Zeina Hashem Beck

“I think the act of writing poems is, in its essence, an act of translation.”


There Was and How Much There Was  (smith|doorstop, 2016)

Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, 2017)

Questions about There Was and How Much There Was:

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

There was and how much there was.
Women gather in this living room.
They empty and fill the coffee cups.

These are the first three lines of the long title poem, also the last poem of the chapbook.

Why did you choose this excerpt?

The expression “there was and how much there was” is a literal translation of the Arabic “kan ya ma kan,” usually translated as “once upon a time.” I love the abundance the literal translation suggests. And then you have the image of the women gathering, emptying and filling coffee cups, so you almost know you are about to step into an abundance of stories about these women, which is quite representative of the chapbook.

Could you tell us about the upcoming performance of your chapbook? 17202728_10155085415036549_6039040116541578309_n(2)

The chapbook is being adapted to the stage by Lebanese director Sahar Assaf. The performance, which will take place on April 1st, 2017, is the closing event for the KIP multidisciplinary conference on discrimination and sexual harassment at the American University of Beirut. Sahar read the chapbook and felt it lends itself well to performance, and that it was in the spirit of the conference. We started working with the title poem, a long piece in the voices of women and a narrator—Sahar asked me to envision five women (other than the narrator) speaking throughout the poem, and to assign them their lines. Once I did that, she began rehearsing with five actresses, after which we incorporated other poems from the chapbook as monologues for each of the characters. The actresses are Marielise Youssef Aad, Nadia Ahmad, Lara Saab, Elyssa Skaff, and Soulafa Soubra. The performance will also include some video art. I’m about to travel and join the rehearsals as the narrator—it’s all very exciting for me! Even more joy: I’ll be launching my second full-length collection, Louder than Hearts, at the event.

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

Part of the beauty of a chapbook for me is how the poems are more interrelated than those in a full-length collection (though this doesn’t mean a full collection needn’t have unity). The chapbook feels like a more condensed universe in your hands.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

This particular chapbook wasn’t planned.  I had been writing poems about motherhood/ womanhood/ the patriarchy for some time, but I put them on the side and focused on those that would eventually make up my other chapbook, 3arabi Song, and my forthcoming collection, Louder than Hearts. I was probably hiding these poems and hiding from them, wasn’t ready to face them as a body of work, an entity. Some are quite intense and personal—perhaps I was running from that. Many revolve around women and their relationship with their bodies and religion—perhaps I was running from that too. But then Peter Sansom (from The Poetry Business) contacted me, said Carol Ann Duffy had recommended me as a Laureate’s Choice, and asked if I could send him a pamphlet within the next week or so. So, I got to work. And I took that as a sign: it was time for those poems to be out in the world.

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

From the beginning, all poems I chose for this chapbook were quite interconnected. Then I tried to place together poems that echoed each other. So, for example, I followed “Mother, Ka’aba” with “Milk,” because both are about giving birth. I also tried to arrange the poems in such a way that made the chapbook open up as it progressed. And I knew I had to write the final poem: I had been thinking about this long poem in the voices of women in conversation, and I had been scribbling notes here and there, but I didn’t have the poem yet. So I put a lot of energy into writing it (I disappeared into my own space for days), and ended up naming the entire chapbook after it. The expression “there was and how much there was” was gifted to me by a friend, when I asked her, “How would you translate kan ya ma kan literally, word per word?”

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

That’s a tough question because there are many, but I’ll mention one with a back story I feel comfortable sharing. The poem “Milk” recalls the pre-term birth of my second daughter. She was sick at birth, couldn’t breathe on her own, and was kept in an incubator until she got better. Meanwhile, at home, I pumped and froze breast milk. The poem goes back to that heartbreaking period, but includes some humor as well.

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?

Before sending the manuscript for typesetting, Peter Sansom and I skyped and went through the poems, and I’m grateful for his keen editorial eye. As for the cover choice, unlike my other books, I wasn’t involved in that at all. But I was pleasantly surprised when the press sent me the design.

Questions about Louder than Hearts

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

I don’t keep dates on my poems, but one of the older pieces is “You Fixed It.” I distinctly remember I wrote it in one intense sitting—it came to me almost as it is now, in its final form. The poem taps into my Tripoli (Lebanon) childhood, which isn’t the center of the book, but is certainly a big part of the book’s first section.

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

The final poem I wrote for Louder than Hearts is the opening poem, “Broken Ghazal: Speak Arabic.” I feel it somehow unifies the book and introduces it, with its reference to mother tongues and mother lands.

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

Ha, that’s a fun question. The poem “Carioca,” inspired by Egyptian dancer Taheyya Carioca. I wouldn’t call it a “misfit,” since it does fit in with other poems about Arabic music. But I remember thinking, after I wrote it, “Oh, that could have been a poem in There Was and How Much There Was.”

Betsy Sholl describes Louder Than Hearts as “God-soaked and edgy.” Could you tell us more about how the book reflects on God, translation, and the Arabic language?

This is such a big question—I’ll try to address some of the points you mention, if only to ask more questions.

I don’t think I realized the voice in Louder than Hearts was “God-soaked” until I read Betsy Sholl’s blurb, and then it kind of dawned on me. What I did feel though, as I was writing the book, is I was writing in English, yes, but not really—I was somehow writing in Arabic too, because both languages intersect in my mind.  And God is inseparable from language in an Arab context. Believer or non-believer, you can’t speak Arabic and not use the word “Allah” so many times in the span of a day. So yes, God is there, throughout the book, and is constantly reinterpreted.

I think the act of writing poems is, in its essence, an act of translation. For those poets who speak more than one language, poetry then becomes a double/ triple/ etc. act of translation. So, it’s not just a matter of “How do I translate what I’m feeling/ thinking into words?” but also “How do I write within that space between languages, between cultures?”

How do I, for example, write a poem in English about Arabic tarab music, this music that makes you feel both rapture and grief? How do I convey the feeling of listening to Umm Kulthum? How do I describe the call to prayer, I mean really get inside it and describe its effect, rather than just incorporating the words “adhan” or “call to prayer” within a poem? The list goes on, and the poems span from speaking to your aunt in Tripoli to conversing with a “non-Arabic” lover and telling him things like “I’m already tired and you already / mistranslate” or “The ceiling is leaking. Drop the goddamn / camera.”

