Karen An-hwei Lee

Karen Lee

What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? 

An array of favorites: I love Base Pairs by Maria Melendez Kelson (Swan Scythe 2001), In Exchange for a Homeland by Yosefa Raz (Swan Scythe 2004), Paradise Hunger by Henry Leung (Swan Scythe 2012), Periodicity by Iris Law (Finishing Line 2013), Neither Prayer, Nor Bird by Devon Miller-Duggan (Finishing Line 2013), Fried Fish and Breast Milk by Nicole Borello (dancing girl press 2013), The Garden Room by Joy Katz (Tupelo 2006), Kiss the Stranger by Kristy Odelius and Timothy Yu (Corollary Press 2012), and June by Lynne Xu (Corollary Press 2006, edited by the poet Sueyeun Juliette Lee).

Not only are these marvelous collections, they’re all dynamo chapbooks of exquisite design, inside and out – satin bookmark ribbons in Finishing Line’s chapbooks, Juliette’s hand-stitched classical Asian book-binding for Corollary’s chapbooks, and high-quality production standards – whether saddle-stitched or perfect-bound. Swan Scythe, launched by Sandra McPherson in 2000, brought out my first chapbook, God’s One Hundred Promises.

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

The title poem, “What the Sea Earns for a Living,” is the longest and oldest in the collection. When I started composing it, I’d recently moved to southern California, only several miles inland from the coast, and I wanted to learn Spanish. I’d buy fruit, fish, and tea at el mercadillo and write phrases in my notebook: filete de mojarra (tilapia fillet), limon amarillo (yellow lemon), leche (milk), piloncillo (brown sugar), siete azahares (seven blossoms – a nighttime tea). I’d listen to conversations at la peluquería, the hair salon. I visited apostolic Spanish-speaking congregations.

Years later, in a Literature of Witness seminar and a World Literature survey, I taught bilingual translations of Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, and The Guerrilla Poems of El Salvador translated by Claribel Alegría. I hosted a weekly “Mesa de Comunicación” in the campus dining commons so students in our Spanish Minor could enjoy conversational practice and teach me Spanish phrases, too.

This long poem, “What the Sea Earns for a Living,” started as a list of Spanish and English words, images, and observations, eventually focusing on sea glass, finally ending as a meditation on the fracturing of life and its potential for healing and salvation. The poem has ten sections total; here’s an excerpt.

What the Sea Earns for a Living
música de cristal del mar

I am the anonymous prayer of sea foam
__________la espuma del mar
weightless as fire, as prophecy
ingravidez como profecía, como el fuego

as a wave’s azure prayer, as the breath
of the shipwrecked adrift in a night’s frost-patina –
como la oración de una ola azul
__________sustancial como el aliento

de los náufragos flotantes en la noche
de la patina esmerilada.

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

Quaci Press is highly collaborative. The Founder and Editor, Nicole Borello, invited my thoughts at every stage of the cover design. We looked at various images until I was happy with everything –  the fine details of font choice and the shade of aquamarine or teal for the cover. The graphic designer Anna Borello’s beautiful image of x-rayed flowers conveyed the botanical motifs and aquatic translucency I aspired to create through words.

While proofing the galleys, Nicole was graciously author-inclusive and responsive to my comments. Her husband, the filmmaker Bruno Borello, swiftly typeset the manuscript using the exact order of contents and font I requested. Lorena Borello, a professor of Spanish and Italian at the University of San Francisco, kindly offered constructive and thorough editing of my Spanish.  The extended Borello family is phenomenally talented!

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

The usual recommendation to include works published in journals is helpful, as this can indicate a potential (or developing) readership enhanced by an author’s dedication to circulating her poetry. Even more vital to the book, regardless of publication history, the collected poems should display range in technique yet resonate as a whole, unfolding harmoniously in a conceptual and stylistic framework out of governing images, motifs, or “heart questions.”

On a side note, I should mention that apart from “Letter to Nopales Hearts in the Santa Ana Winds” (Cactus Heart), “Happiness Machine I”(The Collagist), “Love and a Yellow Bicycle,” (Prose Poem Project) and the Nahuatl poems from Nahualliandoing Dos: An Anthology in Nahuatl, Español and English, edited by Anisa Onofre (Aztlan Libre Press, 2012), most of the material in What the Sea Earns for a Living did not appear in literary journals.

Thanks to Nicole’s intrepid vision at Quaci Press, these code-switching poems about brushfire winds, blighted orange groves, and broken windshield glass in the sea not only received the blessing of a daring, risk-taking editor, their genesis or rebirth as a chapbook serendipitously provided a sister to my first chapbook, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002).

Although they are quite different – prose vs. stanzas, for one – the two sister-chapbooks trace at least a decade of my life immersed in the weather and cultural rhythms of southern California, often in hyperbolic contrast to my girlhood in small-town New England, free of smog, earthquakes, brushfires, or foul traffic patterns. On a shelf where I keep my books, these two beloved chapbooks sit side by side.

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

“Elegy to the Lost Figues” is the only line-unit palindrome (also known as a mirror-hinge poem) in What the Sea Earns for a Living. Whenever I write poems in this form, I repeat the same lines in reverse from mid-poem to the end. In “Elegy to the Lost Figues,” however, I intentionally omitted the final line, which would’ve echoed the first: “Sing our black mission figs.”

It’s the only line-unit palindrome poem where I’ve ever done this. Other line-unit palindromes in Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012) dutifully repeat all their lines in reverse order — none missing — with variations only in punctuation. Omitting the final line heightens a sense of absence, formally and atmospherically, in this elegy to the figs.

If you could re-title your chapbook, what would the new title be?

“Anna Karenina Sells Pears at the Train Station,” the first poem in the chapbook, was the working title of the manuscript. Gradually, I realized it was potentially misleading: readers might think all the poems would be about Anna Karenina, for example, or Tolstoy allusions, or pears.

Anna Karenina Sells Pears at the Train Station

On East Santa Ana Boulevard,
__________________________a woman
in a feathered cap and black satin bustle,
pendant at her throat, even gloves —
sells pears.
___________________Rust-hued, mottled green,
__________apple-pears, red-skinned ones, chartreuse
with uncored calyxes.

