Of Memories and Memoirs : An Interview With Karie Fugett

It is quite easy to admire the intensity of Karie Fugett’s work because of the ingenious language and imagery that she incorporates in it. She is a Creative Writing and Sociology major at the University of South Alabama, and is currently the Nonfiction Editor of USA’s Oracle Fine Arts Review 2016. She was Editor-in-Chief of Oracle 2015, and was Poetry Editor of Oracle 2014. She is also an Associate Editor at Mobile’s Negative Capability Press where she is currently working on an international book of poetry.

Karie is currently working on a memoir which documents her life as a caregiver then widow of her war-wounded husband. Her short-stories and poetry are often also inspired by this experience. Other interests that are reflected in her writing are women’s issues, travel, and American southern culture.

 

1. Looking through your work, it seems as if you write in all kinds of styles—fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. How and when do you know what form a particular piece is going to take?

As for prose, my fiction and nonfiction often overlap. When I began writing – around ten years ago – I only wrote nonfiction. Probably because of those nonfiction roots, my instinct is still to begin most pieces of writing with a scene, quote, or idea from my life or the people in my life, and build from there, regardless of what it ends up being. I typically don’t know if a piece will end up nonfiction or fiction until a few paragraphs in. Of course, this isn’t always the case. I’ve written a number of pieces knowing exactly what they would be from the beginning. The book I’m working on, for example, was always meant to be memoir.

On the other hand, I almost always know immediately if an idea is meant to be a poem. My poetry usually begins with a feeling, a pit in my stomach, a need to put that feeling into words as quickly as possible. I don’t fancy myself a poet at all – I think I’m better at writing prose – but poems are quick. They get to the center of things, eliminating the excess. And sometimes that is just really damn satisfying.

 

2. According to your website, you are currently working on a memoir. What have you learned, about yourself, about writing, about your memories, from writing it?

It’s interesting looking at myself as a character, my life as scene and plot and metaphor. Writing the memoir has helped me to distance myself from the traumatic experiences of my past. It allows me to analyze my life as an outsider, break apart the various things that happened and piece them together to make something beautiful out of something awful. This process has helped me to be more forgiving of both myself and the people in my life. I could go on and on about what I’ve learned and still am learning about myself through this process – I’ve learned so much — but that would be boring. In the end, I’ve learned I’m really hard on myself and desperately need to practice kindness. I’ve gotten much better at that since writing. In fact, I often find myself recalling a memory from my early twenties and feeling amazed at what I was doing at such a young age. I was kid. And kind of a badass – even if some of my decisions were questionable. Memoir has helped me to love myself a little more.

What I’ve learned about writing memoir is that memory is not reliable. I have a lot of anxiety about telling this story wrong, which is why I’ve taken so long to write it (it’s been four years and I’m still well behind where I should be). A few years back, I expressed this concern to Jesmyn Ward in a nonfiction class I took, and she reminded me that memoir is based on the memory of the writer and that my version of this story is just as true and relevant as the next person’s. When I begin panicking, I repeat that to myself, remember to the best of my ability, and push through.

 

3. Do current events often fuel your writing? If so, how do you keep informed about what is happening in the world?

Not really. I mean, I’m sure current events influence what I write to some extent, but I tend to be more motivated by the day to day interactions I have with the people and things around me. If I’m being honest, the news gives me anxiety and I hardly ever watch T.V. If something crazy happens in the world, I’m often one of the last people to know.

 

4. Who was your first favorite writer? Does this person still influence you today?

C.S. Lewis. My dad used to read The Chronicles of Narnia to me before bed every night when I was a child. As I got older, I began reading them on my own. Because I tend to write nonfiction, I’m not sure he influences my writing style. However, he influenced me to read, then to write. Maybe I wouldn’t be writing at all if I hadn’t fallen in love with his books. So, in that sense, yes.

 

5. How do you make sure you never get stuck in a writing rut?

I’m constantly battling ruts. I’m not sure I’ll ever figure this one out. If someone does, you have my permission to give them my email. I want all their secrets.

 

6. How do you reach out to other writers? Do you belong to a writing community? How do they help your writing?

I’m in an undergrad creative writing program and have met a number of talented local writers through it. Though we don’t have an official group, we’re pretty close and always willing to read, edit, and workshop each other’s work. I’ve also attended a couple of writing workshops in other states – Writing by Writers in Tomalas Bay and the Tucson Festival of Books Writer’s Workshop. Through those, I’ve been able to connect with writers of different backgrounds. Networking with other writers has been indispensable. I get new points of view, encouragement, and honest feedback on my work.

