Nicole Sealey

“Not having a process, I’ve learned, is perhaps my process.”

Sealey

The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named  (Northwestern University Press, 2016)

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

Not at all. In my case, the poems came/ come first. The packaging that binds them is secondary.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I’m obsessed with the human condition—I’m a stereotypical poet in that way.

What’s your chapbook about?

This is a difficult question to answer because the work isn’t based on a specific project. There are poems that speak to each other like the Legendary sonnet series based on those featured in Paris Is Burning, a documentary film about drag pageants in 1980s Harlem, and the “Clue” sestinas and the erasure of those sestinas that follow. Otherwise, The Animal is all over the place, which is how my mind works.

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?

There isn’t a specific poem that catalyzed or inspired the chapbook as a whole. Again, I have poems that might speak to each other, but even those began with an idea or image specific to each one. Each is its own thing.

The oldest poem in The Animal is “Unframed.” I wrote it during a 30/30 challenge, in which I attempted to write one poem a day for a month. I failed to write a poem a day, but managed one good poem and a few fairly decent lines.

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

I didn’t really know what I was doing. What I did know is that, whether in tone, theme or word association, I wanted each poem to bleed into the next. I believe, too, that arranging poems is not unlike writing poems—both processes begin with inspiration and proceed with impulse. In terms of title, I love a long title and that line from “Object Permanence” is one of my best.

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

Clue,” the sestinas based on the board game of the same name, is definitely the misfit of the bunch. The inspiration for it seemed to come out of nowhere. At the same time I was writing “Clue,” I started thinking about the erasure as a poetic form. While I didn’t yet feel quite right erasing other peoples’ text, I had no problem erasing my own. “Clue” then provided the text for “C ue.”

I have since formed my opinion about erasure: the form can be as difficult and time consuming as any other.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

I didn’t write poems for the chapbook. I wrote poems and, later, arranged them in The Animal. “Candelabra with Heads” was one that had significant revisions. I’m actually still tinkering with it, so much so that I’ve written a poem in response to my tinkering. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

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

I’ve never had a writing regimen. I am a writer who spends most of my time not writing, which leaves lots of time to think. I write when moved and jot down lines as they come but, in terms of a formal process, I have none. I use to beat myself up about this. But not having a process, I’ve learned, is perhaps my process.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

I haven’t heard many, but I have heard a few unfortunate stories about presses. I can honestly say that that was not my experience. Northwestern University Press was a dream. They suggested edits, of which I could take or leave, and offered a variety of cover images from which to choose. I couldn’t have asked for a better team.

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

I wish I were this prolific! I have the one chapbook and a full-length on its way!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on revisions to my debut full-length collection, Ordinary Beast.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Read widely.

*

Born in St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. and raised in Apopka, Florida, Nicole Sealey is the author of Ordinary Beast, forthcoming from Ecco in fall 2017, and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, winner of the 2015 Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. She is the executive director at Cave Canem Foundation. Author photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

nicolesealey.com

It’s Not Fitness, It’s A Lifestyle

Medical History

Happy Birthday to Me

A Violence

Virginia is for Lovers

Hysterical Strength

 

Jacqueline Doyle

“‘Nola’ became a kind of magnet that attracted the earlier stories like iron filings. The missing girl was an absent center.”

The Missing Girl

The Missing Girl (Black Lawrence Press, 2017)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal piece from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

Here’s an excerpt from the opening story:

You can see her in your mind’s eye, perky smile dimming, fear dawning in her eyes. Yes, you feel like you know this girl. Just the kind to go missing. Awkward and shy. Inexperienced and eager. Tender, playing brave. Dirt poor. You know. The kind of girl who’ll step right into your car if you call her pretty….

Jerrold Road is empty today. Birds gather in one of the tall, bare trees by the roadside, jabbering. Dead leaves whirl in the wake of a chilly gust of wind. Yellow grass. Gray sky. Not a car in sight. Just a girl in a gray sweatshirt, hood up against the cold, walking.

Slow way down and hit the button for the passenger window.

Go ahead, say it. “Hey pretty girl, want a lift?”

Why did you choose this excerpt?

