The Hits and the B-Sides and Everything in Between: An Interview with E. Kristin Anderson

EmilyHammock

-interview by Olivia Olson

E. Kristin Anderson’s newest chapbook is full of epistolary poems written to Prince. How could we not want to know more?

Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I Wrote to Prince In The Middle Of  The Night, published by Porkbelly Press earlier this month, features “Hiding is the only thing that matters this summer,” a concise and insightful poem published in Hermeneutic Chaos and subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Anderson, in addition to being a prolific and widely-published poet, is also an avid blogger, an editor at both NonBinary Review and The Found Poetry Review, and the co-founder of the Dear Teen Me anthology.

Here at The Booth, we asked Emily about all the things PRINCE, poetry and the propensity of music artists to inspire the best writing in us.

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What is it about Prince?
You know, I wish I knew. Or maybe it’s kind of nice not knowing. I’ve always liked him, but I didn’t become full-on crazy obsessed until the summer of 2014. It hit like a fever. And somehow the fever still hasn’t broken. I think though that there’s something beautiful about a man who doesn’t give a fuck. He makes art, puts it out there or doesn’t. He’s made so many different types of music, challenged race and sexuality barriers from very early on. The man is 5’2”, wears heels and lace, and not only has made himself very powerful but continues to pass that power on to young artists—particularly female artists, which is a big deal in the music industry, which is notorious for screwing over women.

And, I don’t know, listen to “Purple Rain.” The single. Then realize that it was recorded live, in front of an audience, with a brand new guitarist. A few bells and whistles (mostly strings, from what I understand) were added and they ended up cutting a verse in the studio, but when you listen to that, the rawness of the voice and the guitar solos, the band’s cohesion, and you know that this was recorded live, it will make your hair stand on end. That’s a certain kind of creative power that I want to communicate with and adore and be but never be but maybe know, just a little.

What are the challenges/benefits inherent in writing poems addressed to a famous person?

Well, I have had at least one person mention that Prince is particularly litigious (as if I don’t know—I know more things about Prince than most people know about their own mothers) and that could be a problem—if I were quoting lyrics or misrepresenting him, you know, being slandery. Which I haven’t. I also wanted to be very careful both for political and moral reasons not to objectify him. I mean, obviously I have a huuuuuge crush on Prince, but that’s not what my work is about.  Really, my poems aren’t so much about Prince as they are little weird notes to Prince. Or phone calls. Or whatever. Of course, there are lots of allusions to the music and the man. Easter eggs. Some are easy to spot, like doves or purple or lace. Others, maybe tougher. A ladder (a less-than-celebrated track from Around the World in a Day). A black butterfly (you’ve gotta know 3rdEyeGirl to pick up that one). There’s also the discussion of prayer, and God was something I really wanted to explore, and maybe not everyone knows that Prince is a deeply religious man (even before his affiliation with the Jehovah’s Witnesses) and somehow he manages to explore Christian themes in songs like “Let’s Pretend We’re Married” which I won’t quote because I know my grandmother is going to read this…but you can look it up. Or listen to it. It’s a great song.

So I guess I didn’t find too many issues in writing about a famous person other than making sure that my allusions worked whether you knew the hits or the B-sides. Or the hits and the B-sides and everything in between. Other writers, of course, might have a completely different experience and that would actually be fun to talk about, like, at a roundtable or something.

As someone who has a number of chapbooks under her belt, how do you go about compiling your poems into a collection?

Funny, I was talking about this with some other writers earlier today. Sometimes I don’t realize I’m building a collection. PRAY, PRAY, PRAY is one of those cases. I just sort of starting writing these poems to Prince while listening to his music at night to calm my nerves and ease a really tough depression. And it built on itself, like a sparkly, violet snowball. But most of my chapbooks have been more intentional—I write twice as many poems as I need and cut between a third and a half of the draft in revision. I think this is especially useful for me in my found poetry manuscripts where the approach is sometimes so experimental that I’m  definitely not always going to get a result I like. But still writing the shitty drafts makes me feel like I got something accomplished, and so I put them in the initial manuscript anyway, even though they’re going to get dumped. Or sometimes not. Sometimes a poem looks a lot better in the light of day than you imagined it might.

Did you have a poem that surprised you particularly in the collection? Or, did you have one that was especially challenging for you?

I think the most surprising thing about PRAY, PRAY, PRAY is that I didn’t run out of material. I did run out of dove references, but that’s to be expected. I think the poem that surprised me the most is the last in the chap, “Every salted breath.” Because the poem knew it was the end of the book even though I didn’t. And I thought it was crap when I was writing it. I felt like it was more like journal writing, something to keep my mind busy, rather than creating a piece of art. But when I typed it up, it took shape, and it was so definitive feeling. It had a definite sense of closure. And I knew I was done with writing poems for the chap. I did hack and slash the manuscript—lines, stanzas, entire poems—but this is one poem that never moved an inch from its place at the back of the book. Note the ladder. I was listening to Around the World in a Day a lot that week, I’m guessing.

Not that I actually stopped writing Prince poems. I took it up again a few months later, after selling PRAY, PRAY, PRAY. So…there’s more. I have a problem

It seems you have a Lana Del Rey-inspired chapbook coming early next year. She’s a personal favorite of mine—what did you learn about her when going over her lyrics closely?

Mostly that she’s fucked up like everyone else. She has daddy issues. She’s sexy and sexual but desires strength and isn’t willing to compromise her femininity for it. I guess I relate. The LDR chapbook—forthcoming with Grey Book Press—is actually three long poems, each created by first scrambling the lyrics of one of her albums (I used an online text randomizer) and then applying erasure technique to the scrambled pages. It was really bizarre what I found there. I had no control over where the words were, where they repeated or how they were strung together. But I did have control of what words I chose. And I chose a lot of swear words. Whoops.

Have you ever written anything that made someone angry?

I’m thinking the LDR chapbook is going to piss off a large portion of my family, with the swearing and the sexy talk (we all know about Lana Del Rey and Pepsi Cola). Which isn’t to say things I’ve written haven’t already. I write openly about my struggle with mental health (I have bipolar disorder and panic disorder) because I think when we talk about these issues it reduces stigma. Some people in my family would rather I keep it under wraps. But I’m not ashamed of it. It’s part of who I am. And if one person sees my words and feels better today or tomorrow or whenever, then I’m okay with any scrutiny I get, from anyone.

I do have a (currently strangely secret) life as a young adult author, and I do occasionally worry that my poetry—which has become increasingly adult—could get me disinvited from school visits or festivals, or that it could possibly ward off potential agents (currently seeking an agent, hi there) or editors. But ultimately I feel like words have power, and if my words have that kind of power, well, maybe I’m doing something right. Then again, the villain always thinks she’s the hero of her own story, so I could be completely off base. In any case, I promise not to swear in your sixth grade classroom. (Even though I totally pre-launched PRAY, PRAY, PRAY in a sixth grade classroom last week, not even kidding. Kids are awesome.)

Do you have any books/journals/poets that you’d like to recommend?

God yes. One of my favorite novels that I read this year is The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, which the publisher aptly describes as “orange is the new black swan.” Beautiful writing and an absolutely compelling mystery. I also love anything that Allie Marini and Sonja Johanson put to print. And I have to say my publisher Porkbelly Press has amazing taste. The Insomniac Circus by Amorak Huey floored me. I highly recommend My Heart in Aspic by Sonya Vatomsky and the latest from Ariana D. Den Bleyker, The Peace of the Wild ThingsKing Me by Roger Reeves. So good. For journals, I will never get over Barrelhouse. Please can I be in you, Barrelhouse? I think they’re innovative and fun and strong. Also, one of my new heroes is Patricia Smith. I think I took all of her books out of the library this year. And then hoarded them until, you know, like, fees. I could go on for a while. So I’ll just stop right here.

P.S : Lisa Cheby is awesome–she has Buffy poems.

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In addition to all your poetic endeavors, you co-founded the Dear Teen Me website, where authors write letters to their teenage selves. Which author would you have wanted to write to you when you were a teen? 

Dear Teen Me is a passion project I started in 2010 or something and then it became a book and now I still maintain the website with some helpers. And of course, all the letters from authors. It’s hard to say who I would have liked to hear from most as a teen. In high school I didn’t read much, since I was chronically behind on school reading and felt weird reading for pleasure. In middle school I so very much adored Piers Anthony, so I think it would have been lovely to hear from him. But, let’s be real, if Taylor Hanson or Dave Grohl had written to me as a teen, that would have been like, the end of the world party like it’s 1999 style. (And it probably would have been 1999. For the record I did not party—my mom wanted the whole family home that night and man was I pissed.)

