Emma Bolden

BoldenGeography V (Winged City Chapbook Press, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?  

There are so many!  I’ll start by saying that this list will be incomplete, and that I’ll probably realize with a terrible clarity — and while pouring milk or driving or sleeping or something — that I’ve made an omission. That being said, here is my (incomplete) list: Hannah Dela Cruz Abrams’ The Man Who Danced With Dolls, Jessica Smith’s Trauma Mouth, Quinn White’s My Moustache, Kristina Marie Darling’s Melancholia (An Essay), Julianna Gray’s Anne Boleyn’s Sleeve, Katie Bowler’s State Street, and Ross White’s How We Came Upon the Colony.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think that perhaps it’s the form of a chapbook itself, as well as what that form does to the content, that’s my biggest inspiration. It’s kind of the diamond of the literary collection: the brevity creates a different kind of constraint by applying more pressure than the full-length collection or book-length narrative. Under that pressure, language — along with its patterns and processes, its stories and structures – is purified and hardened, with all excesses burned away.

What’s your chapbook about?

Geography V began with an ending: specifically, it began with the ending of my last serious relationship. It began with a sentence I wrote and then erased, a sentence that doesn’t appear anywhere in the published text: Who says the last love is the one that lasts? For years, I had faced love both in my life on the page and in my life in the world with a singular and circular focus, as it if it were the only thing that could save me. The essays began when I asked myself why I was waiting to be saved, why I didn’t just save myself, and, most importantly, why I felt like I needed to be saved in the first place. I realized that I fantasized about love in the same way that people fantasize about a great inheritance from an unknown benefactor, a person who doesn’t even know you but recognizes the worth within you. I realized that love wasn’t the problem: I was. I couldn’t recognize the worth within me and so I recognized love as a fantasy, though I couldn’t recognize the heartbreak this created both for me and for the people I so singularly and excessively loved. My writing began in the moment that became the image that ends the book: me, standing in the middle of an unused room, looking at the unplugged lamps and random boxes and disassembled pieces of furniture. It began with me looking at those boxes and those pieces and all of those empty spaces and realizing that though I had been hurt, I had also hurt others. I realized that by believing so fiercely and singularly in love as this fantasy of salvation, I had forgotten that I was human and that the men I loved were human. I had done terrible damage. I said to myself, Okay. I had some major reckoning to do, and I wrote until I’d come as close as I could to that reckoning.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. 

I kind of approached writing in the same way that I approached confession: as a way of moving through the narratives I’d made out of my life and recognizing that I was neither the hero nor victim, and that I was often the villain. I wrote in the third person, as looking at my I as a she helped me to understand not what others have done unto me but what I had done unto others. It helped me with my reckoning by giving me a way to confess the wrongs that I had done to the page, to the people I had done wrong to, including, importantly, myself. Did I succeed entirely in this reckoning? Probably not. Of course not. Even if the I is she in the narrative, it is still me, and it was still a difficult thing — even though I knew it was necessary, even though it was my main intention — to confess all of the wrongs that I and she had done.

I also cycled through Lucinda Williams albums on a constant loop, which seemed like an important part of the writing process.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? 

I chose the title Geography V, which I borrowed from Elizabeth Bishop’s collection, Geography III, for a lot of reasons. In many ways, my relationship with Bishop’s work has followed the same kind of circular orbit as my relationship with love itself. At first, I hated her. I’m willing to admit it. I came to her work as a teenager, and to my thirteen-year-old self, her poems seemed so stodgy, so removed, so quiet and stoic in comparison to my other poetic first loves, like Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath and even, and in a lot of ways, Emily Dickinson. Later, these would be the very traits that brought me back to Bishop’s work, this time with a ferocious fanship and yes, even love, for her language.

However, even as an angsty teenager hellbent on writing confessional poetry while listening to Tori Amos’s Boys for Pele (also on a constant loop), one Bishop poem astounded me: “In the Waiting Room.” In the poem, Bishop remembers sitting in the waiting room and flipping through an issue of National Geographic while her aunt visits the dentist. There’s this moment where Bishop has a dizzy realization of herself existing as a self, as an Other to her own view of her own self, just like her aunt and the women in the magazine.  “[Y]ou are an I,” Bishop writes, “you are an Elizabeth, / you are one of them. / Why should you be one, too?”  Since I had tried in these essays for that kind of sense of self – or, rather, the ability to see my self as a self — I pilfered Bishop’s title, partly for the aforementioned reason, partly as a nod to Bishop from my dawning realization that all of her work had been right for me all along.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Winged City was really wonderful and willing to collaborate with cover design. I wanted an image that combined the ideas of distance I play with in the essays, distances that are measurable and immeasurable. I found an old map in my floorboard and an old star map in my closet, and then I found my old manual camera from high school. I remembered how to use it enough to get a few successful double exposures, and that’s the cover image.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on a couple of poetry projects and a memoir about my experience with endometriosis and other conditions gathered under the umbrella that my grandmother might artfully have referred to as “lady problems.”

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

I think that there can be a stigma against chapbooks out in the writing world – some people assume that if you publish a chapbook, you won’t publish a full collection.  My advice would be to ignore this (and, really, most) advice. A chapbook-sized collection is a very complete collection. It feels like an entirely different art, and one that writers shouldn’t be afraid to practice.

How was this project personally relevant to you?

This is the kind of question that writers often resist, especially in the academic culture of creative writing programs. There are no clear and measurable outcomes when it comes to one’s personal relationship with writing and the relationship between writing and one’s personal life. This semester, however, I’m teaching a group of very courageous young writers who write with a passionate but skillful fearlessness that I admire and, admittedly, envy. Their bravery extends to the way that they talk about writing, and that extends to the sometimes-academically-taboo idea that writing does something – and something terribly, vitally important – for us as human beings. I’ve been inspired by their bravery to consider this question in my own life and writing, and I think that Geography V, perhaps more than anything I’ve ever written, did something – something terribly, vitally important – for me as a human being. Since the essays are about love, it is perhaps no surprise that the thing they did was to bring me (terribly, vitally important) closure. As I wrote, I came closer and closer to coming clean. I came closer to the kind of reckoning that involves a recitation of sins, the kind of reckoning that includes a summation of accounts but moves beyond summation into reconciliation. After I’d finished this series of essays, I realized that a period of my life I finally ended. There’s another meaning of the word reckoning, a meaning that involves settling, a word that instantly brings to mind one of those phrases we use when we talk about love: settling down. That’s what Geography V helped me to do. It helped me to settle the boiling conflicts of my life, the endless circular obsession with love, the endless search for a rescue that, of course, I secretly knew from the beginning I could only bring to myself. And so I settled down, finally, with my first love: language. I am happy to report that we are very seriously happy in the home we’ve made together.