 

7. If you could recommend a piece of writing published online to our readers, which piece would you choose and why?

I recently read a piece by Karrie Higgins on Manifest Station called “Strange Flowers” and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head since. It has to be one of the best pieces of creative nonfiction I’ve ever read. It’s brutally honest and a great example of how various forms of media can be pulled together to create a story. There are too many reasons why someone should read it and no reasons why someone shouldn’t.

 

 

 

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“This is my body. These are my falling bones” – An Interview With Nicole Rollender

Nicole Rollender’s poetry has always fascinated us. There is something sublime about the raw smell of secret emotions that it unearths from our souls with its bare hands. A synthesis of poignant linguistic parables and imagery that deftly meanders through various aesthetic spaces, her poems are bold, universal and unforgettable. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly ReviewBest New PoetsThe Journal, Memorious, THRUSH Poetry JournalWest Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, was published by ELJ Editions in December 2015. She’s the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications, 2007), Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio, 2015), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She has received poetry prizes from CALYX JournalRuminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. ​​She is editor of Wearables magazine and executive director of professional development for the Advertising Specialty Institute; she holds a bachelor’s degree in literature from Stockton University and an MFA in creative writing from Pennsylvania State University, where she taught rhetoric and composition and creative writing courses for several years.

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Interview by Shinjini Bhattacharjee

1. Louder Than Everything You Love often undertakes an expedition back to the past. How would you describe your poetic journey from the point of its origin?

Oh, the first word I thought of when I read this question was home. Poetry is home to me; it’s the fire I sit beside; it’s the mother in whose lap I lay my head. But I always knew it could consume me. In one of my favorite books, The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath wrote, “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet…” And so I have these two branches, my quotidian life, my husband, my children, my cat, our new house that we’re turning into our home, but also the poem: the realm where I create, where I compose, where I make artifacts of my life on earth. My children and my poems will both bear me forth even when I’m no longer in my physical body. All these things are home, what I’m always longing toward and back toward.

 

 

2. One of the poems in Louder Than Everything You Love, ‘Pilgrimage’, ends with a hauntingly beautiful line- “This is my body. These are my falling bones.” I feel that these two lines stunningly capture the soul of the entire book. There is a deep, meditative quality about the poems that desire to pull the primal, ancient, sacred world inside their very beings. Did you ever feel intimidated experiencing such spiritual moments?

I grew up with a maternal grandmother, daughter of Polish immigrants, who was very religious (Roman Catholic), but also superstitious (she believed in hexes, threw salt over her shoulder). She also saw the dead, a skill/blessing/curse that I’ve inherited. I firmly believe in an afterlife that co-exists very close to our physical reality because of my experiences. So the idea of mortality isn’t foreign to me; I probably think about it more than I should. That’s where the meditative quality comes from, I think. Also, the idea of lineage, that we come from somewhere, and then we push that line forward in whatever way by simply living our lives and leaving a mark here. I don’t know if I feel intimidated, since this kind of thing is normal for me, but I will say that since I was a kid I felt different from other people; I’ve been called dark, intense, depressive, brooding, deep, whatever the negative connotation of the words are, and sometimes I’ve wished I was less like I am. Now in my late 30s, I am grateful for the life experiences I’ve had because they are my own. I do have lots of regrets, but I’ve done things and lived, and I mine the things that hurt to make them shine in my poems.

 

 

3.The title of the book, like the titles of many of your poems and other poetry collections, is steeped in a ritual that penetrates the body of a female and femininity. How do you finalize the titles of your work?

I was afraid you would ask me this question. I’m semi-laughing, but the reality is writing titles are one of my least favorite or least formulaic parts about writing poems. But thank you for calling it ritualistic, which I think it is – there’s a moment in the writing of every poem, and then collection, where the title strikes you. The title is the entryway into the poem or the book: You need to mesmerize/intrigue readers right away. That’s why I agonize (maybe even overthink) when it comes to titles. With Louder Than Everything You Love, it came from an unlikely source: A friend read one of my poems “Psalm to Read While My Daughter Considers Her Ribs” (Rogue Agent, April 2015) online, and she said that the last clauses, “these doves rising out of your throat/ are silent: yet they’re louder than everything you love” really hit her hard. She sent me a message like, “That’s your book title, Louder Than Everything You Love.” When I re-read my manuscript, I realize she was right. And so, my book title arrived to me as such an unexpected gift.

 

 

4.You have published two chapbooks, Bone of My Bone (Blood Pudding Press) and Absence of Stars (dancing girl press), before Louder Than Everything You Love. Another chapbook, Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press), is forthcoming in 2016. Did you imagine your poems as specific collections while writing them, or did the individual poems beckoned you to bring them together as a cohesive whole?

