Rachel Marie Patterson

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

What’s your chapbook about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did you decide on the arrangement of your chapbook?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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www.rachelmariepatterson.com/poems

www.radarpoetry.com

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Avignon

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

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

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

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

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

women sleep
in their sneakers,
count their own bones.

Laurie Saurborn Young

Patriot (Forklift, Ink., 2013) patriot

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

Three chapbooks I have read lately and love are:

Anne Carson’s The Albertine Workout

Lydia Davis’ The Cows

H.D.’s Kora and Ka

What’s your chapbook about?

Patriot follows the movement of the mind amid geographies and relationships. It’s a road trip, of sorts, one that jumps not only between the past and the present, but also swerves among imaginative possibilities for ways of being in the world.

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 poems came into being in one large collaborative rush. “Collaborative” meaning the poems are interlinked not in a linear fashion but in a laterally associative pattern. During a series of road trips I took several years ago, I made voice recordings as phrases and thoughts came to me while I was driving. Many months later, I found that in backing up my iPhone, I had saved the clips to iTunes. Listening to these small fragments, I heard the noise of the highway, various car noises, and the sound of my dog’s tags as I walked her at rest areas. Feeling this might be a productive bank of material, I took notes—dictation, really—from an earlier self, and the Patriot poems appeared.

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

This part was easy—the poems and chapbook all have the same title. Ordering became a matter of figuring out how the content best worked in conversation and contrast. Did I want the echoes to be immediate, or drawn out? Ultimately, the repetition of the title turns into an incantation, which turns into a meditation. I liken it to being mesmerized on—or by—a long drive or train trip.

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

The cover image is a double-exposure photo I took in Austin, of my dog, Chloe. I sent it, along with several other photos, to Forklift, Ink., and this is the one they chose. Basically, I sent them pieces, which they (Matt Hart, Eric Appleby, Tricia Suit & other amazing folks) turned into a beautiful chapbook. They are creative wizards.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m working on my third collection of poems, various short stories, and a personal essay. And I’m always taking photographs—or thinking about taking photographs.

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

What are your thoughts about the relationship between chapbooks and full-length collections of poems?

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

I think the chapbook form works especially well for work invested in an intense examination of a theme (or themes), an inquiry that lends itself to fewer, instead of more, pages. A full-length collection of 70 poems, all titled “Patriot,” sounds horrifying to me. More space, a longer arc, might dilute the power of Patriot—its pulses of dissatisfaction, violence, and movement. Words on paper can contract many years into three bright breaths. Some books are meant to be small and immediate. This is one of them.

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?

At one point I had more than twenty of these poems, and chose those I felt were the strongest. As poems near “completion,” I find they need space. I’ll work on them a couple times a week, shifting words here or there. Then I step back, let some time pass, and return to examine the effect of small changes (which can often be immense). Willing a poem to be done doesn’t work for me. I need distance to have a clearer perspective. But to answer the question: I revised them as a group.

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

Luckily, nearly every kind of writing helps me write poems. Writing poems means you attend to language, and when you attend to language you can find gems—phrases as small as two or three words; strange juxtapositions—on any page or in any conversation. Movies also help.

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

I fully owe the existence of Patriot to Matt Hart, editor of Forklift, Ink., and Forklift, Ohio. We read together when he was teaching at UT Austin, and he thought the poems would work well in chapbook form. The poems are all now interspersed in my second book, Industry of Brief Distraction, recently out from Saturnalia Books.

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

For a writer, there’s no such thing as down time. The world is always hurling material before your eyes and under your feet. 

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

I am both inspired to write and compelled to write by the love of discovery and the fear of wasting time.

