetry, and was a Horace Goldsmith Scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2010, her short story “A Way out of the Colonia” won the Editor’s Prize for Best Short Story in Camera Obscura: A  Journal of Contemporary Literature and Photography. A graduate of the 2010 Women’s Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater, her plays have been produced in New York City, Washington DC and Toronto. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Bayou, B O D Y, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Lana Turner Journal and Puerto del Sol. Nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, her debut book of poems SOLECISM was published by Virtual Artists Collective in March 2013. Rosebud is a co-editor for HER KIND (herkind.org) at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts (vidaweb.org). Find out more about her at 7TrainLove.org

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1.)    What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?\

My first inspirations, I suppose, are a mosaic of electricities and soporifics inducing something between sleep and meditation. Hearing Max Janowski’s arrangement of Avinu Malkeinu for the first time. The chill of the synagogue on the morning of Yom Kippur. Reclusive, unproven beings like Bigfoot and the Yeti. The decadence of poinsettia red, whiskey on my grandfather’s breath as he sealed a kiss on my forehead and each cheek, Naomi Campbell in George Michael’s “Freedom.” I had so much desire as a child. At the same time I had this distrust of desire and languages. I grew up hearing English, Spanish, Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew and each seemed impossible to claim as my own. I wanted to strip something bare one moment, and another I wanted to wrap the same thing in gossamer, make a secret, only to unwrap it again, slowly, hoping for some kind of metamorphosis. I turned to Edmond Jabes often; he was the first poet that inspired me to write. Every few years The Book of Questions changes for me. Its words weigh heavier now. I internalize further the frustrations, the skepticism, the faith in the blank page and the marks we make in word and action. And the weight of history that’s carried over in my faith and in my own experiences. My family also inspired me to write, although that was not the intention. My father is a riddle that unfolds into another riddle without an answer, and it takes some kind of woman to accept this My mother raised her brothers and sisters because her mother was ill; she didn’t have a childhood. I never gave much thought to their dynamic, my parents’ commitment to each other, when I was younger; coming from two different races and faiths, I only knew her family was from Mexico and his, mostly absent from our lives, was Jewish. I didn’t see until later that kind of love and history can be hard to explain to a child who they just want to look forward; only recently have I decided to reflect on the history we built together, and not together, as a family.

2.)    Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

Norma Cantu, one of the founders of CantoMundo, is a mentor for me; she reached out to me at a time when I was filled with doubt. She reminds me listen to those little grey areas between waking and consciousness when the spirit level is alive. I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking, all the misunderstandings, fears and questions that I still harbor from my youth; this was Norma Cantu’s advice to me at my first CantoMundo retreat this summer.

I like the work of a number of CantoMundo founders and poets including Eduardo C. Corral and Carolina Ebeid. Charles Simic, Gwendolyn Brooks and Orhan Pamuk were the poets I consumed in college; Pamuk’s “On Living” was a truth the instant I read it. Arisa White’s Hurrah’s Nest is incredible; it tells a story and moves beyond it at the same time, and her use of language is exciting. Metta Sama is both an inspiration and a guiding light. I really like Amy King’s work. Jared Harel is hilarious— I just discovered his work after reading with him here in New York. The Body Double is brilliant and I’m trying to read it as slow as possible because I don’t want it to end.

3.)    How has your own work changed over time and why?

Yes. There’s more humor in the poems for my second collection. I think I’m also taking stronger ownership of biblical narratives, retranslating them into the narrative of being mixed, in the post-Benetton era. My first book SOLECISM already feels ages ago to me, and some of those poems were written in 2011 or 2012. It’s strange how a single year can bring so much insight; I got engaged this year, became a CantoMundo fellow, and did quite a bit of traveling with my fiancé Brian; we went to Hong Kong, China, Toronto and many places in the U.S. in less than a year’s time. I became part of his family. I spent one night in Hong Kong drinking sake with his mother and talking for hours; we both ended up tearful and happy and gripping each other’s hands. It was an electric night. It is an electric city. All of that makes me excited about the rest of my life. For the first 18 years of my life I had friends but felt very alone. I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. Only recently have I really opened up, and I’m so glad I met Brian and his family now, at a point in which I’d already tried to live in a place like Jerusalem and failed. That I’d addressed that failure myself, that it’s part of my identity to question things like, what is a Jew without practice?, to not have an answer, to present that to them candidly. These experiences affect my work. Sometimes these experiences are my work.

4.)    Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Absolutely. I’m working on my first full-length play after success writing one acts, and I return often to August: Osage County; I had the good fortune of seeing it on Broadway a few years back, and was devastated by what I’d witnessed, the complete disintegration of a family in three acts. I read a lot of fiction and nonfiction as well; I’m reading Ha Jin’s A Free Life at the moment. I’ve just finished Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. It left me breathless. The North Korean defectors she interviews for the book all faced incredible obstacles, especially in trying to assimilate to South Korean culture. It’s important to tell these stories, so that they are remembered, that these things really did happen in the 21st century.

5.)    What are your plans for the future?

In the near future, complete the final revisions on a novel I’ve been writing for the last five years. It centers on the migrations of a young woman of mixed heritage and a man from Fuzhou, China who meet in New York City just they are both at the end of their respective rope. I’m fascinated by family dynamics, how they shift in place, time and cultural norms, and the novel explores how two very different people live in constant motion, always on the move, even when they are still. I’m also writing a play about the influence of the drug cartels on the U.S.-Mexican border. In the next 2 years or so, I’m planning to move Hong Kong for a while, and travel around Asia as much as possible with my soon-to-be husband. We’d be there now if it was possible.

6.)    Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Tara Betts and Rachel McKibbens who are already off the charts; their performances will blow you away. I love the Belladonna Collective, which published both LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs’ TwERK and R. Erica Doyle’s Proxy. LaTasha’s book is a treat if you love languages and all its possibilities. As for Erica’s book, I need a cigarette after I read Proxy. It’s another one I can’t put down. And watch out for Kamilah Aisha Moon; she’s absolutely brilliant.

7.)    If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Labels are tricky when you’re mixed and dip into different genres. I am many things, a Chicana/Latina/Hispanic, bisexual, Jewish skeptic poet who also writes plays, fiction and nonfiction. I adore my neighborhood here in New York, and all the neighborhood along the 7 Train. I do my best writing whether I’m home in Sunnyside, or in Woodside, Jackson Heights, Flushing. I guess then you could say I’m 7 Train Love. Does that work?

8.)    The opening poems of your book, Solecism, have shifting collocative values that displace cultural affects of worth and tradition. We read about “the jellyfish outlining beer bottles,” moving to “shells gather like cemetery flowers,” and “the ashes / fed to our mothers in molasses”. The enchanting myth entangles us with mermaids “accessible as the savage / wants some howling / girl against a narcotic wire.”  This archetype is addressed further as it juxtaposes the poem, “The Mixed Child with Pale Skin”. Here we read, “always too sexy–off–the–shoulder / even in suits— your mentor interrupts: // writing this makes you rather juvenile. She tells you race / is no longer taboo.” The self-beliefs placed upon her here are invisible as the weight they assume in language. Why is it so important for her to write and in what ways do you see her addressing these archetypes? Is she successful?

I don’t think she’s worried about being successful; her mixed heritage, that wiring, went awry since birth. The composite of her experiences is unruly. She tries for understanding, but knows that she has to tell her narratives in the most real way, and each time as they occur (red) and exist within her. The only weight that exists after experience is her language— what else could she carry, in order to make her own? She takes another’s perception of her skin, her family, her way(s) of speaking, and responds. She had to begin there. This is a lot of frustration in those poems, at the different hierarchies of literature, social class, even love; this is both a response to and an exorcism of those places that aren’t as static as they seem. In SOLECISM, she is just beginning to see that.

9.)    The term Sal Si Puedes translates to leave if you can and is often ascribed to colonias and other neighborhoods found in the US and other parts of Latin America. We converse with this neighborhood. In, “Over the river from Sal S. Puedes,” we unwind musical lines, “swarms of mosquitos and matted beds / of water,” between “hyacinth and hydrilla.” And then fiercely, “The Reply of Sal Si Puedes,” who is fierce; “I’m not a foreshadow of the divine. / Quit photographing my children … I am not in your worldly terms. // Your first word was remembered. / I was born a muerto. / You— / Have yet to let me finish a sentence.” There is a tendency to romanticize tradition in a manner that assumes an othering gaze. Feminism breaks open the argument and allows the othered to have voice. Alternatively, ascribing the word “Feminism,” also boxes in the opening of this cross-cultural communication because it is largely misunderstood. Do you think that this is changing? Why or why not is it significant to attribute Feminism to this change? Do you see the world globally listening to more of her sentence?

When I wrote these poems, I was thinking of my own experiences as much as those of my mother and her sisters, as they related them to me. In college I remember a professor telling me that writers like Gloria Anzaldúa and Americo Paredes were “supplemental” and not necessary to understand the Western Canon, much less American Literature. That they were “regional” writers and wrote in specific dialects that did not accurately reflect the American experience at all. I also remember this same professor saying he had “read books about Mexico” and then citing D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent and Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano. He could not see the problem with that thinking. I wrote those poems in response to that thinking, and certain things I had seen happen to the women in my mother’s family, things that I escaped perhaps because I was different. You know, my mother and sisters would not call themselves “Feminists;” my mother always brought up the point that Mexican-American women were largely left out of the Feminist Movement in the 1970s. I think now there’s more awareness when one invalidates another’s experience as not “quintessentially American.” I don’t know why we need one voice to identify a country that’s multicultural and divided in so many ways. Rather than try to conform or copy, we should be open to ideas beyond singular definition.

10.)    I would also like you to take some time to describe how your work and how you identify yourselves in the world affects the work that you do for VIDA. How do you see the literary community changing to include more voices for women and how and why is this so vital? What in your point of view needs to happen in our larger cultural communities to continue to address these topics and promote change?

Working with VIDA: Women in Literary Arts really opened up my eyes to gender disparity in publishing, especially for women of color. I’ve gained invaluable experience working with VIDA, and I realize now that my experiences with gender and race date back to when I was in college at NYU. I remember taking a Literature of India class back in 2000, and my professor, an American woman, opening the class with Orwell, Kipling and Forster. She couldn’t understand why a particular classmate of mine, who was Indian-American and female, was outraged that the class began from a colonialist perspective. Where was, for instance, the Urdu poetry? The professor replied that the student was “cherry-picking.” They argued all semester. During our last class, the professor had the “final word” stating that she believed she was right, that she had no regrets about the way she had taught the class. My classmate raised her hand, but we were out of time. I remember the tension walking out of the room, of seeing this young woman fuming in the elevator next to me, of being silenced. That left quite an impression of me. Women silencing other women. The questionable use of authority. I wished I had said something, but I was young in many ways. Now, as much as I concrete on my own work, I want to create numerous spaces for honest conversation and as fairly as possible—VIDA (and Cate Marvin particularly) gave Arisa White and I the space to do this as editors. It has been a wonderful experience in honoring the diversity of women’s voices.

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profiles in poetics: Renee Angle

DSC_0064Renee Angle

Websites:

The Volta

Renee Angle’s poetics ground immanence in a braid of corporeal plateaus that are connected to the fable and non-sequential congruence of the soul. Here we question what it means to witness. Can we possess witness or the voice of a child? And in the field of the poem how are interchangeable freedoms unable to “lose their souls”? These questions, Angle describes are at the center of her manuscript The Orphans.

The Orphans poems cohere because they don’t fit. This interview identifies the trauma that one can experience in language and how this merges fluidly into a Deluzian denial of transcendence. Here, “truth and absurdity (the absurdity of truth),” are distinctly malleable from the inside out. In this respect, “childhood is no longer of the future, each thought is or is not an orphan, ‘parents,’ if they exist, are interchangeable, temporary, fragmented, gutted of their middles, which is middle too.” There is admittedly “insufficiency” here and yet, the soul is retained. The witness is not a choice, yet it exists.

Renee Angle resides in Tucson, Arizona where she works for The University of Arizona Poetry Center. Her poems have been published in The Volta: Heir Apparent,DiagramPractice New Art + WritingSonora ReviewEOAGHI’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women, and in the chapbook Lucy Design in the Papal Flea (dancing girl press).

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1.)    What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

I know it gets said a lot, but I didn’t desire to be a writer, I just sort of was.

2.)    Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

Wallace Stevens, Stevie Smith, Frank O’Hara, William Carlos Williams, Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz, Laura (Riding) Jackson, Djuna Barnes, and many, many others.

3.)    How has your own work changed over time and why?

I hope that my work has become more focused, crystalized, and intentional. In terms of process, I now spend time devising contratints/methods to thwart ingrained habits whereas before I was cultivating habits. I spend time trying to forget what I’ve learned.

4.)    Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I try not to classify books by genre when I read and when I write I try to have the same mindset. I don’t think texts have genres—we give texts genres–and so in that way, while they can be helpful classifications, they are very artificial and more about marketing than anything else. I’ve thought about how both of the words genre and gender come from the same root. They both mean “kind.”

5.)    What are your plans for the future?

I’m working on a play about motherhood as an act of plagiarism, a YA novel about child labor and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and a novel based on a 7 hour movie based on a novel in Hungarian.

6.)    What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I’m very pleased and inspired that there is so much wonderful work being written and that I have so many good examples to draw from even before I sit down to write.  My general reaction is “more,” I want more.

7.)    Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Honestly, I read mostly dead poets. I also think most third and fourth graders have a lot of contemporary poets already beat.

8.)    If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Writer. I sometimes like artist.

9.)    In the poem, “WITNESSED,” we pull the poem apart in the fashion of a fairy tale. For instance, “the way the blade can cut the length you like. and then there’s red. red can cut the same. crop circles with circumference built in, or the line established to help you do the math.” The poetic line manifests a feeling of linearity while it is also alluringly an invitation to untriangulate and play with the message. The poem ends, “climb in the bed made of the alternative comfort of the hearted. her circle skylight. able to wish water or sand. // exclusively ours!, exclusively ours!, exclusively ours!,”. To witness can always be “ours” if we choose this path of wander. Can you please discuss how the architecture is structured to rest the mind of a child and how the poem interacts with this both in the melopoeia and syntax?

