Monday, May 22, 2017

12 or 20 questions with Keegan Lester

Keegan Lester [photo credit: Christopher Jackson] is an American writer. He's been featured on NPR, CBS New York Radio, Marshall University Radio, Chapman University Radio Coldfront and The New School Writing Blog among other podcasts and blogs. His work has been published in The Boston Review, The Adroit, Boaat Journal, CutBank, Sixth Finch and Phantom Limb among others. He earned his MFA from Columbia University.  His first collection of poetry won The Slope Editions Book Prize judged by Mary Ruefle and is available for purchase at http://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9780988522152/this-shouldnt-be-beautiful-but-it-was--it-was-all-i-had-so-i-drew-it.aspx

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
"Change" might be a little bit of a strong word, but I think the book has been a vehicle needed for the outside world to give this writing thing I’ve been doing for a while, some credence.  I wrote another collection of poetry that is still in the process of finding a home and recently I read some of those poems to my partner and she said “These are so freaking sad”. I think my earlier work hinged on heavy doses of sadness with moments of humor, whereas the work in the book seems to be more level, more thankful and at times even joyous. The poems I’m working on now are different from those categories, but I’m not sure I’ve had enough time yet to process the how yet.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I used to write letters to my grandmother when I was younger, and sometimes those letters would have poems in them. She still has my first poem hanging on her wall from when I was about seven.  As I grew I was both very against but drawn to the poetry I read in school, most of which was institutionalized garbage. I knew poetry was more than finding a symbol or explaining what a metaphor is. At some point I began to write songs and it wasn't until I was in college, in a non-fiction class listening to a Nikki Giovanni poem “Quilting the Black Eyed Pea (We’re going to Mars)”, where I understood that this other kind of poetry existed. I knew listening to that poem that this was I wanted to do. It was a moment where I didn't realize poetry could be that way, which keeps happening. I think what I love most about poetry is the discovery that when I think I’ve figured it out as a form, I come across something where I say to myself, “I didn’t realize you could do that!” 

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It depends on the poem.  I’ve written poems in 15 minutes, that have been published in big journals,  but there are also poems I’ve worked on for years. I had to learn in my revision process how to not revise the poem out of the poem.  How to sit on work and give it time for me to process what it really is.  My book is mostly comprised of my earlier writing, much of which I thought I’d thrown away. I recently discovered a magic flash drive with all of the work I'd compiled from undergrad and grad school. I came to it now with fresh eyes and was able to objectively see what was wrong with it. Much of the work sat untouched for five years. I’ve figured out how to edit my own intelligence out of my earlier work, to allow the poems to have their own unique intelligence.  I think my younger self had a need to prove my own ability and intelligence, and that often got in the way of the poem. Much of this book took ten years to complete. 

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Most of my poems start at the lyric and sonic level. They start with a line or a rhythm or cadence, or a strange piece of language that strikes me. I write out of that. I’ve never given much thought to the need to write a specific poem to fit in a specific book, until recently, which is my latest project. This project’s parameters are both monster and muse.  

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love reading and tour as much as I can. I probably sell most of my books by reading in front of people. It’s the best platform I have for selling poetry and establishing my personal brand.

In many ways, what literary poetry has done would be equivalent to having musicians work their entire life on an album, and then say it doesn't matter how you play it in front of people, because they will get the idea from listening if they buy the album, and I'm very much against that. I’ve always been drawn to the bands and the musicians and the poets that made me feel something live. The heart of my work comes from that fire. From wanting to convince you, through performance. 

While I don’t write specifically for readings, I know how to make a set list. I’m aware of which of my poems are funny, and which poems don’t work in front of people. I prefer reading in bars and music venues. I’ll likely come to your city if you ask me to. 

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
Every poem written has a theoretical concern. I believe it’s less my job to push my own agenda, which I’m definitely guilty of from time to time, but try to work more to be the space where people are allowed to consider their own theoretical concerns by getting closer to the feelings they themselves are trying to articulate.  

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

The idea of the writer is such a large and abstract concept. In this day and age, with social media and blogs and tumblrs, everyone is a writer. One problem with literary poets is the distance they try to keep between the 100,000 or us and the 318 ish million other Americans. I struggle to get behind writers whose work’s intelligence stems from a place of self gratification as a means to distance themselves from their audience. My place as a writer is much closer to an entertainer or the person that wants to help people come to poetry, not turn them away.  I want to be the poet that encourages others to write rather than make the argument that there are a finite number of poets living and that only special people get to make art. I believe art and writing is for everyone and that no single kind of intelligence should be valued over another.  In my opinion, writers should be observers, people working to build platforms for others, not acting as gatekeepers. 