Which piece is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

Oh, “2030.95 Miles,” no doubt. The essay is about my experience with an online sexual predator; though it’s often discussed today, that wasn’t really a topic often discussed in 1990-1991, which is when the events takes place. It’s actually something I never talked about before I wrote the essay, so it felt like a huge risk – and in many ways, a huge surprise — to me. It’s also very different from the rest of the essays, especially in terms of chronology. I fought with myself over whether or not to include it, but, in the end, it feels like the cornerstone of the collection.

Does your family read your chapbook?

Oh Lord no. Or at least I hope not. My parents have been incredibly supportive of my writing from a very early age, and I’m certain that without their continued support, I wouldn’t be writing today. One of the incredibly supportive things that they did was allow me to audition for the creative writing department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts; I was accepted and started my studies there in eighth grade. Over the course of the next five years, my parents went to a lot of readings and read a lot of my work, and, given that I was angsty and Plath-obsessed and listening to Tori Amos (on a constant, constant loop), one can imagine what that would be like. They were patient and wonderful and supportive, even when my work was at its most angsty. It’s perhaps for that reason that I feel kind of protective of them now, and I give them a head’s up about what might be difficult for them to read. It’s difficult enough for me to read this chapbook, so it’s on the NSFF (Not Safe For Family) list.


Emma Bolden is the author of two full-length poetry collections — Maleficae (GenPop Books) and medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press, forthcoming) — and four chapbooks — How to Recognize a Lady (Toadlily Press), The Mariner’s Wife (Finishing Line Press), The Sad Epistles (Dancing Girl Press), and This Is Our Hollywood (The Chapbook). Her work has appeared in such journals as The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Conduit, and Verse, as well as Poetry Daily. In 2014, she was the winner of Gulf Coast’s Barthelme Prize for Short Prose, Prime Number Magazine/ Press 53’s Contest for Flash Nonfiction, and the Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize.




He said worse things to her than she ever thought she would hear. She said worse things to him than she ever thought she would say. She woke up in the morning and watched the light and the blinds and her cat’s paw grow larger as it moved towards her nose. The room was still a room. It was still and the air inside of it was still. She wanted to take it all back. She wanted to never take anything back. She made coffee in the French press she bought in the week his things still lived in her house. The French press was made of glass, no plastic, and the coffee was the free trade dark Italian roast coffee he loved and she hated. She’d told him she loved it. Even as she’d said it, she knew it was a lie.

She bought pressboard bookcases.  She moved the vanity three times until it became a desk.  She sat in the floor in the room that was no longer his room.  She bought a round rug with a gray outline of flowers that flowered into Technicolor, into orange and purple and blue. She curtained and blinded the windows. The wall became the space without the bed he was supposed to sleep in when she snored. Instead, there was a series of lamps trailing their cords. She cried until she felt satisfied, then stood to mop the floor.

Catherine Moore

467Moore_Catherine_COVStory (Finishing Line Press, 2015)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Why?

The last one I read, typically. Like a short story, a poetry chapbook is easy to fit into busy days. I love reading experiences where I become immersed in a single thread of thought and linger for a while. The chapbooks I remember most are ones such as Kathleen Kirk’s Interior Sculpture (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), a series of poems in the voice of Camille Claudel. I suppose my favorite reads suggest that I enjoy cohesion and thematic subjects.

Please describe your collection of poetry.

Story is a series of narrative poems that explores resilient stories found in seemingly quiet moments. This collection seeks to observe the small but significant things around our world and in our own lives, and to record it in variety. I arranged individual poems to complement each other and to hold their own, as if everyday the book can beckon, “come here and let me tell you a story.”

How long did you work on the poems in this collection? Or can you name one piece that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook?

I’m not certain about timeframes; they were written over a span of years. Some poems I estimate were begun about four years ago. At that time, I did not set out with the intention of writing a chapbook; this collection originated by finding a familiar narrative voice in the poetry within my notebooks. In reading some of my narrative poetry, I noticed a pattern of menial tasks and an expression that in these moments, we still find art and poetry around us. This broadened into more poems about the small and significant, until I eventually reduced the collection into the poems I felt did a unique job in distilling variations on the theme ‘story.’

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

I have a friend, Mandy Gist, who is a wonderful photographer and worked with me on the cover. She and I brainstormed over the various imagery present in these poems and how that might be staged for the camera, then I gave her free reign to pursue what moved her on film. She pulled the visual image of a laundromat dryer from one of the poems and wiped the book title into steam on the inside glass. In the final choice it was between this photo and one of a bowl of Alphabits cereal that spelled out STORY, but the selected cover image seemed to speak to the fleetingness in our life stories, echoed in many of the poems. And it was my fiancée’s favorite since it supported his personal philosophy of circuitry — laundry is life.

What is your writing practice or process? Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?

I try to avoid technology as much as possible in the creative process. I begin nearly everything I write with pen and paper. I wander nomadically for that day’s best writing spot—inside, outside, in between. When something I’ve written feels solid, or the hieroglyphics of my arrows and crisscrossing begin to confuse me, I switch to a keyboard for the editing process. When I feel the writing is finished, it sits. I think the key ingredient to good writing is marination. A toss, and a cut, then more waiting.

Which piece is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

“The While”may be a misfit of sorts, since it is about the lack of story. The waiting periods, when we feel life is in a holding pattern, life moves around us not through us. Sometimes no story is the story. Months that appear frustratingly empty are often a time of hibernation, rejuvenation, and recovery. I felt this should be included.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

Yes, you may have a free copy if you treat the author out to dinner at the Cork & Cow.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Read as many as you can to understand who is publishing the work you like and to gain an appreciation for the creative focus that a small collection offers.

What are you working on now?