I don’t know if “witnessing” can be “ours.” I’m thinking of the Celan poem “AshGlory” and the line “Nobody / bears witness for the / witness.” I also don’t think witnessing is something that is chosen. I align myself more with the fable and its important differences from the fairy tale. As G.K. Chesterton suggests, “fables repose upon[…]the idea[…]that everything is itself, and will in any case speak for itself[…]It is the limit and the loss of all such things that they cannot be anything but themselves: it is their tragedy that they could not lose their souls.” The concept articulated here by Chesterton is at the center of this manuscript. In terms of the syntax and the melopoeia, I write with my ear and I have an interest in sound poetry. A question I’ve been thinking about a lot is why children’s literature isn’t written by children. I find it inauthentic to present the voices of children as rendered by adults, though that is the task of any writer, in large part, to make voices, characters. My intention wasn’t to present the mind of the child in any of these poems, but to cultivate playfulness that can evoke childhood for some readers.

10.)    The form is comprised of wonder and terror. Take for example, “SCORPION, BIT PART,” that begins, “the hardest piece to make was / my boyfriend // who limp headed / and exit with / love and boldly draw / it was a piece i found on his / floor his exit his scalp hint Whitman / i started and stooped a dozen like / i was baking a leem long longer longest time / i had concern i would no hurry up or heat.” Boyfriend turns to heat turns to scalp turns to baking. Archetypal figures are submerged spirits in the dark. Why are these poems as the title seems to suggest, orphans?

The title of my manuscript is The Orphans because it speaks to the lack of formal similarity between the sections as well as its obsession with names and the unnamed in children’s literature. It is a group of poems that coheres because of what is absent and what doesn’t fit. The parents of these poems have been discarded because of their unsuitability. The learning and coming into language is traumatic and that experience correlated, somehow, with the narrative of the poem.

11.)     The poem, “RADIO DREAM: THE INDIAN CHILDREN ARE TOLD; CONCLUSION OF THE MYSERY,” utilizes the Deluzian plane of immanence. We read, “except the mermaids dry                        inside as dreams // a layered record of the Christian symbol                     all stories slipper the fish // the drying stream                        filling with silt and ash from fire // issued fear light                     to send the children through.” Can you describe how this poem in addition to the book unhinges ethical boundaries and aesthetics?  

I’ll talk about what you refer to as the Deluzian plane of immanence which dove tails nicely with what Chesterton is saying about fables (“It is the limit and the loss of all such things that they cannot be anything but themselves: it is their tragedy that they could not lose their souls.”) Deluze “denies transcendence as a real distinction” and I think the fable is basically an example of that. I greatly admire the idea that, “It is only when immanence is no longer immanence to anything other than itself that we can speak of a plane of immanence.” It is true, at the same time it feels completely absurd to me. Truth and absurdity (the absurdity of truth) are also qualities of fables. This particular poem you are quoting from is highly fragmented and is essentially the story of a group of women who serve as guardians of an ocean that is quickly becoming a desert. Gilles Deluze’s theory on the rhizome which states that there is no beginning and end, only a middle or plateau is another way to look at this poem. (And many contemporary poems for that matter). There is a narrative arc but it’s more like a series of plateaus. Any plateau can be related to any other plateau “its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature.” Deluze says “never send down roots.” I couldn’t agree more. To consider everything as coming from the middle has changed my concept of time and time as it is represented and happens in the poem. If everything is a series of middles, childhood is no longer of the future, each thought is or is not an orphan, “parents,” if they exist, are interchangeable, temporary, fragmented, gutted of their middles, which is middle too. Agamben claims, “one cannot write sufficiently in the name of an outside.” I try to grapple with that insufficiency in these poems.

profiles in poetics: Annmarie O’Connell

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Annmarie O’Connell

Websites:

Verse Daily

Thrush Poetry Journal

How do we write about love without being caught in a stagnant displaced and generic gestation? How does technology enable or deter our efforts to find true connection? Is this a manifestation of our commonality? At times we feel alone, we find intimacy, and we are utterly surprised by the individuals that reach out to us in the times we least expect it. We are at once unaided and enveloped, desiring deeply to find light in a world with much dark. Annmarie O’Connell is a poet who is witness to these moments of access and personal connection.

In her book, Her Last Cup of Light, out from Aldrich Press, we delve into the intrinsic aspiring desire to honor poetry, “for new love”.  There is redemption here, one she describes as “a fighting chance”. The moments we share our true selves with others include those willing to share their “last cup of light”. “Beauties,” she says in a world that demands this necessity. In this place we never want to wait to leave, a moment between that breathes, that poem, for new love.

Annmarie O’Connell is a lifelong resident of the South Side of Chicago. Her work has appeared in Slipstream, Whiskey Island Magazine, and several other journals. Her first chapbook, Her Last Cup of Light, was published this summer by Aldrich Press. And she also adores you. I swear. 

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1.)      What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

I started writing what I considered poetry at a really young age. I remember my first poem I ever wrote was in 5th grade about Jesus wiping the face of Veronica and how beautiful I thought she was. I didn’t really stop writing ever since. I think a lot of that had to do with my siblings. I come from a big family and they often encouraged me to do anything that would keep me out of trouble. And my teachers. I had a lot of pretty great English teachers. I went to a community college on the South Side of Chicago and studied with Eugene Bender who had earned an MFA from the University of Iowa. He introduced me to Sexton and I read her obsessively. He was so convinced I had a story to tell. I think I grew away from that confessional kind of writing as I started telling it. I then moved on to reading a lot of the New York School poets. There was a freedom in them that I really needed in order to write in a non-restrictive way. So Ginsberg and Koch were a dream to me. Now I love reading Malena Morling, Adelia Prado and Roberto Bolano. There is a sense of meditative silence in their work. And compassion. I want to be right there with them for all of eternity.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I feel I have had this tremendous blessing in my life to have such incredible mentors at New England College. Jeff Friedman has always been an incredible source of creative inspiration and support for me. He has the ability to get you obsessive about your own work and to actually feel like the work itself deserves it. He gets me moving. I also worked with Paula McLain and she is like a God send to me. She gets it. She just gets what I write and makes me feel like it is necessary. Like the world needs it. You can’t ask for anything better than that. I’ve also worked with Malena Morling and her poetry has really inspired me to write and view the world in a different way. In an almost elevated way. As poets I think we do that—navigate the world on a different plane. I love it. I live for it. Her poetry gives me permission to.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

My work has gone from this really sort of inner place that wasn’t really saying what I really wanted to say in the way I felt it working on the inside. Or maybe it just wasn’t quite there. Maybe I wasn’t all there. I think my work has changed as I have changed. I think there needed to be a moment of acceptance for me in order to get to the next place in my writing. Acceptance of this lifestyle. Because I really think being a poet is a lifestyle. And it’s now everything to me.  Once I did that, I was able to get outside of myself and pull from the world around me in a really balanced way. In a really compassionate way. I want my poems to speak truthfully to how I genuinely feel and live. Almost in a spiritual sense. Which, now that I’m saying that, is sort of how it all started for me. With Veronica and Jesus’ face.  I think we have to save each other. The world is beautiful and terrifying but I love you all anyway and fearlessly. Here’s my poetry.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I really just focus on reading and writing poetry. Lately I have been reading some prose and creative non-fiction.  I am amazed by the skill. I like to keep my eyes open and pull from all of that—especially the way it ties up all the loose ends so quickly. What it does in that tiny space. It blows me away.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

I recently published a chapbook, Her Last Cup of Light, with Aldrich Press. Now I’m working on writing and submitting a full length manuscript to several places. Aside from wanting to publish more poetry, I want to continue to adapt and grow and move forward with this lifestyle. I think that’s a huge part of it, too. Maintaining that sense of who you are. And as women I think we struggle with identity at times. We’re friend, mother, wife, sister, etc. We have so many roles we are expected to play. But we are also poets and writers. And our environment should be one that creates a space for that and fosters it. I guess I just want to make sure I am living my poet life to the fullest. If I’m not, then who will do it for me?

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I want more!  I want women writer’s to be at the top of my sons reading list when they get into school. I want that future.

7.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

I would definitely say Lauren Gordon, Joanna Penn Cooper, Sara Lefsyk, Anchia Kinard, Mary-Catherine Jones, Nikoletta Nousiopoulos. I know of many more but I am (so luckily) pretty much continuously exposed to their work. And it’s just brilliant. Each woman has a unique language that shapes the poem into something that is so exclusively them.  And they’re beautiful.

8.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I’m a South Side girl living in a heartbreakingly gorgeous world.

9.)      In your chapbook Her Last Cup of Light, “the first afternoon after the day” we humidly coalesce a fleeting moment. Too easy to sweep by, we read, “You will get on the bus and tell the mother / who wipes the corners of her baby’s mouth / something about the hardest part / of beginning again”. After vast ruin it is both difficult and expounding beautiful to live in the world and find hope. Unwound further, “I will be the passing shadow / across your knees / loving you.” Who is the “you” in this poem and is that critical to how we interpret the piece?

As I was writing it, I really had this back and forth range of crazy emotions about my son, my unborn son, and their father. I think I really pictured it being all of them in a way. I think we all have moments in our lives where we deeply question our place in the world. And we fall so in love that we don’t ever want to leave, especially by way of inevitable death. I think that’s what new love is—that breathless moment. I think we’ve all had that to a degree. I wanted to write a poem for new love.

10.)   The hope in the poem “When you lean your head on my back” here is thick, and so is the loss. We read, “I remember how you stepped / into the world early, / shouting / it is not lonely / dragging us off our knees.” Is this a conversation with redemption, and if so, where does the loneliness stop? Is loneliness learned absence, can redemption only live in childhood, or in the dirt? To further this thought, do you suppose that loneliness is a culturally inferred construct promoted by the tools that we use to connect?

Technology enables us to connect on the surface to many people, but does this draw us away from what we most desire; the redemption able to pull us out of the position we define cradling our knees?   I think it definitely is a conversation with redemption. But maybe only a fleeting redemption that is fluid in a way. The loneliness I was referencing was the complete loneliness I think we all feel from time to time—like we are sort of beautifully lost in the world with no one to really get us and we really feel, simply put, alone. And you’re right, there’s a specific kind of redemption that is particular to having a child. It’s almost like a fighting chance. Technology is something that definitely hinders us from achieving any sort of truly, passionate, palpable existence. It’s the block in the road to togetherness. I am not made for the future.

11.)   In “Compared to the sweet lilacs,” we are dead stars and still the speaker wonders “what stops you / from leaping into the arms / of the stuttering man on the street, / his body a distant shadow … I’m going to tell you to kiss his narrow mouth.” What stops us? In the poem, “The boy drags his doll,” the boy’s heart turns, “into whispers / for mile after mile.” How does he get his heart back and why was it left with the boy and the doll?

When I was writing “Compared to the sweet lilacs” I wanted to convey the fact that we are often terrified to do something as crazy as kiss the man on the side of the road. Or do anything we actually feel like doing right in the moment. I think we plan too much and shut down a spontaneous part inside of us that’s just so desperately the real us. People deserve the real us. I also wanted to convey that I think we should love him and talk to him and learn him and experience him. So what does stop us? Ourselves? Fear? Standing in line? I don’t really know. But I don’t want to ever stop loving. That’s what I know.

12.)   The conversation shifts in the poem, “In the vacant lot”. We read of the speaker’s desire to heal ideological wounds split into the palms of a man. She says, “I want to smear love / into the grooves of his palm // sometimes you can see the light turn on in things that are alive.” And then she continues, “just to say hello / notice when you’re a pile / of torn bits / offer you her last / cup of light / tell you the honest to God truth / about breaking apart?” Why does she want to offer her last cup of light and where is his agency? Her message at the end of the book is, “you want to tell him / that at the exact moment of death, / we’re navigating / in the weeds,” where is his light?

All of the people in the poems are people I actually encountered walking around the South Side with my son in our neighborhood. The man on the bus stop was so surprised that I spoke to him and offered him a hand onto the bus as he struggled so much. It was like watching something become alive in both of us. A validation to continue living and helping for me, a change in him maybe? It seemed that way. The woman I was describing, the one offering her last cup of light, is really a lot of the women you would meet here. Very loyal. Very willing to suffer for your happiness. Very honest. Very, very honest. Beauties really. In the last poem, I really wanted to wrap up the chapbook in a way that conveyed the fact that we are all grappling in horror and pain and shabbiness and things we can’t control, but we can still find the beautiful things. Look for the beautiful things. And love with all your might.

profiles in poetics: Emily Motzkus

photo (2)Emily Motzkus

Websites:

www.emilymotzkus.com

Manor House Quarterly

The Offending Adam

Poet Emily Motzkus capsulates us in the wings of baby blue sunglasses and the starting of yellow. How change is inspired in the body and movement shifts us to awe, the reason why she writes. Her poetics round anatomical research to matter. She extends these to mathematics, “like suppleness and intimacy with the divinity of consciousness and spacetime tanks.” This awe importantly, “[wears] your flesh off, so you might as well let it,” and let go of fear.

Motzkus explains the movement toward innocence as physics. She describes, “neurologically speaking love distorts memory … Now a little bit of our encounter just transferred to these cherry pits in the sand. The best memories bleed on forever this way.” External and internal forms translate body to the page. The encounter of the desert, Chicago, and Denver is the medium of experiment. Female bodies align numerically structured to the moon’s frequency. As we move closer to the infinite, structure becomes “intensely fragile,” but never disappears. This challenges our perception of chance and how structure sinews chaos. In this way, “the end is always there and never there,” on the page intuitively as something we feel as whole.

Emily Motzkus is a PhD student at The University of Denver. She holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her work has appeared in Manor House Quarterly and in a chapbook by The Offending Adam. She lives in Denver with her cat.

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1.)    What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

My first inspiration was poet Derek Henderson.

I never read books with any alarming regularity. I never dreamt about becoming a writer, or really even thought of it. With some synchronizing luck I found myself writing in Derek’s class at the University of Utah. It was his ecstatic presence and vision for poetry that opened me to the infinity in certain breaks of the line and folds of the page. We read Cole Swensen’s book Park—that was the first time I’d ever read something that physically changed me, changed my bodily vibration and chemistry. It’s safe to say I fell in love that day, but with what? That’s why I write.

It’s easy to fall in love (but I prefer awe). Like right now I’m in awe with my green tea, an overly attractive man wearing babyblue sunglasses, also a few leaves starting to yellow. I’ll always love Swensen’s book. As for my favorite writer…I suppose it’s whoever I am reading. It changes too often for me. My favorite writers are my friends.

I will say the first poem that ever made me cry was Ronald Johnson’s Beam 4 (the enormous purples part). Today I adore Clarice Lispector: “Everything in the world began with a yes.”

2.)    Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

This is a tough question because everyone who’s ever read my work and discussed its form remains an important voice, even the dis-likers. I’m going to have to answer this question keeping in mind the all-elusive word soul, although I could use the word knowing.