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
I don’t trust very many people with my writing.  I have a couple secret readers and they aren’t poets.  Both are brilliant and I trust them, because they have nothing to gain or lose based on what they say and they know that.  At the end of the day I have to move non-poets and strangers, and they tend to be the most honest about whether something works or not.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Two things from the photographer Thomas Roma:
"In art, you don’t get to learn something- you get to feel something. That’s why we listen to music. We don’t listen to music to learn that there are people in the world that don’t know who their daddy is. We already know that. But when Freddy Cole sings ‘I Wonder Who My Daddy Is’, you get to feel it. You get to feel what he feels."
&
"Don’t default to your intelligence. Your intelligence will let you down. It makes you overthink things. But feel- you can never overfeel things."
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I used to be disciplined.  I’ve fallen off that wagon recently with touring and promoting this book. 

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

People. Strangers mostly.  I walk around town and eavesdrop on strangers.  

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of my mother’s pork chops stewing in a crockpot is the smell I think of when I think of home. 

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
For me it’s mostly music and film. I’m interested in cadence, music and movement. Films that have had a major impact on my work include: The Fall, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The House of Yes, Many in the 30 for 30 Series, Beginners, Rushmore, It Follows, Stoker, Miracle at St. Anna & I’m Not there, among others.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Nikki Giovanni, Scott McClanahan, Rita Dove, Richard Siken, Mary Ruefle, Jason Bredle, Emily O’Neill, Bianca Stone, Li-Young Lee, James Baldwin, Eduardo Corral, Ilya Kaminsky, Timothy Donnelly, Camille Rankine, Jericho Brown, Scott Fitzgerald, Natasha Trethewey, Kevin Chesser, David F Bello, Joshua Bennett and Marilynne Robinson

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Put out an album of music or make a film.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I’d like to make films.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

It was the only thing I knew how to do competently.

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I read Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan, a couple years ago  and it shook me to my core. I went out and bought and read everything he’d ever written later that week. Joe Halstead also had a great book come out recently called West Virginia.  I also really love the book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson & Man Alive by Thomas Page McBee. The Witch, Moonlight, The 13th, Hell or High Water, It Follows, The Lobster, City of Gold  & Manchester by the Sea were some of my recent favorite films.

19 - What are you currently working on?
A collection of Non-fiction called “It Is Thought that Dinosaurs Once Cooed Like Doves”  and a collection of poems, mostly about California, for my mother.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Saturday, May 20, 2017

12 or 20 questions with Felicia Zamora



Felicia Zamora is the author of the books Of Form & Gather, winner of the 2016 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize (University of Notre Dame Press), & in Open, Marvel (Parlor Press), and Instrument of Gaps (Slope Editions). Of Form & Gather was listed as one of the “9 Outstanding Latino Books Recently Published by Independent and University Presses” by NBC News. She won the 2015 Tomaž Šalamun Prize from Verse, and authored two chapbooks. Her published works may be found or forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Hotel Amerika, Indiana Review, jubilat, Meridian, Notre Dame Review, North American Review, OmniVerse, Pleiades, Poetry Daily, Poetry Northwest, Prairie Schooner, Puerto del Sol, Sugar House Review, Tarpaulin Sky Magazine, The Cincinnati Review, The Georgia Review, TriQuarterly Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Verse Daily, Witness Magazine, West Branch, and others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Colorado Review and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Colorado State University. She lives in Colorado with her partner, Chris, and their three dogs.

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Poetry is a part of my being, a part of who I am. An internal need drives my writing. My MFA advisor and mentor had prepared me, saying many times a first manuscript written is not always the first manuscript published. What sound advice! I graduated from the MFA program in 2012, with a goal to write a poetry manuscript a year. Of Form & Gather was just released from University of Notre Dame Press, winner of the 2016 Andrès Montoya Prize, on February 2017 and is my first full-length book publication. This is my first book publication, but my fourth manuscript written since I completed the MFA.