It’s ominous, and the world of the book is dark. The nature of the narrator in the story, a copycat predator titillated by fantasies of another girl who’s gone missing, is not immediately clear. The reader sees this new girl, first walking on the road, then close up in the car, but the girl barely speaks. Her name is Early, but the story suggests it may be too late. There’s a lot the reader doesn’t know, which seems true of many of the other stories too.

What’s your chapbook about?

Girls who’ve been silenced or exploited or gone missing. Predators who’ve targeted girls. The effects of violence outside and inside of us.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Joyce Carol Oates said somewhere, “When people say there is too much violence in Oates, what they are saying is there is too much reality in life.” For a long while I was haunted by stories of abused or murdered or missing girls. The newspapers are filled with their stories, often consigned to the back pages, seemingly unremarked. Caite Dolan-Leach just published a fascinating article in Lit Hub (“Why Do We Love to Read About Missing Girls?” June 29, 2017) suggesting that missing girls have become a central cultural obsession, symptomatic of the systematic disempowerment and erasure of women in American society today, and reflected in many recent novels (including her own novel Dead Letters). It’s a disturbing reality that continues to obsess me.

What’s the oldest story in your chapbook? Or can you name one story that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook?

The stories were written over a period of four years, when I published many other flash on very different subjects, and I didn’t think of them as a group until later. They’re not arranged chronologically by composition, but in fact the oldest piece is also the first story in the collection, “The Missing Girl,” published in Vestal Review in 2013, and the last piece in the collection is also the newest: “Nola,” published in Monkeybicycle last year.

I was tremendously encouraged when J.T. Hill and the editors at Monkeybicycle nominated “Nola” for Best of the Net and a Pushcart, and when Ross McMeekin included “Nola” in his “Best Story I Read in a Lit Mag This Week” series on the Ploughshares blog. “Nola” became a kind of magnet that attracted the earlier stories like iron filings. The missing girl was an absent center, the way the dead woman that you can’t see in his painting becomes an absent but palpable center for the artist in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. She’s the “dark spot you might not notice,” the painter says, “the beginning of everything.” I was tempted to reword my epigraph from Anderson to make that clearer, but only Edgar Allan Poe (and maybe David Shields) can get away with altering and making up epigraphs.

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

Oh, so many! I wrote a piece (“Flash, Back: Revisiting Jayne Anne Phillips”) for the blog at SmokeLong Quarterly about my discovery that Jayne Anne Phillips’ Black Tickets started as a flash chapbook: Sweethearts (Truck Press). Her short prose influenced my writing (along with short prose by Joyce Carol Oates, Sandra Cisneros, Judith Ortiz Cofer, Dorothy Allison, Toni Morrison). Other chapbooks I’ve loved lately, in no particular order: Kara Vernor, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song (Split Lip Press), Kathryn Kulpa, Girls on Film (Paper Nautilus), Stephanie Dickinson, Lust Series (Spuyten Duyvil), Daniel Riddle Rodriguez, Low Village (CutBank Press) and Low Village: Rules of the Game (Nomadic Press), Sarah Xerta, Juliet II (Nostrovia! Poetry), Laura S. Distelheim, We (Gold Line Press), Simone Muench, Trace (Black Lawrence Press). I know I’ve left some out (Carol Guess, Kristina Marie Darling, Peg Alford Pursell, Kelly Magee, others). Black Lawrence Press has some beautiful chapbooks.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

I can’t say enough wonderful things about everyone at Black Lawrence Press—Diane Goettel, Amy Freels, and above all their chapbook editor, Kit Frick, who has devoted so much attention and care to this project. They’ve been wonderfully collaborative every step of the way (cover, design, editing), and run a very tight ship. Black Lawrence sponsors chapbook competitions every spring and fall and I urge everyone to enter. They’ve published some phenomenal writers. You won’t find a better press for your book.

What are you working on now?

Do-It-Yourself Night, a memoir-in-essays. Most of the essays have been published (two were Notables in Best American Essays). The most recent appeared in Superstition Review (Spring 2017) and The Gettysburg Review (Summer 2017). Creative nonfiction is probably my first love (it’s also the class I teach most often at Cal State East Bay), but flash is a close second.