Poetry. I hardly go three days without sketching a poem even if I’m knee-deep in some other sort of writing. Though lately I’ve taken to longer thematic works that span the bridge between poetry and prose in their hybridity. We will see where this new hybrid writing takes me.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

It is tempting to answer “the Pulitzer prize novel winners and Pushcart short stories” because that is truthful even if high-browed. Then I’d have to confess it is not the only answer since this collection contains a brief appearance from the B-52’s, and I have a poem currently circulating that features Batman, and had one published about Dr. Seuss’s Sneetches. Inspiration comes from everywhere.

What’s the title for a book you haven’t written yet?

Doyle Corners, a wild and unwieldy historical family saga of a novel, if I should live that long to see it (begun) completed.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

I hope people who haven’t read poetry since it was last assigned in high school read this book. And if they enjoy it, next I’d recommend they pick up an anthology like the “Poetry 180” series to find contemporary poets doing wicked cool things with words.

It would also be great if James Franco read Story and optioned a poem in a movie deal.


Catherine Moore’s work has appeared in Grey Sparrow, Tahoma Literary Review, Southeast Review, and in anthologies, most recently one from Pankhearst Press. She is the winner of the 2014 Gearhart poetry prize and was nominated for “The Best Small Fictions of 2015.” Her chapbook Story is available with Finishing Line Press. Catherine earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tampa. She moved to the Nashville area, where she enjoys a thriving arts and writing community. She currently is the Guest Editor of Female Poets at Toe Good Poetry and reviews poetry books for literary journals. Catherine also volunteers as a literacy tutor.





Still Life

They pose
the lonely
together in photos—

your lazy eye
mistaken for a wink,
my fallen cheek
likens a dimple.

Alicia Salvadeo

Err to NarrowErr to Narrow (Poetry Society of America, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

There are so many, but a few that immediately come to mind, and which I’ve been returning to a lot lately, are Soham Patel’s and nevermind the storm (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs), Anne Boyer’s MY COMMON HEART (Spooky Girlfriend Press), and Brenda Iijima’s going blooming falling blooming (Delete Press).

What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?

Err to Narrow both is and isn’t about sexuality, gender, politics, globalization, and terrorism—abstract monsters that were only grazing my consciousness by the time I could legally vote. Part of the narrator, the memorialized self, hardly recognizes these invisible strings yet.

I was born in 1990, in Staten Island. In the sixth grade, when I was eleven years old, we ran between the rooms with televisions and the windows, watching the towers burn on screen and the smoke trailing away from Manhattan in the sky out our windows. Trauma of this magnitude was foreign, confusing, and quickly enveloped by automatic patriotism. In comparison, it was still somehow easy, despite the physical proximity to the initial event, to permit the war to unfold far away at the periphery, to “tune in” at will (or not). It was easy to not question that dissonance and go on my way, with all the benefits of my privilege and the safety that appeared to prevail, so long as the aftermath unfolded elsewhere. This book examines that thinking and behavior. I hope it also asserts itself as a challenge to that thinking and behavior.

I wrote most of Err to Narrow during a workshop with Sueyeun Juliette Lee. Early in the semester, she challenged our group to come up with provisional definitions for whatexperimental poetry” is—what it might seek to accomplish, where it begins, etc. This exercise lasted throughout the semester (and continues for me still—I’m sure that was the point). We read the “Hegemony” chapter from Raymond Williams’s Marxism and Literature; and so I wrote Err to Narrow with that discussion in mind, of how to prolong, preserve, or produce anew “experimental” methods and art works within hegemonic structures. I was (and am) trying to locate how I, as a young citizen and poet, could respond and contribute in a way that permits ongoing, open participation as well as the interrogation of anything precluding it. I think this is the underlying hope of the chapbook’s final poem, “Okay Moon.” Many people seem to respond to this poem the most, and I’m grateful for that.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The first poem in the book, “The Trouble with Boys,” was the first poem I wrote. The draft started with that title as a premise, with little in the way of initial intention, though I quickly relied upon my adolescent years for its content. I had always surrounded myself with male friends growing up; I also lived next door to my cousins, five of whom were boys. I worshipped a compass that spun according to “boys will be boys,” though that never quite  aligned with what was still expected of me as a young girl (which at the end of the day took precedence). These irreconcilable frames began to break down as I got older, and I thought with this poem I might look for the crack. Err to Narrow really snowballed from that poem, particularly these two lines:

            the something beneath      this inheritance

            my present tense                        my ragged banner

This collection is many things (to me), among them an exercise in imaginative time travel. For a long time before that, I found it difficult to effectively incorporate my politics into poems. Maybe it was because I was still negotiating what my role as citizen and witness had been up until that point – I think the poetics that emerges from these poems reflects this. Err to Narrow navigates and interrogates a post-9/11 [and implicitly, female] body within a post-9/11 nation. Guiding the narrative is this recurring present self (in many ways an autobiographical representation), who simply by remembering is actively witnessing the politicization of her adolescent body on local and global scales, suspended in these private and public events.

How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?

For a while I thought Err to Narrow might be longer. I have several poems that didn’t make it into final drafts, as well as a few ideas for new poems—personal and historical events I was interested in [re-]visiting. I’ve filed those drafts and notes away for now. Each time I reread the later drafts of the manuscript, I felt more convinced that it conveyed more as a smaller manuscript—an analogy, maybe, for the kind of smallness you feel as you begin to cognize just how small you are, a little blip hardly registering in human history, or how cartoonishly small the earth looks beside the sun in middle school textbooks; but then there’s this defiantly enormous imaginative life in each of us! Besides this, I wanted to shift my work’s focus toward the present moment, in which, of course, there is still the War of Terror, and also: I am still continually changing, my body is continually written upon as a woman, and my body is continually writing itself.

As for the title, there has only been the one, and there is no other title I could possibly imagine. “Err to Narrow” encompasses the time, location, and mien of these poems. It is an anagram for “War on Terror.” It is a marker of physical place, referring to the Narrows in New York—the strait between Staten Island and Brooklyn, where the Hudson empties into the Atlantic. Where little water meets big water. It’s also an acknowledgment of failure: a literal translation of mistakes and transgressions, funneling into a space we often miscalculate as too small for anyone but ourselves. I mean locally, on an individual scale—I speak for myself—and I also mean everything that is outside of myself. There is a spectrum of injury we endure and cause, and it may be the only thing, to me, that seems bigger than that space we want, that we try to claim for ourselves. But there’s an ocean at the end of the strait, and there’s plenty of room after that.