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Laurie Saurborn Young is the author of the poetry collections Carnavoria (H_NGM_N BKS) and Industry of Brief Distraction (Saturnalia Books), as well as a chapbook, Patriot (Forklift, Ink.). Her poems, fiction, essays, reviews and photographs have appeared in such publications as American Microreviews & Interviews, Denver Quarterly, jubilat, The American Reader, The Rumpus, Tupelo Quarterly, and Waxwing. A 2015 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship recipient, she teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

www.lauriesaurborn.com

Patriot

Mostly Americans, my friends are getting married
Again so I forswear to a bird this time.
But now I want a house along Blue Ribbon Avenue,
Where sloths are elastic because they feel safe.
Standing in one room they look at the bed in another room.
Everyone’s smarter than me: Yeah, I get it.
Still, down the long hall they did not walk.
So sing along the highway: This is America
Irreplaceable and yet
Unnecessary and yet loved.
Meanwhile, Fate is a city in Texas.
Far away those homes next to homes of men, yelling.
Season of black powder of wrenches rusting in the rain.
But is it true, one sign along the Arkansas
Highway: I love and miss you.
But is this America, still debating
Whether as a woman whether I am worth.
Our roads, imported from Spain.
Our telephone call, nearing ancient.
Within a room constructed of shut doors he reads
Pages back to her, his back to her.
Lines disintegrate and it is ever so late.
After she voted she took her body she took it back home.

Charity A. Gingerich

girlscape_large (Dancing Girl Press, 2014)

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

Three chapbooks that come readily to mind are Erin Veith’s I Closed My Eyes to Tell That Story, Danielle Ryle’s Fetching My Sister and Christina Rothenbeck’s Girls in Art.  These are all chapbooks I’ve read fairly recently—say, in the last 1-2 years—either during or right after I was completing my own chapbook.

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

That I’m capricious, at best. As a reader at least!

Or, that the state of poetry continues to be inextricably linked to the concept of community—who you know, who has introduced you to whom, who you’ve worked with and who that person has worked with, and so on.  I wish I could say I pick up every chapbook that crosses my radar, but I don’t. The girls I listed above whose chapbooks I’ve read are all girls I studied with at some point in the MFA program at WVU. As such, they have influenced my development as a poet (in ways I could go into much more detail about but will refrain from doing) and I’m indebted to them for that!

What’s your chapbook about?

I sometimes struggle a little bit with “aboutness.” Maybe it’s because I feel it will undermine the act of discovery for the reader, or maybe it’s because I fear trivializing the poems somehow, or, finally, maybe it’s a slightly rebellious relationship between my poet-self and the concept of “narrative arc” in poetry, at least with my own work. But I’ve basically separated out the dominant threads of Girl Escaping with Sky (though not necessarily by order of importance) here as:

God and the girl

The mother and the girl

Love and the girl

The girl in a new landscape

Really, this book represents what poetry in general is to me: a way of making sense of the world, my life, one day at a time.  The poems here reflect an emotional and physical uprootedness, in part because I had moved away from my close-knit Mennonite community, fallen in love, and taken up residence in the shadow of the Appalachian mountains:—a cornfields and plains girl. I had to re-learn God, the shape of my faith, and how to navigate my relationship with my mother—a relationship that had always been as essential to me as water and air. There is a sort of desperation in these poems that may not be immediately apparent because of their veneer of meadow, birds. I am a nature poet, but (I hope) it is apparent that nature is for me much more than ornamentation. My mountains, trees and birds (and their light) are witnesses to some event, some sorrow. And I think this brings me to what this books is really about (if I can say so without sounding dramatic. Nope, it’s dramatic):  it’s an (albeit childlike) attempt to go back, to reclaim my sense of the unshattered, of Eden.

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

I think “Landscape after Rain” has always been the entry point for this collection. It represents both a physical and emotional change—movement—that catalyzed and/or crystallized other poems. I remember writing it as a way of saying goodbye to my first home-away-from home. Other than this, I think the process of writing these poems was both pretty organic and jagged. That is, I remember hard living. I wrote these poems, as I mention above, during a period that represented both spiritual turmoil, emotional isolation from my family, and intense light. I moved a lot from apartment to apartment in the same city, so that these poems became the objects I could most easily hold onto.

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

I had the immense privilege of making the final arrangement of my chapbook while on retreat at the beautiful Sisters of Loretto Community in Nerinx, Kentucky. This is Thomas Merton country, soulful to the core. I had the time and space to put to practice a revision strategy/ book making strategy I’d learned at a writing retreat a few summers earlier. I hung my manuscript on a wash line strung up in a large room. They fluttered there for a day or so—this was at the end of a pretty arduous organization period, when the manuscript had already been yanked about, sifted through, pared down. To be able to walk by the poems as physical objects on that line, to keep moving them around on it, just gave me a better sense of clarity of which poem needed to follow another. This activity was also really great for me because the poet I was retreating with read the poems along with me, and we both wrote notes at random as we passed by that line of poems.