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

Do you write in more than one genre? If so, how does your writing in other genres differ? I write flash (fiction and nonfiction), creative nonfiction, fiction, and have even published the occasional poem. I often seem to reserve fiction for fun (after the labor of locating the truth, I love the freedom to make things up, to inhabit other characters), but I think my most intense and innovative writing has been creative nonfiction, a capacious genre with few hard and fast rules. Secrets emerge from hiding when I interrogate my life on the page. Silenced women repeatedly speak up in my hybrid nonfictions (Freud’s Dora, Mary Magdalene, Ariadne, fairy tale heroines, my great-grandmother, lost to history).

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Never imagine that your first draft is your last draft, or that writing is easy, or that flash will be easier than longer stories. Notice everything. Read widely, outside your comfort zone. Be open to impressions and influences (someone “on whom nothing is lost,” as Henry James said). Accept that there will be setbacks. Don’t give up.

*

Jacqueline Doyle’s flash has appeared in Quarter After Eight, [PANK], Monkeybicycle, Sweet, The Café Irreal, Post Road, The Pinch, and Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence (White Pine Press, 2016). She has published creative nonfiction in The Gettysburg Review, Southern Humanities Review, Catamaran Literary Reader, Superstition Review, South Dakota Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and son in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a professor of English at California State University East Bay.

www.jacquelinedoyle.com

order The Missing Girl

Carly Joy Miller

“Isn’t that what desire can do—harm those even in its sweetness, its lushness, its genius to take over and fall into itself?”

Miller

Like a Beast (Anhinga Press, 2017)

Could you share with us a poem from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook? And why did you choose this poem?

There are a few that come to mind, but “Dayshift as Conduit” is the one that led to the series that drives/ organizes the chapbook (and is the titular poem in the chapbook). I had one “Nightshift” poem (“Nightshift as a Waitress,” which opens the chapbook—and shhh, yes I snuck in an extra poem) at the time. There was an incident where I got hit by a car that was spinning out while I was on my way to a friend’s wedding, and I should have been hurt much worse than I was (which was nothing—my car’s license plate was dented and I was a little shook up). I was told that my “brother,” whom was miscarried, protected me, and I wanted to honor him and his presence. It’s also hard to claim being a conduit, but I strongly believe in the old philosophies that poets are as close to messengers/ voices as we can get without truly being psychics ourselves.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

The chapbook is written in a series of “shifts” that explores the beast of desire. Each shift is split into times—Night, Mid- and Day—that I view as moving from dark to light, lust to devotion/ clarity. I wanted to allow the speaker to take on multiple personas to explore how these moods impact the way the speaker presents herself—entirely female, entirely beast, but more so, entirely human moving through the world with a desire to live at the brink of emotionality.

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

I think it does, absolutely. Once I wrote “Dayshift as Conduit,” I figured out the mode to explore the obsessions mentioned above. I knew right away I wanted to flesh out a series of six poems per shift, although I do have two poems that act as the sort of “outliers” in the “Midshift” section but were written at the same time as a majority of the chapbook. The forms are not strict in the sense that each poem follows the same form, but they do follow the same mood that the section implies (“Night” being darker, “day” being lighter). The one section that connects via form/ content is the “Midshift” section, where each “Midshift” poem acts as a stream of consciousness only in regards to exploring the subject via bestiary and just writing toward the idea of “why this image/ word/ sensation? What about it is haunting you?” Each one is also, for the most part, a prose block where I also put an inch indent on each side to feel sort of boxed in/ allow the mind to be in this space and try to perform its speech.

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it? 

Slightly, yes! I mostly edit while I write, and will just read the poem back to myself when I feel stuck and then try to rearrange words or move a last sentence to the first, something like that. I also was told that when I let myself truly go, that’s when the poems are reaching their wildest potential, so I’m actually slowly working toward letting myself not edit until I get to the sense of the poem being “finished.”

One prompt, though, is the bestiary mode mentioned above. I studied with Natalie Diaz at the Tin House Summer Writing Workshop where I brought most of the poems in the chapbook, and one of her prompts was to identify why an image haunts you via a bestiary. This led to all of the “Midshift” poems that ended up being the last I wrote for the collection.