The title, for me, plumes from the event that initiated much of America’s youngest generation into an uncomfortable knowledge of large-scale human suffering. This was certainly the case for me. I was (am) white, middle class, educated, well-cared for and well-loved. I had a very thin awareness of discrimination and poverty. Until 9/11, the petty offenses of grade school heralded the end of the world. Unlearning that lack of awareness and acting upon those lessons are among the most important social responsibilities I feel I have. A dangerous alternative is the kind of acceptance—out of defeat, distraction, or disengagement—an anthem like “Okay Moon” seems to suggest. That poem is supposed to make the reader feel unsettled, and hopefully arouses a desire to take and encourage social responsibility.

Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?

I must have stood beneath some incredible planetary alignments when I finally decided to send out this book—I only submitted it to the Poetry Society of America’s Chapbook Fellowship contest, and am beyond grateful to Nick Flynn, who selected it for final publication.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The PSA chapbooks are designed by Gabriele Wilson. I work in a busy office space; so when Brett Fletcher Lauer, PSA’s deputy director, e-mailed me the cover draft, I kind of had to duck under the desk with my happy tears. The design of these books is really gorgeous. Julianna Goodman made the cover art for all four chapbooks in the 2014 series. I think what impressed me so much, seeing the images for the first time, was that these rough shapes—swatched, torn, sheared from former materials—mimic crudely the perfect geometries of circles and rectangles we learn to recognize as children; but they are also Manhattan, the rivers and skyscrapers, the pink New York geography, the pink sun. I knew I was looking at Err to Narrow. The cover art for the PSA chapbooks is the illustrators’ reaction to the poems; so that’s really the extent to which I participated in my book’s design, by offering the poems.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

What other texts influenced your chapbook?

“Happy Xmas (War Is Over),” John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with the Harlem Community Choir; “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” Alfred Tennyson; Osama bin Laden’s Dispatch before 9/11 (translated for the New York Times by Capital Communications Group and Imad Musa); various interviews and press statements given by George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld; The Amazing Spider-Man #36; “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” Louis Althusser; “Hegemony” (from Marxism and Literature), Raymond Williams; The Online Etymology Dictionary; this image.

If your chapbook wasn’t a chapbook — if it was in some other form — what would it be?

I thought about this, prior to hearing my chapbook was accepted for publication. I considered constructing graphic collages to accompany it. (This isn’t an idea I’ve abandoned altogether, though I’m focused on other work at the moment.) I think most of these poems already present themselves as textual collages, especially the title poem.

Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful backstory to you? What’s the backstory?

The first poem that comes to mind is “America Loves Jessica Lynch.” I don’t actually have much to contribute in terms of backstory, as much of the poem responds to an historical event (through the cracks of more personal moments). I was thirteen at the time of the retrieval mission and Jessica Lynch’s return to the U.S. from Iraq, so what I remember is limited to her image in the news that year, with stars and stripes forever behind her. I was still too naïve to really process the details concerning her rescue, and more fascinated by the fact that she was a girl (“little girl Rambo” was an epithet she fought to distance herself from) not so much older than me. What resonates with me, reading about her much later, are the differences between the story that the military and media presented and her own account of what happened, and how the former was often privileged in conversation. There is something paradoxically heroic about Lynch, about her challenging their fabrication of national heroes (i.e. herself).

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m reading the poems of Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (collected in Body Sweats), and am writing a poem in response. I’m planning to eventually adapt it into a set of postcard-sized collages.

Otherwise, I’ve been working awhile on a long poem that is kind of about art and spring and war and the economy (in other words, I am being totally undisciplined and unselective at the moment); but mostly, it’s about friendships and how such relationships facilitate and endure one’s being-in-the-world. Its sections are connected by recurring meditations (and distortions) of “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus,” a painting attributed to Brueghel that has been several times the subject of poems (not to mention Icarus’s exhaustion as the subject of art).


Alicia Salvadeo lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she studied poetry and history as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of two chapbooks, Memory Milk (Diamond Wave Press, 2012) and Err to Narrow (Poetry Society of America, 2014), which was selected by Nick Flynn for the National Chapbook Fellowship. Her poetry and criticism has appeared in Bodega Magazine, Bombay Gin, DIAGRAM, Phantom Limb, The Portable Boog Reader, Sentence, and The Volta.




A majority when asked what
they would give up

to be care free    The teacher
counts our heads

on the field day bus
each spring; I miss it

when it’s so dark

in winter I pick
the skin off my lips

My mother corrects me
on “pulling”

the studio audience—

final answer divided
between moon and elephant

My only major fear is
space aliens   singing beside us

with glimmer guns
disintegrating my body

when it’s so dark:
sum of my night vowels

and sometimes the sun
stops, sometimes

there’s a god in it

warrior    or worrier

(first appeared in The Portable Boog Reader 7)

Andrea Young

The People Is Singular (Press Street, 2012) Andrea Young

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

This was my third chapbook, part of a series put out by Press Street Press which included visual art. So I looked to the books they had already done in the series such as Brad Richard’s Curtain Optional, which was a collaboration with his father, Jim, who is a painter, and Bitter Ink by Moose Jackson. Other books that come to mind may or may not be included based on how we define chapbook. Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems and Federico Garcia Lorca’s In Search of Duende were both published as relatively small books I turn to again and again. Pablo Neruda’s Spain in Our Hearts, as well as its storied history, has been pivotal to how I think of poetry and what it can do. In addition to size, I think all of these books dealt with a larger, public social consciousness, an interest in subject and audience outside of what might be considered, strictly, “literary.” More than, perhaps, any specific work, I was influenced by the popular, “people’s” nature of the chapbook, the fact that it is meant for the masses, which suited the subject matter of the book.

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

The nature of the chapbook—its associations with the masses, with workers, with cheap-ness, with politics, with almanacs, with song— reveals some of my abiding passions. The Press Street series, with its focus on visual art, and the work of Ginsberg and Neruda, so steeped in their historical moments, as well as Lorca’s ideas of duende: those attest to subjects very close to my heart and my work.

What’s your chapbook about?

It is about the Egyptian revolution of early 2011 and about trying to navigate its unfolding as part of an Egyptian-American family on the other side of the globe.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?

My first book was mine, and it came out around 2000. It was very much steeped in my personal and familial history growing up in southern WV with a history of coal mining in my family. The image on the cover was of my father getting off of work as a young man in the coal mines.