As for my title, Girl Escaping with Sky, it actually comes from a poem called “Boy Spit” that did not make it into the manuscript, but ends: “As long as I can put a mountain here, I said,/ and call it girl escaping with sky.” “Boy Spit” is one of those poems that served a purpose beyond itself. I remember realizing when I wrote it, that I had stumbled onto an emotional clincher—a tiny piece missing for the chapbook manuscript that I was so feverishly working on at the time. The poems in this chapbook easily represent two years’ worth of work, and this, the title, was literally the last piece. I never wavered on or changed it.

Other, foundational decisions that went into the arrangement of this book, the nuts-and-bolts of poeteering are:

I always think of my poems as individuals. Jim Harms always taught us in workshop that even when we are thinking of a manuscript, a poem must be able to stand alone. So I think of these poems as having existed for their own sake first, and for the sake of the manuscript second.

Yes, after all the dithering I did about “narrative arc,” I admit it: this manuscript does follow at least the ghost of one. “Landscape after Rain” represents both a real and emotional opening up, beginning.

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

This hasn’t always been the case, but for the past four years or so I’ve come into the habit of always beginning a poem with a title. In the case of my chapbook poems, the titles always came first, then the poems. And while a few of these titles may have been slightly edited (a pronoun here, a particle there), they are essentially as they first appeared on the page.

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

Kristy Bowen, editor at Dancing Girl Press, asked if I had any ideas—such as moods or colors—to help inspire the cover. She was really wonderful to work with, very open to what I liked. I ended up sending her some Google images as well as photos of my own to get a feel for the mood I wanted and we just went from there. At some point balloons came up—of all things—and they stuck.

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

I think I would like to be asked, why a chapbook, and not a full manuscript?

I find this question useful, because in a way this manuscript forced me away from the concept of the chapbook (as a frame, as a thing, whatever you want to call it), and into the realm of a full poetry manuscript for the first time since writing my MFA thesis. My chapbook was, in a way, a learning process and stepping stone toward what is now my first full-length poetry manuscript.

Also, a question I had to deal with, particularly in writing my second chapbook, is: how do poets determine whether a small press is credible or not? My second chapbook was accepted for publication by a press that I thought was credible (I prefer not to name it here, out of respect), but that under scrutiny, particularly of their publication process, proved ethically questionable. After talking with mentor-poets much further along in the publishing process than I, I was persuaded that publishing with this press was not a good career move. However, since saying “no,” I’ve seen that other poets have published with this press. How do I know I made the right decision?

What are you working on now?

I’m actually working on several projects simultaneously right now. Perhaps the most ambitious (or foolhardy, depending on which muse I listen to) is the one where I’ve forsworn poetry for an indefinite period of time (or, until spring) in order to put my creative nonfiction hat on and write a series of essays. I’m teaching myself about structure, and reading a bunch of nonfiction. However, I’m also in the process of putting together my second full-length manuscript of poetry, whose working title is No One Ever Says, ‘Next Year You’ll be Missing a Tree in Your Heart.’

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Write twice as many poems as you need for a chapbook and keep culling until you can reach a page limit where all the poems live up to the strongest poem in the manuscript. Also, take lots of walks.

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Charity Gingerich is from Akron/ Canton, OH, but she lived in Morgantown, WV, and taught at WVU for the past six years. This summer found her singing with a Mennonite choral group in Poland for 3 weeks. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as Moon City Review, The Laurel Review, Arts & Letters, and Quiddity. Recently,her poem “The Afterlife of Lepidoptera” won 2nd place in Ruminate Magazine’s Janet B. McCabe poetry competition, judged this year by Jeanne Murray Walker. Her poetry manuscript, After June, was a semifinalist in Crab Orchard Review’s poetry series in fall 2014.