_____________________Anna Karenina, why?
Eye dark as a mustard seed, a petite woman
_______in a waltz – I hum. Quarter notes
sing pears, pears, pears
_______over wavering magnolias at the door.
Anna Karenina,
why do you sell pears at our train station?

There are as many loves
_____________as there are hearts
.
Hay tantos amores con hay corazones.

Stay away from the track,
la pista, la pista, since I know no Russian.

See the pears worth saving.
Las peras, orchard of your labor,
this late
_______solstice of Santa Ana.

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

Yes, I’d say this chapbook amplifies those motifs, or distills and re-focuses them. Even though my other collections may not use as much Spanish or Nahuatl, they speak in other tongues: Mandarin Chinese, French, and a brief foray into German in a sequence of poems on Kafka. I believe the feminist and spiritual motifs of women’s journeys in What the Sea Earns for a Living, uttered in a fractured yet flowing language of interiority, reflect an inclination in my writing, at least, for this season.

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

This year, I’ve read a botanical monograph, devotional books, the headline news, spiritual autobiographies, a lyric novella, parallel new translations of New Testament epistles, and glossy cookbooks.

When I was a girl, I loved reading the dictionary and learning new words, and I still enjoy collecting words from diverse modes of written expression.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook?

To be honest, I had no intention of writing this chapbook. It’s a surprise. I store my loose poems, both unpublished (“homeless”) and published (“housed”), in folders. Over time, I noticed a certain strain of code-switching poetry in the “homeless” folders, i.e. Nahuatl, Spanish, and at times, even Portuguese – the latter inspired by a capoeira café in Berkeley. For reasons I may only surmise, these bilingual and trilingual poems tended to remain homeless for years.

Woman Scream International Poetry Festival posted a call for submissions for Quaci Press, a new indie feminist micropress launched by Nicole Borello, a poet herself, in the San Francisco Bay Area. (According to Nicole, the word “quaci,” pronounced kwatchee, means “kicks” in Italian.) Excited by her vision for the press, I gathered my poems into a chapbook.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Love for language and linguistic play, I suppose, dwells at the heart of everything I do. Although I enjoy my daily avocation, which requires engaging lots of energetic people on a daily basis, I was a very shy girl, and books were my dearest friends. I wrote copiously in journals and read voraciously, even an antiquated set of 1960 World Book Encyclopedias left by the previous owners of our house, and pocket-sized Sixties editions of poetry.

Underpinning the words themselves, God’s wellspring of love in this earthbound journey inspires me to write: in this way, the poems are spaces for reflection, praise, or supplication, and other times, trials of silence and waiting in storms, hence the epigraph to the chapbook:

The sea is not less beautiful in our eyes
because we know sometimes ships are wrecked by it.
______Simone Weil, Waiting for God

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Karen An-hwei Lee is the author of Phyla of Joy (Tupelo 2012), Ardor (Tupelo 2008) and In Medias Res (Sarabande 2004), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award. Lee has also written two chapbooks, God’s One Hundred Promises (Swan Scythe 2002) and What the Sea Earns for a Living (Quaci Press 2014). Her book of literary criticism, Anglophone Literatures in the Asian Diaspora: Literary Transnationalism and Translingual Migrations (Cambria, 2013), was selected for the Cambria Sinophone World Series. She earned an M.F.A. from Brown University and Ph.D. in English from the University of California, Berkeley. The recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Grant, she serves as Full Professor of English and Chair at a liberal arts college in greater Los Angeles, where she is also a novice harpist. Lee is a voting member of the National Book Critics Circle.

karenanhweilee.wordpress.com/books/

Poetry Foundation: www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/karen-an-hwei-lee

Poets & Writers: www.pw.org/content/karen_anhwei_lee

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Elegy of the Lost Figues

Sing our black mission figs,
____________rue-skinned
______in the sting of winter —

Burial north of zone six —
______colder than burned fig-cakes

____________left on the stove.
Who rules in the orchard?
_______Who sleeps

____________in this altitudinal dark?
An irony — Esperanza. Springs. Eternal

in this altitudinal dark.
______Who sleeps?

______Who rules in the orchard
___________left on the stove,
colder than burned fig-cakes?

Burial north of zone six
______in the sting of winter —

rue-skinned.

Kateri Menominee

In Tongues (Salt Publishing, 2014) Effigies II

included in Effigies II

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

The only one that really comes to my mind is Chromosomory (Q Ave Press, 2010) by Layli Long Soldier.

What’s your chapbook about?

It is about different dimensions of home and place.

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 would have to say my Caligula poem. I remember sitting in a classroom listening to my instructor read aloud a poem by Ai, and it completely unhinged everything I thought poetry is or was. It restored in me a kind of light I thought wasn’t there before. Ai’s poem reversed roles, and I found myself drawn to Caligula partly due to the paranoia surrounding his “fits” which might have been epileptic seizures. I wanted to find out what shaped him to become what he was and have the reader show some empathy towards this person.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook?

My mentor and friend Jon Davis helped me arrange the title In Tongues, which I thought fit the content perfectly.

What are you working on now?

I want to focus on another series concerning the femicide against Indigenous women in Canada and the United States. I have been slowly stewing some ideas the past few months.

What is your writing practice or process? 

I research. I love finding out the history behind people or places and centering a narrative around it. If I find myself particularly drawn to something, I will look up as much as I can about it until a poem starts to settle or the beginnings of one.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

The process is like gutting a deer, it’s messy and frustrating because if you don’t snip off the the parts that’ll stink up the meat, it’ll spoil the taste. If you do it right, the end result will satisfy you.

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

What movies inspire you to write poetry?

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

My world is that of myth and brutality. I have been described by my best friend as someone who writes very cerebrally, and I think this applies to my world. This world of broken chariots and men.

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?

The final piece was from a different series I created based on legends and myths from around the world. I felt it bridged these worlds accurately because it gave the chapbook a kind of vulnerability that I thought needed to be present.

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

I love X-Men, Deadpool, Batman, Fables, Tank Girl, and Snowpiercer; they tackle various issues in the guise of comics and have tremendously influenced my writing–particularly Snowpiercer, as it deals with classism.