I really have never done project books or written poems with the intent of hanging them together. Putting them into manuscripts has happened along the way. I had written a longer chapbook manuscript called Necessary Work that was declined by a few presses; with that in mind, I reduced it to just 13 poems and overhauled each poem I chose to include: The theme or story that emerged were my daughter’s earliest years, and my learning what it meant to be a mother, to carry another’s body, then to grow it into adulthood. With Bone of My Bone, I had written a series of poems based on the liturgical book of hours, a searching for a God who could be both terrifying (a wolf or a tiger), but also a baby who needs us to rock him. That series became the chapbook’s backbone, and then into that I weaved poems about my son being born nine weeks premature, and this resulting complete helplessness, and my crying out to God. I wrote Ghost Tongue right after a car accident (from which I sustained a concussion and other injuries): These poems I wrote specifically around the theme of I’m here. I’m here. Can you hear me? It’s a book about defying death, about defying disappearance. And finally with Louder, I had about 100 pages of poems in a file around themes of living in a female body, living in a body that has borne children but also sees the dead, seeking the Divine (what really is the afterlife?), seeking the past (ancient words/wisdom, what did my grandmother leave for me?). My generous publisher at ELJ Editions, Ariana D. Den Bleyker, helped me to order the poems I selected into sections that follow the speaker’s transformation; these sections are separated by a series of prose psalms that I wrote for my daughter.

 

 

5.Your poetic language is fueled by an intense, vivid imagery and your word choices are often personal and evocative. Are there any poets whose works inspire your writing? How you converse with them while writing your own work?

My favorite, go-to, spiritual mentor poets are: Rilke, Anne Carson, Neruda, Louise Glück, Plath, Lucille Clifton, Ocean Vuong, Li-Young Lee. And there are others of course, but these are my constant companions. I read their work often, dog-earing my copies of their work. I’m drawn to them because their work exists in a realm that’s not quite this world and not quite the next all the time; their poems float in a unique space. I read their work so often because I love it, but also to drink in what it means to be a poet who explores the dark, the sublime, the afterlife, the before life, and the whole cavernous world within us.

 

 

6.How do you want your readers to interact with your work?
I don’t want to tell anyone how to respond to my work, because that’s such a personal thing. But I write my poems from a place of deep emotion and intensity – I think that kind of thing could turn some readers off, because my work is personal, sometimes confessional, sometimes rooted in the traumatic (I try to find what’s sweetest among all the rotting). So I want readers to enter the poem and feel a connection to its tiny world and leave transformed in some way. I’d like them to carry the poem (or some words) with them for a time, and live with them a little. I want my readers to feel less alone.

 

 

7. The world isn’t as introspective as it used to be. There is too much noise and chaos that overwhelms us. How do you enable your aesthetic energies to return to silence and focus? Are you transformed in the writing of a poem? 

I recently had the privilege of taking an online one-week intensive poetry course with Ocean Vuong about memory, about the ways that we mine our own memories for the content in our poems. He shared with us his great piece on memory called “I Remember Anyway,” which essentially started with his single memory of a table. And the beauty that sprung forth from that, I’m blown away. He writes, in just one section:

“I remember the table, which is to say I am putting it together. Because someone opened their mouth and built a structure with words and now I am doing the same each time I look at my hands and think table, think beginnings. I remember running my fingers through the edges, studying the bolts and washers I’ve created in my mind. I remember crawling underneath, checking for chewed gum, the names of lovers, bits of dried blood. I remember this beast with four legs hammered out of a language not yet my own.”

It’s this idea of building the poem quietly inside yourself like a table or a house, but with memory and words. It’s studying your memories, touching them, listening closely, observing, learning. It’s us but it’s also something just out of our reach. We are our own teachers and our own students. It’s that duality that I remind myself of, when I sit down at my desk to write. I turn inward and consider what’s there.

 

 

8.What do you hold the most sacred in your life?

In my past, I’ve suffered from some very deep depressions and some self-harm situations. I wake up mornings grateful to be alive, grateful to have a family who accepts me, a God who resides within, and the unbelievable, humbling gift of being able to create art. To have a second chance to really live is what I hold most sacred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Making the Poetry Engine Tick: An Interview with Cynthia Atkins

When we asked Cynthia Atkins these questions about her writing life, she treated her responses like poems themselves. We are so happy to start off the new year by sharing her thoughtful, thorough, and enthusiastic answers with you. Find out more about Cynthia and her writing on her website, and read her Pushcart Prize nominated poem here in the September 2015 volume of Hermeneutic Chaos.

 

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1.In “Mirror, Mirror,” you start the poem with an epigraph by Anne Sexton. What does her writing mean to you? How does this quote affect the reading of your poem?