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How to Bear With It

In the graveyard of the Sisters of Loretto, KY

Lord, I would never sit on a bench away from the sunset,
or bathe my infant niece in a tea-cup.

You are so generous with majesty:
exultant blue-feathered-this, holy mountain-scape-that.
I don’t know how to look away. Just now the sun’s pressing close
to a cloud so it looks like the state of grace—or West Virginia.

The two most important questions in life are
how much is that star in the window, and,
have you followed the red fox to the field of longing.

I want to add something about my mother’s copper-and-gold eyes,
like two small butterflies hovering in the raspberry bush,
something about forgiveness and are these ripe yet?

Thomas Merton wrote “to sing is to begin a sentence like I want to get well.”

I want to leave this place while the light still touches everything:
tombstones, spooky white angels, two fresh graves.

Lauren Gordon

Gordon SpinesGeneralizations About Spines (Yellow Flag Press, 2015)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? 

Some recents and favorites: By Fire by Jessica Cuello, House on Fire by Susan Yount, Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets by Sara Biggs Chaney, A Small Man Looked at Me by Sara Lefsyk, The Failure Age by Amanda Montei, [Talking Doll] by J. Hope Stein, Exodus in X Minor by Fox Frazier-Foley, and The Body Double by Jared Harel.

What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

I’m always interested in seeing what small presses are putting out there, and I’m invested in being supportive of other poets. I write reviews for PANK and Damfino Press, so I think what that list might suggest is that I enjoy reading a variety of different poetry.

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s an Ars Poetica series written in small verses.

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

Meaningful Fingers (Finishing Line Press, 2014), my first chapbook, is a series of poems about the grief and awe of motherhood and loss; the poems vary in form. These poems hinge on the trope of identity.

Keen (Horse Less Press, 2014) is about Nancy Drew and her mother. The poems are part persona, part lyric, part narrative. The book is written in two sections – one devoted to Nancy Drew that is supposed to read like a dirge and the second section written as Nancy’s mother’s last will and testament.

Fiddle Is Flood (Blood Pudding Press, 2015) is a series of persona poems about Laura Ingalls Wilder. These are closer to narrative lyric. Like Keen, these poems explore identity, gender, grief, sexuality, and oppression against the context of American history, ghost-writing, and young, female literature.

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 wrote these as an Ars Poetica series, so they came to me fairly quickly and were all generated around the same time.  The chronology changed in editing, but the first and last poem in the series are probably doing the heavy lifting in the manuscript.  I broke a bone in my back when I was a kid during a gymnastics exercise and that small trauma set me up for a lifetime of resulting issues – from a few back and neck surgeries to all kinds of physical therapy and so on. The poem that opens the series sets up the idea that poetry can be mined from pain, that there can be meaning in suffering. What I remember about writing it was that I did not know it would turn into a manuscript at the time. I thought it might make an interesting long form poem, but when I returned to it for editing, I realized it would make a quirky chapbook.

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

For this particular chapbook, the poems came quickly and I wrote it in about a week. I then spent some time editing it and getting distance from it. It is different with each chapbook or project. The Laura Ingalls Wilder poems began as a project piece in my MFA program, and I then worked on them for six years – it went from a chapbook to a full-length manuscript, back to a chapbook.  My writing practice changes all the time depending on my schedule. I’m not necessarily an advocate of “write every day,” because I think it takes a lofty and privileged perspective. “Write when you can” is a better fit for me. Less restrictive and monastic.

I don’t have a favorite prompt, but I do keep a journal with words and expressions or ideas. My revision strategy is to get distance from whatever it is I have written and then try to come back to it with fresh eyes and a new perspective. It’s hard for me to edit when I’m too close a poem.