Terpischore’s Atrium with April Bradley

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews the amazing April Bradley who contributed a brilliant flash fiction to Issue 6. April Bradley is a native of Goodlettsville, Tennessee and lives with her family on the Connecticut shoreline. She recently spent time at Vermont Studio Center as writer-in-residence with several other poets, creative nonfiction writers, fiction writers, and playwrights.Her fiction and creative nonfiction has or will appear in Thrice FictionNarratively, Southern Women’s Review and other publications. She also serves as the Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes Literary Magazine.  What makes April Bradley’s work so memorable is the way her narrative engages with the very essence of the story by employing an ingenious use of language and imagery. Her stories also tend to interact beyond the spaces that they occupy, leading to a vivid multidimensional aesthetic experience for her readers.

We request you to spend time with her flash fiction A Mermaid’s Purse is Also Called a Devil’s Pocketbook here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

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1. The title of your story published in Hermeneutic Chaos is raw and powerful in the way it allows the collusion of two entities disparate in their origin, meaning and connotations. How did it find its being?

Sailors’ lore and charming words, really—appropriate when dealing with the devil. When I was revising, I looked up information about skate egg cases and learned that sailors also historically called mermaid’s purses by the sobriquet devil’s pocketbooks due to their shape and color. The leathery cases appear dark and sinister with sharp, curved horns on each end that invite the comparison. Most mermaid purses wash ashore empty, and when one cradles an embryo it appears translucent. If a case becomes untethered and washes ashore, the embryo is highly unlikely to survive without intervention, and likewise, if the egg case becomes damaged. It was a good piece of luck to discover this tension in a name for something used to evoke atmosphere through metaphor. The egg case startles Clara, inspires promise because of the association with mermaids but she also experiences an undercurrent of menace. Part of her backstory is that she is a woman who has become false-hearted in her marriage while she yearns for another child. She fears another miscarriage, and in many ways, has squandered what could be a satisfying life for something unattainable.

2. One of the best aspects of the story is the manner in which time is portrayed in it. It begins in the very first sentence, “Clara measures time by tide”, and continues throughout the narrative. There is a vignette-like calmness and vividness in the words, but the physical and mental spaces that they recite are almost breathless in their anticipation. How do you perceive the conception of time in a prose?

Thank you for this significant compliment. Time is an essential component of fiction and one of the most powerful, flexible elements a writer can command. How we control time in our narratives can change everything. I perceive it as a tool, a structural element. Conceiving it is another matter. For the most part, for me, it’s intentional at the onset. In this story, analepsis and prolepsis realized through dramatic irony is used to regulate time, control pacing, and create space for the reader to regard Clara’s world and events in it—limited though it is.

3. What would a devil write in his pocketbook?

A devil or rather The Devil is a canny, contrary, vainglorious thing, so he’d write something enticing and maddening, and would delight in it because he is restive. The lines would be either lavish or as unadorned as the situation requires.

If he were to write to or for Clara, my main character, I’d expect something like, How shall I spend my coin? As though his expenditure is at her pleasure, when it is at her peril. The words pocket and pocketbook have colloquial and connotative references to genitalia, sex, the economy of pleasure, and fertility. Clara’s nearly desperate and looking for that kind of line.

4. If the mermaid goes out on a date with the Devil, what do you think would happen?

Can the devil swim otherwise as a leviathan? Let’s pretend so. Mermaids possess, of course, a prolific and myriad mythology as life-giving, destructive, carnal beings. According to the pair of names for the skate egg cases, the mermaid confers male fertility and abundance while the devil provides the source of female pleasure and fecundity— they seem well matched as co-conspirators. I’d expect a battle of wits and plotting: courting with a purpose for alliance. If one finds the other alluring, it would be a treacherous and foolish to indulge it. They would be attracted to uncommon places. Spar Cave, Isle of Skye would be a suitable setting as long as the locals don’t catch them out.

5. When did you first encounter writing? What did you find so exceptional about it?

This is a wonderful question and it immediately provoked a memory I did not expect. My parents had a summer party, and to keep me they occupied had me write out numbers to one hundred. When I got stuck, I’d ask someone nearby to help out. A songwriter named Hank pointed out I just needed to continue what I had been doing: writing one through nine and increase the number in the tens place by one, etc… He answered my questions whenever I yanked on his jacket and interrupted his conversation. When I reached one hundred and wanted to know what to do next, he showed me how to carry over and keep going. Then we jumped onto the idea of adding more zeros to reach one thousand and ten thousand. I asked him about nothing, zero, and he showed me how negative numbers worked: same thing but backwards. It was an amazing thing to realize that numbers went on and on. I said that if I had enough paper, I could write forever. He said there was a different word for it with numbers, infinity. There are always more numbers, more words.

6. What is your relationship with words as a writer? Do you ask them to chase your intentions in the story, or do they pour out of you, uninhabited?

It’s a complex one because I’m dyslexic. This isn’t a terrible thing by any means—it certainly makes things interesting. I tend to revise while composing as a way to stave off block. If something’s not flowing at one part of the narrative, I’ll tinker with another until that free-fall kicks in again. What gets me in trouble is if I let go of any writing without carefully reviewing it: words and letters move around; I’m a terrible speller; what I think makes it to the page, doesn’t. Words are…wily, wonderful things for me. They get me in trouble as much as they redeem. I’m trying out keeping a journal: it’s not working. I’m also trying out writing in fifteen-minute episodes here and there. That’s working much better. It forces me to write and revise later.

7. Why do you write prose? How do you try to dam the genre’s desire to run frantically across pages without glancing back?

When I think of prose at its most basic it is as not poetry, and although I use poetic devices and stylistic elements in fiction, I tend think in images and story. I have an affinity for the form—a preference. I’m attracted to writing short fiction because it is as Capote said in his famous interview with Pati Hill at The Paris Review, “…the most difficult and disciplining form of prose writing extant.” And, I’m a slow writer. Rather, I devote a great deal of time and thought into a story and my publishing goals in respect to short fiction are to submit two stories a year at a minimum while I work on large-scale projects. Maybe I’ll become more prolific as I get used to publishing more. That pretty much builds a dam on my end.

8. As the Senior Assistant Editor for Bartleby Snopes, what excites you the most about contemporary writing? What saddens you?

What is truly exciting in contemporary writing is how much control writers and readers are exerting over what is considered good writing, appreciable writing, and esteemed writing. We see this in the outcome of readers’ votes in our Story Of The Month contest atBartleby Snopes. The quality of the quantity of contemporary writing available to readers and writers with online literary magazines and small presses is dizzying. It’s disappointing or saddening that everyone is in a hurry. There’s such a frenetic pace and that too shows up in contemporary writing. Maybe it’s the urgent sense of time and our times. There is a distinct sense of unraveling in the midst of so much vibrancy.

A Review of Laura Madeline Wiseman’s chapbook “Threnody”

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Porkbelly Press, 2014

23 pages, $7

Review by Shinjini Bhattacharjee

The hallmark of a good piece of literature, especially poetry, is to exist by hiding its laws and code of conduct from its readers.  These laws and rules, however, do not masquerade as imperceptible secrets, rather, peek from the corners of the big wide walls of pages, challenging the readers to demystify them. The interstices borne by these interactions offer the readers an opportunity to take refuge in the self-interpretation of a text, and in the process, rewrite it with the writer. Laura Madeline Wiseman’s latest chapbook,Threnody, published by Porkbelly Press, invites the readers to engage in such an exercise, and speaks volumes of Wiseman’s faith in her readers and her desire to engage them with the very fragments of her writing, and arrive at a collaborative interpretation in the process.

Threnody (from the Greek word thrēnōidia implying lament) is set in New Mexico and narrates the journey of the protagonist “I” who meets lady death, befriends her, and rides in her death cart. Wiseman is a brilliant poet, and this can be seen in the manner in which she constructs the fourteen micro-pieces. All of them carry a generous use of vowels and soft consonants, eerily highlighting the lament that lasts throughout the narrative.