 “I am a collection of dismantled almosts”. That line is one of those show-stopping lines that makes you stand at attention. We begin any medium with infinite possibilities, but as soon as we start to make choices, we begin limiting those possibilities.   Life and Art are reflected by the choices and decisions we make—Voila, then throw the fates into the mix.   As I look at fragments of my own life, I can see all the flaws, mistakes, missteps and false starts that lead to the wide-range of my multifarious experiences.   In some ways, these ‘almosts’ can become the impediments, the reminder that there are no guarantees, Art involves taking risks. “Mirror, Mirror” is a poem about false starts, confession of a very tough incident in my life. But any experience is made up fragments, and layered with uncertainties— it is that energy of both potential, and failure that seemed the crux—all embroiled in the great conflict of living.

I am grateful to Sexton for borrowing me that brilliant line, as it really seemed a perfect tuning fork for the poem, and her work has always haunted me in all the good ways.

 

2.I’ve noticed that your poems often have a wide perspective covering a large cast of characters, rather than a narrow focus on the speaker. Is this important to you?

 Interesting that you ask and notice that, as the process of considering any event from different vantage points interests me greatly—experimenting with different personas and voices makes my poetry engine tick.  The opportunity that Art offers us to experience life from different angles is what keeps it vital and alive. Every event is seen differently according to who is doing the perceiving and will determine umpteen different outcomes and scenarios. This is truly fascinating to me and what makes me want to write.   As humans, we are so fallible, idiosyncratic, quirky, and what happens to us depends the context— who is doing the perceiving and the telling. Life offers a composite of complex perspectives and inter-relationships, writing is giving those voice to those that may not have it otherwise.

 

3.Have you ever considered writing fiction? What makes you interested in poetry particularly? 

I wish I had that something that it takes to write fiction—being a better typist for one, and endurance. I have always been smitten with image and detail, and small suit-cases of language that can pack a punch. I like the compression of poetry.  The instrument of time is measured differently in a poem, as in a painting, there is a kind of co-mingling of the senses that happens—for me, in a way a poem works on the  viewer more like a painting than a work of fiction, in narrative time.  The senses are being bombarded all at once, rather than in the way a story unfurls–that is the magic of the poem, a layering of mood, sense, intellect and emotion—that is, when the aesthetic train is on the track.

The cadence of the vowel sounds repeated, making a pattern, a line break that furls into a juicy enjambment— these are the quirky and idiosyncratic strokes and moments at craft that challenge and give me a lot pain and pleasure.  Trying to engage with words and making them mean and say something more than I am capable of saying in my every day speech to another human being. “A poem is really a kind of machine for producing the poetic state by means of words,” said Paul Verlaine.  I guess what I am saying is that for me part of what people go to Religion for is what I go to poetry for—Jettison the material world for a while and ask the deeper questions, and poetry is my way in.

 

4.Do your family and friends often make appearances in your poems? If so, have you ever faced a situation in which you worried about infiltrating their privacy? 

 Oh that is a big question and one that I grapple with often, as many of my poems deal with the subjects, themes and conditions of family, the most complex bevy of people and inter-relationships. Crossing into the threshold of another person’s privacy and material that deals with the intimate privacy of another human being is very tricky business. My poems are always composites. I try to stray from using direct references, and usually I am speaking in a more iconic way—I may use aspects of my mother, but somehow I am trying to capture something larger than a particular person—but more the idea of motherhood  with its myriad complexities.

When trying to write about the elusive subject of mental illness and family, and especially when dealing with family members who have suffered and been afflicted, I’ve had to find different voices for that.   Poets tend to be like dentists, extracting decay and pain from the patient, but trying not to touch the tongue while doing it.   It is a delicate balance, and one I am very aware gets more complex as my life goes through different cycles and different characters—from my own immediate family, to now my son, my husband all the off-shoots that make ‘family’ such interesting material to cover—endless complexities, sorrows, enticements. We have to find a way to write truthfully about the crux of our subjects. As Artaud said,   “We have the right to lie, but not about the heart of the matter.”

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5.How does the natural world influence your writing?

I believe in the oppositions the world presents to us—they are critical to our understanding of the world and our experiences in it, these forces that make us function in both the Yin and the Yang of our conditions: the world where we are put in a logical and domestic milieu, only to be thwarted by what Mother Nature serves up to us—what unknowns happen, the things we can’t plan on, the weather, how long our life will be, who to invite for dinner.  The control we think we have is moot, because everything is clouded by the fates.  The natural world is everything that is in flux, change, and in opposition to the control we try to maintain. My writing mostly exists in the yin/yang of interiors, pathos inside in response to the natural forces of the world. “I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim,” said one of my great heroes, Frida Kahlo.

 

6.Are you working on a collection right now? If so, what can you tell us about it?