The second book was another visual arts collaboration, a limited edition facilitated by Joe DeSalvo of Faulkner House Books, with Karoline Schleh. That one took fire as a theme and used a translation of Julio Cortazar’s title, All Fires the Fire. Each copy of those books came with a wooden match and gorgeous handmade paper.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The poem “Mubasher,” which means “live” in Arabic and referred to the livestreams we were glued to that were coming out of Egypt then, is the poem from which the title comes (in my full length collection, All Night It Is Morning, and below, I retitled the poem “The People is Singular”). I don’t know if it inspired the rest of the book as much as it is somewhat emblematic of the poems in it. The poem tries to capture the experience of watching the events in real time from a vantage point of being completely helpless to do anything about them, as well as the privilege of having a distance from the violence. The poem asks “should we mute the sound of gunshots?” And that feeling of wanting to be present in the moment with the people experiencing such extremity, while at the same time feeling the limits of what one can take in and the guilt of really being outside of it all, captures a lot of what the book is concerned with.

How did you decide on arrangement and title of your chapbook?

Because the book is, in large part, a response to things that actually happened, the arrangement was informed by the chronology of events. I wanted the title to speak to some of the issues of distance between not only witness and victim but also the distance between languages, and I thought the phrase from the poem worked well for that.

Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?

Neither. I was very happy that Press Street was interested in featuring some of my work in their series.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The book designer, Sarah Grainer, and I had several fruitful conversations to arrive at a shared vision. Because this was a collaboration with a visual artist, I had a dialogue with the photographer in Egypt in order to first get a bank of images that made sense for the book. Then Sarah and I both agreed on the images not being too illustrative or one-to-one with the poems. We also had the challenge of presenting fresh images to an audience that had, perhaps, been saturated with the dramatic visual footage of the revolution to which they had been exposed. Salwa Rashad’s photos bring out the intimacy of being within the crowds as a citizen as opposed to a journalist watching it from a building high about Tahrir Square. So we wanted to emphasize that. The cover proved the most difficult because we wanted an iconic image, but we also did not want it to be too familiar-feeling or too representative of the title. Her idea to turn the image on its side was a brilliant one and, in fact, I must credit her keen visual sense for what I see as the handsomeness of the book, in general.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

In addition to the usual readings at literary venues, I launched the book in a dramatic way with a multimedia/ multilingual event on the one-year anniversary of the revolution. Salwa’s photos were displayed on the walls of the venue, and I worked with an amazing group of talented people to project images and soundscapes which evoked some of the atmosphere of Tahrir Square. The music, which was performed by the amazing AlSarah and Tao Seeger, put the Egyptian revolution in a wider context of struggle and revolution with music from as far afield as the Spanish Civil War and the Appalachian coal mine wars.

What are you working on now?

I’m slowly accumulating poems toward what I hope will be a second full-length book. My first just came out in November but represents many, many years of work – pretty much the span of my work as a poet! All three chapbooks, including the entirety of The People is Singular, are represented. I want my next book to be more focused on my experience of living in Egypt because I think there is enough material to unpack from that time to make a collection.

What is your writing practice or process? 

Because I am working two jobs and have two young children, my writing practice is to desperately try to carve from life little chunks of time in which I can work.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Enjoy the focus of the tiny universe that is the chapbook. From my experience, the smallness and intensity of the focus is a different kind of pleasure from the vast, unwieldy land of making a full-length book.

What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?

How do you exploit the intense focus of the chapbook form without allowing it to be redundant or claustrophobic?

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?

The world is that of the revolution in Egypt (with a few poems which reflect on other surrounding countries of the Arab uprisings). The inhabitants are not only those in the struggle but also a speaker who is invested in their world.

What themes and images “bridge” your work? Have you found that composing a chapbook alleviates these inclinations, or amplifies them?

The themes and images cohered because they were centered around a particular set of events. The fact that it was chapbook emphasized this cohesion.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?

I hope the chapbook can speak to people involved in, and interested by, resistance to power, whether in Egypt or elsewhere. I also hope the poems can help to humanize the people within these struggles for people who are outside of them.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

I always set out to write individual poems; if I think of writing toward a project, I tend to feel inhibited. But once the idea of a chapbook was in the air, I began to see how the poems might coalesce. The arc was inherent in the subject as it followed a particular series of events.


Andy Young collection All Night It Is Morning was published in November 2015 by Dialogos Press. For the last two years she lived in Egypt, where she worked at the American University in Cairo, and currently teaches at New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and at Tulane University. A graduate of the Warren Wilson Program for Writers, her writing has also been published in three chapbooks, publications in Lebanon, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, and throughout the United States in places such as the Los Angeles Review of Books, Callaloo, Guernica, and the Norton anthology Language for a New Century.


All Night It Is Morning – http://www.lavenderink.org/content/diag/295



The People Is Singular

in the dark
a white-lit
screen: watercannons

spraying praying
on Qasr-El Nil Bridge

humans shielding
books Akhenaton

which way will
________the army
go chanting pours

through my husband’s
selmeya selmeya

he says

the screen
screens in Tahrir

gone black
the Square
itself black

except for
________the flashes
should we mute

the sound
of gunshots
eshop yureed eshop

yureed what
________the hell
does it mean

the people want
________the people
want the fall

of the fall
of the you
say they say

the people
want bread
the barrier between us

and our president
was broken
by teargas says a man

in the news
who cannot
mute cannot shut

the screen to teargas
a fog from
this distance up close

the canisters
expired dates
made in usa

etched in metal
________in Arabic
“the people” is

singular which
does not

Katy E. Ellis

Gravity (Yellow Flag Press, 2015) gravity ellis

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?

At university in Victoria, B.C., my friend Heather Simeney MacLeod used to make chapbooks to commemorate readings which featured Canadian authors such as Al Purdy, Lance Blomgren, Patrick Lane, and Rebecca Fredrickson. My favorite chapbook was Pour Your Wine and Bathe Here. I have a copy with most of the poems signed by the authors. It’s very homemade looking (obviously done at the computer lab, photocopied and saddle stapled—I think I might’ve even helped do the stapling late one night) yet so charming. I’ve kept it all these years; I love its simplicity and its provenance!