I have a very cinematic approach to poetry, so I will name a few movies: A Bittersweet Life. Oldboy. Delicatessen. Caterpillar. Labyrinth. Legend. The Company of Wolves. The Man Who Laughs. Either with camera angles, acting, or storyline, these movies deeply impacted me as a child and adult and influenced my poetry.

Habibi by Craig Thompson is an amazing graphic novel. The artwork and story is lush and compelling. I read it in a day. Perfume: Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind is a wonderful novel. I remember one part (spoiler ahead) where the character spoke about what different parts of a baby smell like, and I fell in love with language all over again.

I have a natural tendency to be attracted to various topics (whatever keeps the rabbits in my head continuing their jamboree) for a short amount of time before I become infatuated with something else. I love myths and legends about Scandinavian trolls (the artwork by John Bauer is beautiful), as well as pre-1940s historical texts and photos of sideshows, and dictionaries of Ojibway language. One book I keep going back to is The Falcon by John Tanner. It is an amazing autobiographical account, and I learn something new every time I read it.

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

I did not. I just wrote Caesar poems because I loved the history surrounding that era. I did try to create a linear sense of motivation behind each poem.

Does your family read your chapbook? 

I don’t think it’s my family’s cup of tea due to the graphic nature, but they are very supportive and have always encouraged my writing.

Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems?

I saw a poem of mine featured on someone’s tumblr page, and that felt very humbling to know that someone out there identified with it.

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Kateri Menominee is a member of the Bay Mills Tribe of Chippewa Indians. She graduated from the Institute of American Indian Arts in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in creative writing. She was the first recipient of the N. Scott Momaday Award and a recipient of the 2012 Truman Capote Scholarship. Her work has been published in the IAIA anthologies, Drunken Boat, and As Us. She is focusing on obtaining her master’s degree at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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poems in Drunken Boat

poems in As Us

“Tectum”

Joe Wilkins

We Had to Go On Living (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014)Wilkins

Leviathan (Iron Horse Review, 2014)

What kind of worlds do you think your chapbooks create? What, or who, inhabits those worlds? 

Eight years ago now, my wife and I, both born and raised in the West, moved to a small town in north Iowa. I’d gotten a gig teaching at the college in town, my first job out of grad school, and my wife found a position in the local school district. We started our family there, we worked on our house and in our garden, we snowshoed along the frozen river in the winter—yet we never quite attuned ourselves to that flat, forever landscape, and we were often lonely in a town of less than five thousand, a town where most of the folks our age had either left for the city or had children who were already teenagers. And as the Great Recession ground on, the town, the college, our neighbors—they all suffered.

I’m thinking of We Had to Go on Living and Leviathan as my Midwesterns, my attempts to speak about those good, sad, hard years. And so the worlds the chapbooks create are built of just the things we encountered and reckoned with living in Iowa: lilacs and cornfields and slow rivers, empty factory parking lots and empty shops downtown, month after month of winter, of wind and drifted snow and glaring, white light, neighbors, small kindnesses, a neighbor’s suicide, our worried, astonished wait for our son’s birth.

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

I think many of the images above—winter, empty factories, the Winnebago River—serve as bridges between the pieces in the chapbooks, as well as between the chapbooks themselves, which feel very much twinned to me. For one, both chapbooks deal only sparingly with my childhood biography (while all my previous books root themselves very much in the memories and the landscapes of my youth); rather, these chapbooks both look out into the world of the Midwest, into the lives of those I found around me. For another, both books move similarly; they riff and meditate, following trails of association and ideation rather than clear narratives. And, finally, themes of displacement, silence, struggle, survival, faith, and fatherhood—these crisscross the chapbooks.

What is the oldest piece in either of your chapbooks? What do you remember about writing that piece?

I think the oldest piece is the first essay in We Had to Go On Living, “Northern Pike.” I drafted that essay in a fever, just days after our next-door neighbor’s suicide, though I then spent a good while tightening and revising, eventually cutting much of what I’d written and keeping only what felt most vivid and intense.

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

I think the final piece I significantly revised was the long poem that concludes Leviathan, “Eight Letters of Explanation, Acknowledgement, & Apology on the Occasion of My Son’s First Birthday.” I’d had a few of these letters—in earlier form—lying around, but they didn’t quite feel alive: there was no force pushing from one to the next. Then, trying to write something for my son’s first birthday, I happened to see those letters again and realized this birthday, this moment of joy and worry and great good fortune, somehow had a bearing on all those previous confessions. And so I began the last letter. I think I added a few more letters in as well, and as they all took shape together, I began to see I had a poem that really mattered to me and thematically contained much of what I’d been working on. So, it became the anchor poem for Leviathan.

How did you decide on the arrangements and titles of your chapbooks? What was your titling process for individual pieces in the chapbooks?

I stole the title for We Had to Go On Living from James Wright’s devastatingly beautiful poem “Northern Pike,” which opens like this:

All right. Try this,
Then. Every body
I know and care for,
And every body
Else is going
To die in a loneliness
I can’t imagine and a pain
I don’t know. We had
To go on living.

And that sentiment felt so perfect for the sadness and struggle and hope I was after in both of the essays.

Leviathan is a bit trickier. Working on the poem “Leviathan,” I latched onto the story of Job as a kind of analogue to the escaped prisoner’s journey; Job’s story of misfortune and suffering and perseverance helped me answer the question that initiated the poem: why would anyone try to escape from a county jail in rural Iowa in the middle of winter? And though it might be a bit of stretch, as I put the chapbook together, that story and that poem continued to matter.

Did you set out with the intention of writing chapbooks?

For Leviathan, yes. Once we found out Liz was pregnant, I immediately began penning the “Letters to…” poems. And I saw, too, that the dramatic monologues I was working on could be woven around those letters, creating, hopefully, a kind of chorus of confession, all these voices trying to explain, and so redeem, themselves.

I didn’t plan for the essays in We Had to Go On Living to land in a chapbook, but they were written near one another, chronologically, and once they were both published and out there in the world, I began to think of them as a pair of sorts.

What are you working on now?