 These words by Transtromer spoke to me recently: I walk slowly into myself, through a forest of empty suits of armor.” I have been feeling those many suits of armor in the world as of late. We wear many hats, more and more hats, more and more layers to get to the solitary place you need to make Art.

The self adrift in this new swirl of the social media age— this is the subject matter that is calling out to me.  I am mired in as anyone else. I also very clearly see the way the culture has diminished as a result.

Our lives are lived button to button these days, and we have to wade through so much superficial frippery to get to the core of self.  The quality of alone that one must achieve to get to a place to purge has changed with this new madcap paradigm where we engage with several hundred people in a day. That is insane when you think about it.

My new body of work seems to be grappling with where the self and spirit exist in this pre-fab, multi-persona, commercial, material, hand-held world, and by hand-held, I don’t mean our hands our held, I mean our lives fit into a device that we carry around at all hours of the day, a device that may just have stolen our souls—or maybe my book is trying to probe these matters, with a gentle fork-lift.

This is a whole new frontier, and a cosmic shift in the way we perceive the world and ourselves in it, as well as how we absorb and infiltrate it. It may be the end of us—or Us, as we used to know ourselves.  The Selfie culture is ultimately so seductive and so reductive, and tends to reduce us to a kind of ‘group think.’  We live in a pseudo- indoctrination popularity telethon—one that never shuts off—and it is our new addiction.  A veritable vacuum sucking us dry of all the tangible things we used to engage in: Hands–on things—writing letters, birthday cards, calling someone on the telephone.  So much of our life is now reduced to the palm of our hands, and this mechanism has diminished the value of doing things. And yet, it is love/hate, as it has connected me to so many people and cultures—artists and writers, I would never otherwise been introduced to.  But thank you for asking, it helped to me explain the process and the things I have been thinking about while writing the poems in my new book.  Two titles I am battling with: “Somewhere In The Vicinity of Self” and “Still-Life With God.” Keep you posted where the coin lands. .

 

7.Do you have any poets/journals/books to suggest? 

Well, Hermeneutic Chaos has been at the top of my suggested journal list to writer friends list as I have been most impressed by the quality and the aesthetic beauty of this journal, how it shows such utmost respect to writers at every corner. These things have begun to matter greatly to me in a market that doesn’t pay us living or livelihood, so when my work is presented, I want it to be presented in the best light possible. I have experienced great sloppiness from some journals, and I understand that too—low budgets, interns, too much work over-load, so just as editors are selective about the work they include, I have become more selective about how and where the work appears. All this to say, it is rare and greatly appreciated.  I am so grateful to the few really classy journals that have housed my poems, and especially with the long intervals between books—these junctures have saved me and kept me writing. There are so many cool journals out there—doing really cool and provocative things with the language, the visuals and audio.  It has become a much more three-dimensional experience—one that is vital, global and keeps us connected:  “And one by one the nights between our separated cities are joined to the night that unites us”, said Neruda, and that is exactly language. It is the glue that unites us.

 

 

 

 

Cynthia Atkins was born and raised in Chicago, Il, receiving a an MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts. She is the author of Psyche’s Weathers and In The Event of Full Disclosure (CW Books).  Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including, Alaska Quarterly Review, Afrikana.ng,  BOMB,  Cultural Weekly, DelSol Review, Florida Review, Green Mountains Review, Harpur Palate,Hermeneutic Chaos, Le Zaporogue, North American Review, Seneca Review, Tampa Review, Valparaiso Review and Verse Daily, among others. She is an assistant professor of English at Virginia Western Community College, and formerly the assistant director of the Poetry Society of America, and artistic director for Writers @Jordan House, she lives on the Maury River of Rockbridge County, VA with the artist Phillip Welch and their family. More info at www.cynthiatkins.com

 

Writing That Disturbs The Bodies Of The Mind: An Interview with Juliet Cook

Juliet Cook’s newest collection, Malformed Confetti, is being published by Crisis Chronicles Press—in honor of that, we’ve asked her three questions about the collection and her work. In addition to her own writing, Cook is the editor/publisher of Blood Pudding Press (print) and Thirteen Myna Birds (online) and creates other art too, such as semi-abstract painting/collage art creatures. You can find out more at JulietCook.weebly.com.

 

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-Interview by Olivia Olson

 

1.You mention the word “grotesque” a few times when describing your work. What is it about the grotesque that makes you want to write about it?

I’m not purposely aiming for grotesque for the sake of grotesque, but I seem to be attuned to a visceral interpretation of what’s inside the mind and how bodies are perceived and devoured, often disrespectfully like pieces of meat. Some people separate the mind from the body; I prefer to combine the two, even if the fusion mix generates some discomfort. I think some people are too easily bothered and disturbed by some of the more visceral parts of life and I find it more interesting to explore what disturbs us and why, as opposed to just backing away or ignoring or acting as if certain disturbances do not exist when they do.