I first understood the power and beauty of chapbooks when I returned to Seattle (where I was born, and live now) and noticed a chapbook contest through Floating Bridge Press. That year (1997) they chose Donna Waidtlow’s A Woman Named Wife as the winner, and I was hooked. The digestible size, the “themed” content, and the luscious cover paper and design opened my eyes to what chapbooks could be. On and off I entered the competition (never won) and received copies of the winning chapbooks. In 2013 the winning chapbook, and my most favorite chapbook to date, was Ghost House by Hannah Faith Notess. I’ve read it many times.

Other favorite, lovely chapbooks include Agoraphobia by Kristin LaTour (Dancing Girl Press); Shapes of Orion by Heather Simeney MacLeod (Smoking Lung Press); A Certain Hold by Ann Batchelor Hursey (Finishing Line Press); Doll Studies: Forensics by Carol Guess (Dancing Girl Press).

What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I think Pour Your Wine and Bathe Here connected me to the authors and their poems more intimately than, say, their glossy, full-length books. I liked that the chapbook reminded me that poems need paper, and how extraordinary it was that my friend could simply “make a book” and we could access the poets and their words just like that (finger snap here).

The Floating Bridge chapbook series opened my eyes to poets in my writing community (the books are only by Washington State poets). I was suddenly aware of how surrounded I was by poets (really good ones!). I think the books also moved me to think of poetry in more manageable doses both to read and to write.

Hannah Faith Notess’ Ghost House had the effect of forcing me to savor every poem.  Something about the continuity of the poems in this small book inspired me to think more seriously about the poems I keep writing and how I can gather them together into a cohesive collection without being too expansive.

What’s your chapbook about?

Gravity is a mini-chapbook (5.5 inches x 4.25 inches) and is a single poem divided into five sections, each section having its own page. The poem is about space and the moon’s pull on wombs. It’s about the Judeo-Christian God’s pull on a person’s spiritual well-being. Though it’s a very feminine poem, I think it’s about the physical, emotional and spiritual weight each of us bear and try to release.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them?

Urban Animal Expeditions (Dancing Girl Press, 2013) is my first chapbook. It contains 15 poems, and within a number of these I write about my friends and family marrying or having affairs with various animals. I love thinking about how we humans interact with animals in both the physical and the spiritual world. I also like thinking about how our urban existence separates us from the natural world and how we look for whatever scraps of nature we can find to help us connect with our “inner animals.” The poems in Urban Animal Expeditions are variations on this theme.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

As I’ve mentioned, Gravity contains a single poem. However, the poem “Gravity” came from a small manuscript of about 20 poems, and it happens to be the second oldest poem in that collection. I wrote the poem “Gravity” when I was living on Vashon Island in Puget Sound (a 20 minute ferry ride off West Seattle) back in 2000. The final stanza troubled me for years and years (I’m not kidding!). I fiddled with it, submitted it (it was rejected), put it away, and fiddled some more. Only when finalizing the manuscript to submit to Yellow Flag Press in 2014 did I seem to at last get the last stanza in “Gravity” right.

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Bruce Fuller at Yellow Flag Press must have had a vision for this mini-chapbook after he read my poem. I didn’t collaborate at all in the layout and design of the chapbook and, frankly, I’m glad I didn’t! The cover, title pages (complete with floating astronaut) and binding exceeded my expectations because I think they actually enhance the reader’s experience of the poem. It’s a complete, interactive work of art (the hemp binding trails long strings with knots at the end—bringing to mind the tether or cord that ties an astronaut to their ship) and I couldn’t be happier with it.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on quite a few writing projects, including a collection of personal essays. As for poetry, I’m focusing on a manuscript called Anybody’s Animal which is an expanded manuscript of my first chapbook. This collection will include poetry about interspecies relationships but also weaves concepts and images from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairies series with the process of healing and understanding my father’s brush with death when he experienced the rupture of a brain aneurysm in 2012. I like thinking about how we humans belong to each other and about the hierarchies in human/ human and human/ animal relationships.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

I’d advise any author taking on any writing project to read other authors. I think my biggest downfall as a writer has been to not read more. I had bouts of reading lots of different poetry and then I’d get inspired and write a lot and then fizzle out. For some reason I’d forget that reading was the source of that inspiration.

Advice that goes hand in hand with reading other authors is to not compare your writing to that of other authors too much. Sure, you can notice similarities and differences or try the techniques of these writers, but I think it’s important to not compare yourself as better than or worse than another writer. It can really distort and detract from the writing process (at least, that has been the case for me in the past).

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook? Does your chapbook follow a clear arc?

I never saw Gravity as a single chapbook.  It was the first poem in the chapbook manuscript called Each Body Holds Its Own Drastic Light, which I sent to Yellow Flag Press. That manuscript was culled from a larger collection of poems that deal with fantastical conception and desire, unexpected losses and adamant hope.

I’ve read somewhere or heard it said that chapbooks should not be parts of a larger manuscript, but that a chapbook should be a self-contained whole. So I don’t know if it’s right or wrong, but I combed through a larger manuscript in search of what I felt were the strongest pieces, and ones that I felt worked well together as a whole. Neither of my chapbooks were intended to be chapbooks from the get-go. Both were whittled down from larger manuscripts that already had an overarching theme.

Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems? If so, what’s that been like?

In 2014 I started a reading series called WordWest with poet Susan Rich and novelist Harold Taw here in West Seattle. Our goal was to get writers and readers together to experience high-quality community interaction through the written and spoken word. Each event welcomes a local business owner or employee to read a favorite poem and tell why it’s a favorite. We had no idea how hungry our community was to have a serious, consistent literary series in its own backyard! Attendance has been pretty amazing for a literary series (35-50 humans!—sometimes a dog or two) and people keep saying how much they love to hear poetry (and fiction and creative non-fiction) out loud. I can’t help but feel honored and somehow just plain lucky to have played a role in bringing incredible writers and receptive readers together in my neighborhood. It’s an experience of “winning over readers to poetry” that is outside of my ego, outside of my power, and truly relies on the strength of the written word.


Katy E. Ellis grew up under evergreens and high-voltage power lines in Renton, Washington, and studied writing at the University of Victoria in British Columbia and Western Washington University. Aside from her chapbooks Urban Animal Expeditions (Dancing Girl Press) and Gravity (Yellow Flag Press), her poetry appears in a number of literary journals including Literary Mama, MAYDAY Magazine, Redheaded Stepchild, Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and the Canadian journals PRISM International, Grain, and Fiddlehead. She teaches writing to school kids and lives with her husband and daughter in Seattle, Washington. More at www.KatyEEllis.com

Urban Animal Expeditions – dulcetshop.myshopify.com/products/urban-animal-expeditions-katy-e-ellis

“September 12″ (poem) 

Anybody’s Animal” (poem)

WordsWest Literary Series


from Gravity


When he entered his old atmosphere,
gravity yanked Valerie Palyakov
through Earth’s blue shroud
and sidewalk clouds
and further down
the skyscraped skin
that holds our breath
__________________until he pierced
another spacious ocean
brimmed in salt
and stars.