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

 Here are a few I’ve read recently that knocked me down to the floor: Shelley Wong’s Rare Birds (I got to hear her read from it and kept saying “goddamn, this is good” under my breath the whole time), Analicia Sotelo’s Nonstop Godhead, Eloisa Amezcua’s Symptoms of Teething, and Chloe Honum’s Then, Winter. I have a few on my nightstand still that I bet are going to destroy me, too, including Monica Sok’s Year Zero and Claudia Cortese’s The Red Essay.

I read Meghan Privitello’s chapbook, Notes on the End of the World, about a year after writing Like a Beast, but I immediately knew that I had another poet sister in this world of spell-making. I’ve followed her work since reading her full-length, A New Language for Falling Out of Love, and the way she’s able to pile on nouns and emotionality all at once overwhelms me in the best way.

And while not a chapbook, one line that influenced Like a Beast exponentially (and probably a lot of my work) is from Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s poem “Guest Place,” where it ends on the line “Our own genius for harm.” Isn’t that what desire can do—harm those even in its sweetness, its lushness, its genius to take over and fall into itself?

What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Anhinga is an insane joy to work with, truly. When they called to let me know that the chapbook won the Rick Campbell Prize, I got an email immediately saying, “Hey, we’re aiming to pre-release a few copies at AWP—is the beast more girl or animal?” And they did! I had no say in the cover for that, but they hit it on the head. And then when the real release came out, Jay Snodgrass did everything—he drew the cover! He designed the chapbook! And it’s everything I truly hoped/ wanted it to be. I’m so lucky that Like a Beast found a home with them, and love so many of the authors they publish—I still pinch myself.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

I really wanted to be a singer for the longest time, and I ended up getting stage fright. Songwriting was one of the gateways to poetry for me, so it makes sense since I view my poems as me singing in a different way. That being said, I’m down to karaoke and have won a few very low stakes karaoke contests, so if anyone ever wants to karaoke, by all means, let’s sing.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Have patience and perseverance. I started “seriously writing” my sophomore year of undergrad, and it wasn’t until grad school where I decided to fully let myself go and allow myself to be vulnerable in my work, to let my poems have more than just a pinch of myself. I gave myself permission to dig, and it took a lot of reading and exploration of both my own work and others to understand why I was inclined to write the way I do. And perseverance is being able to recognize that every “failed poem” (I like to think of them as abandoned poems) is a step closer toward figuring out your obsessions, your voice, your style, and yourself.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m in the process of editing my full-length, Ceremonial, which was selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2017 Orison Poetry Prize (I’m forever grateful to him—I hope I get to meet him soon and try to express that in person). It includes some of the poems in Like a Beast, but has many poems that explore the beast within a slant of faith—how the body creates its own beliefs, however desirous, however broken and reformed we tend to be within the bodies we experience the world through. I’m also working on new poems, which I like to call “litanies but not litanies.” I’m not quite sure what I mean by that in the slightest, but the poems are showing themselves as turning another corner with my obsession with desire, with spells/ psalms, and seeing where the beast/ figure of desire wants to lead me now.

*

Carly Joy Miller is the author of Ceremonial (Orison Books, 2018), selected by Carl Phillips as the winner of the 2017 Orison Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Like a Beast (Anhinga Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Rick Campbell Chapbook Prize. Her work has appeared in The Adroit Journal, Blackbird, Boston Review, Gulf Coast, West Branch, and elsewhere. She is a contributing editor for Poetry International and a founding editor of Locked Horn Press.

www.carlyjoymiller.com

Yalie Kamara

“I am excited by writing that doesn’t estrange itself from vulnerability.”

Yalie Kamara

When The Living Sing (Ledge Mule Press, 2017)

Could you share with us a poem from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

Space

At the age of 7, a letter was plucked from my name
as a test to see who would catch the error. To see

who’d care enough to go search for the rest
of me.

For about 4 months, my name appeared as Yal e
on the page.

A part of me wonders why some names are sweeter than others
and become the nectar that pools at the base of our memory.

Would anyone let  ssabelle, Rchard, Elzabeth,
or Snclar escape from the 9th letter of the alphabet?

Me and my broken name, less heavy than before,
began to float away to somewhere else.