2.You’ve recently released a couple of collections of collaborative work. How did that work? Did you have anything you disagreed about?  

I don’t think I’d spend much of my time collaborating with a writer that I had much disagreement with. My recent collaborations have flowed fairly smoothly, especially my work with my longest lasting collaborator, j/j hastain.  The two of us have now been collaborating for several years, had our first collaborative poetry chapbook, Dive Back Down, accepted by Dancing Girl Press last year and coming soon and very recently assembled our first full-length manuscript, tentatively titled A Red Witch, Every Which Way and sent it to a new press to consider.

We haven’t had any significant disagreements and are usually really open to each other’s ideas/suggestions. For me personally, the trickiest part of the collaborative process involves revision. When it comes to my individual poems, when I suddenly feel compelled to revise a few lines, rearrange a few lines, or cut a few lines out of a poem, I just go ahead and do it and don’t feel the need to explain WHY since it’s often an emotional reaction sort of reason. But with a collaborative poem, I can’t just suddenly delete and change and rearrange lines, unbeknown to my collaborator, so I have to email the collaborator about it and try to explain why, rather than just going with my gut flow.

3.How would you describe your new collection, Malformed Confetti? How are the poems threaded together?

My Malformed Confetti is my second full-length poetry book and includes poems that range from 2008 to 2015. I first started working on assembling the manuscript in late 2010, so it’s not something I’ve only been focused on for a year or two. During my most recent revision of the manuscript, I dealt with a challenging emotional streak derived from the memories the collection elicited for me. I feel strongly about the poems and I know I’ve spent a lot of emotional energy and time with the collection’s content. I’ve had quite a few chapbooks published within those seven years, but chapbooks are a lot shorter and more small scale and more quickly formatted than a full-length I’ve been working on for over five years.

My first full-length, Horrific Confection, was published in late 2008 and after that, I was tentatively planning on focusing on chapbooks for a while before thinking about compiling another full-length. Shortly after 2010 began, I ended up having an unexpected carotid artery dissection, which resulted in an aneurism, which resulted in a stroke, which resulted in some brain damage and aphasia, and then exactly one year after my stroke, I ended up getting divorced from my marriage.

It was in the midst of my divorce, while I was temporarily living with my parents and undergoing depression, that I first started to assemble Malformed Confetti. It’s undergone a lot of revisions (older poems removed, newer poems added, and order rearrangement) throughout that time.  I started submitting it to various presses, on & off, in early 2011 – and it was a semi-finalist in a contest in 2012 and then a finalist in another contest in 2013 – but towards the end of 2014, when it still had not found its home yet, I was considering giving up on it, not because I didn’t think it was good, but because it was starting to feel old, especially in terms of the memories it evoked. I try to be a fairly present-focused individual and I was starting to feel as if the manuscripts content was getting too close for my own comfort to past-focused, including a part of my past that was certainly meaningful but was overly emotionally challenging for me to reconnect with again and again, as I continued to read/re-read/work on revising the manuscript. The time frame during which these poems were written (my mid-thirties through early forties) was a part of my life that involved a lot of mental/emotional glitches and conflict and tumult and uncertainty and changes.

Also, I didn’t want the content of the manuscript to feel unconnected, since it was including seven years worth of poems, some written before and some written after my brain underwent a malformation. The content of the manuscript felt oddly in between, but I wanted the in-betweens to be interconnected. Then again, I’ve always been an in between contradictory mess in one way or another, so I was eventually able to format the twisted up innards of this collection into successful interconnectivity.

I arranged the content into five different sections that coalesce well together, allowing the different subject matters to be uniquely separated yet thematically linked.

The Malformed Confetti begins with a twisted teaser piece called “Deadly Doll Head Dissection”  then divvies itself into these five different sectionals –

  1. Beginnings – Hideously Edible Girlie Dolls
  2. Rank Middles – (Pseudo)Surgically Enhanced Female Creatures
  3. Gradually Ebbing Down – (Para)Normal Uncertain Wives
  4. Suddenly Ebbing Further Down – (Ab)Normal Waves on the Brink
  5. Off & On Flow – Almost Drowning, But Then Resurging

Two of my poems that were published by Hermeneutic Chaos this past summer appear inside my Malformed Confetti. “dream about being” is at the beginning of section 4 and “Un-sided Self Portrait” is the very final poem in the collection.

The publication date for Malformed Confetti has not yet been officially announced, but it was accepted for publication near the beginning of 2015 and will likely be published near the beginning of 2016.  I’m highly delighted that it is going to be published by Crisis Chronicles Press, a unique independent press based in Cleveland Ohio, which is less than an hour away from where I’ve been living the last five years. Crisis Chronicles Press editor John Burroughs is a very vibrant and active member of the Cleveland poetry scene as both a poet and a publisher  and I’m truly excited that my book has found its home with his press.

I’m also utterly delighted that poet, editor/publisher of Arsenic Lobster and Misty Publications and fabulous friend Susan Yount has created a unique and creepy little video trailer for my forthcoming book, which can be viewed/listened to here.

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Juliet Cook is a grotesque glitter witch medusa hybrid brimming with black, grey, silver, purple, and dark red explosions. Her poetry has appeared in a peculiar multitude of literary publications, recently including Arsenic Lobster, Diode, FLAPPERHOUSE, Hermeneutic Chaos,  ILK, and Menacing Hedge. She is the author of more than thirteen poetry chapbooks, most recently including POISONOUS BEAUTYSKULL LOLLIPOP (Grey Book Press, 2013), RED DEMOLITION (Shirt Pocket Press, 2014), a collaboration with Robert Cole called MUTANT NEURON CODEX SWARM (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), and another new collaboration with j/j hastain called Dive Back Down (forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press). Juliet’s first full-length poetry book, Horrific Confection, was published by BlazeVOX in 2008 and her second full-length poetry book Malformed Confetti is forthcoming from Crisis Chronicles Press. 

Harnessing Thoughts About Events That Never Happened: An Interview with Daniel M. Shapiro

You’d be hard-pressed to find a poet more fun and affable than Daniel M Shapiro. He is the author of How the Potato Chip Was Invented, What If You Were Happy for Just One Second: Instructional Diagrams (with Jessy Randall), and The 44th-Worst Album Ever, among many other things, and his Pushcart Prize-nominated “And the World and the World,” debuted in the July 2015 issue of Hermeneutic Chaos.

Here we ask him about prose poems, 80s pop songs, and eschewing “what’s real” in favor of the allegory and the daydream—revel in his brilliant answers, then find even more information on his blog.

Dan 6.26.15 [3705]

– Interview by Olivia Olson

1.How is writing prose poems different than writing poems with line breaks, in your experience? Do you prefer one style to the other?

I tend to write prose poems when I want to tell a story, or at least imply a narrative, by using poetic language or devices. If you’re looking at a paragraph, you could be looking at anything: nonfiction, op-ed piece, whatever. It can lull the reader into expecting straight talk, and I like that because it allows the writer to be a bit sneaky.

I’ve always written mostly narrative poems, but I used to feel like I had to incorporate line breaks to establish the right rhythm. Then it started to feel like my pursuit of rhythm was tampering with my pursuit of theme, and I didn’t want to do that. I have preferred the prose poem lately because it removes the restrictions breaks seem to impose, and I still strive to keep the writing as tight as I can.

2.Many of your poems are titled after lyrics from 80s pop songs. What’s up with that?

For about six months, I’ve been working on a series of poems based on 1980s pop songs and their videos. I have about 75 of them so far. I believe that decade is often misunderstood; I had misunderstood it, and I lived through it. So the poems are helping me to understand aspects of my childhood. A lot of the music of the time sounds artificial, and I used to hate it, especially synth pop. But I appreciate it more because I realize some of it was really performance art (Pet Shop Boys especially), and a number of the videos were revealing the artists’ fear of nuclear war. Artists had a strong awareness of AIDS, famine, and other problems before a lot of politicians did much about those problems. I wonder if people were so afraid of being eviscerated that they felt compelled to hide behind gaudy makeup, leg warmers, shoulder pads, etc. Anyway, the poems are commenting on what the 1980s were like but also about how we haven’t gotten past certain problems that were glossed over during that era. A lot of the poems are paranoid, and people are as angry and conspiracy-obsessed now as they’ve ever been.

3.There are often elements of magical realism, or just plain magic, in your poetry. What is it about the fantastic that is important to you?

I have a lot of respect for poets who are able to take their real lives and the associated emotions and translate them into art. If I know a bit about a poet and can see clear connections between the poet’s life and art, I become more interested in the life and art. I don’t think I’m like that, though. I don’t believe I can turn my life experience into art; it’s more about harnessing thoughts about events that never happened. It’s about daydreaming. I often use allegory because I want to establish parallels between what’s made up and what’s real. Also, I can incorporate my own feelings about love or other somewhat typical themes by turning them into bit parts in poems. Whenever I am looking for places to send poems, if the guidelines say, “We want what’s real,” I skip them.

4.Your book, Interruptions, is a collaborative work with poet Jessy Randall. What are the challenges inherent in writing poems with someone else? Did you ever disagree? How did you choose which poems made the cut and which didn’t?

The main challenge is to sort out what ideas should stay yours and what you should work on with a partner. Jessy and I have been friends for more than 30 years (!), so when one of us would pitch an idea, the other could say, “This sounds like something you should do on your own,” and it wouldn’t hurt our friendship or relationship as collaborators. Also, one of us could say, “Let’s lop off the last stanza,” and typically the other person would say, “OK.”

I remember arguing with Jessy about a diagram poem we had done that she didn’t want to include in a chapbook manuscript. She had thought the poem was too jokey, and she might’ve been right. We had placed poetic labels on diagrams from a weird manual she had found, and one of the diagrams showed a silhouette of a girl. For whatever reason, I wrote, “She never listens” and was sure it was the funniest thing I had written in my life, though maybe it wasn’t funny at all. Anyway, we ended up including that in the manuscript, and it’s in the chapbook published by BOAAT. For Interruptions, we didn’t have much trouble choosing what to include because we didn’t have hundreds of poems then. Also, I feel like we wanted to show a variety of ideas, techniques, etc., so it made sense to leave a range of poems in.

5.In On Writing, Stephen King says that his “ideal reader,” or the person who he imagines while working on a piece, is his wife, Tabitha. Is there a particular person in your life that you have in mind while you write?

I don’t have a specific person in mind. Sometimes I think of people I have known a bit who have given me useful feedback. I say people I’ve known a bit because they can’t be close friends or family members, who are more likely to be nice. Also, I think of how I would feel about the piece if I hadn’t written it. This seems like it would be difficult, but I often forget I’ve written things and can look at them later as if they were someone else’s.

6.Why poetry? Why not another kind of writing?

Poetry forces you to use only what you need and to avoid exposition. It lets you leave openings for readers, and they can apply their own experiences or feelings to the poems. I used to write a lot of music reviews and film reviews when I worked for newspapers a long time ago, but ultimately, I didn’t feel like I could say anything other critics couldn’t say just as well. I have tried to write novels and short stories, but I don’t do a good job with them because I feel like I need to explain too much. Poetry gives you room to sneak in secrets, and the poems can work on more than one level, so readers might respond to them even if they don’t uncover the secrets.

7.What is your loftiest poetic ambition?

I want pop culture to be recognized as actual culture and not as lesser art or non-art, and I want to be recognized in some way–even via shout-out from a poet I admire–as a good poet who exposes something insightful about that culture. I like poetry as social commentary rather than personal commentary. Also, I would like to be perceived as a supporter of poets, someone who encourages people who might doubt their strengths. There has been a lot of negative behavior in the poetry world lately—open misogyny online, a poet using a Chinese pseudonym, a prominent organization mishandling criticism about diversity in its panel selections, etc.—and I want people to focus on meaningful work instead of backward politics.

8.Do you have any books/writers/journals/etc you would like to recommend? 

I like books that create worlds or introduce unusual premises and don’t get cute with them, books that say, “This is how things are; take it or leave it.” T.A. Noonan’s The Bone Folders is that way. It’s a world of mathematical formulas and witches’ brews. Ruth Foley’s chapbook Creature Feature is that way, too. She’s writing epistolary poems, letters to classic movie monsters or the actors who played them, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t as heartfelt or meaningful as what’s supposed to be heartfelt or meaningful. She’s taking a concept and not bailing on it because she’s sure it works. It kind of makes me mad that I know about Noonan and Foley only because I met them at readings or conferences. They’re two of many, many poets everyone should know about. Todd Kaneko is another poet like that. His book Dead Wrestler Elegies combines pop culture, mythology, and personal depth. No one else has his exact interests or voice, and he’s smart enough to celebrate that. It troubles me that there are a template voice and template vocabulary in poetry, that too many people write the way they think people should write. Poetry should be required to pass through a poet’s unique voice and/or unique perspective before it’s released into the world. If there isn’t a unique voice or perspective, the writer needs to find one.

I’ve been lucky to have a number of poems published in Menacing Hedge, which is one of my favorite journals because its editors celebrate the risks writers take when they create mythologies or the illusion of mythologies. I might convince you that I made up something terrifying, but it might be real (or vice versa). I also love a couple of journals that have been around for a while, Gargoyle and Chiron Review, because their editors are open to a variety of voices, themes, forms, etc. Their notion of “a good fit” welcomes a wide range of perspectives.

Also, I’ve been reading a lot of books by poets with Pittsburgh ties because I’ve lived here for almost 10 years, and I feel like the community has been strengthening. We’re lucky to have people such as Toi Derricotte and Terrance Hayes here, and a number of great, great poets (Ross Gay, among others) are being published through University of Pittsburgh Press. The best feeling for me, though, is to go to a reading here and find yet another wonderful local poet. This has been happening a lot lately.