Poems, always poems. I think there’s a full-length collection coming that builds on Leviathan. I’ve been writing fiction lately as well. Some short stories, a novel that’s really kicking my ass. And I’m beginning—if I keep telling myself I’m beginning I’m bound to actually get started on it one of these days!—work on a nonfiction project about childhood and landscape and how the places of our lives exert such a force on us as human beings.

What is your writing practice or process?

I drop the kids off at pre-school and then bike to campus. I try to be at my desk not long after eight in the morning, and if I don’t have meetings or a stack of papers to grade, I try to read/ journal/ write for the next three hours or so. I’d say most weeks I get three of those days, and, wow, they’re lovely.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Keep reading. Keep writing.

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

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

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Joe Wilkins is the author of a memoir, The Mountain and the Fathers, winner of the 2014 GLCA New Writers Award, and two full-length collections of poems, Notes from the Journey Westward and Killing the Murnion Dogs. His work has appeared in The Georgia Review, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, The Sun, Orion, and Slate. A Pushcart Prize winner and National Magazine Award finalist, he lives with his wife, son, and daughter in western Oregon, where he teaches writing at Linfield College.

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joewilkins.org

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from We Had to Go On Living

I guess what I am aiming at here is this:

There is some connection between the contusions on our skin and the various contusions that bloom in our brains. As the violet bruise blossoms—as, weeks later, the flared scar finally diminishes—the neurons themselves lurch and wobble, link and relink. It makes sense but is still somehow shocking. Each wound changes how we see ourselves, how we understand the world around us. This bat’s wing will color more than the tissues around my eye, will stay with me longer than the ten days it will take for the skeletal muscles to repair themselves and the extracellular serums to drain. (Even now, I can almost feel the dendritic connections shifting, can almost hear the liquid pop and snap of my brain rewiring itself around this wound.)

Consider this morning in the alley: though neither of us said a thing, I am sure Keith was aware, as I was, that we spoke by our neighbor Lynn’s back door, by his black row of lilacs. Lynn and Keith were close. Before Keith retired and Lynn was laid off due to cutbacks, they’d worked together at Winnebago for years and lived as neighbors the whole time. They both fished and hunted and sat in their backyards with cans of beer and cigarettes as the sun went red and muddy over the cornfields. Then, a year ago, just months before Walter was born, Lynn laid himself down on his couch, nestled a pistol barrel up to his temple, and fired. A few days later his sister came to clean up the house, but the couch was too heavy for her and her husband to move. Liz and I helped them cart Lynn’s blood-soaked sofa into the street, so they could take it to the dump. We stood there, catching our breath and wondering. Though Lynn’s wounds were labyrinthean and hidden, there was no hiding the damage they had wrought, the puddle of his blood in the late-winter light.

Jessica D. Thompson

Thompson BulletsBullets and Blank Bibles (Liquid Paper Press, 2013)

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

It would be hard to name my favorite chapbooks; however, my greatest influences have all come from Kentucky. Kentucky has such a rich literary history. I greatly admire the work of Kentucky poets Wendell Berry, Maurice Manning, and Rebecca Gayle Howell.  Most recently, I’ve discovered bell hooks’ wonderful poetry collection, Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place. I am deeply indebted to Green River Writers for their encouragement and support. Most notably, to their president and founder, Mary O’Dell, as well as to fellow members Georgia Wallace and E. Gail Chandler—all of whom have written beautiful chapbooks.

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

I appreciate poems that celebrate (or grieve) a sense of place. I was born in Kentucky, and for a short while, lived there on a small family farm. I still feel a great connection to the land. Maybe some of my work comes from a cellular level—where I am able to draw from memories of my ancestors.

What’s your chapbook about?  

It contains twenty-eight poems and is about cleaning ladies, crop circles, churches, bait shops, fence posts, funerals, Ford Torinos, Alfa Romeos…and more.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

“Crickets Crying” is the oldest poem in the collection and was one of the first poems I sent out for publication. Nerve Cowboy published it in 2006.

Do you have a favorite revision strategy?

I think it’s important to have empty spaces within poems—letting a poem breath itself into existence. By that, I mean really listening to where the lines want to break and knowing what words need to stand alone.

Where did the title for the chapbook come from? 

I pulled the phrase “Bullets and Blank Bibles” from a poem I had written in a poetry workshop taught by Simone Muench during the 2010 Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Interestingly enough, the poem I wrote in the workshop is not in the chapbook. I guess you could say that when looking for new writing material, don’t overlook the wealth of information available in the poems you have already written.

What was your titling process for individual poems in the chapbook? 

The individual titles came after each poem was written, with the exception of the last poem, which is also the title poem in the collection.

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

I was fortunate that the editors of Liquid Paper Press—Joseph Shields, Jerry Hagins, and Elissa Yeates—agreed to use a photograph I had taken in Cerrillos, New Mexico. There’s something about the photo that suggests you might be looking at a wall in front of a firing squad.

As a side note, there is a poem in the chapbook called “Turquoise” which ends, “The woman at the Indian market in Santa Fe said turquoise would protect you. She did not know about your heritage, how this land can hold a man, tie him down with rust and vine.” For the most part, the poems in this collection are clearly set in the Midwest. However, those who read the collection carefully will sense the narrator of many of these poems is keenly aware that there is another world outside the one in which she inhabits.

What are you working on now?  

I’m working on a poetry collection where the central theme revolves around giving birth (metaphorically speaking).

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author? 

As you are working on your manuscript, carry it with you wherever you go. You have to own it. Be ruthless in throwing out poems that don’t fit (even though you think they are your best work). Read your poems out loud. Often. Repeat. Read your poems out loud. Often. This keeps them real. Be real. Write what you know. Don’t try too hard.

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

That would have to be “Italian Sports Cars Make the Best Lovers.” It’s definitely the “bad girl” of the collection; because, well, “Every girl needs a Romeo.”

How do you use computers/ digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?

When I first start a poem, I write it on a legal pad. Only when I believe I’ve captured the poem (where I actually have a beginning, middle, and end) will I use a computer and start doing revisions to the structure (bones) of the piece. Do I have any writing quirks? I like writing in purple ink.