Could you describe your other books and chapbooks in chronological order? In what ways are they continuations and in what ways are they departures?

My first book, To Live in Autumn (2014), obsesses with Beirut, so the idea of home/ place was already there, and some of the last poems I wrote for that book start to tap into areas that would become central for Louder than Hearts. But I feel my writing/ style/ voice has changed since then.

My chapbook, 3arabi Song (2016), mourns the loss of lives and homes in the Arab world and at the same time celebrates Arabic song and singers. Many poems from it are included in Louder than Hearts, so in some sense, the book is a continuation and an expansion of the chapbook.

General Questions:

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

Theater—because it also concerns itself with words and going beyond the self, because I love performance, because performance is also part of the writing and reading of poetry.

And I would be a singer too, oh if only I had the voice. But I console myself that poetry, too, is song.

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

I’ve said variations of the following before, but it’s always worth it to say it again, in the hopes it does help someone out there:

If you don’t really really love it, don’t do it. If you do, then read every day, read like a writer—slowly, paying attention to the craft. Again: read, even if this means just one poem on busy days. Write, wait, revise, submit, and repeat. Don’t take rejections personally. I know you might feel alone in this, but you are not alone. Take your time, there’s no rush, remember you only want your best work out there. Put in the daily work: this doesn’t mean you have to write daily, but (did I say this?) read, make space in your head for those poems to come, listen, take notes, slow down, listen. Champion fellow poets whose work you like. Tell them you like their work. Share their work. And remember, you love writing.


Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her most recent collection, Louder than Hearts, to be released in April 2017, won the May Sarton NH Poetry Prize. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a smith|doortop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her first book, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her work has won Best of the Net, has been nominated for the Pushcart and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, and The Rialto, among others.



order There Was and How Much There Was here

order Louder than Hearts here 

order 3arabi Song here

Poetry Magazine Weekly Podcast for March 13, 2017: Zeina Hashem Beck Reads “Maqam”


Jennifer Tseng

“I like intimacy. I’m not afraid of it. I welcome closeness, interiority, quietude, kindness, wonder. I like listening & listeners.”


Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press, 2017)

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

Not so dear Jenny:

We sew a knot
To hold the thing
That’s dear to us.
Ropes that lashed
Your trunk to the mast,
Cord that fastened
Your briefcase to the bicycle,
Thread at the end of the seam
Down the back of my dress.
Eleven letters to confess
Your love. Three more
To negate it.
Not so, dear Jenny,
Not so.
That knot.
Our fear,
So dear,
Is its undoing.

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

The title poem introduces the work. It immediately complicates the title, invokes the letter writing context & invites the reader to read closely, to listen for multiple meanings. It also announces the ever present possibility of misunderstanding.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

A few of my favorite chapbooks are Kathy Garlick’s The Listening World (Momotombo Press, 2002), Ari Banias’s What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012), E.J. Garcia’s Your Bright Hand (The Poetry Society of America, 2012), & Fanny Howe’s For Erato: The Meaning of Life (Tuumba Press, 1984). I also can’t help but mention a chapbook I’m looking forward to & that’s Shelley Wong’s Rare Birds. Diode Editions will release Rare Birds at AWP about the same time Bateau Press brings out Not so dear Jenny.

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

I like intimacy. I’m not afraid of it. I welcome closeness, interiority, quietude, kindness, wonder. I like listening & listeners.

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

I think that depends. One example of what feels to me like a very subversive chapbook is the aforementioned What’s Personal Is Being Here With All of You by Ari Banias. It’s very simply made in black & white, I don’t think it even has a price on it. Ari gave me a copy when we were riding a bus together. The poems, so fittingly, address the question of whether or not “in all this there can still be—tarnished,/problematic, and certainly uneven—a we.” I love thinking of Ari giving this out to people. In contrast, his new book Anybody, which contains many, if not all, of the chapbook poems, is a very fancy cloth bound edition, quite beautiful & priced at $25.95. Although I love this book too, I was not a part of the we who could afford to buy a new copy of it. There’s a way in which Ari’s meaning in the new book isn’t met in the same way by the new format as it was in the black & white chapbook. Part of what can be political about a chapbook is that it exists to serve purposes other than profit-making. Ari’s chapbook enacted its own meaning & I think that’s a very beautiful & political thing. Many small presses, like Bateau for instance, print only a small number (Bateau will print 250 of Jenny) so there is no pressure to sell thousands of copies, there is less pressure to sell, period. The object may even become more precious, priceless really, because unlike books the trade houses are publishing, a chapbook is fleeting; it will not be made over & over again.

That said, I feel compelled to mention two fabulous chapbook archives where readers can read out-of-print chapbooks. The Tuumba Press index (which includes Fanny Howe’s aforementioned For Erato: The Meaning of Life) & Ugly Duckling Presse’s out-of-print archive.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Love. Death. Time. My father. Language. Letter-writing.

What’s your chapbook about?

Not so dear Jenny is about living with a dead person. It is a book of conversations, arguments, confessions, dreams, warnings; it is a record of time spent with a person, a dead person who never dies.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

I’m not sure which piece is the oldest. Most of the poems were written during the span of a year or so. One of the earliest poems is “Please ask your mother one more time to drop the warrant for my arrest.” What do you remember about writing it? I remember crying when I wrote it & whenever I reread it. Strangely, when I read the title at a public reading, the audience laughed. It was my closing poem so I suppose by that time my descriptions of my father’s demands had begun to seem absurd. Of course then I laughed too.

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

In some of the poems, my father feels alive. Others feel post-mortem. I wanted an arc or a circle even. I wanted to slowly bring him to life & not let him die until the end, if at all. In short, I want(ed) him to live forever. This was my guiding principle.

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

Now that you ask & I’m looking them over, I realize most of my poems are the meaningful back story. I bring what’s most meaningful to me into the poem so there’s very little back story lurking around. That said, there is one poem whose back story illustrates my process (though I don’t know how meaningful it is). The line There is no short cut. in my father’s letter has nothing to do with physical short-cuts but when placed at the top of the page, it immediately sent me back to a field near our house. Instead of walking all the way around the neighborhood you could cross through a field from my friend Dede’s house to my friend Ruthie’s house. There were a couple of horses there we would stop to pet & feed along the way. I don’t think my father ever saw the field. He didn’t turn up that street much, if ever, but as soon as I thought of the field, it became our field; we became two friends walking together or towards each other. His line, originally about hard work & ambition, led me to a field with horses in it, to friendship & to everlasting love.