No search party was sent to check between the
monkey bars, under the desks, my cubby,

or the palms of my hands. There was no red pen
to correct the flaw.

Nobody else played the game, so there’s no
record of the joyful sound that was made when

the long, lost, me found the small, brown, I.

 Why did you choose this poem?

I chose “Space” because it’s a poem that speaks to identity formation, which is a recurring theme in my chapbook. The poem is one of my most recent explorations of one of my oldest memories of being aware of feeling “different,” and trying to reconcile with it. I think there are echoes of that sentiment in the body of the chapbook—a record of how we dialogue with what in our identities casts shadows/ brings light.

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

I have many chapbooks that I adore, but lately these have been the following: Black Movie by Danez Smith, Equilibrium by Tiana Clark, How to Give Birth to My Mother by Warsan Shire, Blood Percussion by Nate Marshall and The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named by Nicole Sealey.

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

It may suggest what is resoundingly true—I am excited by writing that doesn’t estrange itself from vulnerability. I am also interested in writing that understands classical forms of poetry so well that it can both subvert them and use them to in order to tell stories that certain readerships aren’t used to associating with these narratives.

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

I think so and probably even in ways that I can’t imagine right now. I think the chapbook is an inherently political literary expression. Given its length and the way it distills particular themes down to their essence, the chapbook has a way of sinking quickly and deeply into its reader. The chapbook has the power to implore its reader to make a pretty quick (and intense) emotional investment into the writing. I think a well-written chapbook can subtly challenge its readers’ hearts to expand in all of these surprising (and lightning quick) ways.

 What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I think the driving obsession for the chapbook was the desire to write about how humans interact with the world when they feel loved, isolated, or both.

What’s your chapbook about?

When The Living Sing is an exploration of themes of first generation-American identity, Blackness, womanhood, spirituality and how those subjects interact with loss, the imagination, and freedom.

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 oldest poem in the collection is “Oakland as Home, Home as Myth.” I started working on that poem in 2006 and it’s gone through many, many, revisions in order for it to read the way that it does today. Though the message hasn’t changed, the images and spirit of the poem have become more precise. The poem is about Oakland but was written during three periods of time in which I wasn’t living in Oakland. I think this poem took such a long time because of how much I love the city and because of that love, I would often let my emotions (regarding gentrification, violence, and a general misunderstanding of Oakland) stun me. Realizing the poem was a very slow but necessary process. I’m also happy to love something enough that it’s hard to create art that reflects that adoration.

The poem that catalyzed the chapbook was “Rekia, Oscar, and All of Their Sky Cousins.” My dear friend Kayte thought that I should share this poem with Dave Torneo, an editor at Ledge Mule Press. He was moved by the poem and invited me to create a chapbook, which was an extraordinary experience.

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

I spent a lot of time organizing and reorganizing the poems. All of my organizing advice came from three friends and mentors who happened to be named Dave or David. Dave Torneo of Ledge Mule Press helped me find the title of the chapbook, which is based on a line in one of the poems called “Resurrection.” The title is in direct dialogue with this line. I knew that I loved the title and that I didn’t want to change it. I knew I wouldn’t change the title before I was even sure if the narrative of the collection would be able to support it. My friend/writer David Watters helped me think through the narrative. We talked a lot about it, then spent an afternoon sitting on my living room floor and took turns reading the poems out loud in order to see if the pieces and the title were in harmony with each other. A few poems were removed from the manuscript as a result of that. I taped the remaining to my wall and looked over it for a few weeks and thought that I’d figured out the final order. I sent the manuscript to Dave Eggers, who had agreed to write a blurb for the chapbook (he’s been a champion of my writing since I was a teenager). He suggested “Aubade for Every Room in Which My Mother Resides” as the poem that opened the collection. That last change in the poem order brought the chapbook a cohesion that I hadn’t imagined and really pleased me.

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

I would say “Long Distance” is the “misfit” poem because of length and language. It is a prose poem and though there is another, this one is longer in length and it’s the only poem in which I incorporate usage of my first language, Krio (Sierra Leonean Creole).