Rajiv Mohabir

Acoustic Trauma (Ghostbird Press, 2015) Acoustic Trauma front cover

Why a chapbook?

I like the chapbook because it’s small enough to have a tightly bound poetic concentration that full-length book projects can’t necessarily get away with. A chapbook also allows you to experiment with fissures and disjoints between poems. If a full-length coheres too much, as a reader I get bored. If there is too much disjoint, I’m easily confused. As a reader. a chapbook lets me get my feet wet without turning into a whale entirely.

This also means that a chapbook could be a way to publish a long poem—like what I have done here in Acoustic Trauma from Ghostbird Press.

What’s your chapbook “about”?

This chapbook is my attempt to merge three areas into one poetic: the eco-critical, the post-colonial, and the queer by examining the natural history of the humpback whale and queer trans-Atlantic migrations of Indians in indenture under the British East India Company.

The connections between these themes are subconscious, each thought joined to another through the form of the long poem written in prose and poetic refrains. The refrains travel through Guyanese Bhojpuri, Creole, and English; the prose sections are both personal and historical. These are songs where the cetacean and the human voices merge into one intonation.

If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them?

This year, I have two chapbooks released. My other one is called A Veil You’ll Cast Aside, by Anew Print (anewprint.tumblr.com/). It’s a translation project where I took one Guyanese folk song and translated it from Guyanese Bhojpuri into Creole and then into English. I did this thirty times, each using a different theory of translation. What I got was both strange and familiar.

I have a chapbook out with Finshing Line Press from 2011 called na mash me bone, which is a translation of my Aji’s (grandmother’s) songs.

I also have one from Pudding House Press 2010 (I didn’t win the annual competition but I was called a “Poet of Note” by the publisher) called na bad-eye me, which is a collection that centers around the removal of the evil eye.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it? 

This long poem was written in two parts. I first wrote the refrain sections and then the prose. I used a strategy of reading the subaltern: I found firsthand accounts from 1898 of queer men who were brought to Guyana on the SS Mersey and were caught having sex. They were “punished” by the ship’s surgeon. This is a tracing of a queer lineage to colonial damage.

I was also highly inspired by news accounts that I had read that concerned the US Navy sonar testing that occurs in the Pacific, and since Hawai`i is heavily militarized, I wanted to write about some of the effects of its present day and illegal occupation and colonization by the United States.

I wanted to put these aspects of my history, my migration story into conversation to let the parallels between what has happened and what is happening today beach themselves on the shores of the poetic line. I want to show my solidarity as a queer who thrives despite being hunted to the brink of extinction.

How did you decide on the title of your chapbook? 

The title comes from the material results of what happens when the US Navy blasts their underwater sonar. It ruptures cetacean auditory organs so much that they are no longer able to navigate, or they are forced to the surface to escape the sonic blast giving them the bends. Basically, I think about how this also happened with the Christian gospel in my family: how it drowned out my grandparents’ mantras and erased queer spaces in our homes.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

I love books on animals: how to track them, what their mating rituals are like, field guides, biological texts, etc. I like to use strange words and phrases I find in them. I like to imagine I can learn everything there is to know about animals and get to know myself that way. I really like stories of transformation, where people turn into animals or where a poem becomes prose and then verse again.

Is there a question you wish you would have been asked about your chapbook? How would you answer it?

Who are the people who inspired this or helped you with this project?

I would have to thank Frank Stewart, Allison Adele Hedge Coke, and Gaiutra Bahadur for their eyes on this project. Frank and Allison helped me by reading over this text, and Gaiutra found the original ship documents from 1898 in the Guyanese National Archive and sent them to me.

I have to thank Rukmini, Mohongu, and Nabibaksh for surviving the ship journey and their contracts of indenture in Guyana. Without their presence in this sort of genaelogy, I would still remain ignorant of their history.

I have to thank the humpbacks who make Hawaiian waters their home for the winter.

I have to thank the Kanaka Maoli on whose unceded ʻāina I calved this poem.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Kimiko Hahn’s chapbook entitled The Cryptic Chamber (Epiphany Editions, 2014) helped me to envision a chapbook-length poem that pays close attention to the sounds of language. It made me aware of subconscious connections between personal experience and biological/ historical texts.

Faizal Deen’s work Land Without Chocolate: A Memoir was also very important to me in considering what his assemblage of identities means as far as staking a poetic claim. He is the first queer Indo-Guyanese poet to publish a collection of poems in North America, and I am inspired and indebted to his trailblazing and to the space he’s made.

As far as text is concerned, Gaiutra Bahadur’s book Coolie Woman was very instrumental in my finding the queer history that I write about. In her book, she makes mention of the violences perpetrated against women and some mention about the anti-queer sentiments fostered by the British colonial regime. You can read more about her book here: http://cooliewoman.com/. She was the one who made accessible these original documents (from 1898) that I draw from. It’s from this text that mine comes: Bahadur’s practice of reading subaltern histories through holes in “official” accounts led me to this project, pushed me to think about charging through the spaces in this poetic with the velocity of imagination.

What are you working on now?

I am working on several things at the moment. I am working on formal poems that derive structure from the mathematics of recorded whale song. I am working on creative non-fiction pieces, poems, video poems, anti-colonial magic spells, fiction, and critical papers, and I am learning to play whale songs on the ocarina. I have a twelve-hole and two four-hole ocarinas that I recently came across.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Love what you do and take risks. Risk telling the truth. Risk blowing off your other “more important” work on your desk to follow the poems that haunt you. You are so beautiful whether you publish or not. Keep writing. The world is a better place when it’s filled with people doing what they love.


Winner of the 2014 Intro Prize in Poetry by Four Way Books for his first full-length collection The Taxidermist’s Cut (Spring 2016), Rajiv Mohabir received fellowships from Voices of Our Nation’s Artist foundation, Kundiman, and the American Institute of Indian Studies language program. His poems appear or are forthcoming from journals and anthologies such as Best American Poetry 2015, Guernica, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Drunken Boat, Anti-, Great River Review, and PANK. He received his MFA in Poetry and Translation from Queens College, CUNY and currently is pursuing a PhD in English from the University of Hawai`i.