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

“If all hinges upon oneself.” This poem allows for the possibility of my father’s death more so than the others do. It fights death too but its sense of time is a fatherless future; it faces this possibility head-on like none of the others do. One of my readers suggested I cut it & I considered cutting it, it stuck out to me a little too. But I thought I would keep it in for the sake of fear & bravery.

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

I wrote these particular poems by typing a line from one of my father’s letters at the top of the page & then waiting. The line almost always led me somewhere. If it didn’t, I would discard it & choose another.

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?

Working with Bateau Press has been bliss. Editor Dan Mahoney is very direct, responsive, effervescent, hard-working & full of love for the work he does. As for the cover image & design, I began by sending book designer Amy Borezo some images of my father’s letters & envelopes just to see if they might spark something. She came back with a couple of gorgeous cover options for us & we chose the one we wanted. I wasn’t involved in designing the interior.

What are you working on now?

I am putting the finishing touches on the full length version of Not so dear Jenny. As well, next month I’ll begin editing with Kathleen Rooney & Abby Beckel, The Passion of Woo & Isolde & Other Stories, winner of Rose Metal Press’s Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest. The chapbook will be published in August with an introduction by judge Amelia Gray.

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

This is a tantalizing & difficult question for me because I find all three of the paths you mention deeply appealing. As a child I was a classically-trained pianist. What I experience when I write a poem is probably most similar to what I experienced when I played the piano. Listening. Repetition. Obsessions. Rhythms. Themes. Variations. Silences. Harmonies. Translations. Transitions. Perhaps because of that, I find painting & dance slightly more alluring. I’m very drawn to painters  – I tend to like them as people & I love being in a painter’s studio surrounded by light & color. What I love about dance as an art form – especially as a writer who spends so much time sitting still – is the movement inherent in it & its lack of trappings. (Then again, I’ve also always wanted to be a weaver.) All you need is your own body. But that’s also what’s frightening about dance; the body doesn’t last!

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

If you don’t really love it, do something else. If you do choose to write, listen, be receptive, persist.

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

Is there a forthcoming chapbook you’re looking forward to reading? Tell us about it.


Jennifer Tseng’s chapbook Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press 2017) won the Bateau Press Boom Chapbook Contest & her forthcoming chapbook The Passion of Woo & Isolde & Other Stories won Rose Metal Press’s Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, judged by Amelia Gray. She is also the author of a novel, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness (Europa Editions 2015) and two books of poems, The Man With My Face & Red Flower, White Flower, the latter featuring Chinese translations by Mengying Han & Aaron Crippen. Tseng teaches poetry and fiction for 24PearlSt, the Fine Arts Work Center’s online writing program.



“Dearest Jenny: Reading my Chinese Father’s English Letters” (essay):


“I never read one word Toni Morrison wrote.” (poem):


“The Riddle of Morro Rock” (poem):







Michelle Tudor

“I wanted to make something that you could go back to and feel beauty.”


The Quieting (Platypus Press, 2016)

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

A section from the first poem the deer have grown soft by Mary Buchinger:

puttering along footpaths,
nipping on potted petunias,
the wild fed,
no longer wild

and I don’t know
am I hunter or hunted

Why did you choose this poem?

We originally received this poem as a submission for our literary journal WILDNESS,  but I found it to be perfect for another idea I had been toying with, creating a small, soft anthology.

What themes and images “bridge” your anthology?

Our description for The Quieting is ‘an anthology of softness and light’ and that’s exactly what it is. All of the poems are delicate in both tone and layout. They take up minimal page space with carefully chosen words.

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

We were originally thinking of calling it Quietness as an offshoot of our journal for smaller pieces of work, but in the end we just felt that The Quieting sounded better as it really is a standalone work. The arrangement took a lot of planning. The entire chapbook is letter-pressed on an old Adana 8×5 machine which we bought specifically for this project, so that was a huge learning curve for us. We also hand-bound the chapbooks (limited to 50 copies) so it was a real labour of love.

What obsessions led you to edit and publish your anthology?

I think my love of all things soft. I wanted to make something that you could go back to and feel beauty. To truly feel that physical aspect in a way you don’t get digitally. And, of course, to experience the words.

How did you decide on the cover image and design of your anthology?

The cover is very simple (with only the title on it) and, I think, reflective of the whole project. Also, the binding takes up nearly a third of the cover, which was intentional for an aesthetic we were trying to achieve.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

I really liked Philip Schaefer’s [Hideous] Miraculous, and I’m also really looking forward to Kaveh Akbar’s upcoming chapbook Portrait of the Alcoholic.

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

The Quieting was our very first anthology, but we have been releasing and editing poetry collections through Platypus Press for almost two years.

What are you working on now?

Through the press and journal, we have many projects in progress. However, the next one will be in November. We are releasing an anthology based around identity, gender and bodies (platypuspress.co.uk/apib) which will be edited by jayy dodd.

What’s the title for an anthology you haven’t edited yet?

That’s a great question, but one I’m going to keep a secret for now.


Michelle Tudor is a writer, average barista and wannabe cartographer. She is an English Literature and Creative Writing graduate whose work has been published both online and in print. Her first poetry collection You Are the Map and her debut short story collection Miyoko & Other Stories were both released in 2015. She currently serves as the editor of Wildness and Platypus Press.

The Quieting: platypuspress.co.uk/tq

Press: platypuspress.co.uk

Journal: readwildness.com

2412: platypuspress.co.uk/2412

Aaron Coleman

“For me, a definitive ‘home’ or ‘identity’ can’t be as clear-cut as we might sometimes want it to be.”


St. Trigger (Button Poetry, 2016) 

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Before anything else, thanks so much for this opportunity to look back at this chapbook and think about what it means to me now that it’s out in the world.

I probably obsess too much about the intersection of memory and imagination. How we think about memory and imagination has so much to do with how we think about identity, experience, lies, and truths. Consequently, I don’t know what to do with Americanness (not just the United States, but all of the once-called “New World” as colonized spaces that hold such chaotic, convoluted, and unearthed histories/myths/stories). My understanding of blackness as a transnational double consciousness, running with DuBois’ sense of the term and having lived in the U.S. and outside of it, often makes me look at location (geographical or even one’s emotional location – I guess we say “I am angry,” similarly to how we say “I am American,” don’t we?”) and the idea of home with a certain suspiciousness. For me, a definitive “home” or “identity” can’t be as clear-cut as we might sometimes want it to be. St. Trigger aims to unearth some of that messiness of unbecoming, becoming, and belonging.