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

I don’t always revise right after I receive feedback. “Oakland As Home, Home As Myth” and “Long Distance” were the poems that had the heaviest revision processes. I don’t think they brought a sense of closure to the chapbook beyond the fact that I felt happy with the way that they turned out and it felt like it was time for the writing to be done with (because I felt like I could have tinkered with the chapbook forever and ever).

Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?

When I’m doing revisions based on the feedback of others, I’ll wait for a few days or weeks before jumping in. At times, feedback opens up another door in terms of the possibilities of the poem and I want to make sure that the new path that it may lead me down is the one that I’d like to take or if I want to stay on the track that I’m on. Setting deadlines is really helpful, too. If I fall within a week of what I am aiming for, then I consider it a success! I also believe in reading, reading, and reading again your work aloud. The things you trip over in speech might be an indication of clutter. Also part of poetry is music—I want my writing to reflect that beyond the page. It’s important to remember and respect the aural dimension of written work.

What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The editorial and production processes were extremely positive. Dave Torneo of Ledge Mule Press and Richard Wehrenberg Jr., the designer of the chapbook, encouraged my curiosity (and had the patience to back it up!). Dave and I spent a lot of Saturday mornings drinking coffee and thinking about chapbook design, content, deadlines and talking a lot about poetry in general. Richard’s previous design work was so beautiful that I had no worries there. I did have some anxiety around finding the perfect cover—that took quite a bit of time, which was largely a result of my indecision. The cover that I eventually chose after talking to some folks I really trust was a photo I took when visiting Paris in 2014. Aside from having a chapbook, the other really special thing was getting to become better friends with Dave and Richard. What’s better than art and homies?

What are you working on now?

I am working on my second chapbook, A Brief Biography of My Name (African Poetry Book Fund/ Akashic Books), which will be released as a part of the New Generations African Poetry Chapbook boxed set, which will be published in 2018. I’m also entering the last year of my MFA program at Indiana University.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

Photography, theatre, or film and the strongest evidence for this is that they’re the three artistic disciplines that I can’t stop writing about.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Explore art outside of your primary genre of writing. What you gather elsewhere will likely enrich/ inform your work.

Observe people on public transportation.

Find your best readers.

Be open to feedback.

But also be cautious about what you take in… it’s okay discard the feedback that doesn’t necessitate growth— you’ll start to see patterns in the type of advice that is good for you and your work.

Give writers the amount of attention that you’d like readers to give to your work.

Hold your writing ideas close to the chest; sometimes talking about the work instead of doing the work is the quickest way to kill your project.

What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?

Did you ever want to give up on your chapbook—why did you persist?

Yalie Kamara is a Sierra Leonean-American and native of Oakland, California. In addition to being the author of the chapbook When The Living Sing (Ledge Mule Press, 2017), her work has appeared in Vinyl Poetry and ProsePop-Up Magazine, and Amazon: Day One She is a Callaloo Fellow, a 2017 National Book Critics Circle Emerging Critics Fellow, and was a finalist for the 2017 Brunel International African Poetry Prize. For more information, please visit her website: www.yaylala.com.

purchase When The Living Sing

Soumission Chimique”  in Pop-up Magazine

Mother’s Rules” in Vinyl Poetry & Prose

Haiku Love Letters for Gabby Douglas” in WusGood.Black (scroll down)

Devi S. Laskar

“I chose the title poem… as a metaphor for our experience of not belonging.”

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Gas & Food, No Lodging (Finishing Line Press, 2017)

Could you tell us a bit about your growing up and your path to becoming a writer?

I was born and raised in Chapel Hill, NC. I’ve been writing poems since I was 9. I always thought I’d be some kind of writer or/ and artist. I was a journalist for many years – and had to give up daily newspaper journalism when my children came along. In 2010, my family was racially targeted and I lost the majority of my work. So I had to start over – and I’ve definitely realized that I’m a poet who writes novels and shoots photographs and paints.

How do you decorate your writing space?

With books! And postcards and a giant post-it with a mind-map of the latest novella I’m working on.

Could you share with us a poem (or excerpt) from your chapbook? Perhaps one that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?  

From “Longitude” – the opening poem in the book:

…how we begin
to choose the moment of our emancipation
the first time we ride without training wheels,
without a daddy’s hand or a whistle happy coach
nearby, when all that stands before us are oak-lined
roads, passing cars and sweet meadows, a valley
that dips its shoulder into a sea, windblown
hair and our bravado.