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

All kinds, really. I am especially fond of garden catalogs and field guides about earth sciences. I keep a list of unusual words that I find when reading that I would like to use later on in my poetry.  For example, the word “wake-robin” had been on my word list for years before I was able to use it in the poem, “Future Home of the Mammoth Mega Church.”

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Jessica D. Thompson lives with her husband, Hugh, in a purple house near the banks of the Wabash River in the small historical town of New Harmony, Indiana. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and has appeared or is forthcoming in Appalachian Heritage, Atlanta Review, The Midwest Quarterly, and the anthology New Poetry from the Midwest (New American Press, 2015). She is the grateful recipient of the James Baker Hall Memorial Prize in Poetry (New Southerner, 2013), and the Kudzu Poetry Prize (Kudzu, 2014). She was a finalist in the Janet B. McCabe Poetry Prize (Ruminate Magazine, 2014).

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www.bulletsandblankbibles.com

 “Diana” and “Chasing Beauty”

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Future Home of the Mammoth Mega Church

This land has been a working farm
for as long as I can remember.
Come late fall, the song of frogs
and their Hurry! Hurry!
The end is near; find a place
to huddle down and pray.

A fox runs over the surveyed
ground. Blessed are the meek
for they shall inherit the Earth.
Blessed is the carpenter bee,
the caterpillar and the serpent.
Blessed are those with horns:
cattle, deer, the numbered
buffalo (hallowed be thy name).
Blessed are the pitchforks
that lift up the hay.
Blessed the trees now marked
with X’s. Body of Christ, full
of grace: cowslip and May
apple. Gone the wake-robin,
Indian pipe, ginseng, and wood
violet. All turned to dust
and for this: a church
filled with hymnals
from which we will mouth
the words.

Listen, the sound of wings: geese flying south.

Karissa Chen

ChenOf Birds and Lovers (Corgi Snorkel Press, 2013)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? 

I am ashamed to admit that I don’t read a whole lot of chapbooks, though I do love Matthew Salesses’ fiction chapbook Our Island of Epidemics that was published through PANK. I also have loved Victoria Lynne McCoy’s homemade chapbook, A Name for This. She’s a fantastic poet who doesn’t have a book out yet, so I was lucky enough to snag a copy at a reading she did many years ago.

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

The oldest piece from the book is “Long-Distance Lover,” which I wrote in a response to a favorite poem of mine, Jeffrey McDaniel’s “The Quiet World.” The original poem is about someone who lives in a world where each person is only given one hundred and sixty-seven words per day. The narrator saves all the words to tell his/her long-distance lover “I love you.” I thought a lot about this long-distance lover, and what it was like for them. I wondered why the long-distance lover might not have saved their words the way their lover had done for them. The other thing is, in a story about being intentional about words and only having a certain number of words to work with, I wanted to also limit myself. 167 is kind of nothing for fiction though, so I gave myself an even 500 to work with. The story is 499 words, I think.

What’s your chapbook about?

The book is really about relationships and perception. The ways in which perceptions and misperceptions can shape the way we interact with others. It’s also very much about longing.

How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook? What were some of its earlier titles?

Corgi Snorkel approached me to put together a chapbook of short shorts after reading my short story, “The Emperor’s Malady” (which is in the book), so I put together the ones that I had. There were a couple that didn’t make it in, because the editors felt that they carried a different tenor than the rest of the pieces. I did want the book to alternate between the ones that were rooted in realism and the ones that felt more mythical, so I took that into consideration as I put the book together. As for the title: I hate coming up with titles, so I felt iffy about everything. I offered my editors either Of Birds and Lovers or Murmurations of Flight. They took the former.

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

As I said, this chapbook was solicited, so no. In fact, it had never occurred to me that my short fiction could live in a chapbook form until I was approached to put it together.

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

I had nothing to do with the design of the chapbook. Theresa Beckhusen over at Corgi Snorkel designed simple ink print covers for most of the chapbooks, and she did these cool handmade special edition versions made from stripped out old book covers, filled with old prints of birds for a limited purchase, which was pretty cool.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

The usual. Twitter, Facebook, my website.

What are you working on now?

Currently, I’m in the process of putting together a novel-in-stories that I’ve been working on for several years. It follows various characters in a family over several decades, to look at how different events and choices have repercussions across lives and time. It also features an imaginary circus. I also have a newer novel that I’m just beginning. Throw in side projects: personal essays, short stories, and I have enough to keep me working for awhile. I think I work best when I have several projects going on at once. I wish I had more time.

What is your writing practice or process? 

I don’t think I have a set process. Some stories spit themselves out fully formed, while others take months, sometimes years, to percolate and coalesce. I often write a first draft with no idea where it’s going and what is going to happen, and sometimes those first drafts are very close to the final product, and other times they’re practically just notes that I then have to rework completely, or even try in a new POV or tense. With short shorts, it’s a little easier, but even then, I’ve had short shorts that I’ve worked on for years and drafted multiple versions of. I am not a “write everyday” kind of writer though; I’m more of a “sit down and write in lengthy spurts” type of writer. It’s hard for me to focus when I know I have to be somewhere in an hour.

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

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

True or False: The chapbook is to the full-length collection as the EP is to the LP. Discuss.

Hmm. Maybe for poetry. For fiction, I’d say less so. For fiction it’s probably more like… the short film that goes before the feature at Pixar movies.

Have you ever written a fan letter to a writer?

Oh lord, HAVE I. Before I decided to take this writing business seriously (and even at the very beginning… and I confess, even now) I would seek out email addresses for the writers whose books I had loved and send them heartfelt messages. My reasoning was always that I wanted them to know how much their words had meant to me, and that hopefully, they would always be pleased to know that was the case, no matter how much of a nobody I was. I still feel that to be true – maybe even more now that I’m a writer myself – that most writers don’t get monetary awards or even fancy prestigious awards, so that the reward is partially in knowing that you’ve done something that has touched someone, that all of that effort means something to someone.

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

Are we talking not words? If I could tell the same story but not in words? I imagine photography, or music. Although I’m sad to say my photography skills are lackluster and while I love music, I can’t compose. My brother’s the musician in my family.