More to the point: I’m obsessed with figuring out what home is and can be. What faith is and can be. What love, violence, masculinity, kinship, desire are and can be…

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?

I think “Viciousness in Ends” is representative because of its content and form. The differently fragmented phrase “blood and trust in my mouth” at the beginning and end of the poem feels so crucial to the complicated, restless faith at the core of this collection— and what it wants to question and explore. You can read the poem in its entirety here.

Why did you choose this poem?

Sometimes there’s this kaleidoscopic complication and emotional blurriness that I feel when I really go back into my memories and begin to think about what they mean to the present moment. The poem’s form enacts that complication and blurring as it bends back over itself as a kind of palindrome (like the word “racecar”), so we go through all these thoughts, this fragmented narrative moving through youth and masculinity, and yet we come back to “the changing same” (I believe Amiri Baraka coined that term) as the first words return to us, and I hope the reader feels compelled to ask herself something along the lines of, “Where did I start and where am I now? What happened in between?”

“Viciousness in Ends” approaches belonging, love, shame, and violence as a young black American man coming to terms with such cavernous terms like masculinity, violence, Americanness, blackness, love, etc…All of the poems are trying to understand and reify those terms’ complexities in the realm of my own memory, identity, and imagination…Reading what I’m typing, this is already sounding pretty heady, but the poem arrives at these thoughts via the concrete actions of backyard boxing and metal bb-shooting teenage boys, as having grown up and through experiences like those. This poem and this collection are so tense and fraught because I think they’re all this way – a precarious balance of contemplation and physicality – and of course I feel that tension in my own life.

How did you decide on the arrangement of your chapbook?

Speaking of obsessions…I spent a lot of time thinking about common themes, unconsciously oft-repeated words, and how different poems would echo next to each other. I didn’t want to pin down a narrative progression as much as I wanted to think about intensity and momentum and silence.

The collection consists of two 11-poem sections and I wanted them to subtly mirror each other. On their surface and beneath it they contain something of the spirit of the poems that surround them— and/or they question and respond to one another. But at the same time I think each section aspires to be its own whole, and the poems that comprise each section also speak back or forward toward the other section that is their reflection.

For example, the two definitional poems, “Rich” and “Through,” inspired by A. Van Jordan’s form in M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, speak to each other across the two sections. Also, there are two “saint” poems that are in conversation with one another across the two sections. I don’t know which side is the reflection and which is “the real” – I’m not even sure how to make that distinction – and I don’t care to know at this point. But that fragile equilibrium felt right for a collection titled St. Trigger, a collection so concerned with, again, a precarious balance and unconventional faith.

What inspired the title of your chapbook?

I settled on the title before I could articulate the logic or reason behind it. On some level it just felt right. At first it was titled St. Trigger Lovestruck but I think the adjective/surname that I attached there was too heavy-handed in that it distracts from the shock of a saint coming in the form of a trigger (whether that be of a machine or weapon— or the metaphorical trigger of an action or moment that functions as an initiating event). Saints, as I understand them, are such interesting figures because they’re not angels, yet they’re not quite human anymore…they can be totemic and ethereal…there’s this paradoxical intimacy and distance. And I think faith’s intimacy, how personal and nuanced it is, and distance, how it can be blind or beyond reason, is something that factors into how I approach poems, and even how I approach relationships, and narrative, and identity. What has happened in our country and world can sometimes feel absurd or beyond reason, and yet here we are, products of and potentials within that mess. The catastrophic and the miraculous have happened (and continue to happen), and somehow we have to figure out how to deal with such daunting reality.

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

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t read a lot of chapbooks. But one that stands out for me is Mark Strand’s Mystery and Solitude in Topeka just because of how unabashedly it is itself. The prose poems and the lithographs feel so precise (not to mention how the two forms speak to each other in this subtle but undeniable way).  By precise I don’t mean necessarily resolved or complete, but precise in how they do what they do.

Another one is Hadara Bar-Nadav’s Fountain and Furnace. It feels really potent to me because of the series of worlds it creates through its objects, and how well-suited those poems are to her self-contained chapbook form. It creates a kind of strange cosmology of objects (a motel, a bedroom door, a thumb, for example) and locates and expresses the life or lives stirring in them.

I actually thought a lot more about mixtapes and EPs rather than chapbooks, especially Kendrick Lamar’s, Frank Ocean’s, and J. Cole’s mixtapes prior to their debut albums. I loved how they felt like premonitions to me, how the uniqueness of the songs (their craft as much as their sensitivity as much as their bravado) felt like new voices were coming, ready to add something nuanced and different (at least to the range of music that I was listening to at the time). Those mixtapes felt like purposeful, in-depth introductions through the creation of soundscapes and landscapes filled by the range of their vulnerabilities and desires.

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

Chapbooks aren’t just shorter versions of books to me, at all, but they are more compact canvases wherein everything is in closer proximity, so things echo differently. A long poem is that much longer and a succinct poem bears even more weight. Maybe there’s a different immediacy or urgency that comes with the more concise scope of chapbook-length projects.

From the beginning, I was thinking about how creating and organizing St. Trigger might prepare me for the process of my first full-length collection. And in so many ways, it did.  St. Trigger as a whole is deeply in conversation with, and shares poems with, Threat Come Close, which is my first full-length collection, forthcoming from Four Way Books in Spring 2018. The chapbook was a launch pad and experimental space where I first began to think about how these poems could speak to each other. I began to think about that distance and intimacy around the idea of a saint, and of different valences of faith, and their metaphorical potential.

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

“[American Dream] See” was a poem that came out of the grief and confusion I found myself feeling in the summer and fall of 2014, for a few reasons that included the killing of Michael Brown while living here in St. Louis. Looking back I think I was trying to find a way to access my sense of power and possibility after yet another example of state-sanctioned violence against black bodies. This strange poem just came out of me:

[American Dream] See

two black people [what] in an alley naked
[am i] having sex frantic in a cop car
with the cop lights chaotic [silent?] circling
across the walls [what]. See two black

people in an alley naked having
sex in a cop car cop lights writ frantic [am i]
across the walls [gone]. The sirens fracture
shadows, whir, near – unsilent [?] – drawn.