Why did you choose this excerpt?

Because this poem sets the tone of the book: it’s all about taking the training wheels off and using bravado to keep going….

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

I love Ocean Vuong’s early work.

What might these chapbooks suggest about your writing?

It encourages me to be more fearless.

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

Yes, because it’s a shorter form, everything inside must be thematically connected.

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s about living in exile in your own country, and not being accepted.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

The oldest piece in this book is “Raga.”

Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The poem that catalyzed the book was “Second Language.” I remember that my stomach hurt as I wrote it.

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

My family and I had to leave Georgia – so I chose the title poem and the surrounding poems as a metaphor for our experience of not belonging.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

I wrote “Unanswered, Untranslatable” and I knew I had the final poem in this set, and although that poem does not appear last, it is the thematic bookend to the title poem.

What has the editorial and production experience with your press been like?

Finishing Line Press is a dream. They are the nicest people and have given me so much say in my cover and my order of poems.

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

They were so lovely to work with, they allowed me complete control.

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

Gas & Food, No Lodging is first and Finishing Line is publishing Anastasia Maps in January 2018.

What are you working on now?

I’ve just completed an experimental novel, When the Dolls Leave the Dollhouse, which is a cross between Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

I have chosen it. I’m a photographer and an artist and I have posted my art as part of an #artaday project for the past six years.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

Write every day, for at least 15 minutes. It doesn’t have to be good. It is a practice, so you must practice every day for a few minutes.

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Devi S. Laskar is a poet, writer, artist, photographer, soccer mom, former reporter, OpEdProject and VONA/Voices alumna, Tar Heel basketball disciple, and now, California resident.

devislaskar.com

joylaskarstory.com (website that chronicles the legal struggle of Laskar’s family)

Angela Ambrosini

“Since I was a kid, I have obsessed over details, small or large – details hook me in.”

freddy

Flush Me Freddy (Black Lawrence Press, 2012)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal piece from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

One of my favorite excerpts is, “Still, I couldn’t find ways to care. The guilt ate at me like a cactus on my tongue.”

Why did you choose this piece?

In one short sentence, it details the amount of emotion and complexity this short story contains.

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

Paul Auster always comes to mind –  he writes novels that capture life in the raw and I love the mystery behind each of the characters as well. My newest obsession is Kate Zambreno, who wrote the chapbook Toilet Bowl: Some notes on why I write – just brilliant and worth reading a million times.

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

I enjoy the wit and the simplicity behind something so complicated. They keep me engaged and make life that much easier to deal with.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Since I was a kid, I have obsessed over details, small or large – details hook me in. This is how I write. In my writing, I never name my characters – this is something called micro-fiction. It brings that needed mystery to the story that all readers seek. As for character names –  most everyone associates a name with an experience – bad or good. I wanted to eliminate that as best as I could by giving the reader the opportunity to name the character based on their memory, feelings, and/or experiences.

What’s your chapbook about?  

It is a story about how certain moments in our life can change. During intricate moments readers find themselves lost within the story of the nameless characters and their lives. The message is profound while seeing the lives of the characters through the eyes of their subconscious.

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

I remember reading an article announcing Italy banning goldfish in tiny bowls. I thought to myself that’s exactly how my readers should feel when they read Flush Me Freddy. The correlation of this and my story was perfect, so that was how I thought of not only the ending but the name of the chapbook.

Which section in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

Everything I write has some significance to my own life. I break it up into bite-size chunks and write what I perceive, did, should, or could have happened. It makes my own memories stay alive and it’s how most writers, I believe, deal with life.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Black Lawrence Press is a terrific small press that really prides itself in great literature. The collection of stories is fantastic, and knowing that I am apart of such an elite, small publisher makes me feel proud of my work and those authors that are a part of the Black Lawrence family.

What are you working on now?

A longer novel that is a spin-off of Flush Me Freddy and also, hopefully, finishing my children’s book. While I was in the process of finishing the children’s book – I had such great feedback from Flush Me Freddy that I started drafting something and it decided to take shape. I am excited for both but have to focus on finishing one to start another project!