The beginning of the first prose poem “In the House of Death”-“The lady of death wears a bonnet and dress as she tips forward to see the ground she passes, high on the cart”-sets the course that the rest of the poems fearlessly undertake. The descriptions of the protagonist’s self and the Other are terse, clever and vivid, and soon begin to merge into each other- “Maybe the lady of death lives inside us. She is a part of our muscles and bones” (“Or To Release Death”). The author uses the metaphor of lady death and the narrator’s relationship with her to highlight the ways in which the various forms of feminisms are constructed by society, and the painful and conflicting relationship women have with their psyche as a consequence. The chapbook interacts with women’s bodies, sexualities and normative social mores, holding them up for a critical examination. Even though the narrator fears lady death throughout the narrative, there is also an accompanying awe and fascination accompanying it, especially the manner in which the latter constructs her body and self (“I’m awkward. I stare, can’t breathe. You’re the one everyone adores”). The lady-death might even be seen as the narrator’s alter-ego, eschewing the familial to embrace a more radical relationship (“I say, I don’t want a sister. I want a friend, death’s bright angel, you”). The narrator paradoxically can only come to terms with her own identity by “let[ting] go” of it.

A perusal of the chapbook is both an aesthetic as well as an emotional experience. Even though the character and settings evoke beautiful mythic dimensions, their intentions are familiar and highly intriguing. These force you to question the underlying assumptions of a heteronormative, largely patriarchal society that works overtly by being covert. Highly reminiscent of the poems by Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath and H.D., Wiseman’s vignettes astutely engages in an intense description of surroundings and experiences in a struggle to find an identity of the self. What also lends a greater reading experience is the juxtaposition of the sparse, limited landscape of the chapbook with the always moving death cart in which the lady of death and the narrator travel, along with a choice of words and sentences that defy meaning and choose to tumble over each other instead of restraining themselves in confined ideologies and lexicons.

Feminism is a much traversed territory, and over the decades, various meanings have been forcibly cramped into its vulnerable spaces. Wiseman’s Threnody, however, is unique in its compelling and contemplative use of imagery and interpretation to offer a bold and fearless perspective of the female psyche that resides in the underworld and all that it exhibits. A must-read.

Terpischore’s Atrium with Alessandra Bava

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews the amazing Alessandra Bava, who contributed three ingeniously crafted poems to Issue 3. She is the author of critically acclaimed chapbooks They Talk About Death (winner of the Blood Pudding Press chapbook competition in 2014) and Diagnosis, published by Dancing Girl Press, which will publish another chapbook penned by her titled Love and Other Demons next year. She is also the author of two bilingual chapbooks Guerrilla Blues (2012) and Nocturne (2013) both published in Italy. Her poems have been published, or are forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, THRUSH Poetry Journal, Cease, Cows, and Gargoyle, among others. She is also a prolific translator, and has edited and translated an anthology of contemporary American poets,  Nuova Antologia di Poesia Americana, that will be published by Edizioni Ensemble later this year.

We request you to spend time with her poems here, and then return to enjoy the interview.

Alessandra Bava (© photo Marco Cinque) (3)

1. The poems ‘Incubus’, ‘The Nest’ and ‘I am Disintegration’ (published in Issue 3 of Hermeneutic Chaos) present poetry as a process fraught with both an “anxiety of influence” as well as an “anxiety of audience”, for the words that compose them constantly struggle to find an identity of their own. Could you tell us about your decision to make the poems chart such a vulnerable path?

I try to give my words a precise identity, but they have to speak for themselves and for me, the poet, as well. I look at my poems, and ultimately at my words, as something I have given life to. They must learn to walk around the world using all the strength I have provided them with. The path may be vulnerable, but I have given them legs and a backbone.

2. One of the most astonishingly brilliant aspects of these poems is their use of all the sensory manifestations of experience, and not merely the visual, that is usually the dominant mode of description. How do you think can writers hold the disparate interpretations of all these senses together in their work?

I totally enjoy pushing the perception boundaries in my poems. I want my poems to be physical, much like Whitman when he states: “who touches this touches a man.” This is why the visual elements are not the only ones at play. In “The Nest,” that was published inHermeneutic Chaos, I play with hearing (a nest that beats like a heart or an egg  that is about to crack) and with touch (claws inscribing the heart). As my fellow poet Marco Cinque states, “the poem is a living thing.” I agree wholeheartedly with him. And, this is precisely why I like to use all the five senses in my poetry.

3. Though you were born in Rome, you spent your youth abroad attending various American and International schools that fostered your love for literature in English. And this exposure has enabled you to both write poetry in English and also translate poems written in English by various authors. How do you encounter the cultural and literary diaspora in your work?

I look at it as a unique privilege. Being able to write in English or to translate from English into my mother tongue is a an incredible opportunity. I often feel I am two different persons. Switching from a language to the other is a fascinating process. When I write and communicate in English I believe I am terser, whereas Italian allows me to be more exuberant.

4. Your poems accumulate intense imageries that transcend their descriptions by engaging with the activity of the texts. How much has Roman art inspired you?

Imagery has a lead role in my personal and artistic life. Being born in Rome, a city surrounded by work of arts and beauty, has certainly made me more art-oriented or art-driven. Baroque art has certainly influenced a lot of my imagination, triggering the accumulation process and the attention to the depictive quality of words.

5. Your chapbook They Talk About Death published by Blood Pudding Press is a stunning piece of work that beautifully manages to engage in a necessary conversation with writers such as Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton and Rimbaud in the space offered by the poems. How do you think would these writers try to resurrect themselves in the 21st century?

When I wrote the poems in this chapbook, I was so focused on these poets’ deaths that I have actually not really thought about their possible resurrection. I believe Plath and Sexton would most likely resurrect themselves as Lady Lazarus. Could they get rid of their bloodied bandages, they would be re-born as writing phoenixes. We would certainly benefit from more of their words. Rimbaud was certainly not meant to be just a poet. He was a restless man and a rebel soul, so he would probably resurrect as a wanderer, a modern troubadour. Or, a rock star.

6. Your second chapbook Diagnosis has recently been published by dancing girl press and has met with numerous enthusiastic positive responses. Congratulations!

Do you see poetry as a diagnosis or a prognosis, or something in between?

Thank you! The poem that gives the title to Diagnosis plays around the idea that we poets are so to say “insane” and that there’s always someone ready to diagnose us with “Poetry.” If poetry is an illness or a mania, I can’t tell. I’m glad I suffer from it! It’s a path I need to follow. And, I’ve a totem animal guiding me along this path in this chapbook: a hare.

7. Who are your favorite poets? Where do you like to converse with them?

I’ve many favorite poets. Sexton and Plath. Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva. Rimbaud and Baudelaire. Dante and Pasolini. Among the living poets Jack Hirschman, fourth Poet Laureate of San Francisco, holds a special place in my heart. I’m currently writing his biography. Whenever he’s in Italy we get a chance to meet and talk. He’s a tremendous poet and, when I talk to him, I learn so much about his life and the poets and writers he has met during his life, from Ferlinghetti to Ginsberg, from Creeley to Corso, from Bukowski to Anaïs Nin. He is such a jovial and intellectually stimulating man. It’s a joy to converse with him! Then there’s Patti Smith. She’s not only an awesome song-writer. She’s a poet and a wordsmith. And, I greatly admire her work.

My favorite place to “converse” with poets is the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. It’s an idyllic place. We’re lucky to have the tombs of so many excellent poets there: Percy B. Shelley, John Keats, Gregory Corso and Amelia Rosselli, an Italian woman poet who committed suicide on 11th February, same day as Plath. It’s an inspiring place. I often go there to write.

 

8. What are you writing now? Where do you think will it carry you as a poet and a reader?

I’ve honestly translated more than written poetry, lately. But, I’ve two chapbooks I’m working on at present. The former is inspired by Diane Arbus’s photographs, the latter by poets who spent part of their life in asylums. And, I’m definitely ready  to resume working on Hirschman’s biography, that I’d love to complete by 2015.

Writing both poetry and non-fiction is challenging and fascinating. It’s making me grow as a writer and a reader at the same time. Poetry makes me strive for brevity in non-fiction, whereas non-fiction helps me use poems as tales of my soul.

Terpischore’s Atrium with Kalisha Buckhanon

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Editor-in-Chief Shinjini Bhattacharjee interviews Kalisha Buckhanon, who is undoubtedly one of the most talented writers in the contemporary literary milieu. Her debut venture, Upstate, was published in 2006 to massive critical acclaim, and won an American Library Association ALEX Award and an Audie Award in Literary Fiction for its audiobook, besides being a Hurston-Wright Foundation Debut Fiction finalist. Her sophomore novel, Conception, was greeted with much greater enthusiasm, and won a Friends of American Writers Adult Literature Award. Kalisha has been awarded an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Prose; a Zora Neale Hurston/Bessie Head Fiction Award at the Gwendolyn Brooks Black Literature and Writing Conference, for her short story “Card Parties” ; the Terry McMillan Young Author Award at the National Book Club Conference; an Honorable Mention in the Mary Roberts Rinehart Awards at George Mason University;a Presidential Scholarship at The New School; a Century Fellowship at University of Chicago; and an Andrew Mellon/Mays Foundation Minority Fellowship in Humanities.

We are honored to publish an excerpt from her upcoming novel Bleedsoe  in Issue 5 of Hermeneutic Chaos. We request you to befriend the exquisitely written “Singer’s” here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

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1. “Singer’s” is one of the most profound fictions I have read recently. However, what intrigued me the most is the possessive apostrophe used in the title. I feel that it is somehow a part of the word yet estranged from it, similar to the delineations of the excerpt. How much narrative responsibility do you attribute to the title of your works?

Thank you and I appreciate you feeling such an impact from “Singer’s,” because I really wanted to build a palpable world to stick with readers around the characters I loved. I give a huge load of responsibility to titles, because if you are expecting a reader to make it through so much, you have to help them out immediately with mystery, provocation. A title can do that quickly as one thing or idea or concept to stick with them throughout.

This is my first time writing of a fictional setting. It took me a much longer time than usual to get my footing and bearings in a “no-place” than when writing a real place. I worried if it took me so much time and aggravation to get centered in my own place I was making up, what would it be like for strangers entering as readers? If that part of it all is catastrophic, there is no story and the characters just do not matter.

It is amazing to me that you caught the apostrophe punctuation and its possessive connotations. I wrote Singer’s to get the backstory of a trailer park located in Bledsoe, Mississippi, the perimeter of non-existent place of which Singer’s Trailer Park is a part. The inhabits of this makeshift community are black Americans seeking ownership in the world. They get a good start, however they do so outside of bureaucratic and state procedures. So their work is in vain. A white man with the last name Singer comes along with the upper class protocols and connections to capitalize on the black Americans who had more of an ancient, even squatter’s approach to possession. His access to state-sanctioned rules and procedures overcomes any history or mission of the place to make it his own, possess the land and essentially own black Americans as if on a plantation.

2. Singer’s begins with the line-“Even when their safest part of the world began to crumble and tumble down, it still smelled of fresh paint, like a stretch of new city projects some decades ago instead of now.” The language used here fills me with awe, because each word indulges in its own interpretations, and then swiftly masquerades another connotation when brought in contact with other words. How do you and your characters confront history through language?

Thank you. I flip-flop where I want my characters and story to be much more often than I would like. It is hard for me to stay in one head, time, place or tongue. My first published novel was letters back and forth between two people. One was in jail. In the second one a pregnant girl told the bulk of the story, with her fetus interrupting to offer up its spiritual past through history. I did not know how to include all the history and language styles I needed to finish the stories, but to break up the narrators and voices into parts suiting my needs. I believe there is a bilingual nature to black American language and speech many people are ashamed to recognize or admit, because a way of speaking and hearing words is associated with ignorant or uneducated people who have no respect as foreign tongues. I am aware of all that and fluent in all that, so by nature of that I think my writing could be an expanse at all times. All that variety and difference trying to come together.

And black American history—slave pasts, legal racism, state-created poverty—is a mandate of consideration behind most black American texts no matter where and when they are set. It’s a very jumbled situation to try to connect. So the place I am describing is definitely in the southern country, but I guess at the time I could not find any way to capture its connection to shared black history but to link it to the city via crumbled projects. So the work Singer’s feeds into is my first time transforming that wild tendency into a set third-person narrative all throughout, in one omniscient voice—but with way more characters than I’ve ever managed before. It was harder than I thought it would be.

3. Your writing pays an astute attention to geographic details, which are both noticeable and tangible. Does an incorporation of the familiar offer a metaphoric congruity to your psyche, or does it make you uneasy? What is your relationship with the familiar?

Oddly enough, the place I envision in Singer’s is one I visited on trips for my father’s family, who came from Mississippi to Illinois. My grandmother I visited there passed away in 2010 in my Illinois hometown, so I started to think about those trips and places much more than I ever had before. I am glad I captured something, because I was worried about not being a “native” of something but owning the right to write about it anyway.

I never want anything I write to be about me. It has to be about characters and what they want. For one thing, I am very private and I respect that with others who could be connected to my private life in recognizable ways. I want things to seem true and real, but I am very uneasy with familiarity to myself. And at the same time I think where I come from and where I have been in life, not to mention countless people and things my psyche has encountered, are very rich narratively and praiseworthy in ways only artists can respect. It’s a balance. It depends on your goals. I am firmly wedded to fiction, and hiding any realities I have which are just too boring or painful to depict except behind metaphors as many people as possible may enjoy.

4. Who decides the narrators in your stories- the author or the characters?

Wow I do not know! I wish I did. I would go talk to them about it. I would find out how in the world they did not make me an Olympic sprinter or swimmer who could stay thin with my gift and obsession, rather than knowing I am just going to plump up day by day. And then I would make them buy me a lifetime supply of Tylenol PM, the only thing that can put me to sleep when narrators are coming on full force based upon things going on in my small personal life or the larger outside world. I wish I could plan stories. My agent and I worked on that. I got there somewhat. But no, I have no clue why certain narrators or voices or people or things start coming around. I just type what I feel is best for them.

5. In Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte introduces the Red Room, which, apart from its various interpretations pertaining to feminism, also alludes to a secret writing space, one that appears to be calm and composed but revels as a fiery subversion inside the writer. How do you envisage your writing- a peaceful, quiet consequence or something else?

I would say it is very fiery, not at all peaceful. It’s a dragon. It’s the strongest thing I have. It’s the safest way for me to express opinions and disagreements in this world. I know I can say whatever I want to say and there will be no pain for it, maybe even praise.

I am a short, round, brown woman whose parents did not go to college but made careers out of those “regular jobs” that even white children must overcome the upper or professional classes’ condescension and dismissals due to. Now, I chose to put myself in elite environments where this laddering is acceptable and the norm, and that is how I learned this truth. I watched my parents come home drained and narrating bizarre stories about feeling unappreciated, overly challenged and treated like children. Then, once I left the nest and my small world where I was viewed as an ideal, I saw I was now them.

I don’t care if you have higher education or a philanthropist’s portfolio, a woman of color has a harder life. My name is ‘Kalisha,’ not Elizabeth or Margaret or Anne. I love Kate Middleton and find her very strong, but my name is not ‘Catherine.’ You must multiply the forces who want to quiet and deny Bronte’s women times ten for Kalishas. And even when women of color just want to write about growing up and love and societal pressures for women, that wild bucking horse of color oppressions stomps into the narratives.

I was writing for my life in an M.F.A. program because job searches were odd for me, despite a near perfect academic background and strong work history, since I had to work myself through college. Every single year a new research study comes out to reveal that resume names showing a sure black heritage get passed over, even hidden. A headhunter responded to me after I switched out the first name on my resume to my middle name: ‘Nicole.’ She met me and told me: “You are really smart so people could want to hire you, but your hair…” I do not straighten my hair. So, if the barrier was not my name before people met me it became my physical blackness after people met me. Bias and oppression are not figments. They are real physical organisms moving daily in our world.

I’ve obviously had a wonderful and great life. I am beyond blessed by comparison to many. I have had fairy tale experiences. I am being interviewed by a brilliant woman from across the world due to my blessings. This does not happen to most people on any given day. So it feels uneasy and ungrateful to air these concerns and point out these patterns in real life. So that is why I write. That is the only reason I write. Millions upon millions, past and present and future, will never have the opportunities I have had to be able to share this truth. They will just suffer from it. Some will implode. Many are in jail and poverty. My writing is always peaceful for me personally. I love it. But it’s very red in there. God placed a deeper chamber full of silenced voices as part of my anatomy.

6. If writing were a rabbit hole, how would you want a writer to find it?

I think it depends on the writer and their goals. If this is a secret passion or side love or hobby, you’ll fall when you should. If you are a writer who wants to produce objects of text as a lifelong and consistent career doing nothing else, you cannot wait to fall down into the rabbit hole. You have to know where it is, mark it like a headstone or a mailbox at the curb, and put flowers there or check it every single day without fail. You have to develop a sustained practice where sitting down at a computer or with a notebook or on a typewriter is a 6-8 hour a day concern the rest of everything in your life pivots around.

I would say in my twenties most of my work was created in the more romantic and better glorified “rabbit hole” sense, this aggressive and inconvenient urge to work on scenes and conversations until I had what I thought of as a real story or wannabe-book. Catching that sensation and dreaming of the next time I could indulge was like playing a game with the rabbit hole, knowing it was there but not knowing where it was. It gave me a lot of energy and lots to look forward to in life, not just in writing but general days and future.

I still love that and have that. I prefer it actually. However, when most people take on more obligations in life such as family or material things, it is very easy to block that rabbit hole out. If you fall down in there, then you will not be on top of the more complicated worlds we have tendency to build in maturity and societal responsibility. So I, and most people I suspect, want to step around rabbit holes and leap over them. This is creative suicide. It is why people do not finish writing books or just stop writing.

I finally managed to get to know myself as a person for whom writing is a 6-8 hour concern. I did not know her before, because I was either in school or working a day job or nursing novel publications, or just caught up on others’ drama due to working from home. Drastic changes in my life and detachments kind of forced me into 6-8 hours at my computer every day, without me realizing it had happened. I finally learned what kind of “full-time” writer I am, how my body works and responds during it—from appetite to sleep. Once I got to know her, I was not afraid of her and I like being her. She’s much more productive jumping right into the rabbit hole, rather than slipping in by accident.

7. If you were given a chance to collaborate with any member of your writing desk to write a novel, what would you choose?

I would choose my computer screen. I would just talk to it, tell it what I think about this new person and that new person and their dilemma that would be such a great story. I would tell my screen what is so great about this story, and how I thought of it and why it’s so good. I would describe it, go on and on and on like all similar wishes I’ve heard from people who think writing is talking about what could be written—myself included.

And, while the screen completed the task my imagination must pair with my body—butt in the chair, or on my feet with elbows on the table and wrists at the keyboard, my hands always moving, my neck and back sensing the need to stretch, my arms needing to stretch and forehead needing a massage—Kalisha is going to be at the spa in the Jacuzzi or at the happy hour bar special. Or, I will be talking on the phone and watching reality television.

And then when I came back, I could just take my mouse and scroll down the computer screen to see my story has been performed just like Kalisha would have done it alone—but over hundreds more hours potentially, including 20 more pounds for all the sitting. I would merge my imagination with a machine, and write more than any author in history.

8. How are your forthcoming projects going to challenge you as an author?

I am proud of my new projects because they are about the love and the work without question or interference. They are the products of that little girl inside of me who would go without sleep on school nights to tap out my version of novels on a little electric typewriter my parents bought me or that young college woman who would scratch these odd visions when I was supposed to be taking calculus notes. However, they benefit from the practice we can only have with more time in life.

I think this is why I moved from first person narration to more third person. I didn’t want to be so limited anymore because it was limiting to what I could say of worlds and people myself as a writer. I have gotten nothing but positive feedback about that decision in my new works and it has given me so much fuel to keep going forward.

Terspischore’s Atrium with Matthew Guerruckey

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting some amazing writers with some really tough questions.

Today, our Interviews editor Aaron Wiegert interviews Matthew Guerruckey, the founding editor of the online literary magazine Drunk Monkeys, and a brilliant fiction writer. His short fiction has previously appeared in The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, Connotation Press, Bartleby Snopes, Cease Cows, and The Weekenders Magazine. Matthew lives in North Hollywood with his wife, poet SC Stuckey, and their cats Harrison and Lennon. He is working on his first novel. We request you to read his works, available all over the internet, and then come back to enjoy the interview. We promise that you won’t regret it.

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1. As founder and Editor-in-Chief at Drunk Monkeys, how do your interactions with the magazine affect your writing?  

It’s a mixed bag. When I actually get time to sit down and read submissions, it’s always really stimulating to see what other writers are doing out there. Reading a great submission will inspire me to look at my work in a different way, and reading a terrible submission will, at the very least, give me an example of what doesn’t work. A lot of times I’ll get about three paragraphs into a work and want to give up, because the writer’s front-loaded the story with unnecessary detail or backstory, and that’s an instinct I’ve had to fight in my own work. By reading those stories, I get to think of my own work in the way that another editor would, someone who’s placed no emotional investment in the work, and just wants to know what the story is already. So now, I try to keep that unseen editor in mind when I’m writing.

But running the website involves so much of my time that it can also be an easy excuse for me not to write. This past year, a combination of the website being busier than ever, me having a few (thankfully, resolved) health issues, and the ensuing anxiety from everything happening at once led to my most severe case of writer’s block ever. In 2013, which was my first year as a full-time writer, I finished 20 short stories, wrote dozens of articles and reviews for the website, and managed to finish a rough draft of a novel during the NaNoWriMo. This year I’ve not been able to finish a single story–though I have been able to revise and find a home for several stories left hanging last year.

I’m finally facing this block as a block, and I’m coming out of it, but it’s definitely difficult. Last year I could sit for hours on end, but this month it’s a small victory to sit for ten minutes or hit a mark of 1,000 words for the day. But small victories are still victories.
2. What or who inspired you to work in fiction as your genre of choice?

I’ve always wanted to tell stories, the question was which medium I would tell them in. When I was ten years old I had a comic strip in our town newspaper (this was a town of about 500 people). And for most of my childhood, that was what I wanted to do. I think if you’d asked most of the people I went to high school [with] what I would end up doing, that would have been their guess: cartoonist or comic book artist. Then when Pulp Fiction came out all that I wanted to do was make movies.

I think if I was a more extroverted person I probably would have done something like that, but I’m not. Fiction allows me to call all the shots, so it appeals to my introversion and my OCD. I’m still definitely more inspired by film than I am by other literature, probably because all of the first “writing instruction” books I ever read were on screenplay structure. When I think about a scene I’m going to write, I think about how I would stage it, what emotion I want to get from my “actors”.

I think if I’d never read Kurt Vonnegut I’d still be scribbling notes for screenplays that I never finished. When I read Breakfast of Champions, I said, “Wait–you can do all of that?” Then I went through pretty much every novel he’d ever written in the space of a year. Later I had a similar reaction to Raymond Carver. Finding these works that I really resonated with helped me get a clearer picture of what I wanted to write about and how I wanted to write it, and helped me see the advantages of the medium. “Cathedral” doesn’t work on film. And “Breakfast of Champions” sure didn’t work on film–just ask Bruce Willis.
3.  The end of the story “Find Finnian” published by Dr. T.J. Eckleberg Review, is tense to put it mildly.  Where did the idea for this finale come from?

Well, the contest that I describe in the story is a real thing that used to happen at my previous office job. Every year at Christmas, there was a hunt to find a Where’s Waldo doll that was hidden somewhere around the building. It was one of those gross corporate “morale” exercises, probably. With those sort of things–dress up days, or whatever–I always felt like they were just trying to distract us from the fact that we hated what we were doing. So we get five minutes out of our day to chase down this toy, and then we go back to getting screamed at because a shipment was late. Thanks a lot.

What always fascinated me, and made me sad, actually, were the people who got really into the contest. And if you knew them well enough, you knew that they really just needed a distraction from all of the terrible, oppressive bullshit in their lives. Because in a job like that you’re surrounded at all times by people who are all just ready to snap. And then, if that did happen, if someone really did lose it, you’re only ever getting half of the story. Because it’s rare that anybody takes the time to get the full story on a public meltdown like that, because they, the company, and the person who flipped out, all want to just get back to normal (assuming that person actually keeps their job).

And that’s a sad thought, because it just shows how much we’re all denying our humanity in the name of just getting by. Okay, so someone has a meltdown–what are they saying? “I can’t fucking take it anymore. I’m a real person, and I have real feelings, and right now I can’t control them.” And the real reason we avoid those stories, or we vilify those people, is that we don’t want to admit how close we are to having our own meltdown, to becoming that person screaming in traffic or crying on the subway.

That’s why the narrator has to keep telling this story–it keeps Mary Ellen outside of himself, it gives him distance.

4. Both “Find Finnian” and “Bringing it all Back Home” have unlikable characters (either first or last) named Ellen.  Is there something about the name that is significant to you?  Was this a conscious decision?

I’d never realized that! That’s pretty funny. There’s no significance to the name that I’m consciously aware of. I can’t even think of any significant person I’ve ever known named Ellen (cut to some sad woman named Ellen who went to my high school reading this and wiping away a single tear). That in itself might be why I’ve used it–I like to avoid names that might cause me to picture someone I know, unless there’s something about that person I’m deliberately trying to channel into the character. There was something sort of lyrical about a four-syllable name that I liked for Finding Finnian, because it’s rooted in oral storytelling.

5. “Bringing it all Back Home” seems to be about escape in many aspects.  Do you think the protagonist changes his mind about leaving after discovering the contents of the box?

There’s no question in my mind that he stays. The story’s all about him waking up to his own responsibility. I don’t think it had ever occurred to him before that he had a responsibility to his stepfather. He’d only thought of him as this extra piece of his mother’s life, and had been ignoring his own history with him. But when Don begs to keep the merit ribbon, the narrator realizes that Don does feel a connection to him, that he is important to him. That sort of shames him into reevaluating what he thinks of Don. So I absolutely think that he stays for an extra day or two and, in the name of cleaning things up or helping out, learns a little more about Don. I don’t know what he would actually–or could actually feel at the end of that extra time, but I think it’s important for the character to have it.

At one point, I considered having Don explain why the ribbon was so important, but I think that would have softened the impact of the moment for the narrator. The idea that there is a reason that this object matters to Don, that there is so much emotion tied up in it, but he has no idea what it is, is haunting to him. It’s one of those moments where you realize just how selfish you’ve been, and get a glimpse of how others see you. It breaks down your walls, and nothing’s quite the same after. So yeah, I think he’ll need a few days to absorb that, and I think he’ll choose to do that with Don.

The genesis of that story came from a conversation with my own stepfather a few years before he passed. This wasn’t a man I had grown up with, in the way that the narrator has grown up with Don, but someone that my mother married later in life. I had only ever spoken to Rich when my mother was around, but one night on a holiday visit, on this really wretchedly cold night in their little house in Iowa, I shared a drink with him and watched football and just talked about life. I’m really grateful for that moment, just as I’m grateful to have been in the room with him when he passed. After Rich’s funeral, I changed the bit of scripture that the narrator quotes in the opening paragraph to a line that Rich requested be read at his memorial service. Even though the specifics of the story don’t line up with my experience with my own stepfather, I’m happy to have a bit of his memory with me whenever I read it.

6. What medium do you use for composing a short story?  Laptop, typewriter, pen and paper etc.?  

I usually type up my stories on a laptop, just so I can get the words out as fast as possible (even though I’m a pretty lousy typist), but I usually have to then print them out to do edits. It’s hard for me to really judge things line by line on a computer screen, and it’s easier to scan on paper. So I’ll do a full edit there, with all sorts of indecipherable scribbles, and I’m always amazed at how often I have to shift whole paragraphs around, but I think that’s something I can only see because I’m working with the pen–it opens up an entirely different way of looking at the story. After that, I make those edits, and I try to print it out one more time and read it aloud to catch any lingering mistakes.

7. What is your most ambitious goal as a writer?

I’m trying to scale back my ambitions to a more reasonable place. When I first started writing, I dreamed about bestsellers and movie adaptations and money, but the business of actually writing has made me look at things in a different way. Now it’s more a matter of appreciating the story I’m telling, and trying to surprise myself each step of the way. There’s a steep learning curve to a career in writing, and if you get too far ahead of yourself, you can end up lost. Right now, my ambition is to write each day, to embrace my fear instead of running from it, to build on real expression instead of hiding behind cleverness. If I can manage all of that, then the rest may all fall in place, but for now, I’m finding joy in the work.

8.  Who is the most overrated American (literary) author of all time?  Why?

I mean, all of them, at some level. Once you build a legend up that high, you bring a lot of expectation into reading their work for the first time. I gave Hemingway more than a few chances, because he’s so beloved, I thought I must be missing something. I don’t begrudge anyone who thinks his work is amazing, it’s just not for me.

That’s what makes me so excited about finding a classic work that really knocks me off my feet.I’d never read The Great Gatsby until this year, but it might be the greatest novel I’ve ever read. Everything you ever needed to know about America is in that book.

Not too many other people come to mind. I thought Portnoy’s Complaint was pretty lousy. It tried reading it, in my head, in the voice of the narrator from A Christmas Story.That kept me entertained for a few chapters, but that was it.

Terpischore’s Atrium with Aaron Wiegert

his time, we decided to have some fun, and asked our Interviews Editor, Nathan Rupp, to interview partner in crime Aaron Wiegert. He explains how to be an evil queen, and how to effectively hide your favorite book inside your beard.

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1. So, Drunk Monkeys is quite a prominent publishing platform, but the name is a bit strange. Could you tell me about the name “Drunk Monkey” and how you got involved with it?

“Drunk Monkeys”, I believe, is a reference to monks who worked as scribes in the middle ages.  They drank beer to sustain themselves and transcribed passages from the Bible.  Being a tedious and monotonous task, the monks became bored and often scribbled or doodled in the margins of their manuscripts.  This kind of irreverence is the backbone of the D.M. manifesto.

A friend from the Twin Cities told me about Drunk Monkeys in 2012 because he thought my work would be a good fit.  And I guess it was.  D.M. continued to published my stuff and then they made me a staff writer soon after.  Some time later I was included in reading poetry submissions and publication decisions and that’s how I became poetry editor.

2. When you are going through the poems that you publish in the Drunk Monkeys, what draws to or pushes you away from a piece? In short, what makes a good poem for you?

That’s a really tough question. I like poems that are at simultaneously eerie and familiar, poems with a rhythm that you can climb onto and ride like a bronco, poems that reaffirm poetry as a worthwhile discipline that’s alive and well.  What pushes me away are poems that are one-dimensional, poems that offer little or no insight or perspective about what it is to be a human being, self-indulgent poems.

3. Has being an editor of poetry affected your writing or your attitude towards others publishers?

Yeah, I mean you start to look at a publishing venue as being made up of actual people.  Normal people just like me.  People who go to work and buy groceries.  So you see a publication as more of an active entity, more like an ant colony than a pillared institution that mysteriously cranks out literature for the public to read.

4. I recently read your chapbook Evil Queen and it is a wonderful collection. Can you tell me about how you balanced having each poem stand alone as well as fitting into a complete story?

Thank you for your kind words.  Evil Queen was kind of an experiment.  I was re-reading A Girl Named Zippy and the book mentions children playing a game called Evil Queen.  I was curious and wanted to know more about this game.  Then I became curious as to why I was curious about a game made up by children decades ago.  It seemed that there was a universal archetype underlying this fascination.  Some kind of mythology that was worthy of exploring.  So I started out with a few pieces telling a story that could be a history, a fable or even a religion.  Then I found poems I had written previously could be culled or altered to flesh out the tale.  The hardest part was making sure everything was congruent and that it had a narrative consistency.

5. Evil Queen for all purposes feels like a fairy tale. How have fairy tells affected your work, if at all?

At that time I was especially interested in how fairy tales leave out the most important parts of how to live.  Someone might live happily ever after but the tale fails to tell you how you go about achieving this happiness, or even what happiness means.  So it seemed like most fairy tales held these sacred notions of what we should expect from life that were essentially empty.  My goal was to create a somewhat subversive response to the notion of how things “ought to be”.

6. Your poem published with Hermeneutic Chaos “Cavestorm” and in “The Horsemen Ride to a 4/4 Time” there is, pardon the play with words, but a storm of literary and philosophic references. What was the purpose of so many references? And who are your greatest influences?

The storm of references is likely due to my lack of ability to explain difficult concepts, so the easiest thing to do was point to something similar.  Like when a coffee label tells you what to expect in taste they’ll say: notes of bourbon, cherry, and hibiscus but no one actually tastes those things, it’s just that they’re the closest things we can use for comparison.  Also, literary references are sort of a reward.  It’s like an inside joke that only others who’ve read something will understand, but ironically it probably just makes people think: wow, this is really pretentious!

My greatest influences to start writing were Hunter S. Thompson, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Alan Ginsberg, and Bob Dylan.

7. You publish often, edit and have done readings, what is next on your plate? 

I don’t like to talk about what I’m working on because it puts me under a tremendous amount of pressure.  Writing, as you know, is hard enough as it is and then if I say: yeah, I’m working on XYZ then I have this awareness that I’m expected to produce what it is that I’m talking about.  And if I’m talking about what I’m writing then it seems pointless to go on writing about it.

8.  If you were to hide a literature inside your beard, which one would it be?

I love this question.  I imagine tattoos of literary passages on my chin and neck that are only visible if I shave.  I would harbor passages from David Foster Wallace because he can write some stuff, especially in Infinite Jest and Brief Interviews with Hideous Men that have made me laugh so hard I had to set the book down and stop reading, for full minutes, because it produced a genuine hysteria.

Terpischore’s Atrium with Heather Fowler

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, our Interviews Editor Aaron Wiegert interviews the amazing Heather Fowler, our Pushcart Prize 2016 nominee, who contributed three ingenious and aesthetically engaging sonnets to Issue 3. She is the poetry editor at Corium magazine, and is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (2009), People with Holes (2012), which was named a 2012 finalist for Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, This Time, While We’re Awake (2013), and Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness (2014).  Her fictive work has been made into fine art in several instances and her collaborative poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging, written with Meg Tuite and Michelle Reale, is the winner of the 2013 Twin Antler’s Prize for Collaborative Poetry and is due for release this month.

We request you to spend some time with her sonnets here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

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1.  “Sonnet of Where One Always Walks Alone” has a strong sense of place. Where do you imagine this poem to be set if it actually existed?

This may be a strange response to your question, but I imagine this piece takes place as an elaborate metaphor for loneliness via the “house of solitude” rhetoric (line 7)—or as a fairy tale of sorts.  In line four, when I say, “This has gone on for centuries, for years,” alluding to the woman who sleeps alone existing in a stasis, waiting, leaving the door open, and yet having no visitors arrive, I think it’s because I wanted this place to depict an almost a magical site of isolation.

The poplar trees referenced in line one are commonly placed to line long driveways because they grow quickly and resemble hedges.  I remember they made quite an impression on me on one of my Europe trips. They can feel rather intimidating, tall and sharp.Their purpose here was to set the house away from the main traffic of life on the thoroughfare, where people pass the house but do not arrive there.

If “house” is used rather than “castle,” in this case, it was a conscious poetic effort to modernize the scene, but the situation did feel timelessly tainted as I wrote this poem, underscored by the magical possibilities of the house itself vanishing, and this desired magical undercurrent is highlighted in lines 11-12, where the poems says that if the woman goes to town to find a new lover, “This dwelling will disappear, with all its markings / And quietly make ready to seal its next wound.”  If the dwelling can disappear and vanish from a comfortable perspective of permanence that quickly, this idea embodied for me the illusory sort of safety one feels while cocooned in solitude or sorrow.  The sealing of the wound is the kind removal, the lack of further excitement for those sealed in, the lack of outside interference, the self completely at its own leisure and at its own peril.

I liked the idea of using an olive stone as the metaphor for the woman’s soul—to give a nod to the Spanish imagery I am at play with, due to the book’s Lorca/Spain connections, and also to suggest her soul is what is hard scrabble, what is bared, what is left over after the fruit of life has been consumed.

I supposed the real location of this poem is the site of one woman’s longing and indecision—the actual dilemma of choosing whether to rest in depression and/or exile or join the world of the living and love and risk again.

2.  “Sonnet of Inestimable Wealth” conveys a feeling of ritual. Do you have any rituals as a writer?

I have involuntary rituals—such as writing my way through or out of painful situations and then often being terrified that I will need to re-traumatize myself again and again by publishing the very work for which I bled.  If I have a lost muse, for example, it’s not possible to simply decide to rationally avoid using that muse.  My mind rebels.  My heart pushes through to the marrow of the terror—evokes and evokes and evokes, until it is done with a situation.  The mind has little to no control when this may be.

The good news is that this way of processing means that when the sorrow is done, it is completely over. Used up. Kaput.  The bad news is that I know, when someone inflicts a painful reality upon me or betrays my love, know right away, that I will be living that sorrow for years, in the ink.

And I hate them very intensely in that moment, wish I could walk backwards to the time before the travesty, because I do not want that road looming forth for my work, already visible to me, and I am completely aware how much I will suffer, that I will have “shivered nude in miasmas of tears,” before I can let the hard and terrible things go.

3. The most cinematic of these three poems (to me) is “Sonnet of Rivers and Leaves” with its abundance of Autumn imagery. What does Autumn mean to you?

Autumn is death.  Decay.  Age.  The cycle of life that allows for the beauty of spring.  It’s a time when organisms shed the parts of them they do not need for the new year to come.  I love the imagery of trees reflected in water, nature’s mirrors, and orphaned rotting fruit.  I love the idea of nostalgia and belonging to a place or person, even beyond the point of beauty—right into ruin or splendor.

For me, I love the people most whom I have watched in all their glorious imperfections—the ones with love’s true equity.  This poem is about love with formative and incredibly durable equity.

We return to the ones we know best.  The narrator of this poem is all about remaining with her “you.”

4. How important is the “turn” to your sonnets?

The “turn” or volta is important to my sonnets, moreso when I write Shakespearean sonnets—but these pieces in Alexandrines for Lorca were written with a state of whimsy, open permissions for myself as a poet to follow the emotional curve rather than a set structure—with more focus on what the images brought about in the poem and what the poem as a whole accomplishes than in getting particular about shifting gears at a certain particular line.

5. When using an epigraph from a great writer, are you ever worried that it will overshadow your work?

Absolutely not in this case.  Lorca’s quotes were places from which my poems began, points of departure.  I am a woman, an American, a person from a whole different socio-economic background.  My voice is my own. Yes, I wanted this book to function as an homage to some of his vivid style and themes, but I very much infused my reactions and sensibilities in this work—while being at play with the areas of our intersections and divergences.  That said, I don’t hide that this is a dialogue I create or expand via the reference to his aesthetic. In the book, there is a poem called  “Woodcutter’s Reply, Letters to the Barren Orange Tree” and that poem is clearly written in concert with one of his most famous poems, but what I would hope, in the instances where I am at play with his work, is that those who teach poetry would choose to use this intergenerational dialogue between poets to show students different points of departure and also to demonstrate the tradition of the poetic homage in continuation into modernity.  Poets love to reference other poets, subtly or otherwise.

6.  For someone unfamiliar with Lorca what would you suggest (s)he read to become better acquainted?

Well, I would have her/him read In Search of Duende, the second edition, published by New Directions Press.  I would also suggest The Selected Poems of Federico Garcia Lorca. If the reader can read in Spanish, however, I would suggest they use Poesia complete as an introductory text.  I’m reading a really elegant translation by Peter Bush of his Sketches of Spain right now, which is a series of meditations or essays on various elements of art, history, and the essence of Spain—but I’d send new readers to his poetry.  Let them have the jolt of his vivid parsed words first.

7. Do you use any other forms of verse (e.g. sestina, haiku)?

I use all kinds of forms.  I often host poetry marathons where I do a different form each day for a month long period, using everything from archaic French forms to brand new forms based on art or science.  I’ve probably written in close to one hundred and fifty different forms.  Right now I’m writing an opera in verse, based on a story called “Blood, Hunger, Child” from my latest collection of short stories entitled Elegantly Naked in My Sexy Mental Illness,  so will be using multiple forms to pull this off like the rondeau redouble, the triolet, the villanelle, etcetera.  But I love discovering new challenges.

With poetry or prose, I am not afraid to fail.  Failure and effort are parts of the process.

8. Who is your favorite sonneteer and why?

Edna St. Vincent Millay.  Because her formal expertise and concision are so elegant.  Because she was known for her feminist activism and wild-woman passionate writing.  Because she wrote librettos and prose and poetry—while living a life that was engineered to provide herself as much pleasure as possible.  She’s a model for me, a s/hero, a minor saint.  I simply adore her work and the power and resilience she brought to her lines.

She was way ahead of her time with many of her best ideas, and she made money with poetry.  You have to hand it to her there.

This is a feat even difficult for poets writing today.

Terpischore’s Atrium with Kat Dixon

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting their contributing authors with some really tough questions.

Today, Nathan Rupp interviews Kat Dixon, our Best of the Net nominee 2014, who contributed some beautiful poems to our inaugural issue. We urge you to enjoy their brilliance here, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

“The interplay between a writer and the writer’s work is one that many theorists say should not be considered. That being said, I hold with none of that. How can we decode the inner depths of a poem or story if we do not consider the artists life? This could not be more true than in the case of the interview that follows with Kat Dixon. The labyrinths of layered meaning and subtle plays with words, that makes up her work, often require the reader to reevaluate both the poem and the medium in a new light; and nobody could be a better guide for that labyrinth and that revaluation other that the Daedalus of this work Kat Dixon herself.” – Nathan Rupp.

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1.Your “Five Poems” in HC are all very visual – there are boxes around which your words are held, the spacing is sporadic – how do your words find meaning?

I always write poems with the assumption that what’s not written is of at least equal importance with what’s written. In the HC poems, for example, I wanted to pay particular attention to the empty spaces I was leaving in each of the poems, and I thought what better way to demand readers take notice of that emptiness than to draw lines around it? I love poetry best for this: how words can find meaning in their interactions with each other (whether that’s linear or other) and also with the page.

2. From a look at your bibliography and a bit of background reading, it seems you have a habit for creating work that asks the readers to hold your hand as you lead them though a maze both of form and of concept. What propels your artistic choice? 

I do require a lot of trust from a reader. I know when I work in poetry that I am always and forever at risk of writing the same poem (I think this applies across genres as well), so I take great care to create variation through style and form. But essentially I come into every poem with the same interest in language and languages. I hope that if I can inspire enough trust in a reader, we can sort of construct every poem together in this ongoing dialogue and, in that way, both mimic and interrogate language and its systems, structures.

3.What advise would you give someone who is reading your work for the first time?

I have enough respect for a poem never to ask it to reveal all of its secrets, especially among strangers. The same goes for characters in fiction or for myself in nonfiction. If there are some first-time readers out there somewhere, I’d ask them to be patient; it may take me this whole life to write out all the things you may want to know in this immediate moment.

4.Since you have successfully published in different genera, do you find it easier to convey certain ideas via a particular genera and if so which ideas lend themselves to poetry or prose for you?

Not really – or maybe not yet. I’ve tried out different genres out of curiosity, and I tend to pick up and put down genres to avoid staleness. I’ve never wanted to limit myself to one thing. I do tend to think poetry can hold just about any idea. I have found it very difficult to write about myself or my actual life in poetry though, so maybe there’s an exception to this.

5. How, if at all, has living as an expat influenced your writing style or impacted your work?

Geographical change always seems to affect my writing – and me – tonally. Living within another language has actually helped me to fall back into poetry; I’d been on a long hiatus until moving here. I haven’t seen any significant change in style beyond what’s usual for me, but any new experience has potential to invoke change.

6. Kat, your forwardness and outspokenness in the case of Gregory Sherl  is beyond words commendable. What did it take for you to be so honest in a public sphere?

Oh, a great number of things, I imagine. Exhaustion. This feeling I’ve always had that I’ve never had much to lose. More than anything it was out of a need to reconnect that self who had those experience to myself. It’s funny, you know? I never realized how much I rely on other people to make my life real. I was so isolated during that time. There was only ever Gregory and me, and his perception of even the smallest events was so twisted, so far away from my experiences. I began to believe his versions – he was so sure he was right – and that put me at increasing odds with myself. I had – I still have – constant doubts as to what was real and what wasn’t, and that grew and spilled over into every part of my life, even outside of the life that was really just Greg’s. Talking about it and writing about it has helped me to reattach myself to my own realities.

7.What was the last poem that you that really made you see the world anew?

Allison Benis White’s Tiny Porcelain Head. That’s a book of poems, but it’s also one poem.

8.With several chapbooks, numerous journal publication, two collections and one novel – what’s next?

 Everything. I’ve got a stack of in-progress projects too high to mention without some embarrassment. I’m gearing up for a new poetry collection, have a novel in works, a memoir. I want to write everything always – for better or worse. Something will come out first, and it will be a surprise to me as much as it is to anyone.

Terpischore’s Atrium with Jeremiah Walton

Welcome to Terspischore’s Atrium, where the Hermeneutic Chaos editors find delight in the elfin task of  confronting writers and editors with some really tough questions.

Today, Shinjini Bhattacharjee, our Editor-in-Chief, interviews the amazingly talented Jermiah Walton, who, at the age of 19 has already carved a niche for himself in the literary field. He is the Founding Editor of Nostrovia! Poetry, and has been successfully managing several literary projects such as UndergroundBooks, W.I.S.H, The Travelling Poet, and the popular Books  and Shovels Project. We urge you to visit his website to admire his literary genius, and then come back to enjoy the interview.

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1. A common remark that most of us as young poets receive is that we should laud ourselves for contributing meaningful poems to the literary field at such a young age, and this is often accompanied with a mixture of mild surprise and wonder. Does this bother you in any way?

Ageism is obnoxious, but it doesn’t bother me much.  People peopling.  We can disprove them.

 2. Why did you choose poetry as the medium to express yourself?

I honestly can’t answer that.  It happened.  I’m trying to stray away from written word and transition into video poems and adding multimedia to performances.  Language alone is too limiting.

 3.The most striking aspect about your poems is their exploration of the jagged, raw, and scarred realms of language and human experience, as opposed to the prim manicured composition many of the poets strive for. Poems such as ‘Campfire Psalms of the Lost and Angry ’,‘ Fearful 3 and ‘Where I found God’ are beautiful and unique precisely because of their haunting imagery, forceful language and a certain restless urgency that makes one sit up and take notice. How do your poems come into being?

Most of them are composed of vomit.  They’ve been happening in car rides lately while running Books & Shovels.  Wandering around results in poems.  Conversation.  It’s like twitching my knee.  I record odd ball sayings, weird Facebook statuses, Tweets, noises of cities, campfires, whatever is in front of me, whatever is in my head.

 4. You have been successfully managing numerous online and print ventures to publish and promote poetry, such as Nostrovia! Poetry, W.I.S.H., The Travelling Poet, UndergroundBooks, and the recent Books and Shovels project. How do you think can the literary magazines work actively to give voice to the writers unheard and the unknown?

Ignoring any form of literary prestige.  Working with poets to promote poets, providing a call to action for those involved to be active with spreading the word and pushing poetry.  With Books & Shovels, we’re stepping into other medians of passion and wonder, as while I have a deep respect for poetry, it’s not the most important aspect of this.

Poetry is not a product.  It’s in your experience.

Passion is not a product.  It enhances experience.

I try to network and promote the hell out of the press, cooperate with the poets directly, try and figure out ways we can work together to promote literature as a whole.  Co-operating with other publishers and members of the artistic community pushes forward everyone.

 5. One of your poetic beliefs that I really admire states that “The internet is a scream, and we are a whisper. We must work together to be loud.” How do you envisage this collaboration between a subjective psyche and an impersonal communicating agent to achieve a poetic fulfillment?

The impersonal agent, forms of sending out a mass message, is simply to incite awareness.  The power lies in intimate social interaction.  We can’t work together solely online, but it’s a start.  We need to organize against the overarching structures of power that promote inequality, monetary drive, and inhibitions of freedom, both physically and of thought.  Promoting passion and art will only drag us so far.  These are medians to push awareness and creativity and wonderment, love of life, assisting others who are not in positions for such notions to find a sense of childhood.

Operating in shadows of childhood dangling from a noose composed of dreams, we need to organize against hindrances towards human potential.

How?  I don’t know yet.  I’m knotting and untieing restlessness and apathy in my belly too.  Why try to cause change in the Human Zoo when there’s a self to wander after?  I went off on a typed tangent that I don’t want to ignore, but to answer your question directly, Facebook, Twitter, all of these things can be made personal, but only to the extent of what the individual wants to project.  The face to face interactions, in the streets, performing, at shows, festivals, these are the places to promote art, to promote change, to become a scream.

 6. Where do you start writing? Where do you stop?

I stepped away from editing poems for a while, and would take what I learned from each piece,   and apply it to the next.  I’m starting to resume doing so.  I write poems in my head on walks to be forgotten.  The end is abrupt to me.

photo by kari ann spencer (1)

 7. Is Jeremiah Walton, the person, different from Jeremiah Walton, the author?

I project as much of myself as I want to through social media and what is available to read online.  I’m just me.  I’m not going to cultivate some alter-ego to set up expectations from others that fall to shit.  I’d rather connect with others who I can hang out with and enjoy the company of than connect with others through a false personality that I have to adapt to for every little social circumstance.  But hell, that’s not easy, and I’m sure I slip through the cracks of each persona from time to time.  I’m me.  People peopling.

I’m happy you asked this question.

 7. Describe your day with poetry on 5th September 2045 as an acrostic poem.

“There’s a painting somewhere

in my skull, graffiti

reading something meaningful.

End the day

dancing, fuck art.

Here

opium seeds

pretend

eternity is here to stay.”