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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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.

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– 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.

Writing in an Embodied Fashion: An Interview with Jill Khoury

We at The Booth couldn’t be more excited that Jill Khoury’s first full-length book, Suites for the Modern Dancer, will be published by Sundress Publications in 2016. Khoury, poet and editor of Rogue Agent, made her Pushcart Prize nominated appearance in Hermeneutic Chaos with “::Grief:Hunger”, a staccato, gnomic piece with a sharp eye on the poetically visual. More information about her and her impressive body of work can be found at jillkhoury.com.

Gritty

-Interview by Olivia Olson

1.One of the aspects of your poetry that I admire most is the way you set beautiful images within a sorrowful tone. What is it about that aesthetic that is important to you?  

I very much enjoy unexpected juxtapositions and linguistic risks, while still keeping an emotional core in the work. Although I’ve been writing poetry seriously for over half my life, it’s only in the last three years I feel I’ve really come into my own in regard to finding my authentic voice. A draft of a poem starts to feel “real” to me when it accomplishes this contrast you mention.

2.Your work is often quite visual. What do you think poetry gains by being influenced by visual art?

[I think it’s worth it to note the simultaneous existence of the fact that I’m legally blind. I would say the ironic existence, but to me it’s not ironic.] It’s important to have a conversation across media. Poetry gains something by being influenced by every kind of art—music, film, dance, as well as visual art. I am a mixed media artist on a nonprofessional level. The perspective is nonverbal. It’s color and line, it’s tactile, it’s movement. When I need to be nonverbal and still create, this mode is there for me. To communicate a feeling that hits you before words come to mind to describe it—that’s what visual art does, and music too. I think everything is to be gained when you put different art forms in conversation. The inspiration can feel infinite.

3.What about disability poetics interests you particularly? What have you learned in writing about disability and the body?

Well, since I am a poet with multiple disabilities, disability poetics in some way feels like the history and ars poetica of my people. Besides that, I am interested in the calling-into-question of the normal and the normalized. The acknowledgment of our universality as vulnerable and changing bodies, and how this is an asset to the work rather than a hindrance. Disability poetics embraces risk and change. I’ve learned that writing in an embodied fashion often brings out strong emotion in people. It can make people uncomfortable. It can cause people to dismiss your work. It can elicit tears of joy in the audience. The poetry of the body inspires connection.

4.Your first full-length collection is coming out next year. What was the process of compiling that collection like?

Endless. I wanted to tell a story of myself and of women like me that I have met, but I had no idea how to do it when I began the process. Women who wind up often in a liminal state, a dangerous state, an extreme state, a marginal state, and become sensationalized often by the artistic gaze. I wanted to write us authentically. I did the best I could, and I hope it will be well-received.

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

So an editor that I hired to consult on the manuscript asked me to write, essentially, the origin story of my blindness. She said that such a poem was necessary for the book, and I agreed. But I’m not a narrative poet, nor do I particularly like to make meaning straightforwardly. I needed the poem to be somewhat extradimensional to really represent the experience as I had internalized it. I was kind of dumbfounded to start, and then the pressure of having this assignment sort of evoked a poem from me. About a month ago it was published in Copper Nickel alongside some poems by Martha Collins, and I literally cried.

6.Did you start writing differently when you began teaching? Did you start seeing your own poems differently when you began editing Rogue Agent?

It depends which kind of teaching. When I taught comp as an adjunct, I wrote nothing. Student papers strained my physical and mental resources to the limit. I have no idea how I published a chapbook during those years. When I work with community writing groups doing more overtly creative kinds of work where the focus is on the generative process as well as product—that tends to fuel my drive to write. I will often do prompts and assignments along with students. Reading every submission that comes in to Rogue Agent has definitely changed how I perceive my own poems as I am in the process of submitting them.

7.How do you make sure that your poems never get stale or stuck in a rut? 

I have so many projects going on at once that I haven’t had time to think about the possibility of my writing becoming stagnant. I hope this continues.

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

Oh my gosh, the list could be so long! How about ten books? These are not all super-recent titles, but I’ve read them all fairly recently and they’ve taught me something or inspired my own creative process in some way. I’m interested in storytelling and world-making that doesn’t employ the traditional narrative poem structure, and most of these books do that.

Girl Show by Kristy Bowen.

Blood Medals by Claudia Cortese.

Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz.

Last Psalm at Sea Level by Meg Day.

Exodus in X-Minor by Fox Frazier-Foley.

The Narrow Road to the Interior by Kimiko Hahn

Wolf Centos by Simone Muench.

The Dead Girls Speak in Unison by Danielle Pafunda.

Striven, the Bright Treatise by Jeff Pethybridge.

Citizen by Claudia Rankine.

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.

PRAY PRAY PRAY cover

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.)