Winning the prize certainly feels surreal, still. It’s definitely made the small community of poetry feel even more intimate and tangible to me. I’ve been very privileged to feel the generosity and openness from poets and editors around the country whom I’ve never met in person. I felt this the moment that Edwin Torres selected my book. There’s nothing like picking up a book with your name on the cover. For me, it’s also a continued motivation to push my goals. In March, I finished my sixth manuscript. These poems are different because I am different and because the political climate of the country I live in is different. I’ll take a quick breather and then begin a new project in a few weeks. For me, the process of writing propels everything.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
An over obsession with details, I think, and what poetry requires of the reader. I enjoy the challenge of poetry, the exquisite sparseness of poetry, the rhythm and ebbs of poetry, the way poetry asks the reader to leap with the language and lines and stanzas. Poetry’s ability to accomplish so much with so little draws me in, lulls me as both reader and writer. I enjoy fiction and nonfiction as well, but find myself utterly lost in poetry, in the most extraordinary ways.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
I mentioned my goal of writing a manuscript a year, so I start there. From the time I end my last manuscript, I give myself one to two months of reading and regeneration, then I dive back into a project. I write when inspired, and I write when uninspired, to ensure the practice doesn’t get lost in all the other aspects of life. I constantly ask myself, how can I be a writer if I am not writing? Therefore projects emerge fairly quickly for me. Thus far, my manuscripts evolve very organically. Research happens in all my writing, from the etymology of a single word, to an entire research thread on certain theories, species, or histories. The more I learn, the more I know I need to learn. A lot of situating and organizing goes into the final product, but no stacks of notes yet. That’s not to say that this won’t happen, depending of on the project.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Poems begin for me very simply, through either an image, word, sensory spark, or creative thought. Typically, something I’ve witnessed or read about gets me spinning, but even a smell tempts the poem to the page. I always start in the poem. For me, a singular poem must hold its own weight as an artistic expression, but also be willing to be in dialogue with a larger body of work…even if this macro work has not yet shown itself to me. I guess you could call me a poem as a potential for book kind of writer.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
In writing a poem, I read it aloud over and over again in the drafting phase. How I hear it determines punctuation changes, line breaks, breaths, rhythms, and the entire flow of the poem. The auditory dimension of poetry remains forefront with my editing phase. Many times, I’ll start a poem aloud to myself before it ever gets to the page. Readings are a way for writers to share their words and their interpretation of how the poem could be read; they are a form of community. I enjoy readings as shared artistic expression.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I think almost everything I write has a theoretical concern underlying it. My poetry asks many, many questions. Recently my poems concern themselves with equity, social justice, existentialism, humanity as nature, instinctual-ism, mind-body connection, social construction, nationalism, and many others. I am not sure my question seek answers as much as they seek more questions.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I can only speak for myself, but in my mind a writer’s responsibility is to pay attention, to witness. Writers question society at large, question the ways in which we operate as systems and cultures and humans. Writer’s hold a mirror up to ourselves, both in the singular and collective, and bring into light the things we as humans are trying to hide, cover, and ignore. As a poet, I write to comprehend, to understand, to yearn, to be an activist, to think through, to engage, to mend, to help others mend, to question, and to wonder.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
All the editing professionals I have worked with in journals and at presses have been fabulous. My voice is heard and it feels like we are both working toward the collective goal of making the piece or book the strongest it can be. As an associate poetry editor myself for the Colorado Review, I understand the work that goes into a journal and respect all those in the industry. My mentor is an editor (hi, Stephanie)! For me, it’s an essential piece in the process, one that I continue to learn and grow from.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
Just write. You can make up every excuse under the sun as to why you can’t, won’t, shouldn’t, couldn’t be writing, but if you are a writer, write. And read. How can you be a writer if you don’t read?

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
Currently, my focus is poetry. When entrenched in a book project, I tend to write mostly poetry and read poetry. My work requires a lot of technical, professional writing, so between that and poetry, I don’t add other genres to the mix much.

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I don’t have a routine for writing, and not much for my existence either. I like change and possibility. I worked fulltime at Colorado State University while pursing my MFA, so this taught me to write during breaks, while waiting for meetings, while walking across campus, at lunch, before dinner, after dinner, before bed, in the middle if the night, and in the morning. Basically, I taught myself to write in awkward bursts or at what one might consider inconvenient, or uninspiring times, which allows me to stave away the excuses.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I return to books I love, and start new poetry books from presses I admire. I also go out into the natural world for rejuvenation. My mind and body get very stale from being in human-made spaces too much. As a natural being, I feel more at home in a field, in woods, places where pavement isn’t under my feet. Another tactic I use is quieting myself and looking around, paying attention. Wonder always finds me when I am open to it.