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

The last piece, “Postcards to a Man Who Will Not Tell Me He Hasn’t Cheated On Me” is most meaningful to me. It’s more a collection of prose poems that began as little section breaks in my MFA thesis. They’re fiction, but many of them are cobbled from images, moments, places that have meaning to me. I wrote the first few at the very beginning of a relationship I am still in, at a time when I was still trying to make sense of a relationship I was still healing from. I don’t think it’s my favorite piece in the chapbook, but it’s certainly most meaningful.

Where is the ideal place to read your chapbook? What type of place for reading might antagonize your chapbook?

At the beach. Or, if it’s cold, by a window in a writing nook. My chapbook probably wouldn’t want to be read in the middle of a traffic jam; it’s not particularly fond of angry people blaring their horns.

Do you think that in the course of your present and/or future career, having written and published a full-length book, you’ll come back to the chapbook, publishing them (or attempting to) as you see fit or as the work seems to elect, or do you see the chapbook as a breakthrough collection to longer works?

I think I mostly see them as the latter, though I imagine that if I got together a small collection of shorts again that I felt were related in theme and existed best in a singular form, I would consider the chapbook. I think, also, in the face of digital books and such, chapbooks increasingly can become art items, a precious artifact that people want to have. So I’d definitely consider it again.

Concerning voice and style: Do you find it something that you consciously think about or do you simply write? Do try to reinvent yourself every few years, go looking for a new way, or do you think that finding a certain language, a certain voice and pushing and honing it over a lifetime is your preferred mode?

I get bored easily, so while I think I have a “voice” I slip into and probably even unconsciously reach for, I really like trying on new voices or modes or forms. It’s more interesting to me to search for the different voices a story might have, and flesh that out, rather than going back to the same voice.

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Karissa Chen is the author of Of Birds and Lovers (Corgi Snorkel Press 2013). Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including PANK, The Good Men Project, and Midnight Breakfast. She has been awarded fellowships and scholarships from the Napa Valley Writers Conference, VONA/Voices, and Kundiman, and received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently the fiction & poetry editor at Hyphen magazine and co-founder of Some Call It Ballin’.

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www.karissachen.com

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from “Long-Distance Lover”

In the shower this morning, I traced your name in the glass and tried to hold it in. My tongue flopped like a fish in my mouth. My chest ached, my lips slipped. Your name came out in a hushed prayer. I thought if I swallowed the words they would make me feel whole, but instead they bounced off the tiles and swirled down the drain.

I resolved to stay mute on my walk to work. But then I saw a man wearing your green cap, and I called for you. The sidewalks echoed. When he turned I saw he was somebody else. His smile was too white, his eyes too blue. He was too young and his face too square. Everybody stared. I fled. I told myself to stop the wishful thinking. But eight more times it happened. Eight more times I called you because eight men had clothes or gaits or napes like you.

In my cubicle, I answered all correspondence with email. I did not pick up international calls. I ate my sandwich quietly. I spilled hot coffee on my hand and bit my lip. My coworker asked me if I was hurt. I shook my head. At the end of the day, my boss appeared with a pink slip and an empty box. I tried not to cry while placing my dying fern and the photo of you inside. All my hiccups came out sounding like your name.

Dana Crum

CrumGood Friday 2000 (Q Avenue Press, 2014)

What’s your chapbook about? What is the significance of its title?

On Good Friday in the year 2000, the adult protagonist, a former Christian and current agnostic, looks back on various periods of his life, periods when he had faith, was losing faith, had lost faith, or was being pressured to regain faith or place it in a different religion, namely Islam. He revisits different periods in his life but not chronologically. The move from one moment in time to another is triggered through associative thought. Thus, the “story” is fragmented and remixed, replicating the workings of the human mind—or of the speaker’s mind, at least. The “story” occurs mainly in the Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama) but also in Washington, DC.

Aside from signifying the date on which the speaker revisits his past, the title invites the reader to look back at Christianity’s 2000-year history and compare then to now. The title was also a nod to Yeats, who believed history cycled, one era replacing an antithetical era every two thousand years. For him the events of the early 20th century augured the end of the Christian age, which had itself displaced the Greco-Roman age. My title marks not the end of the Christian age but rather the ongoing absence of faith in the speaker’s heart.

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 chapbook is one long poem in eleven sections, though some readers interpret the book as containing eleven separate but related poems. The sections vary in poetic mode, from lyric to narrative to dramatic. The dramatic sections are monologues delivered by a black Baptist minister.

Over the years the poem went through innumerable revisions. The opening lines of section two were the first lines I wrote:

The sky lights up like a blank TV screen,
then blackens. With a boom the tube
shatters and clear shards shower down. It’s day
but it’s so dark I can almost believe
God’s reminding us of an ancient Friday’s weather.

These lines, in less polished form of course, came to me on Good Friday in the year 2000. That day, it was dark all afternoon; and I imagined God was using the weather to remind humanity of his son’s crucifixion and sacrifice. Did I believe God was actually thinking of us that day? No. Do I even believe in God? No. Well, not exactly. Like the speaker, I’m an agnostic. What a coincidence. At any rate, the above lines were the seed from which the poem grew. They encapsulate what I myself felt on Good Friday 2000. The mask I wear in the poem does not completely conceal my face.

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

My chapbook features art on the cover and throughout. My editor at Q Avenue Press, which creates visually stunning chapbooks, by the way, was very open to my ideas about what art to use. I realized that pieces by a painter whose work I first encountered during a Vermont Studio Center residency would be perfect for the book. My editor agreed, and together we decided which pieces to use and where and how. My editor had great ideas regarding types of paper, construction (the book was handbound) and layout. Working with him was fluid and fun. And it was a boon to have so much say in how my work would be presented visually and physically. I even got to decide on the font.

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

If anything, the chapbook form accentuates the politics already present in the poem. Each section appears on its own page and falls into one of four categories: 1) a lyric capturing the speaker’s real-time existentialism; 2) a scene placing the speaker with his religious, sometimes political family; 3) a dramatic monologue in which a black Baptist minister promulgates Christianity from on high; and 4) a scene in which a black Muslim, touting an Islam steeped in black nationalism, tries unsuccessfully to proselytize the speaker. For much of the poem, only sections of types 2, 3 and 4 appear, and they do so in that order, again and again. With each section on its own page, this pattern is more apparent and thus more effective at depicting the multiplicity of pressures the speaker endures.