My brother is first and foremost my artistic mentor. Nick works harder than anyone I’ve ever met and graciously shares his soul without fear—it is my greatest intention to work and love in this way. I always show Nick my poems first and he gives me courage.

Donald Revell, Janet Desaulniers, and Bin Ramke are my literary heroes. These three marvelous beings are dearer to me than they can ever possibly imagine. The closest thing I can think to compare them too is my own mom and dad, but it’s a different kind of bond; with them I share the transformative awe of language, which is where I eye. They are my poetry mother and fathers. They’ve helped raise my soul. Everything I write, I write it because they’ve given me love, encouragement, and faith to trust my vision. I want nothing more but to make them proud and happy. Of course I also want to make my real mom and dad proud and happy too.

Kelli Anne Noftle is my poetry soul mate, there is an incredible level of trust that I have in her “reading” of my poems because I feel connected to her poetry and vision.  If she tells me a poem is off, I know it’s off. KA might be the only person in the universe who knows my work better than I know it.

3.)    How has your own work changed over time and why?

I think the form of my work has changed in response to the various locations and circumstances surrounding my body. In the desert my poetry had more space. In Chicago it had more frequency. I can’t quite articulate what these Denver poems are doing just yet/ I think they might be having dispersal situations.  Everyone I love and hold dear is scattered across the United States, it’s like having your centers away from you, this displacement affects my work. I miss my sister a lot.

4.)    Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

I love modernism, does that count as a genre? Hybridization enthralls me. Science is often pleasurable. Mostly I find that I am influenced by singular moments—genre aside. If genre can be an author I have been influenced by the genre Kathryn Cowles, the genre Eleni Sikelianos, and the genre Jack Spicer. If genre can be a poem I have been influenced by the genre One Art, the genre In Memory of My Feelings, and the genre Meditations at Lagunitas. If genre can be a book of poems I’ve been influenced by the genre “Crush” and “Commons”.

5.)    What are your plans for the future?

Here’s the short list (I can’t be entirely sure about the order). I’ll travel to Turkey and take a Turkish bath. In Greece I’ll ride a donkey. In Japan I’ll follow the cherry blossoms. I will publish beautiful book after beautiful book. Meet the most phenomenal man that finds me to be the greatest creature/specimen he’s ever encountered. I will collect enough art to be termed an art collector. Beauty will surround me wherever I go. I’ll teach experimental poetry by a large body of water (preferably an ocean). I will raise a couple of incredible, talented, and well adjusted kids, and hopefully inspire others to recognize their genius and divinity along the way. I have no idea what’s coming, I’m open to anything, but I know it’s going to be good.

6.)    What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

Women have been and continue to be individually brave. This spring I sat in chocolate shops and backyards studying écriture feminine with a group of women varying in age, race, sexuality, and aesthetics. We pondered for many months whether or not there was a discernible difference or characteristic of “women’s writing.” In the end I’m not sure we could decide on any hard and fast rule or singular quality. Mayer and Hejinian. Braveness. Lucinda Williams, Lana Del Rey (who actually cares about SNL). Bravery. Yes, our body’s experience of the world is always present in the text and meanings we create, but before we are gendered we are whole. For me contemporary women’s writing is steeped in simultaneity. There are no dichotomies, it’s never and always at the same time. Read the short story Never, Ever, Always by Janet Desaulniers. Read Amy Bender’s The Rememberer.

7.)    Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Erin Kautza, Shannon Salter, Nan Burton and Sarah Boyer are all outright brilliant. The world needs their work.  Erin’s for its goddess embodiment, rawness and sonic boom. Shannon’s for its overflow of joyful insight, truth, and unbounded play. Nan’s for it’s utterly astonishing aesthetic beauty and starry brilliance (yes like a star), and Sarah’s for its peripheries, norm crashing, and medicinal impact. These women are going to be hot.

8.)    If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

As a writer I’d want my label to read open, just open. As for my poetry maybe a research inspired poetics that worships plant life, anatomy, and the mathematics of veils and thresholds. The poems like birds. The lines in the poems like suppleness and intimacy with the divinity of consciousness. And spacetime tanks. I’d want my label to be exactly what Twombly said about his own work: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.”

9.)    We open with a poem, untitled, performed across the page. “I am a fish then, thrust into wanting a lung I have no memory for //// cartilage skull spine caged against her / tiny-boned pelvis /// a crushing how love reverses itself.” How does love affect memory, furthermore the body, how does trust affect extravagancy?

Neurologically speaking love distorts memory. The memories we cherish the most are furthest from our actual experience—replay them enough and their pathways first alter then disintegrate. This disintegration happens through a series of additions. Say I’m remembering the first time I met someone, but as I remember our meeting I’m eating cherries on the beach. Now a little bit of our encounter just transferred to these cherry pits in the sand. The best memories bleed on forever this way. Just like my finger did.

Emerson wrote “Love is our highest word and synonym for God.” In meditation or “flow”states connecting with the force of love/god/the universe/whatever-your-into can move your body into an unbounded state. When you love someone you want for his or her body what you want for your own. After awhile body stops mattering. Don’t wait for death, I say transcend while you’re alive. Love can wear your flesh off, so you might as well let it.

This poem is about birth; the first one, and every subsequent one. The second time I was born into field of hot air balloons. Excess is our natural state. I’m thinking suddenly about something Donald Revell said in a lecture, he said an “uncontrollable birth of heavens,” in this state of extravagancy there is no need for memory. My instinct is that trust and true extravagancy are really the same thing: knowing there will always be enough.

On the next page, “your eyes honeycomb holes / (i was) afraid I’d eat your brains / invited pollinators/ to plug— / every orifice.” Is this obsession as wanting to devour, dependent, or transitory? How do you see the transitions; how do you view body/passion/love?

Transitory. But I’d like to say that in this case it’s actually fear of devouring. I imagine the transition here is to fill or allow outside creation to enter, to ensure consumption can’t/won’t happen—but I think fear suffocates any chance of love. For me this is a love poem with sad problems. The body is for entering and exiting; love and passion do this, your spirit does this, food/air/water do this, good art (in all its subjective glory) does this. You can’t be afraid, if you are, you’re in hot trouble. I get afraid all the time, that’s when I “phone home.”

10.)    If time is a matter of light, how do you view the body? The poem, “Phenomenology: Sectors & Airy Tangles,” begins, “1. // inside the body is dark) / even light’s smallness cannot permeate all the skins.” So we use “radioactive” dyes to make visible these internal mechanisms. When we dream about how time illuminates the body, how is this different from movement?

For me the body is a medium for experiment. Time, matter and light make up the conditions for this experiment. Time illuminates the body by moving it away from innocence. Movement illuminates the body moving it toward innocence. Movement is essential. Time in an imagined construct. Motion is physics.

11.)    Poetically, if movement demands light, how does the body perform in this sphere? You say, “took too long to figure— / how bugs attract the flood of light … when we pick up speed in the night / all this had to do with mantels / and the pull of the / moon.” Can you further the discussion of this invisible “pull,” and how does this manifest in your own creation of the poem?

For me writing a poem can happen in 10 seconds or take months (even years). I am waiting for an “invisible pull” to move me from one image to the next.  I observe until I experience/find/imagine what feels like a vibrational match slightly altered—I guess I could say the body performs movement when the lighting is right. I like that, I’ll probably put it in a poem.

12.)    In the poem, “Adverbial Conjugation, Labial Geometries & A line by George Kalamaras,” we read, “but loving that is how I’ve come to know these parallel points of ache inside my chest which are—going to cross. I’ve charted their likenesses.” I’m interested in the site of the female body as it intersects with mathematics. The structure of math insofar has recently accredited an order to random numbers, specifically prime numbers which are supposedly indivisible outliers. This would mean a structured place upon a structurelessness; linear blueprints to coincidence.

The female body aligns most directly with the mathematics of the moon, a cycle every 28 days. Coincidence? Maybe?

I don’t know much about prime numbers but yesterday I met a man named Moses who was charting prime numbers while I struggled to plug my computer charger into the wall.  He offered to trade me tables and told me that when he saw my orange shirt (the healing color of sunset/sunrise) the math he was looking for came to him. This he said was not a coincidence. He told me that as you move closer to infinity, prime numbers become less and less, but, Moses said they never disappear i.e. their structure becomes intensely fragile but not obsolete. Perhaps this means coincidence does indeed have a blueprint! Perhaps this means there is really no such thing as coincidence–I view this as really good news. I like Jung’s idea of synchronicity or “meaningful coincidence” : “a simultaneous occurrence of a certain psychic state with one or more external events which appear as meaningful parallels to the momentary subjective state,”  the simultaneity of “two or more events, where something other that the probability of chance is involved.” I believe we have the power and ability to create meaningful simultaneity in our lives, the blueprint for this isn’t female or male though, as far as I can understand it, it’s simply thought without fear–I’ve found the Universe responds well to brave thoughts.

13.)    The poem continues, “I’ve charted their likenesses / which are at a point unconjoined, but near the end a labia always loses itself into itself.” This “random” end site is the female body, and also at once loving. If the end was not inherited, but a part of an invisible structure, how do you suppose this would change the inherited view of the female body and how the body interacts in our everyday lives?

If it were possible to chart the point where a labial geometry joins itself would you/or could you call it an endpoint?

Any point will do then, pick one. Pick a random point and point to it: say this is where it happensthis is where it ends and where love happens.

Suddenly this point exists as dawn or dusk exists, perfectly exact in inexactness. The end is always there and never there. Maybe because female bodies are connected to the moon they are able to comprehend this intimately. I think when this realization happens the inherited view of the female body dissipates; in fact, the inherited view of any body dissipates; now our daily interactions are full with love and awe.

I just want to say one more thing, don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s no fun. The best poets I know listen to Drake and eat fancy cupcakes, they have dance parties, you know.

profiles in poetics: Leah Umansky

smallLeah Umanksy

Websites: Leah Umansky

iammyownheroine.com

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How does propaganda both solidify and sterilize the emotional virility of language? How does the domestic sphere inflect the body onto the page? In this interview, poet and teacher Leah Umansky in her book Domestic Uncertainties out from BlazeVOX Books presents, “I think writing by women continues to be as intriguing and as honest as it ever was.” She shares, “there is fear in emotionalizing language, but I think it’s intrinsic to who we are and how we were raised.” For Umansky, every inflection, verbal cue, sensitivity to the “whole package” allows the speaker to find her own “glory” through a sense of self.

Upon reflection we are able to see how this affects the propaganda we share and retain in social media. Umansky states, “I think the body is important to think of in terms of language because they are connected. Sometimes it freaks people out and writing something down, especially online, makes it permanent. One has to choose their words carefully.” But the open process of sharing self in community can become a “recognition of one’s own strength. We are manipulators of language, we are reinventors. We are able to find our own.” As inventors it is important to acknowledge not depletion of intimacy as propaganda models, but faith in self voice. She continues, “The heart is something I believe in. The heart “uproots” and “replants” because it rebuilds.” The heart needs intimacy; honoring close connection, voice, and the ability to be alone.

Leah Umansky is currently working on her second collection of poems focusing on being a woman in the 21st century, social media, nostalgia and Don Draper. She is a contributing writer for BOMB Magazine’s BOMBLOG and Tin House; a poetry reviewer for The Rumpus, and a Live Twit for the Best American Poetry Blog. [Read more at: http://iammyownheroine.com%5D She received her BA in English/Creative Writing from SUNY Binghamton and her MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the host/curator of COUPLET: a poetry and music series on the Lower East Side. Flavorwire called her #7 of “23 People Who Make You Care About Poetry” in 2013.

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note: this poem is a “mash-up’ of phrases from Teddy Wayne’s 2013 NYT article ” Youth’s New Wilderness”

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1.)      What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

My first inspirations were probably the Bronte Sisters. I read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in 10th grade English class and they changed my life. I remember reading Canterbury Tales and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and was just blown away. How had I never read these books today? In terms of poetry, I was always drawn to writing poems. I can still remember when my first poem, “fireflies” got published in my high school literary magazine, KEN. It was a poem about  catching fireflies  but also about the my first childhood crush. As a teenager, I was always drawn to the confessional poets. To this day, Sharon Olds still just dazzles me.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I always feel inspired by someone or something. Maria Mazziotti Gillian was and still is a huge influence on my writing. She took over the English department at SUNY BINGHAMTON my senior year. Once I heard her read her own work, poetry was never really the same for me. She’s someone who gives 110% to her students and her fellow poets. She’s someone I really strive to be more like as a teacher and poet myself. Her readings are powerful, stunning but also intimate. When I saw Sharon Olds and students lined up to have their books signed, I stood frozen. I couldn’t believe I was going to look her in the eye and have her sign my books.

In graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College, I really learned a lot from Marie Howe, Victoria Redel, Kate Knapp Johnson and Paul Lisicky. I’m grateful that I’m someone that has stayed in touch with her teachers. One of the biggest mentors in my writing life is Patricia Carlin, whose workshop at the New School I’ve been in for the last six years or so. I think in life, if you’re lucky to meet someone who really “gets” your work, you need to do what you can to savor that relationship. So many of my friends are writers and we all sort of motivate each other; I think social media helps a lot, too, and for that I’m thankful.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

My first book, Domestic Uncertainties, is out now from BlazeVOX Books. Though I’ve published poems in literary journals that I worked on in both undergrad and graduate school, none of those poems are in this collection. I think I grew up writing more narrative poems because most of the poets I admired wrote in more a narrative style, like Marie Howe, for example. I remember reading my first snippets of flash fiction in Anne Carson’s Glass, Irony and God, Carole Maso’s Aureole, and being like, “oh, I can use fragments when I write?” and “fiction can be lyrical? Fiction can be poetic?”  It sort of shocked me and thrilled me. I think I was afraid to venture into that field of writing, but eventually, when I was ready, I did.

Somewhere along my graduate school years and my years as a married woman, the narrative in my poem split and re-grouped. Ironically, it was when my marriage first fell apart and I was having discussions about separating that I found this new voice with which to write. With the voice came a new way of seeing my writing as my form changed. I started writing prose poems, and I started playing with the page, the margins and with fragments. I used all of it and climbed out of the chaos that was unfolding around me. My first poem that I wrote at this time was a prose poem and it was based on my favorite book, Wuthering Heights. Is there a correlation between the new way of writing and the new marital status? I’m not sure, but it makes sense to me. I think I stopped being scared of my voice, and started tapping into my own agency as a woman. Soon after, I felt more confident.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Absolutely and it’s something I love. I remember when I first started to read Virginia Woolf I fell in love with all of her long sprawling sentences. I like experimental novels because to me, they read like poetry. Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion is probably my favorite for many reasons. I love her use of repetition and I love how the way her book is divided into sections with repeating narrators. I’ve also dappled in historical fiction; I love Kevin Baker’s Paradise Alley and Dreamland, but as a whole I’m the most influenced by experimental novels, memoirs, or the diaries and journals of writers. The journals of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf are always a key source of information for me.