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
The smell of soil. Mulberries. I spent my childhood climbing mulberry trees and in a dirt fort carved in the belly of a steep hill in the woods behind where I grew up. I am happiest when in nature as my natural self. Also, the smell of wind on my partner’s hands.

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
All of the above. I am open to all sorts of influence when writing…nothing’s off the table. Things family members say, looks strangers give, comments in the media, falling seed pods from a cottonwood outside…all are fair game.

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
I love reading contemporary poetry, new voices and pioneers. It’s important to me to feel connected with the voices and moment of time I am a part of. As a woman of color, I look to other women of color as guides and the voices of underrepresented populations who literature and poetry did not always welcome with open arms. Our voices as a collective humanity are important now, more than ever. My mentors as writers and friends are important to me, as well.

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Wow, a lot. I’d love to live in another country and be fully immersed in another culture.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Photographer or a visual artist, for sure. I definitely think of myself as an artist, not just a writer. I think if I didn’t write, I’d need to pursue another form of creative expression. You can’t just shut that creative need off.

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
My mom wrote children’s books when I was young. As a kid, she’d read her stories to me and my siblings; I remember making my own little stories and books as early as age five. I admired my mom’s creativity; I still do. My mom never got a book published, well, because it was the eighties, she was a single parent working in a factory, and children’s books have always been a tough genre. However, she planted the seed in me early. Even when I tried to deny writing in my life, some circumstance or opportunity dropped me right back in writing’s lap. Writing makes me whole. I’ve finally figured that one out.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I read great books all the time. Recently, though, House A by Jennifer S. Cheng from Omnidawn. Wow. How Cheng constructs home in body, mind, memory, and family is extraordinary. I knew I fell in love with this book when I thought, “Wow, wish I wrote this.” My jealousy is a sure fire sign that I admire the shit out of a book.

As for movies, I love horror movies. I know, I know, judge me if you must. My siblings and I grew up with horror as a genre that connected us as kids. Even now, we are all grown-ass-adults going to see horror movies as a family (since we have the privilege of living in the same city again). Wow, I feel like I just admitted something in therapy. Any who, Get Out, directed by Jordan Peele, was an outstanding horror movie; right up there with The Shining. I can’t wait to see more from Peele. And yes, my King books sit right next to Dickinson’s on the shelf.

20 - What are you currently working on?
Since I just finished my sixth manuscript, I am currently in my one to two month rejuvenation period. Reading some new poetry books that just hit my mailbox, engaged in a few interviews, working with two great presses on my second and third book publications, and enjoying the budding and greening of spring.


Friday, May 19, 2017

Space Between Her Lips: The Poetry of Margaret Christakos, selected with an introduction by Gregory Betts




Of all the senses vision most informs us of separateness. As the bus moved around the traffic pylons and gripped onto the shallow hill my shoulder felt lighter, as if something drew it upward. (The white line I draw around you likens me to the moon.) But tonight the moon is pale bronze like translucent veteran skin with scars traced under a bright veil. These greyish-brown subtle shapes seem to move across its surface. Light thickens up along the whole contour, regardless of the variegated inner plane. When the rocks cluster between our bus and the moon the marrow-coloured cairn of elms and birch glows with a similar, less radiant bronze; or the view is represented as strata of differing densities. The impermeable rockface. Spires and filigree confections of thin foliage, a frost-grey passage. The uneven oblong of ash dotted by ragged, tunnel-like driftwood. A gouache, graded sky made the machinery of blueness like a beetle’s mobile back. Through the double paned winterized bus pieces of this water landscape are pigeoned in the cleft of plush seats; and motel lightboards hang with dangling roots and piecemeal, abandoned nests. The tissue of my hand doubles, but I feel the one and accept the suggestion of the other, both equally instrumental in future sleights of vision.

At Barrie, the moon has two arms, like a compass, each scratched into by patterns of ensiform, parenthetical gauges, like the goons, the hangers-on, the ones made certain by the courage of strangers.