I still can’t explain it, but its images continue to haunt me usefully, and I hope I figure out what is so compelling to me here, so I can continue to pursue it.

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?

Button Poetry has been really great. I’m deeply thankful that this was my first experience bringing to life my own collection. Sam Cook, Dylan Garity, and Michael Mlekoday all were really thoughtful, supportive, and kind in the process of helping me sharpen my vision for the work, revise the manuscript, and release it into the world.

Nikki Clark designed the cover and the first time that I saw it I was just floored. We had talked about some of the covers of books and chapbooks that are my favorites, along with words that I felt were descriptive of my chapbook, but Nikki really conveyed my abstractions and emotions better than I could have expected. The way that light and dark are working in the cover, and the hidden intricacy of the stained glass…the cover still captivates me.

I’d spent quite a long time with the poems before it won the Button Prize (Thank you, again, Adrian Matejka), but I still feel like I gained further clarity around what I wanted the project to be during our editorial process. I especially have to thank Michael Mlekoday for great notes and conversation.

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

This might seem a bit off base, but my question would be “What happens to chapbooks and literary art in general within the spaces and gravity of social media?” I’m not sure how to answer that but I find myself thinking a lot about what it means that our art, something that I think many of us cherish and value as a unique means of communication, becomes a particular kind of commodity and is often fragmented into screenshots, short quotes, etc. I’m not saying these changes are bad – I want poetry to endlessly find new useful spaces to express itself – or that there’s any past I’m interested in returning to…it just seems to be something that we’ve accepted and acquiesced into without contemplating its effects or consequences.

What are you working on now?

I’ve become more and more interested in translation, from and into Spanish and hopefully sooner than later I’ll be capable of working with French, too. I spent a few years living abroad in Spain teaching English, a summer in South Africa working with young people that were writing seamlessly in isiZulu and English, and I also worked with a lot of Spanish-speaking youth during my time with Literature for All of Us in Chicago. So I’ve been curious about the translation of language and culture for a long time but I’m just now beginning to understand how that curiosity factors into my writing. Without saying too much prematurely, I’m working toward a book-length collection of translations of a Cuban poet.

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

Hm, advice? Do whatever it takes to let yourself be yourself on the page. Giving in to vulnerability and cultivating compassion, toward others and toward myself, has fundamentally changed who I am as a person and writer and perhaps meditating on the power and potential of those concepts might be useful for you, too. Read, read, read and also live, live, live! Get comfortable with silence. Respect experience and respect imagination. Imagery is crucial. As Mary Jo Bang once told me, when you revise, try to read your work as if it were the writing of a stranger (this is still hard for me, but often it is incredibly useful).

You don’t have to take anybody’s advice, but the ability to openly listen to it, try it out, and say yes or no to it for yourself is a lifelong practice and skill.

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

Ecstatic emotion lives inside music so seamlessly sometimes…I think I’d want to be a Prince- or Andre 3000-style musician, able to play a range of instruments and write songs, all that fun stuff.


Aaron Coleman is the author of St. Trigger, which won the 2015 Button Poetry Prize and Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2018). A Fulbright Scholar, Cave Canem Fellow, and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis’ MFA program, Aaron has lived and worked with youth in locations including Kalamazoo, Chicago, St. Louis, Spain, and South Africa. Winner or the Tupelo Quarterly TQ5 Poetry Contest and The Cincinnati Review Robert and Adele Schiff Award, recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Apogee, Boston Review, Fence, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.


Jasmine Dreame Wagner

“I’ve always loved speaking into the void, or more precisely, speaking to the void.”

jasminewagnerAsk (Slope Editions, 2016)

Could you share with us a poem from the chapbook?

Heat Death of the Universe

_______________Torus Poem for Anonymous

I was in love with the world
but the world was far away;

the world said, “meet me halfway”;
so I did; I stayed awake; I typed:

“I was in love with the world…”

What’s your chapbook about?

In the winter of 2013, I chinchilla-sat for my friends Hannah and Alexis while Hannah was working in San Francisco and Alexis was traveling Europe, running stadium sound for a rock band. After feeding Trillian golden raisins or watching her clean herself in magic chinchilla-cleaning dust, I’d sit at the dining room table and post on Twitter. Outside the wide-panel glass windows, snow accumulated on the Bed-Stuy rooftops, time passing slowly in the lull between the close of the fall semester and the beginning of the end-of-year holidays, a time when weather moves in and college kids and people with families in other places catch flights and buses out. The coffee shop around the corner had a table waiting and a draft that leaked through the storm doors into an overgrown backyard that hadn’t hosted a smoker since the leaves came down. Banks and Moonface and Drake crooned on the stereo speakers that hung over the wooden tables. I trekked my laptop between the chinchilla and the coffee shop at least four times a day, tweeting.

Actually, the chapbook began earlier than this. I can trace early lines to idling in traffic during my backward commute from Brooklyn to Connecticut, where I taught creative writing at the state university. A drive that felt longer each time I completed the loop, making me think (and tweet) that what I was truly experiencing wasn’t traffic but the heat death of the universe. Points of matter, from my bed to the lectern in my icy, basement classroom, were in fact, moving farther and farther apart, so slowly and coldly that only poets with incredibly sensitive calipers could measure the spread. I did in fact, as I state in the chapbook, lose a lot of followers tweeting about the heat death of the universe.

I tweeted the whole winter. Snapshot of books, one-liners, thoughts, selfies, and links to songs. I’ve always loved speaking into the void, or more precisely, speaking to the void. From AOL chatrooms to Livejournal posts, speaking to the void has been one of the most rewarding and consistent activities I’ve undertaken in my life. Describing myself to the void has blessed me with so many things: friends, readings, publications, youth.