I steal a lot in my writing. I take phrases from newspaper articles; I jot down notes at readings, or at museums when I’m reading the curator notes to exhibits. Lately, I’ve been writing poems that are inspired by TV shows like AMC’s “Mad Men,” and HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and that’s another genre in itself. It’s also a rewriting of society.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

Presently, I’ve just returned from small book-tour that I put together in the Pacific NW.  I’m a teacher, so I’m off for the summer. This month consists of weeding out the poems that don’t work in my second collection, and putting them into some sort of order. September will mark the two year anniversary of my reading series, COUPLET, and I’m glad to see it is still being received so well. I have a new chapbook of Mad Men inspired poems coming out in the winter of 2014, so the annual AWP conference in Seattle is something I’m looking forward to.

As a teacher, I love introducing my students to new works of literature. I taught a “confessional poetry unit” this year, for the first time, and I was so envious of the students who read Anne Sexton for the first time. (Discovering her was such a treat.) I look forward to continuing to find ways to inspire my students. I just want to keep writing and reading, to be honest. I’d also say that I pride myself on supporting my fellow writers, and poets. As a woman and a writer, I think it is important to feel as if you are part of a community and part of starting my own reading series was to help get my footing in the literary community here in NYC.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I think writing by women continues to be as intriguing and as honest as it ever was. Obviously barriers are broken down each day, and each year. I’ll say that I think that our digital presence now in the 21st century, is something we need to use to our advantage.  It’s never been so easy to reach people and not just people in your neighborhood, but people across the country and people across the world. It’s thrilling and our voices need to be heard. I think more people should embrace creating blog, tumblrs, twitter, and using online writing workshops, because we can now. It’s important to have a community of writers who can support you and encourage you, whether it’s online or in real life. Having a support system gives you confidence. I’ve been trying to get one of my best friends to write for years and she finally has written her first personal essay for an online journal. It was wonderful and I’m proud of her.

7.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Some of my favorite people are writers that are either publishing their first books this year, or next, or are still at work on their first books. My friend, Julia Fierro, who runs the Sackett Street Writers, in Brooklyn, has a first novel coming out in the next year which I’ve heard her read excerpts of. Another friend, Mira Ptacin, founder of Freerange, who just welcomed her first baby into the world, has a memoir in the works, which I can’t wait to read.  In terms of women’s poetry, I really admire the work of Rachel McKibbens, Lisa Marie Basile, Mary Flanagan, Rosebud Ben Oni, Laura Cronk, Kristina Marie Darling, Kiely Sweatt, Jackie Clark, J Hope Stein, Jillian Brall, Dena Rash Guzman, and Cassandra Dallett.

8.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I always say I’m an experimental poet because if you don’t label yourself, someone else will. I’d rather take ownership of that labeling. I’m a feminist, and I’m Jewish, even though my poems don’t typically deal with Judaism. (some do). I actually didn’t think too much about the “labeling” until I started building my listing in the “Directory of Writers” at the Poets and Writers website and realized I needed to label myself. I don’t see the harm in it.

9.)      Let us begin with your poem, “I. AND THEN IT CAME UPON HIM THAT HE WOULD MARRY HER AND SHE WOULD BE HIS LIFE.” Sitting on what I can only imagine as a white starched couch: “The woman occupies the supreme position: a songstress; a slave; a harbinger.” This egalitarian position, “was drowned … It was meant to be murdered … The larger vessel was love … I was the larger vessel.” We witness metamorphosis between “she,” “the women,” and ultimately “I”. A typical under the radar subjectivity removes the feminine from the female. As writer then, quill possesses subject. How does female possess her feminine without painting the domestic space in charcoal binaries? Where does this color balance the masculine?

I love this question and love that poem. Yes, I guess the feminine is removed from the female because she sort of crosses into what is typically deemed as, “masculine.” She realizes that she was never free and is now free even though she didn’t necessarily want that freedom. The question is, what is she free from? Marriage? Gender roles? I think maybe both. The binaries ARE charcoaled because the domestic realm here is not so “black and white”—it’s grayed. I have trouble with binaries because I never thought much about them, and then, over time, I realized that life isn’t that cut and dry, and either are relationships. They’re complicated. When my marriage failed, I learned that I could possess the feminine in the domestic space, and also be and do whatever I wanted. I also recognized that it had to be with a sense of self and a sense of what being female means to me. I don’t think I ever gave that that much thought in my twenties.

In the poem, the speaker is putting herself first and she is surviving the wreckage of the marriage. She may be marooned but she knows it’s not forever. The marooning is a shock, but she accepts the binary and moves past it. I’m not sure where this colors the masculine, other than to say that the masculine is triumphed by the feminine.  I see this poem as a sort-of reckoning. The speaker is trying to figure things out; she’s beginning to realize her truths. She says to herself, “I am still a romantic. I am still a romantic” because she is not let the devastation ruin her belief in love or change the way she sees herself. She’s putting herself before the husband, which is a first for her.

This poem has a lot to do with the expectations of marriage, and actually relates to the first poem in the collection, “What Literature Teaches Us About Love.” I think most women go into marriage with a vision of how it will be, and this poem talks to that vision. It sees it shatter. Not only did the marriage fail, but “[It] was drowned. No flotsam or jetsam.” The marriage doesn’t even exist in fragments. It dies.  The speaker controls what happens next, “I was the larger vessel/ I controlled the wondering.”   She thought she’d be the husband’s whole life – that she’d be enough. She felt that love would be enough to keep the marriage afloat, but it isn’t.  She controls “the wondering” because she is the stronger of the two. She carries the love regardless of its failure.  She survives the drowning, and the husband doesn’t. He falls away. This is relevant in Section III of the poem, “The Men Will Do No More. They Have Lost the Capacity For Doing.”   The husband is renamed the “left-husband” because there is nothing left to do. There is no name for what is left after the drowning.  So, I think the binaries shift because of the agency that the female speaker gains in the poem.

10.)   “The Art of Unloving,” is accompanied with a clothes iron in hand. The unending giving and reputed receiving is folded and unfolded. To spill is to “soot” is to “unlove”. Elucidate this then, “We humans, love other humans and sure, pets too, places even, but that emotion has a name and its name is love. … It’s the same with indentation. We can unindent a word, so why not unemotionalize the word, or the whole story?” Is this not what takes place in the language of law? In your opinion does emotionalizing language absorb idiocracy in its inability to present unemotionalizing positive or negative opinions? What is the fear of emotionalizing or placing the body back into the language of the laws that govern our linguistic structure? Movements of oppression use emotive linguistics to shift energy and emotion as you delineate in “appositives”. To change the energy of the linguistics is to shift the energy. But is bland not the same toke as apathy? Where is the body? How is this translated to the letter?

This is a complicated question. I’m not necessarily concerned with the language of the law in this poem; it’s more about what is implied by language, or what is hidden in language. This poem is built around suffixes and prefixes. Look at how two little letters, “un” can do so very much. Inflections matter and, even, non-verbal cues matter. There’s a whole package. It’s the same with Love. Yes, it’s a feeling and an emotion, but there’s more there. It’s involved.

I absolutely think there is fear in emotionalizing language but I think it’s intrinsic in who we are and how we were raised.

In terms of placing the body back into the language of the laws that govern our linguistic structure, I think the body is important to think of in terms of language because they are connected. Sometimes it freaks people out and writing something down, especially online, makes it permanent. One has to choose their words carefully. I actually think this is one of the dark dangers of our digital age: when something is out there on the internet, it’s OUT there!

Look, as a teacher, I‘m really fascinated by the topic of propaganda. I teach two Orwell novels in the classroom. Just last month, in summer school, I was having a casual conversation with a student about something as we walked to get some ice cream and I said something like, “Oh, well that’s just them using propaganda,” and she said, “You even teach when you aren’t teaching!”  It was funny, but really, I’m just aware of language.  It can be so easily oppressed, and twisted. Your thoughts can be so easily manipulated, so it’s important that one has a sense of self. If you do, then you can hold onto what you value. In Domestic Uncertainties, I am manipulating language, and I am also reinventing language. It all relates to the new found glory of the speaker.

“The Art of Unloving,” came out of a New York Times article that I read about language, and, ironically, from teaching a lesson on “appositives” to my 10th graders. I started thinking of relationships, specifically marriage, and the use of appositives in the everyday conversations of couples. I thought about pet names, about email salutations, etc. In using an appositive, you can also cover up the truth; you can reinvent the truth; but you can also negate it. So suddenly, grammar took on a more important role in my writing.  

11.)   In “The Mischiefs and Mistakes or (Mis)takes are Real,” there is a passage that reads, “Give me a real time. / Give me real. / Give! // I am barely the wounded one. / I am the / blooming.” So we experience a transition from the beginning of the piece focused on recapturing self in language to the nutrients of soot where self is not through an excavation of pain, but of growth after the fire. In the preceding poem, “A Very Small Life,” we read, “no one saves the diminishing … There are so many great words that come out of partners; / So many words that come out of please, / and patronize. / :: yes, patronize::.” “Partners” is rounded to “patronize” as suggested in patriarchy. The punctuation becomes as saturated and “tangled” to a stanza in the poem “How We Make Ourselves.” “This sense of nothing is inconceivable. / History always repeats itself, but the heart, / the heart uplifts and uproots. The heart / replants. / I have done my gardening.” There is beauty in this space of self, and also loneliness; one that is able to understand self. But where does this mend the domestic? In the last poem, “Domestic Uncertainties” you write: “I will not define Love for you … though my hand is cleaner in the end.” How do you see this message transposed in our present sociopolitical climate surrounding sexuality, equality, and partnership?

Yes, the “self” does experience growth after the fire. There’s a sense of realizing what exactly that devastation is, or what exactly brought about the fire, and then there is the sense of rising up from it. The rising-up relates back to your earlier question. The speaker is not making apologies, or feeling sorry for herself. She’s using what she knows and what she’s learned and bettering herself. In these poems, she’s really just doing her best to persevere. The self at any given point could just crumble. It’s easy; humans are fragile at times, but I knew I was stronger than that. I knew I wouldn’t crumble. It wasn’t an option for me and certainly wasn’t an option for the speaker, here.

In terms of the poem “A Very Small Life,” I used a lot of wordplay. I’m talking more about being patronizing. “Partners” turns into “patronize” through the lens of a marriage. A partner in a marriage is more than a companion; they should be part of a partnership: something fair, honest and equal. Partners and patronize share some of the same letters. Here, the wordplay insinuates that one partner patronized the other. In “How We Make Ourselves,” I think the “domestic” is healed through realizing one’s sense of self; through community and the recognition of one’s own strength.

The heart is something I believe in. The heart “uproots” and “replants” because it rebuilds. What I feel is in my heart and in my body and I made a decision to keep that sacred when my marriage failed.  I could’ve just fallen apart, but the heart doesn’t just deflate. I think that love is defined differently for different people by different people.  I’m not exactly sure how the message connects with society, but what I do know is that the speaker of that poem is satisfied with what has happened. She’s okay with the divorce. In my experience, it seemed that divorce was a taboo topic among women my age and I really felt I was alone, and ashamed. All I had was my writing. Don’t get me wrong I have the most amazing friends and family, but no one else I knew my age was divorced. At times I felt like an outcast. I wrote my way through it and I hope my book opens a door of conversation among women because divorce is not a dirty word, and I’m certainly not ashamed.

Recently, on my book tour, a woman in her early 30’s approached me and said she was going through a horrible divorce. She said that my poems really resonated with her and asked if I thought my book would help her get through it.  I said that it isn’t a self-help book by any means, but all books help us. I said that writing it helped me find myself and uncover my own truths. It also gave me a sense of purpose. I think it is important for women to recognize that other women are going through similar experiences all of the time.

 

profiles in poetics: Khadijah Queen

kq by hfung originalKhadijah Queen

Websites: khadijahqueen.com

inpossereview.com

www.dzancbooks.org

Bold tonic centers language in the body as emblems coalesce and decenter being. This statement elucidates poet Khadijah Queen’s need to “push to see what can be done” with “the implicit right-or-wrong-ness” of our everyday lives. In her every day, she reads and lives more, “evolving as a poet and writer and lover and mother and human being.” Originating from a background in the visual arts, language for Queen invariably attests to “redefinition or defining [multiplicity], or ways of defying definition.” Our interview sketches and reconfigures identity as it is deconstructed through Jungian archetypes, disruption, and contradiction.

Queen’s book, Black Peculiar, out from Noemi Press, expresses the “conflation of disparate ideas/objects and contradiction.” They refuse an exact statement or choice of sides. Instead we are asked to acknowledge, “perceived realities, and to make visible what might be invisible in the course of everyday living.” Perspective alternately establishes our ulterior and exterior experience as we encounter reality. The admonishment of the linear perceived sequence is centered in the body, which is often used to undermine patriarchal accents and archetypes.

Disruption, she notes in music becomes an “off-note that changes the perception of the note it riffs on, drawing attention to the meaning under the sound, or in this case the meaning under the words and of the words simultaneously.” So while we may encounter archetypes, the music of disruption simultaneously dissolves the judgment often ascribed by definition, singularity, and violence. We need this to happen in the body of the real. In Black Peculiar, we recognize the ultimate power of the body is in action.

photo credit: Han Fung

Khadijah Queen is the author of Black Peculiar, which won the 2010 Noemi Press Book Award for poetry and was a finalist for the Gatewood Prize at Switchback Books. Her first book is Conduit (Black Goat/Akashic Books, 2008) and a chapbook, no isla encanta,appeared from dancing girl press in 2007. The recipient of fellowships from Cave Canem, Idyllwild Summer Poetry, Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony, her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize four times and won a Best of the Net award in 2011. Poems appear in the anthologies A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (University of Akron Press 2012), Villanelles (Random House 2012), Best American Nonrequired Reading (Houghton Mifflin, 2010), Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing (University of Arizona Press, 2009), Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq (Kore Press, 2008) and Women Write Resistance (Hyacinth Girl 2013). Journal publications include AufgabeIn Posse ReviewjubilatTuesday; An Art ProjectMandorlanew ohio reviewPMS: poemmemoirstory, and Spillway. Prose appears or is forthcoming in Memoir, Cutthroat, Rattle, and The Force of What’s Possible (Nightboat 2014). She curates the literary reading series Courting Risk is currently working on an illustrated mixed genre project.