January 8 (“from The Cool Window”)

The latest in the “Laurier Poetry Series” is Space Between Her Lips: The Poetry of Margaret Christakos, selected with an introduction by Gregory Betts (Waterloo ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017). I’ve long considered that there hasn’t been nearly enough attention paid to Christakos’ ongoing work, so am thrilled to see both this collection, and Betts’ lengthy and informative introduction:

            My ambition for Space Between Her Lips is to bring out the formal diversity of Christakos’s poetic talent, especially her adroit combination of experimental and lyrical tendencies. She makes an art of political intervention, explores themes of space, time, and identity, and yet still takes great pleasure in the sound and feel of words in the mouth. Her career-length exploration of themes of self-discovery, hetero-, queer, and bi-sexualities, motherhood, self-care, and a feeling of language’s limitations forms a strong orientation for the choice of what is included in this volume. Indeed, Margaret Christakos is a whole-body poet, writing about the world while maintaining an awareness of the materiality of language. Her writing embodies the subject of her writing, sometimes struggling against the limitations of language to articulate forbidden topics. Language becomes something like the hard, chipped rock of the north as she works against conventions to talk about the truth and grit of women’s contemporary experience. Sometimes the language crumbles into dust. She seeks to connect her body with her mother’s and other women’s by using language as the point of access to the generations before and after her.

In his introduction, editor Betts lists a series of threads that have existed throughout Christakos’ published body of work, writing that while her first collection “explores the intersection of prose and poetry, and the movement of a body in a landscape, her works since then have increasingly included puns, anagrams, reversals, permutations, neologisms, found texts, digital meditations, and other fragmenting methods that depict the swift movement of language in the world and on her page.” Perhaps it is worth noting that Christakos has, through her seemingly uninterrupted writing and publishing activity since the 1980s, been a rare Toronto linkage between experimental Canadian writing in the 1970s and 1980s and the more recent explosion of experimental writing over the past two decades. Through Christakos, one can see echoes of the play (joyously so) and syntax of bpNichol, who one of her early writing teachers and mentors, as well as echoes of the writing on politics and the body of Nicole Brossard (the list goes on), all of which Betts explores and discusses at length. Christakos’ work has always managed a joyousness to it, even through a deeply critical gaze; playing and pausing and pushing, always, the possibility of what writing should be about, and how writing should even be approached, from the large canvases upon which she works, and the precision upon which she holds and places each individual word.

from My Attaché Case

The tone of it is
All wrong or it’s odd
For we prefer real order

Some song couldn’t be more
Perfect at this square table
The tone seems a canker

All five chairs are neatly
Placed we concede in unison
It’s coming on just now. Still,

The tone of it is
All wrong we concede in
Unison the tone seems some

Canker a song couldn’t be
More perfect and it’s odd
It’s coming on just now

All five chairs so neatly
Placed at this square table
For we prefer real order.

Part of what I find fascinating about this series of critical selected poetry titles is in the way that even a seemingly-condensed selection of a particular poet’s work is allowed the ability to both introduce the subject and their work to a new audience, and open a further and deeper comprehension to readers long familiar with that poet’s ongoing work, and Christakos is far and away a poet deserving both a wider and deeper attention. As the acknowledgements near the back of the selected attests, Christakos’ ten trade collections are “sampled” for this selection, from Not Egypt (Coach House Press, 1989), The Moment Coming (ECW Press, 1998) and Excessive Love Prostheses (Coach House Books, 2002) to more recent works, including Welling (Your Scrivener Press, 2010), Multitudes (Coach House Books, 2013) and Her Paraphernalia: On Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies (BookThug, 2016) [see my review of such here], showcasing her sustained attentions on language and the body, motherhood and polis, all of which she has approached with an incredible openness, a surprising vulnerability and steely fearlessness. In her “Afterword” to the collection, Christakos begins:

Above all, I find, writing is inefficient. It doesn’t get done with itself, nor I with it. It calls out and wants a change. It suggests how it is falling down, like a porch pillar that nobody inspected soon enough to fix. I certainly did not fix the pillar soon enough. Is it because I like old and deteriorating structures? Writing has the word it in its middle, and the word in. A thing, a place, a motion of thing and place. It begins silently with a prank letter who wants to be seen but not heard. Writing ends like glue, sealing sound into its back-of-mouth suckle. Is suckle the best word there? I can get stuck on this. Writing is a relative figure who drives into my spine the ache of its toll on me and then wrings me up for a movie. Who, not that. Writing sisters me.