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

The poem’s final section was the last thing I wrote. Before I wrote it, it became apparent that the poem was incomplete, that a final section was needed, bringing the speaker back to the present and dramatizing his current and longtime agnosticism and existentialism.

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

When I wrote novels, I was advised to have a group of readers in mind and to describe this target audience to potential publishers. If I’m supposed to have a specific group of readers in mind now that I write poetry, I don’t. I don’t care if my readers are poetry lovers or people simply willing to give the genre a chance. While I hope to reach a wide swath of readers, I don’t change how I write just to reach certain people. I write to the best of my ability in a style and mode that I believe in, and I let the rest – who ends up reading me or not – take care of itself. Okay. I don’t completely leave it to chance. After publishing a poem or a poetry book, I, like most writers these days, promote it through social media, email, and word of mouth.

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

I didn’t set out to write a chapbook. I was working on my full-length poetry collection when an editor at Q Avenue Press expressed interest in publishing a chapbook of my work. Though I did not initially plan to write a chapbook, I was thrilled with the opportunity when it presented itself. Through the chapbook form, you can achieve a kind of focus and intensity that is seldom achieved in full-length collections. That said, I’m quite a fan of the latter form as well. As for structure, my chapbook, given that it’s one long poem, certainly has an arc.

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

Any type of text—even road signs, a task list, or a weather forecast—can help me write, either triggering a phrase that might lead to a new poem or helping me fill holes in poems in progress. There’s something else that often happens. Whatever I’m reading, whether it’s a newspaper, dictionary, novel, poem or some other kind of text, I occasionally come across places, plants or animals whose names are unusual, or full of symbolic and sonic possibilities that are waiting to be exploited. For instance, in a poem I’m working on right now, newlyweds appear in a field. They’ve yet to consummate their marriage. For reasons not worth explaining, I found it more powerful to imply this than state it outright. I implied it by placing “Sweet William / and maidenhair at their feet.” Months before and at different times, I encountered these two flowers while reading, and I jotted them down.

What are you working on now?

I’m at work on a full-length poetry collection. Some of the poems explore the effects that love and lies, absence and presence can have on a family. Others concern trauma and depression, love found and lost, faith and loss of faith. The collection will likely include Good Friday 2000. Cosmopolitanism, the concern not just for the people of one’s country but for all the people of the world, figures in the collection as well. I consider myself a world citizen and subscribe to what Kwame Anthony Appiah calls “universalistic cosmopolitanism”—the “celebration of difference that remains committed to the existence of universal standards.” My cosmopolitan poems bring together virtually all of the world’s cultures, races and nations. The poems are in part a celebration, in part a warning and call for action. They depict the uncertainty, unrest and natural disorder agitating much of the globe.

Aside from poems, I’m penning essays on culture, literature, social justice and other topics.

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Dana Crum is author of the chapbook Good Friday 2000. Twice he won the Eva Jane Romaine Coombe Writer’s Residency, and also had residencies at VSC and VCCA. Crum won a seat at the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at Brown and received a fellowship from Virginia Commonwealth University. The Paris Review Daily profiled him in 2013. His poetry and fiction have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Blackbird, Plume, African Voices, Carve, Gumbo: an Anthology of African American Writing, and elsewhere. NPR affiliate WBEZ 91.5 FM Chicago broadcast a dramatic reading of one of his short stories on Stories on Stage.

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 Good Friday 2000

 www.danacrum.com

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from Good Friday 2000

The sky lights up like a blank TV screen,
then blackens. What happens
to the soul? Does it

arrow north or south, a flock
of Arctic terns? Does it
stir the limp limbs

of a fetus
in its bubble? Or does it
crumble, a fist

of dry oak leaves?
I squat between a murmuring metropolis
and a cacophonous town.

I visit. I roam their streets alone.
Strange tongues point like fingers.

Marsha Mathews

Hallelujah Voices (Aldrich Press, 2012) Mathews HV

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

Favorites? My tastes are continually changing. A book I was crazy for six months ago may no longer appeal. I keep going back to authors but not so much to particular chapbooks. Poets I return to again and again are K.B. Ballantine because her diction and imagery are full of surprises. Her new book is What Comes of Watching, but I believe it’s a full collection, not a chap. I also admire the work of Diane Gilliam Fisher, author of Kettle Bottom.

What might these books suggest about you and your writing?

I like poetry about people, the human condition. Also, I love the mountains and the beach, so poems with images of forests and red foxes or sea anemones and coral win me over.

What’s your chapbook about?

The book opens with the plight of a pastor being assigned to a rural Appalachian church. In the United Methodist Church, the Bishop assigns pastors to churches. They don’t stay at one church forever. The system requires that pastors be rotated every few years, with the idea that the congregation is less likely to idolize or worship the human instead of God. I’m not sure how much of this comes across in my book, but Pastor Janet arrives at her new assignment, only to find that most of the men and many of their wives and children have quit because they’d heard that “one of them lady preachers was being dumped on them.” Yet Pastor Janet perseveres. She’s there to do a job, and she does it, despite the animosity, and the church builds back, and thrives.

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

Northbound Single-Lane, Finishing Line Press, 2010

Sunglow & A Tuft of Nottingham Lace, Red Berry Editions, 2011

Hallelujah Voices, Aldrich Press, 2012

I discuss them in a later question.

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

This question makes me laugh because my publisher, Karen Kelsay said she’d never worked with anyone who had rejected so many of her ideas for a cover. We did go around and around about that cover, for several weeks, looking through hundreds of images.

The problem is that I wanted both themes, Appalachia and Church, on that cover. Not one or the other, but both. And a touch of whimsy. These three components, I thought, would reflect the contents of the book. I had an idea of what I wanted—an old black pick-up truck, with a statue of the Holy Mother Mary propped in the back. There is a  poem in the book, “Kidnapping Mary,” about a few old church women who plot to rid their Protestant church of a statue of Mary because they feel it gives people the wrong idea. This poem was published in The Raleigh Review, and it also was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. I knew I had something special with that humorous poem, so to have it resonate on the cover would’ve been my first choice.