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1.)      What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

My parents – they are both avid readers and books, newspapers, and magazines were everywhere growing up. My favorite writers list is SO LONG. When I first started writing, I would go into the poetry section at the bookstore and start with A. I went to online databases and went backwards from Z. I still read randomly and love finding writers I have never heard of, or found through recommendations. So I will just name 10 off the top of my head. Fernando Pessoa, Claudia Rankine, Lucille Clifton, Shakespeare, Thylias Moss, Jeannette Winterson, Bhanu Kapil, TS Eliot, Marge Piercy, Jan Beatty, Walt Whitman, Bob Kaufman, Lynn Nottage. Okay, that’s 13. I am reading a translation of Solitudes by Luis de Gongora right now, which I love. It is a 16th century epic lyric, pre-Miltonian AND post-Miltonian. I’m enthralled. I would never have read something like that 15 years ago, so I suppose I’ve gained more appreciation of the substantial pastoral, the slow unfolding of an epic.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

I have been fortunate enough to have many, far too many to name here. But early on in graduate school, Chris Abani brought me out of my quiet corner in a very no-nonsense way. He saw something in my work and pushed me to develop it beyond what I could have imagined. Attending Antioch University Los Angeles for my MFA also introduced me to colleagues who have become my best friends, readers, and collaborators. I’m most grateful for that.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

It’s been hard to answer this question because my work is in the middle of an evolution now that I find I am alternately resisting and expanding into. Before I was ever serious about poetry, I did write some – I made up games based on words from the dictionary, did inverted acrostics and things like that in high school. They weren’t for sharing necessarily; it was just fun to play with language. Then some years later, in my mid-twenties, I was in the military and finishing my degree in English and took a Modern Poetry class which stoked an obsession that has ebbed and flowed since, and I began to write in earnest. My work was in a very narrative, confessional, structured vein. I used lots and lots of couplets. Haha.

Grad school opened up more possibilities – Harryette Mullen, Anne Carson, Paul Celan, etc, alongside reading Cixous, Derrida, I could go on. My work became more abstracted but I think still retained the heart/passion behind confessional style; it wasn’t ever really pure conceptualism or L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E type stuff, though I definitely learned from it. I just wasn’t as attracted to theory or academicism as I was to messiness, intensity, boldness.

These days it feels like I’m moving back toward my old clear-voiced couplets again (insert gasp of horror), but retaining the series length of my two books. I’m trying to reconcile that now, to decide if I want to keep this new work as straight-up poetry or turn it into prose, or into something in between or what. For now, I’m just writing it all down as it comes, as I have time. I am also, to my own surprise, writing what I can only describe as urban nature poems. I’ve been reading a lot of Lorine Niedecker, and Mary Ruefle’s book of essays/lectures Madness, Rack & Honey is fantastic.

As to why the shift, I think just reading more and living more, evolving as a poet and writer and lover and mother and human being.  One thing I can’t stand is being bored. That doesn’t mean my aim is entertaining myself or anyone else, it’s more like a push to see what can be done. I want to know what the best container is for the work, and/or question what a container can be. In that case, it’s been the same throughout my writing journey, so to speak. I’m interested in redefinition or defining multiply, or ways of defying definition.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Absolutely, yes, with the main genre being visual art. I started out as an artist rather than a writer, studied formally for a while after finishing my first book but then returned to writing more intensely. I will always hold visual art and artmaking as a huge influence, however. I also love nonfiction (memoir, critical work, philosophical texts) and fiction as well, and write both, though poetry I can fit into my life more easily, in smallish bites. Prose and visual art generally take up more time and space than I can usually give, for now. I write it as and when I can, particularly the few times a year when I join The Grind, a writing group where you must write something every day, no excuses.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

For the next few years my main plans involve raising my son, who is 13 now. I work a regular full-time job, so writing is somewhat on the periphery for now. I do have several ongoing projects in all three genres. It’s slow going; I’m learning to be patient. I also plan to travel, lots, and go zip-lining and snowboarding before I get too old to look cool doing it in the eyes of my teenager.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I think writing by women is some of the most exciting work being made, published and unpublished. Women writers are writers; terrible that that must still be asserted, but it must. We make our way in a sometimes hostile environment, even now. But the way we make it is vital to shaping public conversations about everything.

7.)      Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Ashaki Jackson, Anastacia Tolbert, Bettina Judd, Natasha Marin, Sally Wen Mao, Aricka Foreman, Lynne Procope. Ariel Robello (poetry and fiction); Anne Canright, Susan Southard and Anne Liu Kellor (all nonfiction); Sophia Le Fraga…

8.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

Writer.

9.)      The first section of your book, Black Peculiar, is titled “BLACK PECULIAR :: ENERGY COMPLEX / analogies to imaginary letters to various facets of the self. “ These letters are composited into modules of speech that address meaning by relation and semiotic experiences of perspective. The extraction or exploitative consummation of language in this way allows the mind hierarchical archetype to stretch. The reference instead is circularly stamped simultaneously. Take for example: “Marked upon :: relational dark / diabetic :: aesthetics // Dear Puppets, / I want to make you say things I cannot. But I don’t want your / mouths to move.” Identity is a deconstructive parable. We are hyped up on refined sugars and the aesthetic of plastic. In this pathos we deconstruct language, identity, and archetype. Is this positive or negative, how does aesthetic participate, and how is self-concept reflected in the process?

The conflation of disparate ideas/objects and contradictions present in many of these analogies don’t mean to assign exact statements or choose sides. Rather they mean to point out truths underneath perceived realities, and to make visible what might be invisible in the course of everyday living. The multiplicity and ambiguity are purposeful, and reflect actual reality, in which many perspectives simultaneously exist.

10.)   “Animus,” the second segment of Black Peculiar, specifically addresses the Jungian concept of Animus. Animus is the collective unconscious of the female as prescribed by Jung; her male inner voice as inscribed by the western tradition of masculinity. He wrote much less on the female’s experience of the animus, but briefly represented they are as follows: 1.) mere physical power, 2.) capacity to plan; the romantic man, 3.) word; bearer of the word, [and the most spiritually developed] 4.) incarnation of meaning; messenger or guide. Each poem as dream evolves in a similar fashion to Jung’s schema. The animus can be disassembling and destructive. The first poem, “Mostly to uncover the reality of my destructive hunger” in contrast to the last, “Mostly to uncover the reality that rationalization is a mechanism used to avoid pain,” presents the ways in which aggressive crippling fear evolves to feminine creative power. In the first: “He gave me nothing to eat but photographs of other people eating meat. Cooked / and raw, half-gone and about to be sliced.” And later, “He explained that parts of me have been subjugated in the name of episodic / conjuring and chronic supposition…When you are no longer the main reality / how else / will you obscure the world?” Can you discuss how you accessed this Jungian sequence and how this “reality” dissolves violence in the power of the reader and the writer? What does this say about how we address patriarchal accents in language?

I wrote most of these in a very short period of time that I can only describe as good old-fashioned stream of consciousness. When I came across Jung’s theories on the animus during research – after writing the poems, I should say – I latched quickly onto it as the mode I had entered. I felt the “he” voice so strongly that I knew there had to be something behind it – more than just a poetic conceit. The stories in my head from women I knew, from my own life, and from women whose stories I read about, seemed to share a common thread of male violence and subjugation of their voices, so much so that those voices became the same ones women tend to repeat in our heads to remain under patriarchal control. I find that breaking the sequential qualities of language, and centering it in the body, often undermines patriarchal accents. A disruption, as in music, which turns a note into an off-note that changes the perception of the note it riffs on, drawing attention to the meaning under the sound, or in this case the meaning under the words and of the words simultaneously. Simultaneity is such a natural thing, and easily dissolves, as you say, the implicit right-or-wrong-ness, the judgment that often precedes acts of violence.

11.)   The final unit of Black Peculiar is titled “Non-Sequitur / ( a disjointed chorus in three acts )”. A non-sequitur argument is one that does not follow formal logic, whose conclusion could be either both true and false. This is because there is disconnect between the question and the conclusion. The archetypal characters among many include: “THE BROWN VAGINA,” who admits such that she bleeds and would rather be pink, “THE ONLINE PAYMENTS,” whose constant reminders suggest no payment, payment not received, etc., and “THE FONDLED HAIR,” who says “no,” a lot and suggests the reader to fondle her mother’s hair. The voices in the play carry on a three-act play that is at once harmonious and disenfranchised chaos. However communication takes place. In the Epilogue, “ALL PLAYERS,” are seen on their knees scrubbing the floors, two cry, and one dances. What does this say about our ability to communicate? Furthermore what does this say about language’s ability to express self, amidst these maneuvering archetypes? Why do they clean, cry, and dance?

Language isn’t always enough. Action becomes a tool for connection, and once again the body and movement figure into communication in a sublingual, subliminal way. At the time I wrote the play I was studying and making performance art, so that definitely influenced “Non-Sequitur” hugely.

While I would much rather shy away from giving a direct interpretation of the PLAYERS’ actions, one could speculate that those traditionally feminine actions, particularly cleaning and crying, are both ways of starting over and letting go. You can talk through things all you want, but until you take action, the changes you might want to make aren’t real. And dancing – I think that speaks for itself.

profiles in poetics: Jessica Piazza

jhsterJessica Piazza

Websites: www.jessicapiazza.com

Jessica Piazza is a poet focused on obsession; one whose articulate passion of poetics hinges on the early influence of her grandfather. As an amateur playwright, his work never came to full fruition. He wrote regardless; the essence of artist without the particulars of an academic support system. He passionately “art-ed” on his own: on cardstock, on grocery lists, on lessons to his granddaughter, and the sound of an old typewriter.

Intimacy, lust, and morality creep into the conversation as we delve into Piazza’s new book, Interrobang, forthcoming from Red Hen Press in August of 2013. We are squatters in the dense familiarity of beauty, fear, and passion. Her poems suggest saturation. Not in the traditional definitions of cultural worth, but rather a request to entangle our collective “hot, hot mess.” In these poems, authenticity means fear and lust, which fiercely reveal who we really are, at the same time “occlud[ing] our true selves.”

And how, according to the author, do we pursue this authenticity in real life?  We have hope. A call to, “celebrate what possibilities come of our flaws and tragedies … [which] makes us human.” Also, to accept that “our human lives are dosed with terrible and wonderful both, and that both are equally important.”

Jessica Piazza is the author of two poetry collections: Interrobang (Red Hen Press, 2013) and the chapbook This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, she’s currently a Ph.D. candidate in English Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. She is a co-founder of Bat City Review and Gold Line Press, and a contributing editor at The Offending Adam.

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1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

My grandfather, David Krane, was a Ukrainian Jew living in Brooklyn in the early 20th century.  As a teenager, he used to walk over to Manhattan Beach—a pretty South Brooklyn neighborhood overlooking the water—from his crowded Brighton Beach tenement and watch the picturesque sailboats and neighborhood fisherman along Sheepshead Bay.  One day, staring at the water, he swore to himself that some day he’d have a family, and that they’d live in a house overlooking that bay.

As a poor, uneducated Jew in Brooklyn in the forties, he did everything he could to achieve that dream.  He became a salesman of what he called “gifts”: knickknacks and tchotchkes for the home.  He was the quintessential mid-century sales guy, with his sample suitcases and his brill-creamed hair and his trips to sales conferences in Chicago.  It took years, but he bought that house overlooking the water.  It’s the house where my mother and sister still live.

But here’s the thing.  There was another side to my grandfather.  Dave was a lover of words and language, a joke teller, a talker, a huge reader of huge books. He favored biographies, histories and those novelists whose circumstances were most relatable to him: Issac Bashevis Singer, Saul Bellow, those Jewish brothers of his from Eastern European heritage.  He taught me to read when I was four, and treated every tiny, silly poem and story I tried to write like it was Pulitzer Prize worthy.  And busy as he was at work, he signed up for every single continuing education class he had time for, from literature courses at Kingsborough Community College to writing groups at Brooklyn College.

He’d been through the depression, my grandfather.  It wasn’t easy on our family, or anyone’s family, I guess.  But as a child, I was confounded and amused by the lingering aftereffects those years left on my beloved grandfather a half a century later. I couldn’t understand why he’d take used paper home from his office, cryptic sales codes and inventory information typed on the front, and insist we use the blank backs for everything we wrote down, from his notes to my grandmother’s grocery lists to my childish drawings.  He’d spend nights at the typewriter, working on assignments for his college classes, eating a quarter of a banana he’d saved from breakfast, mashed with some sour cream.  A symphony would be on the record player in the background, always.  I wish I could say I remembered which ones he loved, but I don’t. I just remember his face, his expression wavering between intense focus on writing or reading and dreaminess when losing himself in thought, narrative or the musical phrase.

What I also remember is this:  he made me love words.  My childhood was a difficult one in many, many ways.  Those moments when I’m surprised I didn’t end up on drugs or in trouble, that I went to college and became a teacher and a writer…those are the moments I think of my grandfather and his influence most.  And it wasn’t just that he passed on his knowledge and tastes.  It was his love of the thing itself, his passion for the art and the craft, that made me who I am now.

He died when I was twelve.  We were cleaning out his things, and we found a box of plays at the back of his closet.  Not one play…a box of plays he’d written over the years that not a single one of us knew about.  As an adult, I can look at those plays and realize they’re okay.  Not great; just okay.  They are clearly derivative of his favorite authors, but the voice is good and compelling.  Still, that isn’t the point, is it?  The craziness is that the man spent his life pursuing a dream he knew couldn’t come to public fruition. He just wrote because he loved it.  He bought his family what he considered a dream home, fulfilling one life goal, only to put another on the sideline.  He was the purist sort of artist, the kind I rarely meet because they aren’t often part of this crazy circle of privilege and stimulation that universities, artists’ communities, writing conferences, nonprofit organizations and small presses provide.  They’re on their own, and they’re still doing it. And I know I’m so lucky to be a part of this creative world, and I know it’s what my grandfather would have loved for himself, and would be so happy I found. But there’s something so moving about the artists who go it alone.

Point is, I love Eliot, Steinbeck and Millay.  Willa Cather is an inspiration and so is E.A. Robinson and so is Shakespeare and so are my wonderful friends and contemporaries, writing poems and stories that blow my mind.  I like geeky fantasy novels and thick, highfalutin tomes we were all supposed to read in high school but didn’t.  I like poems by old white guys and young minority chicks and some of everything in between.  I’m a reader in the broadest sense.