I don’t dispense with my subject matter and around again it comes to writing. Can you be a little more technical about this? Writing takes all the same thoughts and anagrams them. That’s not very technical. Writing is not so much selective as generative. Writing involves the hands and revolves my thinking. Are you trying to get back around it its efficiency rating? It is inefficient.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

12 or 20 questions with Annik Adey-Babinski

Annik Adey-Babinski [photo credit: Gesi Schilling, courtesy of Jai-Alai Books] grew up in Ottawa, Canada. She has received fellowships from the Banff Center and The Jonh S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Her poetry has appeared in Forklift, Ohio, Prelude, and the Best New Poets series. Her poems were also published in the Jai-Alai Books anthology Eight Miami Poets. Her first book of poetry, OKAY COOL NO SMOKING LOVE PONY, appeared recently with The Word Works. She is a technical writer in Miami, Florida.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Okay Cool No Smoking Love Pony is my first book, and it took 30 years to write. The poems I am writing since I finished it are few and far between, but I feel that they have a certain voice that is similar to the poems that are really working in Okay Pony. The more recent poems might be different in that after I left my MFA program I didn't write at all for about a year and a half, and now the weekly rigor I had in that program has not returned. So the poems are less frequent but possibly better simply due to the work I put in in those three years.

2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I was always interested in all three forms, but I think I decided to run with poetry when I was in university. I'd written a short story for a workshop and learned from the workshop leader that I didn't have a plot. It was very helpful because I was big into conveying mood and didn't think a story needed a plot. (I've since changed my mind!) So I decided to jump into poetryland where I thought mood and feeling governed everything, and sense-making was not necessary. Again, I've actually changed my stance on that since, but it's what brought me to poetry in a more serious way.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It's a bit of a combination. Sometimes, and I love when this happens, I will feel moved to write a poem, sit down, and it will emerge without too much effort on my part, pretty much complete. This is mostly how I write today since I have not been disciplined. However, I think that a lot of good poems come from showing up everyday when you have a practice of writing regularly, turning out a lot of bad material, and then shaping the gems into poems. I really enjoy the editing process. It's always like a painting, though, sometimes you can go too far and the poem is forever marred by being overworked.

4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I don't usually have writing projects. I do try to use projects every now and then to get myself writing, but they usually fall through. I am much more of a poem-by-poem writer. Luckily, these usually resemble each other in tone or theme since they are written around the same time. They manage to arrange themselves into a cohesive book with a little prodding.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I really like reading my poems for people who are interested. It is never fun to force your poems on someone who is unwilling to be slightly bored and bemused for 15 minutes, but maybe it's like making sure you put flax in your oatmeal. It's good for you, even if it's annoying! I do think it helps to read a new poem that I feel is done to a crowd. If I get embarrassed or skip a few lines I know I need to edit more.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don't usually sit down to write with theory in mind. Form and content is more what I focus on.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
At the moment, I do not keep a writing routine. I tried waking up at 5 am but soon grew very tired and could not keep it up. I usually wake up at 6 am to be at work for 7:30, so I do not have that much morning to work with!

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I always like to read the poems written by New York Public School students under Kenneth Koch's tutelage. He recorded them in his book, Rose, Where Did You Get That Red? and I find them very inspiring. I also return to Matthew Dickman's work when I need a jumpstart.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Spring mud!

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I love watching TV and movies and I find they influence me a great deal. I also have a lot of poems in Okay Pony written after visual art and music.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I would love to be a real estate tycoon.

19 - What are you currently working on?
I am trying to write non-fiction memoir essays. It is new for me and I have a lot of work to do if I want them to be any good!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Melissa Eleftherion, Field guide to autobiography




cockle

my heart-shaped secretion
my exposed symmetry
a specimen

in the sediment buried alive

bilateral suction
a siphon

i am edible in shapes

The author of numerous poetry chapbooks, Northern California poet Melissa Eleftherion’s first full-length poetry collection is Field guide to autobiography (H_NGM_N Books, 2017), a collection made up of short sketch-poems in three sections: “auto/,” “/bio” and “field graph [no guide].” The short poems of Field guide to autobiography are rife with a sense of play and the visual field of the page, sketching a quickness of phrase, deft turns and halting language. Utilizing details and influence from published field guides to trigger poems blending other elements of information, including biographical, the poems in Field guide to autobiography do have a sense of rushed movement, nearly breathlessly so, streaking across each page like a meteor shower; or, as she writes in the poem “sea cucumber”:

            spines buried deep

      tentacles grown over and again

            a skeleton mouth

            to grab the crumbs

            to be inside a body

            there is a fur