Hannah and Alexis broke up. The next time I chinchilla-sat for Hannah, who maintained primary chinchilla custody, she had moved to Sunset Park. After feeding Trillian raisins, I’d walk the park, watching seniors do tai-chi in the meadow, flute music on a boombox powered by batteries that were losing their juice. I tweeted the persistent humidity in the Jasmine1cool-ish autumn evening, the globes of light surrounding the streetlamps like halos of insects. Sometimes the halos were actual halos of insects. What I love about poetry is that the actual and what the actual is like aren’t very different at all. I suppose this is also a rough description of the way we create ourselves on social media.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

One of my favorite places in Brooklyn is the Transmitter Park pier in Greenpoint. Where the East River Ferry docks, there’s a row of lights that glimmer on the water as the sun goes down. At night, the row of lights reminds me of a bead necklace, not strung on an elegant neck, but laid flat on a dark blue table. The metaphor springs from the dream I have in the chapbook, the dream of a broken necklace. Many of the poems in Ask are tweets strung together in stanzas, like a necklace. Flat on a table, flat on the page. The tweets about walking in the Transmitter Park are the oldest tweets in Ask.jasmine3

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

The editors at Slope Editions are brilliant book artists who designed and produced the physical form of the finished chapbook. The long poem, entitled “Ask,” is bound in a booklet, but the other poems are formatted in a way that the shape of the paper that the poems are printed on references the online platform that the poem itself is referencing. This sounds complicated. Let me explain.

For example, “Love Poem (15 Tweets)” is printed petite and tucked into an envelope that resembles the envelope icon you click on to access your Direct Messages on Twitter. “My OkCupid Profile (Vol. 1-3)” is printed on tall, thick paper like a fine dining menu. The folded verses of “Military Spring (5 Tumblr Posts)” accordion downward, the way that comments on reblogged Tumblr posts visually form “stairs” as they scroll down the newsfeed. When reading Ask, the reader doesn’t approach the poems linearly, as one would with a traditionally bound book. Instead, the reader unbinds the chapbook and is free to switch between poems as they would move from one social media platform to the next, switching between tabs or clicking from one website or profile to another.

I settled on the title Ask because the verb Ask describes what we do when we go online. We ask Google for answers. We ask others to guess at our motives, match our bids, like our jokes, comment on our salads. We ask others take a chance on loving us. Also, at the time, I was answering questions at an Ask.fm profile and maintaining casual correspondence with friends and strangers in the Ask portal on my Tumblr. Remember Ask Jeeves? It’s now Ask.com. “Ask” was the reoccurring word, so Ask it was and is.jasmine4

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook.

I have a book coming out next year called On a Clear Day. One of my blurb writers wrote that I’d undertaken the project of loneliness. Am I lonely? It’s something I’ve wondered and truthfully, I don’t know if I’m lonely or if my wire is tuned to a solitary channel. I like being alone, taking walks alone, reading Twitter as though it were a divining practice in another century. When I’m with friends or witnessing art, I’m completely present, but I feel absolutely alive when I’m gorging myself on solitude.

While I wouldn’t have described my forthcoming book as a project of loneliness, I might be tempted to use that term to describe Ask. There was a period of time where I was writing, tweeting, where I felt a watery loneliness. Not a lemon loneliness where happy couples in yellow sweaters fall out of bars and stumble into me on a Thursday night in New York City, but a silk loneliness that feels more akin to receptivity. I don’t always need a person to talk to, but I do need to talk… silently. Or quietly. Maybe my blog is my “thou.” Sometimes, when I write online, I feel like I’m talking to someone I love very much who hasn’t yet arrived. Sometimes I feel I’m talking to everyone I’ve ever known.

I suppose I could say that my process for writing is exactly what I’ve described in the chapbook. I walk, I tweet, I sit in the park. I drink a hot coffee. Something speaks to me. I remember it like it’s something I have to tell the most beautiful, wonderful person in the world who also happens to want to listen to me, someone who wants to listen very much. And I don’t know who that person is, so I say it to the internet.

Jasmine2When I was in high school, as soon as I could drive, my other friend and I would drive all day, anywhere, for any reason. One day, we caught a good station somewhere in the hills, but as soon we started to get into the song, the song began to break. So we spun out in a dirt patch to turn around to chase it, but the song broke again. So we took off down an ancillary road, following the signal, and then another road, chasing and catching the song and losing it when it cracked until the song was over and the song cued next was entirely unsatisfactory. Where were we? We were driving.

I follow one hilarious tweet to another hilarious profile. It isn’t a profile for a person. It’s Nihilist Arby’s. This is this process. It’s always been the process. Where to next?

Could you describe each of your chapbooks in chronological order?

I’ll try to describe each of my chapbooks using only five things.
Listening for Earthquakes (Caketrain, 2012)
moonlight, lemon, motorcycle tattoo, ice pick, almond

Rewilding (Ahsahta Press, 2013)
autofocus, black jack, flower, rust, yellow jacket

True Crime (NAP, 2014)
raccoon, dream dictionary, cherry, mirror, snowdrift

Seven Sunsets (The Lettered Streets Press, 2015)
skyscraper, napkin, sine wave, black box, orange soda

Ask (Slope Editions, 2016)
lilacs, screenshot, iPad, hot dog, metal dog dish

The Stag (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming 2016 or 2017)
coins, stompbox, licorice, felt mallets, bike chain

What are you working on now?

A novel. An album that I’ve been working on forever. A short film. I can’t go into more detail because the more I describe what I work on, the less I work on it. I’m so superstitious! I’m hoarding my energy so that I can funnel it into my work, my day job, my daily practices, and my relationships.


Jasmine Dreame Wagner is the author of Rings (Kelsey Street Press, 2014) and four chapbooks: Ask (Slope Editions, 2016), Seven Sunsets (The Lettered Streets Press, 2015), Rewilding (Ahsahta Press, 2013), and Listening for Earthquakes (Caketrain Journal and Press, 2012.) Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Colorado Review, Fence, Hyperallergic, New American Writing, Seattle Review, Verse, and in two anthologies: The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press, 2012) and Lost and Found: Stories from New York (Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood Books, 2009.) A graduate of Columbia University, Wagner has received grants and fellowships from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and The Wassaic Project. On a Clear Day, a full-length collection of lyric essays, is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in 2017.



Ask at Slope Editions

Social Media

Leslie Marie Aguilar

“There’s a world out there just waiting for us to take notice. What better day than today?”


Mesquite Manual (New Delta Review, 2015)

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

Opening lines from “Mesquite Manual”

If every syllable of every word
is an acre of skin in this country,

let the tongue be an emblem
that waves uncontrollably
in the wind. Let it thrash

violently with every groan
from the throat. Let it rage.