But my favorite writer?   David Krane, my grandfather.  And that hasn’t changed over time.  And that won’t change.  In my life as a writer I will forever try to live up to the example he set for me.

2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

The first version of my answer to this question basically looked like the acknowledgments page of my forthcoming book.  So, instead, if you want to know all the amazing writers who’ve helped me do better work and navigate the sort of artistic existential crises you usually only find represented on teen-angst riddled one-hour dramas, check that page out.  Though, maybe I should shout out to Jill Alexander Essbaum specifically, because she has been a friend, writing partner, mentor and example to me, creatively.  I mean, I have a lot of amazing peers who do immaculate and exciting work, but Jill’s the one whose rhyme and trickery and craft-joy have most influenced me directly.  We all have that one poet—sometimes a friend—whose work we wish we could write.  Jill’s that, for me. And the great news is it’s gone both ways…we’ve influenced each other so much over the years, we’re thinking about taking this partnership on the road, vaudeville style.  (I kid.  But damn, that would be epic.)

3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?

An Attempted Life of Letters: A Chronology

College:  I wrote narrative free verse, to so-so effect.  There were a lot of feelings.  I fell in love with my poetry professor, who broke my heart.  I wrote one sonnet, which was the first thing I ever published.  I worked for a U.S. poet laureate.  I accidentally insulted another U.S. poet laureate on the phone.

Post College Mania:  I tried to keep writing free verse and kept mostly failing at it.  Every time I wrote something formal, it made me happy.  I hated not being part of an artist community anymore, so I took classes.  I started a reading series called Speakeasy with girl I met in one of those classes, Rebecca Lindenberg.  Because we started hearing and reading so many more poets, we wrote somewhat better poems.  Another former U.S. poet laureate flirted with me shamelessly.

Grad School:  I took a hard right turn into writing pretty much only formal poems, mostly sonnets, with intricate but barely perceptible slant rhymes.  I started poems that would eventually become the seeds of my first manuscript.  I co-founded a poetry journal.  I heard a former U.S. talk about riding the rails as a hobo, and I told him I would very much like him to be my honorary grandfather.  He seemed pleased.

More Grad School:  Rhyme hit me like a slap-boxer in an elevator and I couldn’t get enough of it.  I went crazy with formal poems infected with heavy internal and end rhymes.  (That’s basically what my forthcoming book from Red Hen Press, Interrobang, is like.) I met some amazing writers, and I’ve been blessed to have interesting conversations with so many of them.  Not surprisingly, one of those was a U.S. poet laureate.  She was dope.  My poems kept along the same lines, but I felt like I needed some poetic change soon, soon.

Lately: I’ve been feeling a little more loose, so the rhyme has stayed but the form has unraveled, which led to the poems in my forthcoming chapbook, This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press).  I have nothing to do with any U.S. poet laureates at the moments.  But considering my trajectory….

Future:  …possibly Natasha Trethewey should worry.  Writing-wise, I have no idea where I’ll go next.  I’ve been practicing broadening my genre range lately, so seeing some cross-genres stuff from me is a possibility, as are some straight up stories and essays.

Future Caveat:  The only thing I know will stay the same is my penchant for writing in projects.  Once I began writing the poems inspired by clinical phobias and clinical philias in Interrobang, I couldn’t stop.  The chapbook poems are all written after famous paintings.  I’m writing short stories based on old-time superstitions.  I’m obsessed.  And I’m obsessed with obsession.

4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Yes.  I’m a terrible traitor and I deserve admonishment.  I love good poetry, it’s true.  Good poetry is the very best literature in the world…nothing can touch it.

However.

Bad poetry is the very WORST literature in the world. (See here.)  And so much, so terribly much is bad.  So much, also, is tolerable but not lovely.  So much is talented but not exciting.  There’s so much poetry out there, and even though reading bad poems isn’t actually dangerous (according to William Matthews, anyway), it isn’t fun.

Thus, my go to is often contemporary fiction, where even the bad stuff can be palatable if there’s a decent narrative to follow.  The truth is, you’ll probably more often find me with a novel in my hand than a book of poems.  My closet skeleton, secret shame.

5.) What are your plans for the future?

The same as every one else’s, eventually.  Oh, you mean besides the morbid inevitability of dying?  Ah, okay.

Then I guess: writing more poems, publishing some stories and essays, getting married in March, becoming Dr. Piazza (finally), getting a professorial job, having 2.4 kids (wait, umm), moving to the suburbs (no, actually, that’s not true at all), retiring in Florida (gah, that’s my least favorite state!), skydiving (that will never happen, despite what my fiancé wants to believe) and, and…

I don’t know.  Some of those things are true.  The future is unknowable and whatnot.

6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I am a fan of women writers…twenty years ago, a hundred years ago, and today.  I wish we would support each other more, in this field and in others.  Obviously I see stuff like what Vida posted about women not getting published enough in the big magazines and it pisses me off.  PISSES ME OFF!  Is it a coincidence?  Maybe.  But even if women are not purposefully and systemically kept out of the literary world because they’re women, there’s this weird fascination I’ve noticed with what I call “sensitive boy poetry” that’s been bugging me a lot.  These pieces written by male poets in which the sentimental rears its head, but then gets undercut by a modern, sort-of-emo-but-still-chest-puffing masculinity. Signs of this poetry include: lots of pop culture, some shock value violence and sex peppered with swoon-worthy love lines, lots of workaday woe and Phillip Levine- and Larry Levis-style gritty-but-philosophical realism.  The poetry business—as a business, as a scene—is eating that up…and frankly I’m not sure why it’s so dazzling.

Don’t get me wrong: there’s some amazing sensitive boy poetry out there.  Some of my dearest friends write it and some of those poems are completely, utterly killer.  I just think that there’s this weird cultural privileging of a very self-conscious sentimentality (as opposed to just straight authentic sentiment) in the poetry world right now; especially the kind delivered by straight, white males.  And I know I’m rambling a bit, and I know I’m possibly not exactly answering the question, but when I’m asked about women writers it’s really hard not to point out how many people I run across who are all really surprised and/or excited if you’re a female poet and not totally wacko or hippy dippy or writing all womb poetry or something.  Like that’s so rare.

Anyway, the funny thing here is that I’m not a particularly sentimental poet. I just wish we would broaden our scope. That we would look less at the poet and more at the poem—and I guess this includes not privileging female poets just because they’re female, either.   I don’t know, maybe we’re all just writing for one reason, really, and I’m complaining but that’s just how men do it.  I don’t fault them.

7.) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

As mentioned, Jill Alexander EssbaumRebecca Lindenberg (though Love, an Index got so huge I’m guessing you already have!)  Elizabeth Cantwell, whose first book is dropping soon from Black Lawrence Press.  Heather Aimee O’Neill, a poet, novelist, and journalist who you’ll be hearing a lot from very soon.  Kelli Anne Noftle, whose first book from Omnidawn is a show-stopper. Sara Johnson: if you see a poem by her in a journal, read it.

Of course, this is just poetry.  Damn, there are so many.  Don’t even get me started on fiction.  Or, hell, do.  You can find my email easily enough if you’re really interested in recommendations.

8.) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

HELLO

my name is

Hurricane Jess

9.) “Melophobia / Fear of music” examines the extrication of corporeal passion in contrast to an invisibility of assimilation. We recount over cooked familiars: “They’ll tell you there are only two ways: flawed / windpipes that knock like water mains behind / thin walls or else a lovely sound like woodwinds / sanded smooth—no middle ground.” Swirling here is the creativity of a disparate manufactured product versus failure. There is fear in the middle ground, the chaos, the unknown. And so the fear persists in an ever more saturated cyclical pattern. The poem continues, “we know possible is slippery. / As my New York’s an ocean filled with steel, / yourTexas is an ocean, too, of sky. / Sing into a conch and you’ll sound like yourself. / Sing into a conch and you’ll sound like the sea.” Structures can be formulaic and normative but demand an acculturation that embodies the self within its own voice and context. How does this structure pertain to the way fear is structured and utilized to promote assimilation? How do you believe we can alternate our societal structure in ways that evocatively soften corporeal binaries and permit passion?

This is an incredibly intellectual and articulate question, and I’m sorry to say I’m going to have to meet it with a fairly simple answer: in society, as in art, we need to broaden our notions of beauty.  I don’t just mean physical beauty, though this obviously tackles one aspect of the question (i.e. how fear causes people to conform physically in order to fulfill cultural ideas of worth.)  I also mean that the number one hindrance to a pursuit of passion is fear, and the most significant way our society perpetuates fear is through media ideals of what we should, as successful human beings, look like, speak like and act like.

Of course, I’m also being ridiculous…I’m assuming all this in a fairly free society where most basic needs are met and violence isn’t an every day occurrence.  This isn’t true for many people, abroad and at home.  But there’s enough privilege and comfort in America for me to fairly say, I think, that people are stymied in the creation of art—and of a satisfactory everyday existence—by fear of what others might say if they pursued their passions authentically.

Which is a hot, hot mess.

In “Melophobia” I do try to tackle some of these issues; the idea that creating beautiful art (or a beautiful life) is always attached to the twin concepts of judgment and authenticity.  Like that poem suggests, I think there are many ways to be authentic within the structures of society, even if that requires being somewhat subversive. However, also like the poem, I don’t have any easy answers on how to actually do this in real life.  It’s all hard.

10.) There is extreme beauty in the inter-relational loneliness of the poem, “People Like Us”. We read, “Together, we hurt everything we touch; apart, ourselves. How do we choose?” Bodies connect in anatomical collisions that physical the participants in the relationship of a cyclical expose: “I guess some are always attracted to stains”. This extends the pain of the stain and the attraction. Here in the tide, “almost everyone is hiding,” and “all of the porn messages are the same”.  Although we survive our crime, we lose arguments; a lament, a loving cup. This cyclical pattern makes it difficult to extract what it means to hide or share the self; we lose intimacy. In this poem, what does it mean to hide and what does this say about our definitions of beauty?

That’s an interesting question.  I never thought about the poem as having a relationship to beauty…always more to intimacy, lust and morality.

I never really put this all together until just now, but this poem, like the one I discussed in the last question, also concerns authenticity.  “People Like Us” speaks to authenticity within relationships, where “Melophobia” hinges on authenticity of the self.

And you know what?  I think maybe the majority of the poems in the collection deal with this.  Fear and lust are driving forces, ones that sometimes reveal who we really are deep down but sometimes, especially at the level of pathology, occlude our true selves.  (Or, well, the true possibility of our best selves, which I like to think are the authentic versions.)  Seeing this as an umbrella theme of the collection is actually an exciting discovery for me, because I never articulated it internally.

That being said, did I answer the question?  Probably not.  What does it mean to hide in the poem, huh?  In this particular piece—one that follows the dramatic back-and-forth of two people in a adulterous and/or abusive and/or destructive relationship—hiding is about a few things: hiding the relationship from the world, hiding our eyes from the truth of how bad things get, and, perhaps the hardest to admit, hiding our desires that exist even when we know they shouldn’t.  When we know that those desires will lead to nothing but trouble. Oh, but sometimes those are the fun ones.

Oh, but sometimes they’re not.

11.) Interrobang is comprised of poems that negotiate fear and love. In some ways these relationships are cyclical, in some transformative; in both powerful. We as readers are asked to consider the relationship of fear to love; beauty to loneliness; victimization to empowerment; lust to intimacy. In “Caligynephobia / Fear of a beautiful woman,” the poem reads, “I carry who I used to be / inside my heart, / a sleight of hurt. // The ugly girl / I was at first / lives in this fist, / my hidden trick. // Those nights when handsome / boys unstick / and exit, quick, / I wake her up // still in my clutch, /enraged. Then: punch.” Violence is possessed by the speaker melded outside of societal constraint where her language sensuously rectifies activity and empowerment. Yet this lamentful fear is adjacent to those “handsome” boys. Where does she get with this punch?

I know so many beautiful women who felt (or were considered) ugly as young girls.  And many of those women turned out lovely, sometimes in a classic way and sometimes just because they grew up and owned themselves and their assets and suddenly became sexy to the greater world. I feel like this tiny poem, about just such a woman, tries to tackle a lot of business in a small space.

On the one hand, it’s definitely asserting that no matter how together, beautiful or successful someone appears on the outside, there’s often a story there—one of coming of age, usually one of pain and disillusionment—that is foundational and driving.  And those stories are so often the root of our pain and of our brokenness, and of our most animalistic reactions and fears.  So maybe along those lines, this poem is a cautionary tale not to take façades too literally, no matter how smooth and lovely they might seem.

On the other hand, the speaker of this poem is a girl who has been hurt.  In my imagination, she was hurt and hurt and took it, because she didn’t think she had a choice and maybe she even thought it was the best she deserved.  And the day she finally realized she had beauty…that’s the day she decided not to take it anymore.  Whether that beauty is physical or a product of some gained confidence…it doesn’t matter, really.  She doesn’t get anywhere with the punch physically, I don’t think.  Symbolically, though, it’s all about fighting back.  It’s about understanding that you deserve better than being treated like shit.

Still.  I guess the poem admits she’s still in a position, as you point out, for men to exert power over her or elicit a violent reaction from her.  So, who knows?  She’s grown, sure.  But she’s not done yet.  Who is, really?

12.) Extending the previous question I would like you to describe how you constructed your project. There is a quote in which Gertrude Stein emits, “There is singularly nothing that makes a difference in the beginning and in the middle and in the ending except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking.” In this looping frame of reference our present generation establishes varying points of compelling views that address how fear, love, and intermediary processes change the relationship between the two. What does this say about our construction of these concepts? In the last poem, “What I Hold,” we listen, “I knew this damage was my own; I had been taught such fears. I knew.” Is there redemption outside of this cycle and how do you see this compelling manifestation?

There is redemption outside the cycle.  I like to think there’s even redemption inside it, and everywhere.  I like to think that redemption exists in spite of the damage passed on to us.  But that’s almost easy.  The hard part is believing that redemption exists inside the damage we’ve been taught and that we’ve been reacting to our whole lives.

In other words, I’d like to believe – and I hope my poems suggest, or, hell, insist—that even the bad stuff is hopeful.  That humanity is, to some extent, the fear and the lust and the sickness, as much as it’s the joy and the celebration and the advancement.  To actually celebrate what possibilities come of our flaws and tragedies…that act is what makes us human, I think.  And if there’s redemption at all—which there may not be, I admit…it could all just be what it is, which is fine with me—but if it exists, it’s maybe in the acceptance that our human lives are dosed with terrible and wonderful both, and that both are equally important.

And maybe Gertrude Stein is right, here.  Maybe I can say this because I live in and am from a particular point in history.  One that’s experienced the rise of pop psychology and the primacy of self-analysis, one that’s spawned armchair yogis and video-game addicts, one that’s lived through only a kind-of-war…the kind that touches home through fear, though a spark and a single, isolated tragedy at a time as opposed to a daily diet of death and pain and fear.  I don’t know.  Maybe I can say take the good with the bad because my bad isn’t so bad.  Or maybe only a person who experienced the worst kind of bad can say that and have any authority.

Whatever.  I wrote about pathological fear and love because I think obsession is one of the few things that proves we’re alive and we’re human.  It’s the human mind and all it’s capable of, times a million, spiraling out over and over again until it’s kind of broken.  Until it tries to fix itself.  Until it does or does not succeed, again and again.  Which is also what we’re capable of.

Maybe the redemption is that.  That we try enough times to be whole and happy, without giving up.  That we can try enough times to even create a cycle in the first place.

profiles in poetics: Amy Gerstler

Amy G. waving in S. MonicaAmy Gerstler

Website: poetryfoundation.org/bio

How we meditate self is much our relationship and trust in the encounter of texts. Amy Gerstler is a poet of, “obsession … delightful, limber, punning lyrics of old musical comedies recordings.” Those which “[her] mother owned [and] made [her] want to become a writer.” She is a student of, “fiction, nonfiction, hybrid texts and antique writings … neurology and psychology … diagrams and maps, and ghost photos … an equal opportunity thief … without prejudice.” She dreams to better learn, “writer,” “teacher and person.” And to also to, “Spanish,” “zoo,” “[lift] weights,” and “write more standing up.”

In this interview we talk to trees, “about mortality, and what happens after death.” She states, “All sentient beings might need courage to talk about, think about and/or face the idea of their eventual non existence.” This is tensioned to the “semi immortal …. (incorrect) blithe perception that … mortality has nothing to do with [us].” We confront, “pride, the dominance of ego, how hard one’s sense of self importance dies, and how we are all the center of our own universe(s), no matter how others may see us, or even be blind to our “personhood” and sense of self.”

Amy Gerstler’s most recent books of poetry include Dearest Creature, Ghost Girl, Medicine, and Crown of Weeds. Her book of poems Bitter Angelreceived a National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1991. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. These include The New Yorker, Paris Review, American Poetry Review, several volumes of Best American Poetry, and The Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry. She teaches at University of California at Irvine.

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1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

Obsession with books and the delightful, limber, punning lyrics of of old musical comedies recordings my mother owned made me want to become a writer. Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Sei Shonagon, Lucia Perillo, James Tate, Wislawa Szymborska, Freud, Sylvia Plath, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Elaine Equi, Henri Cole, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Matthea Harvey, Walt Whitman, Terrance Hayes, Denis Johnson, Eileen Myles, Albert Goldbarth, Benjamin Weissman, Charles Simic, George Saunders, Jeffrey McDaniel, Temple Grandin, Dickens, Sarah Shun Lien Bynum, John Berryman, Doestoyevski, Maggie Nelson, MFK Fisher, Philip Larkin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Russell Edson, Cate Marvin, and Rilke are just a few of my favorite writers. The list changes constantly but usually additively, rarely subtractively.

2.) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

One way people have really helped/mentored me in my life as a writer is by giving me jobs! I just wanted to mention that at the outset, and blow a kiss to anyone who has given or helped get me employment. Dennis Cooper is a literary mentor who changed my life early on in amazing, radical and permanent ways, and I will be processing his intellectual and artistic influence for the rest of my life, I hope. I was very fortunate to have met him at a formative time. David Lehman has been incredibly helpful and generous to me and taught me a huge amount about poetry, much by example. The late Judith Moore was fantastically kind to me as an editor. The playwright Brighde Mullins has been super supportive and an is an inspiration as writer and person. The writers Bernard Cooper, Dinah Lenney and David Trinidad have been among a few valuable writer-friends who teach me important things about writing, reading and being a teacher all the time. The poet Michael Ryan has been ultra generous and I am lucky to be able to learn from him currently. The late Liam Rector gave me the opportunity to teach in the Bennington Writing Seminars, for which I will always be grateful. Benjamin Weissman sets a great example as fierce fiction writer and artist. Brian Tucker opened my mind to the world of comics and graphic novels, no small thing.

3.) How has your own work changed over time and why?

Don’t know if I am the best judge of this currently or ever. Now especially I might not have enough distance to weigh in on this with an accuracy because I’m at a juncture in life when I desperately want my work to change and change substantially. I think maybe the work has gotten more obsessed with the concrete, the earthly, and with loss, or with different kinds of loss than earlier and I have become more interested in sound effects and working with elements of hybrid genres.

4.) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

YES! Fiction, nonfiction, hybrid texts and antique writings of all sorts are source material for me. I love the so called “lyric essay” and essays generally. I love writing on science, especially neurology and psychology, animals, foreign language dictionaries, and old reference and classification books of all sorts, diagrams and maps, and ghost photos, which in their own ways seep into the writing. A collagist at heart, I am an equal opportunity thief, and steal lines without prejudice from across genres.

5.) What are your plans for the future?

To try to become a better writer, teacher and person. To learn Spanish. To update my research skills. To learn to mediate. To do an internship at the zoo. To start lifting weights so perhaps my arms will look less toothpick-ish. To get a website. To write more standing up.

6.) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

Women from all over the world are writing amazing literature in all genres. It’s a great time to be alive in that way. One example is the fact that lavishly talented African women novelists are getting published right and left lately which is exciting and inspiring and one wants a great deal more reading time to keep up.

7.) The poem ‘Bon Courage,’ is enchanted. Agile wisdom presents a theater of darkness sans melancholy. We read, “Why are the woods so alluring? A forest appears / to a young girl one morning as she combs / the dreams out of her hair. The trees rustle / and whisper, shimmer and hiss. The forest / opens and closes, a door loose on its hinges, / banging in a strong wind.” This fairytale-y drapery presents danger in a simple unthreatening scale, seeming to welcome possibility, expansion, glitter, and exploration. The girl in the poem rests her body on the forest floor listening to the trees post–modern a chaotic discourse. The girl seeems to grace beyond her years: “The girl / feels her hands attach to some distant body. She rises / to leave, relieved these trees are not talking about her.” How do you see the messages of the trees differing from the girl’s self-voice? What is the meaning of this title?

Not that what I was thinking of when writing this is the “correct” interpretation of the poem…hopefully the poem is open to various readers wandering around in it and coming to their own multifarious and idiosyncratic conclusions…SO, that said, in writing this poem, it seemed to me that the trees were talking about mortality, and what happens after death. All sentient beings might need courage to talk about, think about and/or face the idea of their eventual non existence. The three trees in the poem are horizontal, they’ve fallen or been knocked down and so they’re on their way out of this world. But trees break down slowly, more slowly than humans do, so they have plenty of time to experience and think about their passage into nothingness. The girl is young and healthy and still at a stage where she feels relatively sure of her body and semi immortal, so it’s her (incorrect) blithe perception that the trees’ conversation centered on trepidation about mortality has nothing to do with her. She has the blind courage of the young. The title is a French expression which means “take heart” or “buck up” or “be brave,” something consoling like that.

8.) “Womanishness,” is a poem that pokes at lightly powered notions of sexism and how the mind is contextualized in the body. We begin, “The dissonance of women. The shrill frilly silly / drippy prissy pouty fuss of us. And all the while / science was the music of our minds.” Flesh connects extensible to the threatening music of the body. Continuing, “Our sexual / identities glittery as tinsel, we fretted about god’s / difficulties with intimacy, waiting for day’s luster / to fade so we could slip into something less / venerated.” Believe in the head bro GOD here extracts the veneration of body. This excludes music and the sacred. At the end of the poem the speaker says, “Hush, hush my love. All these things happened / a long time ago. You needn’t be afraid of them now.” How do you see these notions evolving? They are ever present, but the speaker has no anger, please elude to this poetic choice? When our identities align with our sexual ones, where does this presently place us? How do you see this aligning differently along gender?

Again, this is just my take…. but to my way of thinking, Womanishness is a slightly arch poem about sexism and gender, and language relating to same, and what gets handed down from generation to generation re: these topics. Hopefully it’s a somewhat playful poem. I wrote it partly out of surprise after several female students at an art school where I used to teach stated that feminism was totally outmoded and unnecessary because men and women are now completely equal. I am still reeling a bit from that conversation, still puzzling over it, and over the gap between these intelligent, likable younger women’s perceptions of the current state of gender equality in the US and mine.

9.) In your poem, “A Terribly Sentimental Fork,” humor is aware of itself. It is not ignorant, purposefully mimicking power structures in thought and syntax to disrupt, present sign / signifier relationships. As evidence, “Human mistreatment / of their best inventions / led this still-handsome fork / (my classic pattern’s / known as Acanthus / or Aegean weave) / to be employed prying up old linoleum. Forks are mentioned / six times in the bible!” The fork admits the mistreatment of invention, inviting us to lay in the grass with the original. In the end the fork dismally states, “Yet my fate / is shame. As if pitched here / by some tantrum-prone / god, I’ve lain for days / in the grass where / I was flung.” Can you please describe why the reconfiguration of the scheme brings us back to the pattern of the grass and how the fork and the self in body have been neglected by the ideology of Western tradition? How does invention participate in this discussion?

For me, this poem deals with pride, the dominance of ego, how hard one’s sense of self importance dies, and how we are all the center of our own universe(s), no matter how others may see us, or even be blind to our “personhood” and sense of self.

profiles in poetics and linguistics: Sabrina Orah Mark

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Sabrina Orah Mark

Website: liveplantscorsages

www.poets.org

In this interview, writer Sabrina Orah Mark encounters alterations of the unknown; simply put “gigantic” notions of change. She states, “I cannot boil such a thing down.” The future mistake, thinking as she says is, “bright blue with two very attentive, yellow feathers.” It is a stranger’s white print, “shy, uncertain, and nameless.” We articulate the architecture. Sometimes we are “nameless,” shut in closets with favors. Sometimes we are gentle contours of foam flesh; we shift the syntactical rips.

As Mark transposes, form syntactically blends blueprints of identity. She shares, “I wait a lot for my turn to come, and when it does I go in search of another line. Another sentence to be alive inside. I think if I one day looked up and the sentence (line) was numbered I’d be totally horror struck.” It is important to play with the confines of a mark. We make peace with our vulnerability; we become visible and honor our “lifeline[s]”. Lifelines become another, “rescue,” a blown kiss to, coffee with “fate,” and ultimately, a “[wish], somewhere along the line, to be heard. And also to be seen. If only for a moment.”

Sabrina Orah Mark grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She earned a BA from Barnard College, Columbia University, an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a PhD in English from the University of Georgia. She is the author of the book-length poetry collections The Babies (2004), winner of the Saturnalia Book Prize chosen by Jane Miller, and Tsim Tsum (2009), as well as the chapbook Walter B.’s Extraordinary Cousin Arrives for a Visit & Other Tales from Woodland Editions. Mark’s awards include a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a fellowship from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Her fiction is forthcoming or recently appeared in American Short Fiction, Gulf Coast, The Journal, and in the the anthologies, My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales (Penguin) and Poets on Teaching (Iowa University Press). Her poems have been included in Best American Poetry 2007 and the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (2006). She has taught writing at Agnes Scott College, University of Georgia, Rutgers University, University of Iowa, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Goldwater Hospital and throughout the New York City and Iowa Public School System.

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1.) What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

Silence, My Very Nervous Family, Myopia, My Brothers, Caves, The Middle Of The Night, A Boy With Three Names, Agony & Ecstasy, Basements, Yeshiva, Little House On The Prairie, The Oldest Animal, Rabbis, The Cottage, And Also I Saw Things.

To name a few of my forever favorites, but no way all: Lucie Brock-Broido, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Gertrude Stein, Donald Barthelme, Paul Celan, Charles Simic, Lydia Davis, Toni Morrison, James Tate. How have they changed over time? They have grown wings.

2) Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

There have been these teachers: Robert Hass, Claudia Rankine, Yosef Komunyakaa, Dean Young, Jim Galvin, Mark Levine, Kenneth Koch. And there have been these poets and writers who are friends (some from long ago, some now, but always here). Their words sling me over their shoulder and carry me around: Amber Dermont, Oni Buchanan, Thomas Heise, Tim Earley, Kirsten Kaschock, Matthew Shindell, Eduardo Corral, Danielle Pafunda, Kristen Iskandrian, Michael Dumanis, Heidi Lynn Staples, Sarah Messer, and John Woods. And my husband, Reginald Mcknight, who is – as they say in the forest (as the highest compliment) – “all the trees and all the animals.”

3) How has your own work changed over time and why? Lately my poems seem to be bursting out of The Poem. Now there are pieces of bone and scraps of cloth everywhere. I sweep all the time, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference.

4) Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how? Other than poetry and fiction, I have been influenced by That Mutter and That Fodder. For a long time they seemed so different from each other. Now, it seems, their accents are eerily similar. The cord, shorter than expected.

5) What are your plans for the future?

I have stared at this question for about three days. Turns out, when I stare at something long enough branches start sprouting from its head. In other words, this question has turned into a tree I am too afraid to climb. Scared of heights. Vertigo.

6) What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

I cannot boil such a thing down. It would leave the kettle dry, with maybe some teeth at the bottom. I will not pretend to know those teeth. I barely know the ones in my own mouth.

7) Who are promising women writers to look at in the future?

Amber Dermont, Cathy Park Hong, Oni Buchanan, Alissa Nutting, Lisa Jarnot, Kirsten Kaschock, Kristen Iskandrian, Caryl Pagel, Madeline McDonnell, S.E. Smith, Brandi Wells, Blueberry Morningsnow, Matthea Harvey, Stacey Levine…I Know I Am Forgetting So Many Wonderful Women Writers / Some Of These Women Have Already Made A Very Deep Mark / Others Are Minutes Away.

8) If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

A flexible label? Labels, in general, are a bad idea. I once found a slip of paper affixed to the bottom of my foot. Though I am certain one of the words contained the letter “O,” I never was able to make out what the label read. This was a huge relief.