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

As I said before, the best piece of advice I received was to write what you know. When I was younger, that was hard to understand and I always wanted to force my writing into a direction that I was not extremely knowledgeable about.  The more I read, I realized that advice was the most important advice I received. Therefore, keep reading everything you can and most of all take your knowledge and experience and write about it – and never, ever stop.

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Angela Ambrosini is a New York-based creative director and writer and with an M.A. in Photo Journalism and Graphic Design from the Savannah College of Art and Design. Her fiction, articles, and book reviews have appeared in Focus Magazine, Arabesques Review, and The New York Resident.

angelaambrosini.com

www.flushmefreddy.com

 

Nico Amador

“…old names can hold a position of both absence and presence.  Like ghost limbs.”

Amador

Flower Wars (Newfound Press, 2017)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

Elegy by the Side of the Road

We waited
under the curved
spine of the highway,
folding blades of grass
in the shadows, wondering
what we’d call each other
tomorrow, which names
we’d need.

Then the foxes came,
emerging from the gutters
to hunt in the green dusk.

After awhile,
we couldn’t see them.
We listened but heard
only the low echo
of cars.  Somewhere,
small things were
being killed, quietly.

Why did you choose this poem?

“Elegy By the Side of the Road” is one of the oldest poems in the book.  I wrote it right after reading Cynthia Cruz’s collection, Ruin.  When I’d finished it I felt like I’d learned something about the poems I wanted to write.  This poem, like many of hers, takes a turn away from reality into territory that is more lyrical, and can’t be easily parsed as a fact or fiction.  For me, it was a major breakthrough to realize that I didn’t have to be confined to a literal narrative.  It opened the door for many of the other poems in this chapbook, which walk the line between reality and the supernatural.

What obsessions lead you to write your chapbook?

“Elegy” is one of several poems in the chapbook that explore an obsession with names and naming – the history and identity that can be contained within names, and the way old names can hold a position of both absence and presence.  Like ghost limbs.  Or the foxes in this poems who have disappeared but are still at work on the imagination of the poem.

Writing about names became a way into writing about my experience as a trans person that allowed for more space to address the intersections of race, migration, and desire.  One of the problems that I have with many of the standard narratives about trans people, if we can call them that, is that most focus singularly on questions of the body and personal identity.  I didn’t want to write about my body.  That wasn’t interesting to me.  I wanted to write about myself in relationship to the people and the environment around me, and how that gave shape and meaning to the choices I had to consider and the person I became.

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

I chose an arrangement that was somewhat chronological in terms of memory and personal experience, starting with poems that are representative of me at around twenty years old and the process I moved through from there.  Flower Wars, I thought, contained a nice tension between notions of masculinity and femininity, and felt descriptive of the different levels of struggle and subversion that the poems in this book explore.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

“After Surgery” was one of the last poems I revised and comes toward the end of the chapbook. It’s more of a love poem than anything else.  What I noticed in finishing it was that I could finally write a poem that contained longing that wasn’t charged by pain.  This poem is about acceptance for what’s changed and what changes inevitably, and how it’s possible to hold that without feeling wounded by it. To feel joy and gratitude, even.  That, to me, was a signal that I’d reached some sort of ending.  My voice had changed.  The older themes that once had a hold on me weren’t my drivers anymore.

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

Ari Bañas’ What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You is excellent, as is Chen Chen’s, Set the Garden on Fire. Getting introduced to these poets through their chapbooks first made me excited to see how their work has evolved as they’ve prepared to put out full collections.  Both of them deserve all the attention they’ve been getting from their recent books.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Newfound Press has been wonderful and so committed to making the chapbook into a work of art that would do the poems justice.  LK James designed the cover after some back and forth about what kinds of images might best represent the content of the chapbook. The scissors were her idea. I couldn’t be happier with it.

If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?

I love photography, especially portraiture.  How it can capture something essential and fleeting about a person.  Maybe that’s work I’d do if I wasn’t so shy.

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Nico’s poetry has been published in Poet LoreBig Bell, HOLD, Nimrod International JournalMiPOesiasPlenitude, Rogue State, and APIARY Magazine.  His chapbook, Flower Wars, was selected by Eduardo Corral as the winner of the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize.