Maya Jewell Zeller

“The poem kept repeating itself in my brain for a full day.”

Zeller Bees

Yesterday, the Bees (Floating Bridge Press, 2015)

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

I admire several chapbooks, many of them from Floating Bridge, which are the ones I’d like to talk about here—Nancy Pagh’s After, Annette Spaulding-Convy’s In the Convent We Become Clouds, to name two. A few years ago, my friend Laura Read published her collection The Chewbacca on Hollywood Boulevard Reminds Me of You through Floating Bridge; her book has a direct speaker and listener relationship that carries through the collection in pieces that follow each other like a novella-in-poems. Laura wrote this book in about a month. The cohesion of Laura’s project made me rethink some of my own choices to present a less-than-linear narrative in my previous chapbook projects; when I re-made Yesterday, the Bees, this desire for more direct cohesion was one of my driving forces. That said, I don’t believe a chapbook has to sustain one singular narrative.

What’s your chapbook about?

Yesterday, the Bees is about pregnancy, birth, postpartum depression, maternal and paternal lineage, immigration, death, and pollination, which, according to the USDA, is “the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma. The goal of every living organism, including plants, is to create offspring for the next generation. One of the ways that plants can produce offspring is by making seeds.”

While there is no literal pollination in the book, offspring and reproduction are at its core, as are questions of native vs. introduced species, including plants and humans, and the ways our lineage influences our roots, our navigation of the world, how that then offers a map for our children.  I’m not sure I could do a bee dance—you know, how they return to the hive and dance out directions on where to find the pollen/flowers—but if I could, this book would be it.

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

This is my only published chap, but some previous manuscripts were: “Ways to Prevent Adultery,” which offered an adulteress, a stripper, a nymphomaniac, a woman who used to be the moon, a prostitute, an unhappy wife, and a mother; “Willapa,” set in the hills and valleys of Southwest Washington, accessing some Lewis & Clark journals, as well as teen angst and the  fecund beauty and despair of that area; and “No Human Language,” which was pretty much only about postpartum depression, and contained a series of epistolary poems (versions of which now make up an essay). These were all sad attempts, but the process of compiling them was useful to the revision of the poems and to future understanding about how to order/ create a manuscript.

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

The oldest piece in Yesterday, the Bees is either “Naming: First Poem for You” or “She Decides She Prefers Longing over Satisfaction.” I think I wrote them both in the same year (2008; maybe 2009 for “Satisfaction”). “Naming” is the first poem in the book, a direct address in the early stages of pregnancy, in which the mother tells her embryo how she (the mother) was named; about her maternal lineage. This poem was one of those gifts—very quick to write; it changed very little from its earliest draft to the one in the book.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I kept a journal, addressed to her (before I knew her name, her sex), in which I plainly spoke about my life, my days; the journal continued (continues) intermittently as my daughter grows/grew. I think of “Naming” as a kind of journal entry—an intimate speaker-listener moment. The book is meant to be like that, a passing on of memory, genetic coding, directions for the daughter navigating the world.

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

My manuscripts often form organically from the poems themselves; I know people who write one or two poems and then realize their manuscript trajectory and write to fill it; I definitely have the poems first and then ask them how they’re speaking to one another.

In terms of prompts/ revision strategies, I like Hugo’s exercises—take any of his “assumptions” or create your own, take someone you emotionally trust through a town or experience, etc. Really, re-reading Triggering Town always gives me a new exercise (or old exercise) to try (again). With a tricky poem, I love Alberto Rios’s exercise of turning the poem upside down—beginning with the last line and ending with the first, cutting/changing as you go. I suppose that would be a cool thing to try with a manuscript, too, though I haven’t done it yet. I think we should try organizing each manuscript in several ways, though, before sending it out.

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

The artist Rob Nance is designing the Floating Bridge covers right now, and he’s wonderful. He actually read the manuscript of Yesterday, the Bees pre-publication and then sketched FIVE original mock-ups based on the material of the collection. Working with my editor, I was able to choose from these pieces of art, give input on the title font, and proof the final product. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate this level of involvement. I love Rob’s rendition of the caddisfly larva in a stream; I think it provides a nice tension with the book’s title.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on several projects simultaneously: two poetry manuscripts (one on motherhood; one on madness—maybe that’s one book?), several essays (the latest on being part of a homeowner’s association as an adult after growing up, generally, in rural poverty), a book collaboration with a Seattle visual artist (we’re in the very early stages). Outside of my writing, but also in conjunction with it, I’m working on being a better teacher and a better mother. It’s all a very intense balance, but worth it, I think.

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

Keep an image journal—list all the images you see, hear, smell, taste, feel, that stick with you.

Read widely, in as many genres as you can. Take notes. Imitate the authors and strategies you admire.

Read your own work out loud.

Spend more time doing what you love.

Drink water, eat your vegetables, practice kindness.

Be patient.

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

I think most readers will pick out the title poem as the misfit—“Yesterday, the Bees” was written years after the other poems in the collection (five or so years later), and it deviates most explicitly from the narrative of parenthood (birth, baptism, maternal lineage, paternal lineage, etc.). But I also think this title poem offers the collection a lens of human-as-animal, human-as-invasive-species. The poem serves as a sort of credo through which to view the other poems, and a credo for the child-reader. (It also offers a concise counterpoint to the sestina “View From a Bedroom Window,” a poem about postpartum depression that takes place indoors, whereas the title poem is in the field.) Here it is in its full text:

Yesterday, the Bees

were waist-high
in the blueweed.
I’m not going to say

the obvious:
that this plant
is like me, a second

generation immigrant.
What do I have
for the bees?

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 chapbook went through many revisions, and many titles/containers, including: “The Beautiful Friction of Transitive Things” and “The Earth, That Other Sky.” Both of these versions were finalists with Floating Bridge in previous years, but I knew there was something that had to change. On a run one summer day in the valley below my house, I ended up in a field of blueweed, the visual jeweled color less imagistically resonant somehow than the auditory buzzing of bees in the flowers all around me. The poem kept repeating itself in my brain for a full day until finally I wrote it down. When I was revising the book later, it occurred to me that this little poem-fragment—its content, its title, its little lyric song of questioning, were exactly what the collection needed to feel complete. (That poem is the title poem I mentioned in the last question.)

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?

Yes; reading my work out loud always offers a new relationship to the poems and between the poems. If you’re putting together a chapbook, I suggest reading your whole collection out loud to a friend, if you have a friend who is patient and kind and critical enough to respond when she hears something that merits conversation. If you don’t, you might make a digital recording of yourself and they play it back and take notes.

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Maya Jewell Zeller is the author of the chapbook Yesterday, the Bees (Floating Bridge Press, 2015) and the book Rust Fish (Lost Horse Press, 2011). Other manuscripts have been finalists with the National Poetry Series, Brittingham and Felix Pollak Prizes, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere; individual poems and essays appear widely. Maya teaches writing and, together with her husband, raises two small children. She lives in Spokane.

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mayajewellzeller.com

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Love Poem for the Flood

After the flood I wanted to lie down in the brown
muck of the field and let the earth swallow me.

I wanted to let the earth swallow me the way it had
the land, water rising up out of the ground,

falling from the sky, flowing from the hills, spilling
out of rivers. I wanted to spill out of rivers

into the mouth of earth. I wanted the mouth of earth
on my mouth, the blue of sky eclipsed by our kiss.

I wanted our kiss, an eclipse, to flow over the grass
like a flood and muck up gravity. I wanted gravity flooding

my body. I wanted my body pressed into the field,
the field pulling my body deeper, the deep of my body

fielded by mud. I wanted to be a flood. I wanted flood
to know how I felt. I wanted the felt blue sky to lie on its back.

Cameron Awkward-Rich

“[I cultivate] the feeling of being devastated by words.”

Cam Awkward-Rich Transit

Transit (Button Poetry, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?

Well, if I’m honest, it’s about riding the train & gender “transition.” I started taking testosterone during the years in which I had just begun living in Oakland, a 2 hour public transit commute away from where I go to school. Every day I would move between these two very different, very strange landscapes (Oakland with its racial/ economic violence visible on the surface of everything & Palo Alto with its enormous production of racialized/ classed precarity actively hidden from view). I didn’t know how to navigate that disjuncture, who I was in those spaces. At the same time my body was changing in ways that made others relate to me differently, making me unsure, always, of how I was being read. So, it was a strange, unsettling time where all of the usual contradictions of being a person in the world felt more palpable & the chapbook is about that feeling. Also, you know, my small sorrows & my father.

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’m not certain, but I think the oldest piece is “Bridge.” I wrote it in a gross hotel room in Charlotte, NC—I was there as a member of the Bay Area team at the 2012 National Poetry Slam. Retrospectively, this poem obviously catalyzed the project—it’s interested in transition & architecture & memory—but it took me a few years to figure that out. At the time, it was simply the first poem I had produced since undergrad that I liked & my first inkling that I hadn’t completely forgotten how to write.

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

Well, this chapbook mostly emerged while I was “co-coaching” the New Shit Show slam team in the summer of 2014. Part of the project of that team was to produce work together, to figure out how to workshop (for slam & in general) effectively, etc. So the process of making this chapbook was quite different than how I usually write (alone, or talking to myself while walking down the street, or in response to a particular event in my life), because so much of it came out of a workshop space where I was responding to other people, other poems, etc.

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

I like to think it’s arranged to tell a story, albeit a non-linear one & the title is just a pun. There’s a series of “theory” poems in the chapbook, one of which insists that theory is less about arriving at truth & more about arriving at a good pun, & the chapbook as a whole resists the impulse to pin down the “truth” about gender/ place/ identity.

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

Oh, I got really lucky. I love the cover of Transit, but my only involvement was sending a vague email about distorted images/ train tracks/ the color white.

What are you working on now?

I have a full-length book coming out soon from Ricochet Editions, an imprint of Gold Line Press, called Sympathetic Little Monster. It’s sort of Transit, but with slightly less narrative & more emphasis on themes of objectification, race, & image. Otherwise, I’ve been putzing around, working on my dissertation, which is, unsurprisingly, about trans[masculinity] & bad feelings.

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

Does the chapbook allow for something that the full-length book doesn’t? What?

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, which was weird because the book is so long. But as someone who cultivates the feeling of being devastated by words, I sensed that after I’d emerged from that novel, I would have a hard time finding something that could properly devastate me for a while. Any suggestions? Anyone?

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

This is an interesting question. The answer, obviously, is yes, though it’s hard to pin down exactly how & why. Partially, I think Transit tries to enact a trans politics of anti-linearity, the self as a multiple singular, etc. To that end, the story tries to curve rather than proceed in a straight line & the pronouns in the book are always shifting. I think the brevity of the chapbook form let me get away with this—to present a simultaneously fractured & coherent speaker—in a way I’m not sure a longer project could sustain.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

Ocean Vuong, Ross Gay, Anne Sexton, Lauren Berry, I technically do have a Mary Oliver tattoo, Richard Siken, Audre Lorde, Anne Carson, Toni Morrison (she’s a poet, ok?), & Suji Kwock Kim

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?

There’s a series of poems titled “Once” that break up the sections. Originally, it was one poem, but breaking them up & using them to string the book together was the moment it really cohered for me.

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

Against Hope.

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions? If so, how was your experience of the poems different? How were your ideas about their individual meanings changed?

I did. Or, rather, I got my computer to read it out loud to me. That experience was neat because it gave me a better sense of how the line-breaks were functioning to pace the text & what each poem did divorced from the emotion I can’t help but read into my own work. Reading it all together gave me a sense of how images repeated & let me identify when those repetitions worked & when the image felt dead from too much repetition. It also gave me a clearer sense of where the narrative went straight ahead & where it diverged or multiplied. Plus, this was the first time I’d had my computer read a substantial block of text to me & it was weirdly intimate—I feel much less skeptical about technology these days.

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

Oh, anything, though I mostly read academic books these days. Queer theory is good for mixing ideas with wit, or ideas as wit. Ethnography is surprisingly good for narrative & landscape & portraits.

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

I wrote this book for myself as a bewildered little trans kid, so I hope most to reach the bewildered kids of this strange cultural moment we’re in.

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Cameron Awkward-Rich is the author of Sympathetic Little Monster (Ricochet Editions, 2016) and the chapbook Transit (Button Poetry, 2015). His poetry has appeared/ is forthcoming in The Offing, Vinyl, The Indiana Review, Bat City Review, cream city review, The Journal & elsewhere. A Cave Canem fellow & poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, Cam is currently a PhD candidate at Stanford University.

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www.cawkwardrich.com

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What Returns

So now winter is a place I visit
but don’t belong to. I pass the time

in a room that isn’t childhood, but
does that matter? My mother

is still down the hall & I am still
watching men on screen break

into other men & the once-snowfield
of my body becomes a flood that shatters

me each night. I thought I was finished
with desire & what a relief. To not want

to reach outside the skin. To touch
what isn’t mine, or anything at all.

To not be a tongue in a glass jar
in an ocean. But the pills make me

dream in oceans. I wake up crusted
with someone else’s salt.

I become a boy who touches
the backs of strangers’ necks

in public—in love with the soft
of his own throat.

This makes every man
on the train into something

that could kill me. Don’t worry.
That’s a good thing.

It means I got on the train.
It means I still have a body.

(previously appeared in The Bakery)

Jane Liddle

Jane Liddle Cover and Photo

Murder (421 Atlanta, 2016)

In your new book Murder, is there any specific inspiration or plotting behind the order of the small fictions?

Yes, I wanted the stories to build from individuals committing murder to stories more humanity-based, to take it from the specific to the general. There is some generality in the individual stories, too, since the characters are always unnamed. But I wanted the murderer characters to become more inclusive as the book progressed.

What was your motivation behind writing Murder as a whole and what do you want readers to take away from it?

My initial motivation was craft-based. I found I was writing long, meandering sentences and making my stories too complicated. I wanted to see if I could strip my sentences and plots to basic elements while still creating suspense, surprise, and feeling.

What I want my readers to take away from it is that, you, too, can be capable of murder! Even if indirectly.

What are your goals for craft now?

My goals now are to still be succinct, but have a bit more fun on the sentence-level.

In your story that was featured in Best Small FictionsIt Will Never Be Deep Enough,” you created a character so real it feels like nonfiction. How do you break down the walls to create such vivid and realistic characters? Do you base your writings on personal experience? 

The motivation for this story started as how I imagined someone might gossip about me at a party. I don’t know of any gossip about me, or if people at parties ever have gossiped about me, though I do assume everyone gossips about someone at some point. I thought it would be funny to explore what someone would say about me that wasn’t nice. That was the starting point, but a lot of the details are made up, as is the situation. I did make a chair out of a pallet, though.

That story, and its companion “Between You and Me” in Alice Blue Review, are two that are most based on me (but not really!). When creating characters, it’s important to keep in mind that a character is more than just a sum of their quirks. There has to be a background there, even if the reader doesn’t know what the background is.

Who is your favorite character you have ever written about and why? 

I have a soft spot for the character Jolene Hopewell I wrote about in “The Agenda Futility,” published by the excellent Two Serious Ladies. It was the first story I had ever published, and I think the third story I wrote after a long hiatus from writing after college. I wanted to write about a misunderstood woman who was ahead of her time and rediscovered after she went missing. At the end, we get to hear Jolene in her own words, and I wanted that to be reaffirming and surprising.

What can we expect from your future book about daydreams?

A peek into the absurd nonsense that goes on in my head when I listen to music, or when I’m at a lecture, or when I’m tuning out a conversation. I also want to explore daydreams in literature, what purpose daydreaming serves people, and what it serves me specifically. Maybe some pop science.

Have you started working on your dystopian mystery that you mentioned in The Heavy Feather Review and could you give us any hints about other things that are in the works? 

I had two excerpts from that published a couple years ago, in Alice Blue Review and Monkeybicycle. But I haven’t worked on it since. I think I sat on the idea too long and it lost its sparkle by being in my head for a long time and by the onslaught of dystopian stories that we’ve seen recently. I liked the stories I published though; maybe I will go back to it someday.

Other things in the works is the book about daydreams, and a novel that takes place in my hometown Newburgh, New York, that I’ve been avoiding writing my whole life until I couldn’t avoid it anymore.

Can you give us any details on the novel based in Newburgh to hold us over until its fruition?

The book is about the main character, Gloria, solving a crime by reading old diaries, then having to decide whether it’s worth it to tell anyone. It’s also about a place that has haunted me all my life.

I’m guessing that your stories are born from all sorts of reasons – wonder, general curiosity, or attention to craft. Is there a certain way that stories begin that you like more than others?

I like it when they are fully formed in my head! That’s happened only a couple of times, but every once in a while I’ll sit down to write and the whole thing comes out. There still has to be revising, but the plot and heart are fully realized and it’s just a matter of cleaning up. It’s just easier that way, but it’s rare.

You wrote on your blog that Wedlocked and The Folded Clock were some of your better reads of 2015. Has anything topped those in 2016 so far?

I loved Wedlocked because I felt like it was a companion to the daydream book I’m writing. Jay Ponteri explores his stupid fantasies during a rough time in his marriage, and it was engrossing for me because I had never read such a deep dive into someone’s internal life like that before. He wrote, in detail, not just that he had a crush on someone, but the scenarios that he constructed in his head around this crush. I found that fascinating and delicious. The Folded Clock had a lot of that too. After reading a daydream essay of mine, Amanda Miska, who is the editor of Split Lip Magazine and a great short-story writer, sent me Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, correctly guessing that I would love it. I’m a sap for tales of female friendship and art, and a narrator who explores her own motivations. Also enjoyed Uzodinma Okehi’s Over the Rockwell, which I bought after seeing him read and cracking the audience up with a heartfelt ridiculous cover letter for a submission to a literary journal. My cover letters are usually nothing more than “Please consider this, thanks!” so I was impressed/ chastised.

Other than your residence, where do you feel the most at home in New York City?

Spoonbill & Sugartown books on Bedford Ave, the bar section of Odessa that’s not there anymore, blowing a kiss at the camera while riding the Cyclone, getting a slice from Carmine’s in Greenpoint that’s not there anymore, at the annual bake sale at City Reliquary around the corner, the Flatiron building where I worked for seven years, getting dresses pulled for me at Cheap Jack’s that isn’t there anymore. I’m moving upstate to New Paltz at the end of the month, can you tell I’m already nostalgic?

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Jane Liddle

 

Nina Powles

“…that’s what all ‘established literary communities’ need—to be shaken up by new voices, constantly.”

Powles

Girls of the Drift (Seraph Press, 2014)

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

Some of my favourite chapbooks by New Zealand poets are Bound: An Ode to Falling in Love by Jackson Nieuwland and Carolyn DeCarlo (Compound Press), Scarab by Vivienne Plumb (Seraph Press) and, outside of New Zealand, Anne Carson’s The Albertine Workout (New Directions), which perhaps isn’t intended as a traditional “chapbook,” but it has the same kind of feel.

Another, more chaotic kind of poetry publishing format that influences my work is zines. I also make poetry zines of my own.

What’s your chapbook about?

Girls of the Drift is about real and imagined women from New Zealand history. The poems are separate, but I think the title, Girls of the Drift, connects them together. I’m interested in the idea of what it means to be adrift, in constant movement, caught in the in-between. Many women in the poems are caught in ‘drifts’ of one kind or another: physical, emotional, metaphorical.

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

The first poem I wrote in the chapbook, “Pencarrow Lighthouse,” also happens to be the first proper poem I ever wrote—the first time I was conscious that this is a poem. It’s about New Zealand’s first and only female lighthouse keeper, Mary Bennett, who took over as keeper of Pencarrow Lighthouse in Wellington after her husband’s death in 1855. You can read more about her here.

It never occurred to me then that it would become part of a book. But I started to look for more stories about women like Mary Bennett—women you never learned about in school (not that we learned about many women at all). I’m helplessly attracted to the mysterious and the unknown. I started to imagine a recurring pattern: poems that illuminate small moments from women’s lives.

What are you working on now?

I just finished my MA in Creative Writing last year, and during the year I realised that Girls of the Drift only scratched the surface of what I’m really interested in, of what I really want to write. For my MA, I wrote a collection of poems on similar themes but using very different poetic forms. It’s a series of poetic biographies about five women (including the writer Katherine Mansfield, the scientist Beatrice Tinsley, and a fictional ghost). It’s not conventional poetic biography. There are images, erasures, collages interspersed between the poems. It’s also about me—how I see myself in relation to them, how our worlds interact. I hope it might become my first full-length book.

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

I feel barely qualified to give advice! But here’s something writers I admire have told me, that I should really do more often: write as often and as regularly as you can, not in any polished way, but in notebooks or scrap paper or in the Notes app on your iPhone. Write down stuff you just happen to notice. Write down things you find beautiful even (or especially) if you aren’t sure why.

But I think the most important thing is: read! Read widely and hungrily. Read outside your comfort zone. I think sometimes I can tell when I’m reading something written by a writer who isn’t also a reader.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

I had no idea chapbooks even existed when my lecturer, Anna Jackson (also a poet), said she could imagine the poems I’d written being published in that form. If I’d known about them sooner—that small publishers actually put together these beautiful handmade books made up of only ten or fifteen poems, so much smaller and less scary than a full-length book—I’d probably have had the confidence to start writing poetry sooner, and start getting to know other writers. The same goes for poetry zines, which are wonderfully anarchic, chaotic, and imperfect.

If you’re thinking about writing a chapbook, I think it helps to have a unifying theme, setting, or narrative thread that holds the poems together. Chapbooks are short, and I think this makes them ideal for series or sequences of poems. Of course, there are exceptions! Not all collections are neatly coherent or sequential, and nor should they be. But with chapbooks you have so little space—and I think that’s a good thing. The shorter and more focused, the better.

Other than that, read chapbooks! Connect with other writers and publishers of chapbooks (on Twitter, if you’re shy like me). Go to book launches and poetry readings. Hover around the snacks table if you don’t know anyone. You can be sure there’ll be other people hovering.

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

Since finishing my MA in poetry I’ve been reading nothing but novels. I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed fiction! The two best books I read this summer were Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life (which left me shaken) and Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (a strange, beautiful, almost-verse novel).

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

It can. Poems that might not fit in a longer collection might belong in a chapbook. Chapbooks are often handmade and totally unique, which can give them license to be more strange, more difficult, more ridiculous, therefore more striking.

Also the short length and small print run makes chapbooks a viable way for new poets to get their work in print. That’s what happened for me. For a young writer just getting started, chapbooks feel more possible than a “Poetry Collection.” And let’s be real—they’re much more fun.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

TEN? Okay, Anne Carson, Mary Ruefle, Jorie Graham, Claudia Rankine, Emily Dickinson, Joan Fleming, Anne Kennedy, Hera Lindsay Bird, e e cummings, Shakespeare.

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

No. I didn’t even know what chapbooks were. But once I had written two or three poems, I did start seeing how these themes and pattern might extend to a small collection of ten or twelve poems. But I had no idea they might form their own book, or even be seen by anyone else but me. That happened by accident.

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

The last poem, “The Grief Collector,” which is the most experimental. It borrows its form (if you can call it that—maybe “aesthetic” is more accurate) of Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho in If Not, Winter, in which she indicates the gaps and half-finished lines of the crumbling Sapphic fragments with empty square brackets. Some “poems” are just one or two lines of text followed by these empty brackets—all this concrete emptiness. She makes absence visible.

I had the gall to wonder what would happen if I transposed the form into an entirely different poem, one where I choose where to place the gaps. The result is a kind of erasure poem. This was my first attempt at something weird and different, something really unconventionally poetic. And now, a year after Girls of the Drift, I’m a little obsessed with unconventional poetics.

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

Starfruit.

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

All kinds, but especially (at the moment) short stories. The shorter length, the way all images and descriptions must count more, and what they leave you with at the end—all these things make me think of the short stories as kinds of poems. I feel this way about Katherine Mansfield and Alice Munro, especially.

They aren’t a kind of writing, but films also help me write poetry. Some films seem to me more like poems than anything else, because of the way all your senses are engaged. And the way some films present images—you don’t always know what’s going on, you don’t know why the last shot was followed by the next, all you know is that it’s beautiful and it’s making you feel something physically, deep in your bones, and you can never articulate the feeling at first. That’s like a poem to me.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

I was taking an Honours class in Modern Poetry, and I started writing the poems in Girls of the Drift right after discovering Anne Carson for the first time. We read “The Glass Essay,” which is one of my favourite poems of all time, and then I went out and bought two of her books. I studied undergrad English, so poetry wasn’t new to me, but Carson is probably the first contemporary poet I connected with. I know lots of poets who’ve also had this moment: the first time they realised poetry doesn’t actually have to be like the stuff they teach you about at school, and it doesn’t have to be dry and difficult. It would be cool if the way we’re taught about poetry let us realise this sooner.

At the time, I was also writing a thesis on the female characters in Katherine Mansfield’s short stories. Several of my poems are based on characters in those stories: “Leila,” “Josephine,” “Constantia,” “Volcanology.”

Who is your intended audience? What kind of person do you imagine writing to?

I don’t really write with an audience in mind. That sounds too scary; I wouldn’t be able to write anything real, I’d just be pretending all the time. I guess when we write, even if we don’t have an audience in mind, we probably imagine we are writing to people much like ourselves. This is the safest, most comfortable option.

But I also hope that my writing might appeal to people who aren’t like me, who don’t read poetry that much, or are from totally different backgrounds. It’s mostly a vain hope. But maybe after I’ve finished something, I might ask myself: “would people read this who aren’t like me? or am I alienating a bunch of people?” which are hard questions to answer. But the first step is asking them. New Zealand poetry can be very insular; we all read each other’s work and we sometimes probably write like each other. But I hope that’s changing. That’s where chapbooks and zines come in—especially zines—because anybody can write one. You don’t need to have a large following or have published extensively in journals. You can be new. And that’s what all “established literary communities” need—to be shaken up by new voices, constantly.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

I haven’t arrived at any wisdom. I just read as much as I can, and I just try to speak a little louder at poetry readings.

I do wish I’d been told more about the reality of “being a writer.” I still wish people would tell me more about it. Stuff like: you can’t make a living from this, so how do you pay the rent? When did you realise this, and how did you cope with it? Sometimes when I meet well-established writers, I just want to ask them: how have you made a living? But I don’t. I also wish someone would tell me how to become Tumblr-famous, and that someone could have prepared me better for the look on people’s faces when I tell them I’m a poet. Specifically at Christmas family gatherings.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Goosebumps. Meteor showers. The notion that there are whale skeletons at the bottom of the sea. The notion that the universe is expanding. Moths flying at my window. Planetary alignments. Nature documentaries. Movie scores that make me cry. Imminent environmental disaster. Haunted opera houses. Unsolved mysteries. Poems that are so good you feel you might as well give up, but then suddenly they have the opposite effect; they make you go and write something.

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Nina Powles is a poet from Wellington, New Zealand. Her debut poetry chapbook, Girls of the Drift, was published by Seraph Press in 2014, from which a poem was selected for Best New Zealand Poems 2014. She has an MA in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters. She also makes poetry zines.

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Nina Powles

Girls of the Drift

Mooncake Poetry Zines

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Constantia

Constantia felt everything in the
parlour change colour when she
pulled the curtains open. The
yellow-breasted goldfinch her
father brought back from India
finely stuffed and perched, glass
eyes twinkling brightly, tail
feathers painted orange by the
light. The celestial globe (a
normal globe wouldn’t do, said
father) stitched all over with criss-
crossing constellations glowing
as if lit inside. The bluish white
teacup left forgotten on the table
when the nurse had shouted
please come quickly! The frame
of her mother’s portrait inlaid with
gold-flaked roses, where a woman
encircled by a black feather boa
watches her daughter, untouched
by the warm light flooding the
ghost-room that made Constantia
feel, just then, as if all of this
had actually mattered.

Anna Ross

“I wish I had been told that it doesn’t all come at once, and that it shouldn’t.”

Ross, Figuring

Figuring (Bull City Press, 2016)

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

I regret that I don’t read more chapbooks—it’s difficult to keep up! But one that I’ve read and reread many times lately is my friend Carrie Bennett’s Animals in Pretty Cages from dancing girl press. I admire so much how she approaches the body, in this case the body of her grandmother who is dying from Alzheimer’s disease, in a way that is both loving and unsentimentally exact: the body is a source of amazement and fear and metaphor. And her construction of narrative is so elegant—she includes only the particular moment and information we need. I find that very brave.

What might this chapbook suggest about you and your writing?

I think Carrie and I share a trust in the image as a tool of investigation.

What’s your chapbook about?

The book contains a series of self-portraits intertwined with a second series of “report” poems. The earliest poems in the book were an attempt at self-location. I’d written most of the poems in my first book while I was in graduate school in New York and in the two or three years directly following that, and my life seemed to me to have changed significantly in the intervening time. I was now, after some struggle, the mother of two young children, and I lived in a different city (Boston) and found myself spending a large portion of my time attempting to communicate with pre-lingual children, going to playgrounds and having long earnest conversations with near-strangers (who eventually became fast friends) regarding napping schedules and feeding idiosyncrasies, and, once my kids were a bit older, attempting to navigate the city public school system. Everything seemed suddenly and radically far away from my writing life, even when I wrote about it. It felt as though I had traded out about 75% of my brain and now was having to learn the world again while simultaneously explaining it to first my daughter and then my son. Initially, the self-portraits came out of this—not so much a portrait of the self as a portrait of how the self now saw the world. This new view includes the often conflicting feelings of motherhood—being completely devoted to and in awe of one’s children while also feeling suddenly hemmed in and even trapped by how our society views and treats mothers (“Self-Portrait with Washing Machine” is an example of this). As the series progressed, it also started to incorporate a sense of unease (evolving, at times, into terror) at the level and types of violence we, as a society, have come to accept in our lives—street violence in my neighborhood, gun violence, geopolitical violence, environmental degradation. I think that having children can have the effect of making one feel more vulnerable to all of this and also more amazed by what can be, and has already been, lost.

The report poems came a bit later. They were a way for the world (through quoted and found text) to speak back to the self—perhaps a mirror to the mirror. The word “report” suggests impartiality, or at least research (I’m thinking of the VIDA Report, for which I’m so, so grateful). While I don’t claim that my report poems are unbiased or bound by statistical analysis—they are poems, first and foremost!—as I began to focus more on violence, I wanted more voices to join mine in the poems. Perhaps this is a way of convincing myself that I haven’t become a completely crazed, paranoid person, but it’s also a way of crediting my sources. And some of the found text that I include is so striking that I didn’t want to touch it; for instance, the lines “sitting in a children’s chair / like he was watching T.V.” in the poem “Drought Report” are quoted directly from a newspaper article I came across online about a sibling murder/ suicide.

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

The oldest poem in the book is “Self-Portrait as Smaller Moon.” It was my husband’s and my 10th wedding anniversary, and my parents had taken our daughter and son (then age 4 and 18 months) for the night. I was sitting in a coffee shop waiting for him to get off work so we could go out, and I was noodling around with the idea of writing when I came across a story in The Guardian (I think) about a new theory that there had once been two moons orbiting earth, one smaller and one larger, and that the gravitational pull of the larger one had gradually attracted the smaller one until it crashed into one side of the larger, resulting in our current moon with one smooth face and one rocky, mottled face (the remains of the smaller moon). This suddenly seemed to me an exact description of my circumstance, with me as the smaller moon, and my new life (kids, motherhood, marriage, etc.) the larger moon. Initially, the last stanza read “spread myself against the dark back/ of this other, “ but I changed it to “lovely other” because I do love the people in the new life, but the life is still quite “other.” After that, I gave myself permission to use the idea of the self-portrait in this way, and it seemed to open the door to so many poems at a time when writing a poem was incredibly difficult in terms of temporal and mental resources. I think that I may be done with them now, but it was such a gift.

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

Giving myself time to write is almost as much of a discipline as the writing itself. I wish I had a coherent process or strategy, but so much of my writing life is catch-as-catch-can. In addition to having a family, I teach, which uses many of the same resources that motherhood does and can be quite depleting. I’m learning to say no a little bit more to things, though—not my kids, but other commitments that I used to do out of a sense of obligation. Also, I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful writing group who keep me (just barely) on track through the many upheavals of family, community, and academic life. I also apply to conferences and residencies when I can—two weeks away at a time still feels like my max, which limits me somewhat. But I always get some work done while I’m away and return home with new determination. I just learned that I’ve received a fellowship to Vermont Studio Center for this summer, and I’m already longing for the concentration and space that it will provide.

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

I’m usually terrible with titles—it took me ages to find a title for my first book—but the title for this chapbook suggested itself to me after I’d finished the poem “Self-Portrait with Arithmetic,” which ends with the line “We sit here, figuring.” The word “figuring” suggests the figure (self, self-portrait) and also a sense of difficulty and discovery. The arrangement of the poems was much trickier and required expert advice from friends and editors. As it is now, the chapbook moves from a sense of discovery (the self-portraits) to an increased sense of the world looking back (the report poems), but the two are still quite intermingled.

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

I didn’t collaborate at all, and I’m absolutely thrilled with what my press came up with!

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a full-length version of the chapbook. My first chapbook, Hawk Weather, led to my first full-length book, If a Storm, although with quite a few stops along the way. I’m sure that my current project will go through many, many more revisions before I’m ready to see it as a book, though.

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

I offer students the same advice that I offer myself: read as much as you can (not just poetry, but anything that nourishes your work) and go to readings. Also, try to find your community. Writing is a very social act, despite the fact that we mainly do it in solitude. But we need readers and editors (and friends in the bar) in order to keep going.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

For me, a chapbook has been a great way to see if a project is working; if it can stand up to critical revision as a chap, maybe it can then expand into a full-length book. I also read chapbooks that are beautiful coherent collections that won’t get any bigger, although they might become a discrete section in a larger work. That’s true of Carrie Bennett’s book, The Quiet Winter, which includes as a section the chapbook I mentioned above. I also think that chapbooks are the perfect length. You can sit down and read them in one go, and this isn’t often the case with full-length books. There’s something concentrated and rare about a good chapbook. That isn’t so much advice as an ideal to shoot for, I guess.

What was the last book you read that made you stop reading, just for a moment even, because you didn’t want it to be over?

I have a pile of these on my desk, including (but not limited to): The Spokes of Venus (Rebecca Morgan Frank), Garments Against Women (Anne Boyer), Voyage of the Sable Venus (Robin Coste Lewis), Between the World and Me (Ta-Nehisi Coates), Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude (Ross Gay), Loop of Jade (Sarah Howe), Admit One (Martha Collins), Hive (Christina Stoddard), The World Before Snow (Tim Liardet), Roll Deep (Major Jackson), and Hyperboreal (Joan Kane). And that’s just the crop from the last few weeks!

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

I think perhaps thinking in chapbook form allows me to experiment a bit more, which might affect my willingness to be more forthcoming about politics in my work. I don’t know that it impacts the politics themselves, but I’m always wary of being didactic, and a chapbook lets me try things out and see how people respond.

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

I studied voice quite seriously when I was in college and in my early 20s, and I sang semi-professionally with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus here in Boston. Eventually, I decided to go to graduate school for writing, not music, but I do still look back on that decision sometimes and wonder “what if.” I’m co-teaching a course now on Poetry and Song at Emerson College with a wonderful composer, Scott Wheeler, and I suppose I’m thinking about it more than ever now. I do miss music—it was always such an emotionally freeing experience for me—and I’ve been told that my writing can sound quite musical. Maybe when my kids are a bit older and I have more time, I’ll go back to it somehow.

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

This is a hard question for me to answer, as I’m so close to it right now, but I’ll quote my good friend and masterful poet Melissa Range, who says that the poems are “tensed between the daily and the disastrous.” I don’t think I could improve on that!

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

I’m distrustful of the idea of choosing an audience, and it’s not possible, in any case. My hope is that my work offers entry to anyone who comes across it.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer? What wisdom have you arrived at?

I wish I had been told that it doesn’t all come at once, and that it shouldn’t. I’ve been very down, at certain points in my life, about what I had or hadn’t achieved. I’m a fairly slow writer and cautious about sending my work out, and if you spend any time at all on social media, it can seem as though the entire world is out there publishing, winning, patting each other on the back, etc. But when I look to the poets I admire most, I notice that they took their time and considered every word. Elizabeth Bishop is one of my earliest and most enduring poetry loves, and she spent years, even decades, “hanging her poems in air” (to paraphrase Robert Lowell). Emily Dickinson, another love, is another example, although her reasons for not publishing were more complicated that Bishop’s. But these women kept writing because of what it gave them, not because of the world’s applause, and that’s a lesson I try to keep learning.

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Anna Ross is the author of the chapbooks Figuring (forthcoming from Bull City Press) and Hawk Weather (Finishing Line Press). Her full-length book, If a Storm, was selected for the Robert Dana-Anhinga Prize. Her work has appeared recently in The Southern Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Salamander, and Pangyrus, and she has received grants and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Squaw Valley Poetry Workshop. She teaches at Emerson College and lives with her family in Dorchester, MA.

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annavqross.com

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Self-Portrait with Arithmetic

White 1, yellow 5, red 10—at school,
my daughter’s learning math with colored blocks.

She sorts and measures, measures and sorts—
How many ways to make a 10?—rewarding same

with same. On the rug, the children rush to say
that she is 5 and so is he and she and she…

all except the boy who’s 6
and wonders if he’s turned another animal.

At home, my daughter says her skin is pale—
paler than mine—but mine is

paler than Jasmin, who’s paler than Jaziyah, who’s paler
than Aniyah, who’s paler than Laray, who’s darkest of all.

She pauses.
I watch her adding and subtracting.

Outside some kids are kicking ball.
We hear them through the window—

the last few leaves gold on their branches,
the sky already softening towards dusk.

How many ways to make a 10.
The light comes in to us translucent, cool.

We sit here, figuring.

Scott Honeycutt

“I haul the past around with me every day.”

Honeycutt

This Diet of Flesh (Finishing Line Press, 2016)

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

Reading chapbooks is actually a new activity for me, but over the last few months, I’ve read several impactful ones: Charles Wright’s The Wrong End of the Rainbow (2005), Catherine Pritchard Childress’s Other (2015), Matthew Wimberley’s Snake Mountain Almanac (2015), and Janice Hornburg’s Perspectives (2013). In the past, I’ve tended toward longer collections, and “New and Selected” types of poetry publications, but this year I’ve really opened to the experience of reading a 20-25 page bound volume. I love the feel of the books in my hands. They’re portable enough to take walking and profound enough to keep me thinking.

What’s your chapbook about?

The majority of my poems are spooled around the time-honored topics of Eros and Thanatos, love and death –what else is there, really? But beyond themes of loss and longing, at its core This Diet of Flesh negotiates personal, American landscapes and the hidden, even lurking, power that’s always present in the world. Like many other folks, I am obsessed with the Mystery.

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

“Home on December 1st” is the oldest poem in the book. I wrote it on a walk that I took over 10 years ago. It was one of those evenings that all midnight optimists love: dark, cold, and full of stars.

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

I’m an inveterate walker, and for better or worse, most of the poems were initiated while out rambling. Generally, I’ll start off with the kernel of a poem –sometimes it’s just a word or sound – and later, I’ll sit down and attempt to hammer it into form. When stuck, I’ll go for another walk; now and then it comes together. I believe in the ancient motto solvitur ambulando: problems are solved by walking.

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

The chapbook is divided into two sections. The poems in “Part One: A Coiled Message” loosely follow the calendar year, while those in “Part Two: Dark Question, No Reply” attempt to flow out from the query, “what is man?” The question is posed in the section’s first poem, “The Knowing.”

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

I had a wonderful experience creating the cover. My first cousin, Josh Johnston, is an artist living in Boone, NC.  He created the cover image and interior drawings after we discussed the organization of the chapbook over a few stout beers. He’s a talented artist, and I hope to collaborate with him again.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on an article about the Marvel superhero known as Black Panther. I’m also attempting to write new poems all the time. Sometimes there’s just a word or an impression that I collect, hoping to use it at a later time.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least your clothing, to take with you at all times?

Only ten? Walt Whitman, Cold Mountain, William Wordsworth, William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, Philip Larkin, Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Robinson Jeffers, and Charles Wright.

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

No, all of the poems were written as one-offs. After they were finished, I noticed that many were geographically linked. For example, each poem is set in the South, and almost every southern state is explicitly named. Like many Southerners, I haul the past around with me every day, so it’s no surprise those specific place names jumped out in the poems.

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

“The Night It Happened” is the outlier because it’s a prose poem. I had originally attempted to write it in verse – couplets – but the voice in the poem, a woman named Sara, just sounded more natural speaking in prose. I think, though, that it’s thematically linked with the rest of the collection.

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

The collection was nearly entitled Poems(ish). Though I’m still drawn to that title, I ultimately I felt that it was too whimsical for this batch.

What themes and images “bridge” your work?

Rivers and lakes are dominating images in This Diet of Flesh. I love the waterways of America. Unfortunately, many rivers can be almost forgotten in our contemporary world; bridges have rendered them almost invisible from our cars. We pass over rivers, not through them. It wasn’t always this way. They were once the very thoroughfares and boundaries of the country. Remember one of Langston Hughes first published poems, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”? To me, that’s a nearly perfect poem.   

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

I’d be honored for anyone to spend a moment with my little chapbook.

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

I read maps, travel accounts, natural history, and graphic novels.

What do you wish you had been told as a writer?

Writing is such damned, maddening work, isn’t it? I really don’t consider myself a true writer; I’m just a guy who likes to distill experiences down to an image or a sound. There’s an old Italian word called sprezzatura. As I understand it, the term means to make something difficult look easy. It’s a kind of affectation of nonchalance. All of my literary heroes possess sprezzatura, and I wish that somewhere along the way I had learned to cultivate and harness it.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by the natural world –rocks, water, trees, wings, darkness – all that fine stuff.

What gets you to the page?

I’m ruled by time, just like everyone, so I’ve tried to stop squandering so much of it. I’d like to write more, walk more, and be kinder to my fellow humans.

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Scott Honeycutt grew up in Virginia and Tennessee. His writing has appeared in Northwest Ohio History, The Journal of Ecocriticism, Anthology of Appalachian Writers VII, Hartskill Review, Torrid Literature Journal, and other publications. He lives in Johnson City, Tennessee, where he is an assistant professor of English at East Tennessee State University. When he is not teaching, Scott enjoys walking the hills of Appalachia and spending time with his family.

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Sand Mountain

After Noah docked his barge
on the summit of Sand Mountain,
Alabama,
he opened its dark hold and found
it full of cleave-eyed serpents.
The Old World menagerie of
beasts that had boarded so long ago
were transmuted in passage
into these coiled, taut messengers
of deliverance.

At the end of our days what
remains if not praise and conviction?
So why not take up snakes after
the heaving waters leave us on
hard land and offer a rainbow
full of scales alive with God?

Sennah Yee

“Ultimately you have to know what makes your writing uniquely yours.”

Sennah Yee

The Aquarium (Dancing Girl Press, 2014)

What’s your chapbook about?

Sparknotes version: A couple goes on vacation. Longer version: No matter how old or new, relationships will have disappointment and doubts. These manifest in different ways, some quieter than others. This particular couple has fallen out of love in some ways, but remains together in other ways—it’s both upsetting and admirable.

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

My second chapbook is called The GL.A.DE. (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming 2016). It’s about—wait for it—another unhappy couple!* I like the idea of The Aquarium and The GL.A.DE being in a similar, if not the same universe.

*For the record, I am very happily in love! Haha.

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 image of a fish tank dumped on a lawn was floating around my head for awhile. I remember writing the poem “The Aquarium” so quickly in the summer. I noticed it fit with an idea I had for a film, about a couple on vacation who decide to divorce. I liked it as a chapbook instead of a script, because I could freely write flowery prose and internal thoughts.

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

After writing the poem “The Aquarium,” I wrote the rest of the chapbook in less than an hour. It was exhilarating to write again; I still haven’t written anything that fast since! Then I let it sit for a day or two, as I often do when working, so I can edit with fresh eyes. Most of my revision consists of tightening up my lines.

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

The gorgeous cover and photographs inside are by my dearest friend and creator-in-crime, Victoria Long. My next chapbook also features her photographs. They breathe life into my words; I love how she makes colours and moods. Her aesthetic’s always been amazing (we’ve been pals since we were 12)! We went to film school together, and continue to collaborate.

 What are you working on now?

I’ve been cooped up with my cat, working on my thesis. It’s on gendered robot design in mainstream media and technology, so completely different stuff from my creative writing! Though I’d love to write a sci-fi chapbook….

I also co-edit and contribute regularly to a film/ TV/ video journal, The Fuck of the Century. It’s pop culture criticism with a creative and personal edge. I’m working on a few pieces for our Oscars roundup, and we’re planning a launch party soon.

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

When you get an idea for a poem, an image, a line: write it down! On your phone, a napkin, your hand, wherever! You’ll kick yourself if you don’t and forget it later.

Less is more. I still have trouble with this—my first drafts of poems, essays, e-mails, even texts to friends are so wordy. My replies to this interview are too wordy, ha! The Aquarium originally had 10-12 poems before my friend helped me cut it down to eight. The omitted poems were more “filler” for a higher page count; it reads more smoothly now.

Feedback is important, but you also have to find that balance between taking feedback and knowing when to stick with your gut, because ultimately you have to know what makes your writing uniquely yours. You can’t please everybody, and if you’re writing only with that goal in mind, your work won’t feel as genuine to you as it can be.

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

What is your favourite piece you’ve written? Why? Feel free to provide an excerpt.

What are your favourite presses?

How has your writing and writing practiced evolved?

My writing’s evolved closer to creative non-fiction, focusing on racism and sexism. I used to be too shy to write about myself. Now I see value in narrativizing life events, even and perhaps especially the ones that make me feel weak and/ or ugly. Being openly vulnerable can feel very brave and strong. I feel like my writing’s become a more accurate reflection of my identity. I was terrified at first to share my short piece for Poor Claudia’s 10 Sources series about micro-aggressions and anxieties as a Chinese-Canadian woman, but the response was touching and validating. It made me want to write pieces that are more powerful and political in their honesty and anger. I want my writing to wake people up.

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

Getaway.

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

Keep Tomorrow Free.

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

The brevity of a chapbook definitely amplifies themes and images. It wasn’t until writing chapbooks that I was able to detect patterns: the sky, nighttime, car rides, jealousy, vanity. Water especially, whether it’s a bath, a pool, a lake, or the seaside.

 What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Pretty and/or peculiar sights on long commutes. Unnoticed pain and ugly worries. I never write when I’m happy. I’m sure that’s normal, using writing as an outlet and for working through tricky emotions or topics. I like the idea of writing as a creative archive/ inventory for certain patterns emerging in my life.

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Sennah Yee is from Toronto, Canada. She is the author of The Aquarium (Dancing Girl Press, 2014) and The GL.A.DE (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming). Her work is in Whole Beast Rag, The Found Poetry Review, The Fuck of the Century, Hobart, and Poor Claudia. She is currently completing her Cinema & Media Studies MA thesis on gendered robot design. Though named after a race car driver, she has yet to get behind the wheel. Find her @sennahaha.

 www.sennahyee.com

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from The Aquarium

The Night Swim