9) In the poem, “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There,” we encounter a list: “58. There are stains that happen suddenly, and can never be washed out. / 59. ‘And if they could?’ / 60. ‘We would be saved.’ / 61. ‘For god’s sake,’ said my mother, ‘Mr. Horowitz, your lover, was just joking around.’ 62. Speaking of jokes, let me tell you a joke I once heard at a funeral. / 63. His wife had died young and he told the joke at the funeral because she loved the joke, every day she loved the joke, and now he had to live a life he couldn’t bear to live without her so he told the joke.” The joke here is used to displace the suffering. The characters metaphysically shift out of their positions in the stories to critically stimulate discussion. This incorporates change and agency, the characters at once become the fool of their folly and the vehicle for their growth. I am interested why you chose to place these dynamics in the form of a list. How does this affect the internalization of the message in both the reader and the characters?

I like what you say about this form, how it becomes “the fool of their folly” and “the vehicle for their growth.” The list, especially numbered, feels nerve-wracked to me. Often, I stand on lines I believe I must stand on. Lines for bread and eggs and milk. I stand in line to board the airplane. I stand in line for a book to be signed by a favorite poet, for a map of the museum, a blood drive. In this way I am part of one gigantic sentence. We all are, no? I wait a lot for my turn to come, and when it does I go in search of another line. Another sentence to be alive inside. I think if I one day looked up and the sentence (line) was numbered I’d be totally horror struck. Like, what would #87 mean? This is why I numbered the lines. “Don’t Just Do Something, Stand There” is, in many ways, about vulnerability and death and being replaced and waiting on a line that is really a lifeline (which suggests both rescue and fate) and it is about wishing, somewhere along the line, to be heard. And also to be seen. If only for a moment.

10) We are asked to interpret the mistake as it is exceptionally personified in “The Mistake”. The poem evaluates the linguistic hierarchical relationship of sign and signifier. Usually the mind (I, sign) places meaning on the (object/subject, signifier). In this bend of linguistic structure “the mistake” can only be a mistake as it is interpreted from the receiver. We converse: “’Oh, look,’ exclaimed Beatrice, ‘it’s communicating!’ ‘Is it alone?’ whispered Walter B., taking Beatrice’s hand. ‘Yes,’ Beatrice whispered back, ‘I think it is alone.’ But it was not alone. It was not alone at all. Others began to emerge. Some from the trees. Some from the grass. Their damp white mouths flashed in the sunlight.” In the beginning of the poem, the main characters want to kill “the mistake” because it is different. Can you describe how the tradition of our ordered thinking is placed in a logic of deduction? Is this thinking futile? Must we instead, as the poem intimates, step into the position of the signifier, “other,” or “mistake,” and believe in change versus contractual linear pathos as the original supersedes?

I showed Beatrice your question. She thought it was very beautiful, and brought it to the milliner who turned it into a hat she now wears on special occasions. The hat is bright blue with two very attentive, yellow feathers. This is how deeply she favors “change” to “contractual linear pathos as the original supersedes.”

11) “The Oldest Animal Writes a Letter Home,” is just that, a letter written by the “oldest animal”. The letter assumes an accent reminiscent of old English oral spellings of speech. The speaker is lyrically enhanced by the melopoeia of the meaning more than the traditional formulaic linear line. This in turn asks the reader to listen to the music of the line as intrinsically as the meaning; cascading between virulent stokes of “wynds and,” “byrds”. Can you explain how the use of oral speech and spelling disrupts linearity of language and how this affects communication?

I do not like to say too much about The Oldest Animal. Just this, for now:

a)The Oldest Animal may be born out of all the secrets Walter B. and Beatrice keep from themselves.

b)The Oldest Animal suffers the consequences of Beatrice’s worst crime, but in exchange for its suffering it is given the ability to speak/write in a “transcendent” language.

c)They will never send the byrds.

d)It’s ok, though.

e)Because the byrds you imagine the byrds to be are not the byrds these byrds are.

12) The poem, “The Ten Stages of Beatrice,” provides a social commentary. In stage number one: “Belonging” Beatrice disentangles any feelings of “fear,” or “nostalgia,” instead responding with complex graphs. Stage number two: “Happy” which can only exist with an audience. Stage three: “Walter B.” she relates to her relationship as the most “strange”. Four: “Romance” here she is “hunted,” “deceived, “words rarely interesting,” and she receives gifts that have no use. The Fifth stage: “Dread” she thinks she is a nest. Six: “Slice,” she will eat cake until she has “visions”. In the seventh stage: “Cryptozology” which involves “Happy” mixed with a green dress and she achieves “ecstasy”. Stage eight: “Crowded,” is blurred by humans. Stage nine: “Poland” and grandfather and sound. And finally stage ten: “Return,” where she watches herself feed babies with a gardening tool. The feminine reascribes the stages of grief (or rather any human process in list form) within its historical model. The effect comments on gender norms and how they manifest in society. Beatrice seems to be disconnected from all of these elements that are in fact every part of “her”. Is she always affected by these stages, how in your opinion does she affect these stages?

  1. Beatrice softens her grief by allowing her most intimate parts (limbs, heart, Walter B., her offspring or what springs off her) to approach her as a stranger might approach – shy, uncertain, and nameless. Even her own name approaches her namelessly. Sometimes when I visit Beatrice she won’t open the door. Sometimes she swears she has never even heard of me.

profiles in poetics: Molly Brodak

DSCF6224Molly Brodak

Website: aesthetixpoems

How is life divided into inner realms, outer, and sacred corporality? How does this affect the psyche of the individual and how with the manifestation of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram acknowledge and incorporate these principles of self? How is image affecting the linearity of language? Poet, Molly Brodak in this interview exchanges how she, in the transcendent sense, intercepts these complimentary overtones. Consider social media. Brodak replies, “Words appearing on screens and not paper has changed language enormously … Twitter (for example) changes how people write. It is literally changing the wiring of our brains.” And how is this alteration taking place? She shares, “I think space between writers and their ‘audience’ (which for most poets, is other writers) has shrunk … the relationship between writers is more circuitous, reflexive, less top-down.” How we as individuals and especially writers explore these developments portends the future of language and communication.

In Brodak’s chapbook, Essay on Parts of Day, she differentiates, “Events in time are fractals of differences, you could say. The day exists but only insofar as it is made up of smaller ‘days’: i.e. hours, and then this extends to minutes and seconds, etc.” Linearity of time is dissuaded as much as the linearity of language. Continuing, “In ‘Parts of Day’ I was especially thinking about this house.” And “In ‘Pink Trees’ I was thinking about a lot of different spaces I had passed through … simply stirring (“something bad’–cake batter!).” The progression originates and diverts, anatomically impossibly interludes that increase the inspiration of exchange and experience of self and other. Eluding, “The fish comes through, all the fish come through, all the images, feelings, trauma, joy, etc., of experience, but the water is still the water. Good and bad, it all passes.”

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1.)      What were the first inspirations that made you desire to become a writer? Who are your favorite writers and how did they change over time?

I have a strong memory of being 11 or 12 and picking Leaves of Grass off of a library shelf, opening it to a random page, reading a few lines (something about the sea) and suddenly crying a little. I was always attracted to poetry since then. I read a lot of poetry by myself as a teenager and didn’t really talk about it with anyone.

2.)      Who have been the creative inspiration / mentor writers in your career?

My first real poetry teacher in college, Edward Haworth Hoeppner, was the most help. He was the first person I’d met who was a real poet and just that alone helped me feel like it was something I could do. Because I mostly read poets from past eras, I just didn’t think poets really existed anymore, like they were unicorns or cobblers or something you couldn’t really be in this world.

3.)      How has your own work changed over time and why?

I think it has changed when I have needed it to change. As soon as I start to feel comfortable or confident about what I’m writing, or when I recognize repetitive patterns or ‘moves’ that I’m simply reformulating in each poem, I have to change. I think it’s good to feel uncertain and somewhat uncomfortable even while writing, because it means you are in uncharted land and that is the best place to be.

4.)      Have you been influenced by different genres, and if so how?

Yes very much. Really I mostly read nonfiction and I know it does influence my work. I’ve always read a lot from the natural sciences and history, because I think there is always something to learn, and I love learning. Facts or ideas from science and history show up in the form of fascination in my writing. Often I write out of a place of just pure fascination.

5.)      What are your plans for the future?

Writing-wise I plan to finish a book of nonfiction I’ve been working on which is a kind of memoir and also finish this other book of poetry I recently started.

6.)      What are your views on writing by women as it has occurred in the past twenty years?

My view on contemporary women’s writing is that it is evolving, probably like all kinds of writing has. I think there’s been a small shift in the consideration of gender, or gendered-subjects (“female” books/topics/motifs) towards gender-neutrality. I think this is a positive move. I think women still feel limited by these proscribed patterns in writing—whether it is the content of the book or its packaging that publishers expect/enforce. Slight movement away from stereotyping starts with people talking about it, pointing out offenders or problems, like VIDA is doing with their counts. I think the talk portends positive growth.

7.)      If you were asked to create a flexible label of yourself as a writer, what would it be?

I think the only flexible enough label that works is simply “writer.” It implies nothing but the action of writing.

8.)      The voice of a project collects around an assembled landscape. The music is hand painted in saturated strokes. In your chapbook Essay on Parts of Day, we read, “A clear bead. / A word I / say / you don’t hear. / A globe of fat / in a pattern: / starch bonds / soften and curl. / A treat. / A dress of salt. / I said aloud / close me.” The image slows to fold each subsequent motion. The movement simultaneously draws the cartilage of the relationship or sinew between bones of communication; the day in love itself. This is juxtaposed to your poem “Good,” where we read, “Have you been punched? Very expertly? / It is true you are sometimes not yourself. / That is how selves work, they hover / over their border.” Here the voice ponders rhetoric in a different emotional stasis. Voice transitions the way form, image, and thought is assembled. We model worlds around the poet. Values shift and transition our readiness to split energetic fields. How as writer would you say this has affected your sense of self?

Voice/emotions/values shifting? I think that is the self. Emotional states and ideas just pass through. It’s very much like a fish swimming through water. The fish comes through, all the fish come through, all the images, feelings, trauma, joy, etc., of experience, but the water is still the water. Good and bad, it all passes. It’s hard to avoid wanting to grab onto one of the ‘fish’, cling to some emotion or event or even person and demand that it affirm you or define your concept of self once and for all. But that doesn’t ever work, and then you get hurt because the fish eventually squirms off or dies. All of it is instructive, and I am extraordinarily grateful for poetry because it is a place where I can go to think about these things, or just make sounds I feel need making.

9.)      In the poem, “Eight,” “Creatures / come to be more sensitive / over eons. Weak / signals accumulate, / pressed into / a code I envy. / The code pressed into clay. / Devotion is primitive./ Depth’s ombre, / hills dulling, / a small thousand years.” “Devotion is primitive” and black in codes of thinking; in forms of a hug. In ways this sensitivity allows us to break into creaturing forms of message. But what does this do, this excavation also highlights innumerous presentations of voice and identity. Applying this to the present influx of social media sites, how do you believe each platform elaborates differences in our understanding? Do you think this evolves the linearity of language? How do you perceive this affects logos? How does this affect how we are received by our audience, and furthermore, how do you think this affects how we are received by our peers?

Does Twitter/Facebook/Instagram evolve the linearity of language? Yes, absolutely! Words appearing on screens and not paper has changed language enormously. This is a topic for entire volumes of research and writing, but it suffices to say here that yes, Twitter (for example) changes how people write. It is literally changing the wiring of our brains. Nicholas Carr has written extensively about how Google (for example) has changed our brains and shortened our attention spans. A lot of people have fearful reactions to this. But it is natural. Every animal is evolving towards easier and faster communication, but especially social ones like humans. I think space between writers and their ‘audience’ (which for most poets, is other writers) has shrunk. It’s shrunk because people wanted it to shrink. Because of social media sites the relationship between writers is more circuitous, reflexive, less top-down. This is a trend of our era because of the connectedness of the internet: you also see this movement in the classroom—more younger teachers want the chairs set up in circles or tables to break down the authoritative force of the teacher’s position.

10.)   When we tell stories we pack each mechanizing detail into the day. The section “Pink Trees,” in Essay on Parts of Day is as follows: “If there is no one else here / I am not here either. // A thin sour scent / settled on the pillows.// This is my / whole house. // A gold thread. / A new noise. // I haven’t written back / to him. He has forgotten. / His hand in my hair, / absent or violent. // I recall, I was the creature. / Clothes folded and hid. / Yellow-lit filth in the rug.” We saturate the lines into each livid experience so that the break becomes alive. The line has a pulse, the inhalation paves the day. When we search for enumerable variant, what happens to detail? Does the day exist, or do the differences and semblances of each experience also mean that every minutia is in fact a similarity of difference?

Thanks for saying that, and this is a good question. Events in time are fractals of differences, you could say. The day exists but only insofar as it is made up of smaller ‘days’: i.e. hours, and then this extends to minutes and seconds, etc. You can pay attention to the unit you want. I try to force myself out of ‘humanscale’ when it comes to time, and think about not days or months but centuries, eons, geologic time. It’s hard to think of a unit of 1,000,000 years because it is so beyond the human scale. And yet it is also totally ordinary and probably a more useful time unit when considering the history of the Earth (of which we are just an animated feature). Detail is weirdly paradoxical because it reminds me, of course, of the physical world, beauty, or someone in particular, but it also is tethered to nothingness, and it’s good to remember that and try to use it somehow.

11.)   How does your life affect your work and vice versa?

I just don’t see a great separation there to compare. For example, writing the poems in the chapbook manuscript sample I sent, I was processing events and information that I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise: an old house I was becoming obsessed with, books about geology or old art I was reading. Poems are places of processing and I think of them as ‘thinking’–crucial and inseparable from my life. In “Parts of Day” I was especially thinking about this house. There was an enormous old abandoned house in Augusta where I was living that I would break into, sometimes a few days a week, and just walk around and look at it. Actually it wasn’t abandoned, it was for sale and people were working on it and it would change sometimes. I don’t know how or why I started doing that. And it seems kind of insane to me now that I kept doing that. I think I needed a poem to figure it out. I think I was looking to change everything in my life and I was going to this house as a way to imagine myself in a new, unfamiliar space.

In “Pink Trees” I was thinking about a lot of different spaces I had passed through, having moved very often in my life. The poem starts with an incident, a trigger I guess–simply stirring (“something bad’–cake batter!) and then the poem sort of plunges inward and all of these images start to build out of that. I suppose one wants to always build some meaning out of things/events in one’s life. I don’t think that is my goal in a poem, but instead to maybe just examine them, see them “right” before they are gone. Or maybe, better, after they are gone. I don’t mean lamenting loss. Not praising it either, just seeing things, just beholding them, as they are. I want to learn from things/people I encounter, not manipulate them or force them into an artificial meaning-story.