You are singing a song with your pectoral fins held out in an upside-down hallelujah. A navy sonar pulses. Imagine a blinding flash. Your hearing’s poached. You dive deep until your folksongs are punctured. When you wash up on shore, your bones will be carved into a white whistle that sings someone else’s song.


                        tutal haddiya pe u aapan khaniya likh dele

                        o rama kauneke aapan ramayanwa sunijai

___________________‘pon abi bruk-up bone dis ‘e write ‘e katha

___________________O Ram who go hear abi Ramine?

_________________________On our broken bones they scrawl their own histories,

_________________________O Rama, who will ever hear of our own Ramayan?

Rachel Marie Patterson

If I Am Burning (Main Street Rag, 2011) If+I+Am+Burning+Cover+Patterson+copy

What’s your chapbook about?

Certainly, these poems explore femininity, femaleness, women’s experiences, social justice. But ultimately, I hope the chapbook is about finding compassion, even for others we don’t like or understand, even if we feel broken apart and angry. I have never believed that poems are private. A poem is, by definition, a public utterance—it has a social function. We sing to others, not to ourselves, not in an echo chamber. So, as a young poet (25 when this chap was released), I wrote these poems to call out, to see who would call back.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

I’ve never asked myself before, but the oldest poem here is “Avignon” (excerpted below). Although this chapbook contains only 16 poems, they span a wide range of perspectives; many are wholly imagined, some historical narratives, some a hybrid of personal experience and a voice for social justice. “Avignon” is actually a personal lyric written for my sister, who was assaulted on her 21st birthday, while studying in France. (She is also a brilliant advocate for women and gave me permission to publish the poem and, now, these words about it.)

I had never thought of “Avignon” or the story it tells, the voice it inhabits, as a catalyst for the poems I would write later. But in fact, this poem brings into sharp relief the ideas and the politics that shape the rest of this collection and my work in general (even now). The lens is small and focused, but the story is, I hope, universal. I wrote the poem to reach out to a woman I loved, to understand her better, to help her understand, and to offer what I could, anything I could. Ultimately, I don’t want my poems to moralize. I want them to tell some truth, to start a conversation about the ways we have been harmed, but also how we might begin to change everything.

Describe your writing practice. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it? 

In my daily life, I manage a non-profit organization serving people with ALS/ MND and travel frequently. When I feel the pull to write, I do it where and how I can—on planes, trains, and buses, late at night or early in the morning. I go through long stretches of writing daily; then I go through spells of generating a draft only once or twice a month. I’ve always been that way.

I used to experience intense anxiety about my routines, feeling that I lacked discipline or structure, that I wasn’t consistent enough. I especially felt that way when I was a student in MFA and PhD programs. But on the whole, I think my anxiety was useless and misdirected. (We’d do much better, in my opinion, to feel anxiety about the poems we’ve already written and sent out into the dark wild than to worry about poems that don’t exist yet.)

One day I decided: I am a poet when I take a shower, when I eat a banana, when I clean the tub, not only when I am scribbling in a notebook. For me, being a poet isn’t about how many poems I write in a week, or how many hours a day I spend writing—it’s about how I see and feel the world and how I choose to talk back to it. No matter how busy or hectic my life becomes, eventually, a poem always finds its way to the surface.

How did you decide on the arrangement of your chapbook?

This bite-sized book actually underwent several revisions. I knew, basically, the poems I wanted to include, but I had tremendous difficulty finding an order. The breakthrough came when I brought the manuscript to my loved poet friend (and one-time classmate), John A. Nieves. John read aloud the first and last line of every poem (but nothing in-between) so that we only heard the transitions, the way one poem bled into the next. We cut these lines out and arranged them on a table. In this way, we came to write a whole new poem, and we wanted it to make a strange and important sense. I knew we had the right order when the book opened with the line, “I am the match you can’t light for the wind” and ended on “the night we drifted through the door like ghosts.” I’ve come to love and cherish this method of arranging poems. Thank you, John, wherever you are!

To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

I was fortunate to work with a publisher who was entirely open to my input on cover art. With my editor’s support, I contacted a friend, Jen Julian, a gifted fiction writer and visual artist. Jen told me she was struck by competing images of light and dark, violence and softness. She wanted to paint something with sharp edges and lightness at the same time. She sent me pictures of the wetlands of Eastern North Carolina (where she grew up), where there are miles of dead pine trees along the road, “spindly, branchless sticks” against a soft, pale landscape. When she sent me her painting—tall, stylized black trees against the suggestion of an orange-white sunset—I was sold. I know how lucky I am to have original artwork on my cover; the painting hangs on my wall, and I’ll always love it.

Does the chapbook form have an impact on the politics of the poems that appear inside it?

I love the chapbook for the same reason I love the poem: it’s controlled, compact, intense. It’s a shot, not a cocktail, in its way. The chapbook is potent. I think form and function are always married—hell, I’m a poet. In the brief space of a chapbook, you can escape, I think, that old wisdom about too many “high-pitched” poems in a row. There’s no filler in a chapbook: every poem can pack punch and power in this hermetic world you make. And it’s just short enough that the reader doesn’t have time to feel that exhaustion, to run. Great chapbooks are short enough that they leave you wanting more.


Rachel Marie Patterson is the co-founder and editor of Radar Poetry (www.radarpoetry.com). She holds an MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is a PhD candidate in English and Creative Writing at the University of Missouri. She is the winner of an Academy of American Poets Prize, and her poems have been nominated for Best of the Net, Best New Poets, and the Pushcart Prize. Her recent work appears in Smartish Pace, The Journal, Cimarron Review, Parcel Magazine, Thrush, The Adroit Journal, Nashville Review, and The Greensboro Review, among others.






That boy was taught
See only what
you want, know only
how to get it.

My sister’s body
was as bright
as a star, as sleek as
a moving river. At night,

I hear the nervous
tick of her heels,
the frantic tinny click
of her key in the door:

Something breaks
in a woman’s mind
when she learns power
equals touch.

Our mother cries;
our father says
A lesson learned.
All over the city,

women sleep
in their sneakers,
count their own bones.