Like most things in life, I had to settle, giving up the whimsy. The cover Karen and I  eventually both fell in love with, a church window, reflects the clapboard common to Appalachian church. In addition, a tiny pop of radiance at its lower right subtly yet elegantly suggests the mystery and the glory of everything spiritual.

What are you working on now?

I am writing a full collection, Beauty Bound, with a pun because the work explores globally the human desire for beauty and the entrapment of beauty. It started as a poetry collection and then evolved into a hybrid. One of its flash fiction pieces, “Ride to the City,” won the 2013 Orlando Prize, sponsored by the A Room of Her Own Society (AROHO), and was published in the Los Angeles Review. I never expected that! A few days ago, one of the Beauty Bound poems, “American Women Converse on Middle Ages Flab” was accepted by Southern Women’s Review. Because Beauty Bound is getting good traction, with Gargoyle publishing “Tribal Court in the Bush,” Agave Magazine taking “Tribal Beauty, Uganda,” and “Giraffe Women” going to Wild Goose Review, I’m hopeful I’ll get a publisher with a good-sized distribution and maybe touch some hearts.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?  

Get plenty of feedback from other writers. Get feedback from nonwriters, too. Continually revise and shape, prune and nourish. Then, sit back and let the book blossom. I would suggest that you have at least five of its poems published in literary magazines before submitting the book to a publisher. Also, read your poems where ever you can, even if it’s the local senior center. You may have to take the initiative if your community doesn’t offer readings or writers groups. Yet some publishers make decisions on more than just the manuscript. In other words, consider what you are offering. If you don’t do readings, how will people learn about your book?

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

Have you found any little tricks along the way for organizing your writing and submissions?

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

The chapbook is an art form. It is a bit easier to work with than a full collection simply because of the shorter length. In graduate school, at Florida State University, I took some workshops in poetry writing, but we focused primarily on individual poems rather than books. My thesis was a mishmash of poems, unified by nothing much, except perhaps voice. Truly, I was stumped on how to put a book together in a way to attract a publisher. For years, nothing. After reading some prize-winning chapbooks, I finally began to see that publishers prefer that the poems within a chapbook relate to one another in a major way.

My first published chapbook, Northbound Single-Lane, follows a woman whose marriage has collapsed, as she travels from Florida north, through Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia, where she finally settles with her two small children.

My second chapbook, Sunglow & A Tuft of Notthingham Lace is only love poems because I pulled them together to send to the Red Berry Editions 2011 Chapbook contest, which was on the theme of, you guessed it, love. This impressive artistic press does hand-bound volumes–beautiful.

Similarly, Hallelujah Voices presents poems on the subject matter of church. Although with each poem, the voices change from church member to church member, they are consistently Appalachian voices.

What would you do differently next time in the writing, editing, publishing, or promotion process?

Fortunately, I had positive experiences each of the three times. I would and may return to any of these three publishers: Leah Maines of Finishing Line, Marie Dern and Jane Down of Red Berry, or Karen Kelsay of Aldrich. Every press is a little different, but the publishers have all been knowledgeable and professional and kind.

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

I rely heavily on dictionaries and online research. The library at the college where I teach gives me access to excellent databases.

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

I welcome all people, of all interests and all faiths, or no faith, to my writing and feel honored to be read.

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

Hallelujah Voices did not begin as a book but as individual poems. To create a book, I pulled together poems that I thought might show typical events within a church, such as joining the church, baptism, missions, home visitation, hospital visitation, senior home visitation, youth retreat, funeral, communion, and so on. No, I wasn’t attempting to create a narrative arc in this book. The poems are spoken by various members of a rural congregation in southwest, Virginia, including several narrated by its pastor, the “lady preacher,” Pastor Janet. Southwest Virginia is where I pastored two small churches during the 1990s as an Ordained Minister with the United Methodist Church, Holston Conference.

Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?

Well, well! Other poets must have this problem, too. Actually, one of my daughters does read my poetry, even poems that aren’t about her. What can I say? If my parents were alive, I know they would read every word I wrote. But my brother and sister? Not interested. If my novel ever gets out, I don’t think they will read that, either. Maybe my grandchildren will. Let’s put our hope in the future.

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? Do you think a new poetry reader would have a different reaction to the chapbook format than an established reader?

People living in the United States often haven’t been taught how to read a poetry book. I’ve seen new readers flipping through one, as they would a magazine. I suppose we need to start the instruction in pre-school, helping young people to learn to love poetry, and continue it through high school. I teach college and have had a few students who have never read a book of any kind.

On a more optimistic note, I have noticed that those students who like poetry are familiar with the poetry slam movement. They also link rap as a form of poetry. Many students are writing poetry, though secretly.

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Marsha Mathews is an American poet and educator. Her most recent book, Hallelujah Voices, presents the voices of an Appalachian church congregation as they experience  pivotal moments on their life journeys. Marsha’s love poems, Sunglow & A Tuft of Nottingham Lace, won the Red Berry Editions 2011 Chapbook Award, and was published. Her first chapbook, Northbound Single-Lane, was released in 2010 by Finishing Line Press. This book follows the journey of a woman who finds herself suddenly single, with young children to care for. Marsha was awarded the Orlando Prize (sponsored by AROHO) for Flash Fiction.

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Retreat, Camp Brumley, Virginia

Casey

We four-wheel narrow dirt roads
into damp woods,
fly around boulders bent like old folk praying.
At the picnic tables, we hop off,
climb ravines, leap logs. We batter each other
with crisp leaves, six shades of yellow,
and then let them cling like bows to our hair,
badges to our flannel shirts.

No parents! We press our palms to an icy creek,
wade till we shiver, scout for rainbow trout.
With a lighter and sticks, we ignite a campfire
that surges. Smoke loops and rolls
higher than hilltops.

We eat fish and potatoes,
find ourselves strangely home
among chipmunks and gophers.
Our ears the only witnesses
to water anointing rock.