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

I’ve always been partial to this poem, especially when I make selections for poetry readings. While it may be an unwritten rule that poets read the title poem from their collection, for me, reciting the opening lines of “Mesquite Manual” is akin to spellcasting or mythmaking. The speaker proclaims her intentions in these opening lines and rewrites the history of her home place. This theme serves as the primary lens for the chapbook and is carried throughout each section.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Many of the poems that comprise Mesquite Manual were written during my MFA at Indiana University. As a native Texan, relocating to the Midwest became an exodus, of sorts. Leaving a familiar landscape behind and establishing roots in a foreign place became a fixation. I found myself constantly searching for escape routes—ways back home. The poems in this chapbook function as maps or written records of a place worth remembering.

What’s your chapbook about?

At its inception, this chapbook was designed to commemorate my love of West Texas. The poems inside Mesquite Manual describe a place where winds blow irreverently, rain is gathered in silver spoons, and God is seemingly absent. In this hellish landscape, the speaker learns to navigate her harsh reality and seeks to create new world—a place where survival isn’t a struggle but rather a celebration.

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?

It’s not often that I feel completely satisfied after writing a first draft, but there are a few times (I can count them on one hand) that a new poem left me reeling. “Tender” is one of those poems. It was written after reading Eduardo Galeano’s “Love” in Genesis. I was immediately taken with the idea of using creation myths to describe everyday occurrences, even the comical and mundane. “Tender” employs the language and mythos of origin stories to shed light on the liminality of place and gender. Once I was able to bridge the gaps created by these imagined borders, the rest of the chapbook seemed to organize itself as a guide book or a manual for survival.

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

I would argue that the poems in a chapbook are forced to do more work than the poems in a full-length collection. That’s not to say that one mode is better than the other, rather I see the chapbook as a specialized form of relaying an experience, or a moment, or a project. The length ascribed to a chapbook ensures that the poems inside resonate at a similar frequency. Where a full-length collection allows for an extended exploration of subjects and themes, the chapbook provides an avenue for more focalized analyses of select topics and a more immediate method of consumption.

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

Organizing a manuscript, no matter the length, is a daunting task. I tried several different organizational methods when organizing this chapbook—color-coded notecards, Post-it notes, bulletin boards, etc.—but the most effective method involved printing each poem and laying it on my living room floor. Being able to read each title and recall specific lines helped me visualize the book and its trajectory. Once I arranged the poems into thematic categories, I braided them together in order to tell a cohesive narrative. That was the hope, at least.

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?

“Abilenian” is the poem that gave me the most trouble during the revision and editorial process. While it’s a vivid portrait of my hometown, I find that it lacks the same emotional register as other poems in the chapbook. It went through many iterations before I felt like it was finished, but once it was finalized I knew that the chapbook could be considered complete. If Mesquite Manual is my love song to West Texas, “Abilenian” is the final verse.

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

My writing practice is cyclical. Unfortunately, I’m part of the class of writers who experience bouts of unfettered productivity followed by debilitating periods of inactivity. This might sound a bit dramatic, and of course it is, but the cyclical nature of my process affords me time to revise. The act of revising a poem is the closest a poet can come to getting away with murder, I think. Though in all seriousness, I look forward to the revision process because it allows me to unburden myself of the guilt associated with this inactivity. For me, revision is a form of alchemy that renders raw material pure.

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 could sing the praises of New Delta Review forever. No hyperbole. No exaggeration. The team of women who worked to bring my chapbook to life were nothing short of brilliant. Working with Hannah Reed, M.K. Brake, and Laura Theobald was an absolute blast! They kept me in the loop during each stage of production and always welcomed my suggestions and requests.

My favorite part of publishing this chapbook with NDR was being able to commission a cover image based on the work itself. Sarah Leea Petkus (sarahleeapetkus.com) created this stunning (and menacing!) jackalope based on poems from the collection. Being able to hold this chapbook in my hands and admire the work that Sarah created for me is an invaluable gift.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m finalizing my first full-length manuscript. I envision it as a big sister to Mesquite Manual, in that many of the themes explored in this chapbook are expanded upon in the larger collection. It’s my hope that this collection will further disrupt the definitions ascribed to borders, frontiers, and liminal spaces.

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

The most fulfilling experiences for me, as an instructor, have been the opportunities to put theory into practice inside the classroom. I aim for my classroom to be a studio where students work together to push against boundaries and ask each other what lies beyond the walls of academia. My work in the classroom has gifted me with the opportunity to explore greater themes in my own work and has encouraged me to take risks—the same risks that I ask my students to take every day with their own work. I encourage emerging poets to focus on the miniature—minute aspects of life which offer brief glimpses into unexplored worlds, scenes, and experiences. I’m also reminded of the advice my friend, Curtis Bauer, gives his students on the first day of class, “Take off your headphones.” Which is to say, look up and listen! There’s a world out there just waiting for us to take notice. What better day than today?


Leslie Marie Aguilar originally hails from the heartland of Texas. She has served as the Poetry Editor of Indiana Review and received her MFA from Indiana University. Her work has been supported by the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Callaloo, Ninth Letter, Rattle, Sonora Review, and Southern Indiana Review among others. She is the author of Mesquite Manual (New Delta Review, 2015).



Scott Beal

“There’s an almost inexhaustible supply of ways into a poem when you’re translating human experience into the biology and behavior of another animal.”


The Octopus (Gertrude Press, 2016)

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

the octopus goes thrifting

the octopus has never had to say    what    haven’t you seen
an octopus in a shirt before    cashiers take its card
hand hot soup across the counter    without a blink
as if their vision can’t distinguish the octopus
from the other customers    it makes no conscious attempt
to tuck its arms or flatten its eyes

but wonders at its capacity for reflexive camouflage
you have trouble taking up space    says the octopus’s friend
and the octopus starts to notice    how it favors corners
defers to raised voices    remembers passing the other
in the hallway of the house    in the weeks after The Talk
leaning close to the wall    to avoid bumping shoulders

that’s no way to move through the world
garments on the thrift rack are grouped by color    midnight
to powder blue    wine to salmon    in smooth spectra
regardless of pattern    the octopus touches each one
imagines its wearer getting numbers from strangers
its skin grows paler as it nears the end of each row

Why did you choose this poem?

I hope it’s a fair example of how the octopus attempts to understand itself in the face of separation from the other, and of how the octopus world intertwines with human mundanities in the poems to tell a skewed kind of story.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I was trying to cope with the dissolution of my marriage. I’d gotten engaged at 19 years old, married at 21. Now I was 39 and mourning a love and routine and projected future that had been essential to who I knew I was. I went from being a full-time stay-at-home dad to a split-custody parent who saw his kids three or four nights a week. I was pushing 40 and had never been an independent adult. In the early, raw days of the marriage coming undone, I had written obsessively about it in a first-person confessional voice that made me skeptical – I worried it was getting maudlin. Imagining my situation from the point-of-view of an octopus helped me sidestep that voice for a while, and afforded me a battery of metaphorical associations to help make sense of what I was doing.

What’s your chapbook about?

Our protagonist, the octopus, is a sad cephalopod who is working through a marital separation from its former partner, the other. The octopus gets an apartment, sees a therapist, researches octopuses online, writes an online dating profile, quibbles with Robert Frost and Ringo Starr, and does its best to make its way in the absence of the other.

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

The first octopus poem I wrote is the second poem in the chapbook: “the octopus makes unaccustomed shapes during the TNT halftime show.” I don’t remember deciding to write about an octopus, but once I slipped into the voice and form, it felt like an easy skin to wear. I could put it back on for an hour or so each day and travel a small arc toward sense. I didn’t know if they’d make sense to anyone else, but they felt like steps forward to me. After I had a handful, I read some at a gig in Ann Arbor, and the poet Shira Erlichmann (who is a brilliant badass) suggested there ought to be a book of them. So I kept the poems going.

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

Each poem contains a shard of narrative, and I tried to arrange them into a coherent (if not necessarily linear) chronological arc. I wouldn’t say there’s a plot, per se, but the characters should show growth. The title is straightforward. I thought about jazzing it up, making it a sentence like most of the poem titles, but ultimately I opted to avoid letting the title steer too much.

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

The last poem, “Not Another Octopus Poem,” breaks from the form and voice of the collection. It’s still in its way an octopus poem, and it picks up threads from earlier moments in the chapbook, but it offers a sharper bite. I hope it both amplifies and interrogates the impression of the chapbook’s narrative.

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

I got a lot of mileage out of research: each tidbit I discovered about octopuses gave me a new lens for my experience and a new spark for a poem. An octopus has three hearts. Each of its arms has an independent nervous system. Its esophagus wraps around its brain. There’s an almost inexhaustible supply of ways into a poem when you’re translating human experience into the biology and behavior of another animal.

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?

Very little, actually. They preferred to handle it all themselves. I looked over proofs before it went to press; that’s it. I didn’t even see the cover until I got my author copies in the mail. I had felt a little apprehensive when they told me the cover art would be done in blue ballpoint. When I opened the box and saw this rich blue winding arm with hints of red, I was stunned. It’s a lush and gorgeous drawing by a Toronto-based artist named Ray Cicin, and I couldn’t be happier with how it represents the chapbook. And the people at Gertrude Press are kind and lovely, and put great care into the work they do.

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

Would you sell us movie rights to The Octopus for the enclosed six-figure sum? Yes, yes I would.

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

The two utterly stunning chapbooks that immediately come to mind are Naming the No-Name Woman by Jasmine An (Two Sylvias Press, 2016) and Mammoth by Rachel McKibbens (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014).  Jasmine’s chapbook is a brilliant study of Chinese-American and queer female identity, and Rachel’s is a devastating vessel of grief at a beloved child’s death. I also love Crixa by Megan Hudgins (Two of Cups Press, 2014), whose fierce and vulnerable poems riff on Watership Down and Eduardo Kac’s bioluminescent rabbit.

I also appreciate the DIY possibilities afforded by the chapbook, and I love my collection of staple-bound, homemade chapbooks picked up from friends and traveling poets. I once went ten years without getting a poem accepted for publication, and wondered if I ever would again. When I saw people come through town slinging stacks of chapbooks they’d printed at Kinko’s for $5 a pop, I appreciated the audacity of such faith in one’s own work without waiting for a press’s approval. I ended up putting together a couple of DIY chapbooks myself, including a set about gender identity called Pink Parts. That process helped me see my own work in new ways that ultimately taught me how to put together my full-length collection, Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems.

What are you working on now?

I’m finalizing a full-length manuscript of poems that respond to divorce and post-divorce identity, relationships, and parenthood. There are no octopuses in it, but there are insects, dinosaurs, snakes, polar bears, Ghost Rider, Indiana Jones, and assorted other creatures.

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

I miss being in a punk band. But it’s hard to hang onto drummers.

How has your writing and writing practiced evolved? What old habits have you dropped and are there any new ones you’ve picked up that you’d like to share?

I used to rail against sentimentality. Now I’ve become a sap. Partly I changed as a writer (vis-à-vis changing as a human being) when I became a parent, and empathy became a newly dynamic practical presence in everyday life. And partly I learned from certain writers I had the privilege of teaching with in the 2000s – Patrick Rosal and Aracelis Girmay in particular – about how to use poetry as a tool for building compassion, both within oneself and out in the world. I suspect anyone could become a better artist and a better person by having a half-hour conversation in a car with Patrick or across a table from Aracelis. But we can also do it by reading their books, which you should start on right now if you haven’t already.

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

If I tell you, I probably won’t write it.

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

Once I told a friend that the chapbook I was working on (Pink Parts) was about “femulinity.” I went to say “femininity and masculinity,” and my tongue got tied up. But I decided I like that word, that that’s the right word. And whatever new thing I work on, an uneasy concern with gender and power, and a nagging urge toward femulinity as an ideal, never seems far from the center.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook? What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

One book that probably helped me is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Tao Lin, which I first heard about through a review by Ray McDaniel at The Constant Critic. I wasn’t thinking of Tao Lin directly when I started writing octopus poems, but it’s likely that his hamster poems helped trigger the possibility in my imagination of using an animal avatar to cope with human despair.

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

Wanna swap chapbooks with me?


Scott Beal is the author of the full-length collection Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems (Dzanc Books, 2014) and one previous chapbook, Two Shakespearean Madwomen Vs. the Detroit Red Wings (White Eagle Coffee Store Press, 1999). He teaches full-time in the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan and serves as Dzanc Writer-in-Residence for Ann Arbor Open School. He curates and co-hosts the Skazat! monthly poetry series in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he lives with his two children.