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

The title happened organically when I decided to revise the poems into a manuscript. I wasn’t sure anyone would want to publish it, since it is so specific and different. Usually, publishers aren’t clamoring for Ars Poetica. Yellow Flag Press had a call for manuscripts that were different, and after I saw the kind of beautiful poetry they were publishing and helping to bring into the world, I thought they would be the perfect home for it. I’m so lucky they thought so, too.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I am doing more submitting than writing, but that will probably change pretty soon.  Those two things take different head spaces. I have a full-length manuscript that I am always editing and submitting, and I’m also submitting another full-length ms, right now. Then I have two other chapbook manuscripts that I am sending out right now – one about marriage and addiction, the other mostly about divorce. I should be trying to publish more individual poems.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Publish as many of the poems in your manuscript as possible before the chapbook is published.  Research the presses you send your manuscript to and purchase their chapbooks if you can – not just to figure out what you like, but to be versed in what the press likes, and to just be good people.  Lastly, I would say to build your community.  Find a workshop group or a class where you can get writing prompts or friends who have a similar interest – and read. Read and read and read poetry.

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Lauren Gordon is the author of four chapbooks, Meaningful Fingers, Keen, Fiddle Is Flood, and Generalizations About Spines. Her work has appeared recently in Sugar House Review, burntdistrict, The Volta blog, Inter|rupture, Midwest Quarterly, and MiPOesias. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and two Best of the Net awards. Lauren is also a Contributing Editor to Radius Lit.

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several poems from Generalizations About Spines

www.thisboatisobviouslysinking.com (personal website )

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Untitled (from Generalizations About Spines)

When your poem was eight
someone forced her
to do the splits in a gymnasium
adult hands splayed
across her thighs, depressing
her to the floor
until flush

and this is why your poem has a broken bone in her back,

why your poem will always be bent

(first appeared in Right Hand Pointing)

Bethany Carlson

Carlson DiademDiadem Me (MIEL, 2014)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? 

I adore the Wick Chapbook series through Kent State University Press. The titles alone are gorgeous, drool-worthy micropoems. Right now I have Catherine Pierce’s Animals of Habit and Lisa Ampleman’s I’ve Been Collecting This to Tell You on my desk. I am a big fan of less-is-more; if aesthetics are over-accentuated in a chapbook, like if the graphics are trying too hard to be dazzly, they can overwhelm the poems and detract from the text. I like a balance that complements.

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

I love work that shakes up my relationship to text and destabilizes my own interpretive lens. Kierkegaard says the process of becoming a self involves reflecting through the medium of imagination how future possibilities present themselves to us in the present. I swoon over poems that loop me in to those possibilities. I also like poems that leave residue. I am enamored with surfaces, ghostly and otherworldly, and shifting shapes that surface in the aftermath of poems or point in directions beyond the words on the page. The poems I love most startle me and leave impressions—sensations I feel but cannot quite name.

What’s your chapbook about?

Diadem Me—it’s about that gemcut, multivalent quality of language. I think there’s a multifaceted tension between whimsical playfulness and sacredness. The title poem is about exploring the numinous/ luminous texture of these facets.

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?

One of the oldest pieces is “A year goes to hell,” and I wrote it in memory of Annie Le, who was a Yale Ph.D student who was tragically murdered in 2009. I remember hearing about it in the news and being horrified that something like that could happen at Yale, which I regarded as a dream school (ironically, I’m there now as an M.Div candidate).

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

The chapbook is divided into three sections: stature, posture, and gesture based on how the poems are functioning as observable reactions or responses. The subtlest, most delicate gestures are the ones that stay with me. My impulse veers pretty heavily toward lyricism. I trust my image-making instinct more than my sense-making one; ultimately, that is the guiding aesthetic of Diadem Me. Individually, the poems are titled based on what I was thinking when I was writing them. I had an obsession with French after taking a class on medieval literature, which was interpreted through the lens of modern psychoanalysis, so there is a little Lacan in there. The penultimate poem “Taillights on the fringe of the gown each ghost in this house is wearing have all set to blinking,” was written in collaboration with Stephanie Horvath while we were both MFA candidates at Indiana University. I wrote that poem using a line from one of her poems as my title.

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

Contests and open reading periods… I sent it to a lot of different types of presses, but ultimately MIEL is the perfect fit. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.

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

Éireann Lorsung, the editor at MIEL, has a great artistic sensibility and created some sketches. She was kind enough to let me have some input about the cover—I was mostly worried it would be too precious or girly or feminine, but she did a fantastic job striking the right balance. The crudeness of the handdrawn letters balances out the images of flowers.

What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?

I did a couple of readings in New York, actually the same weekend in March! One with Word Up Books and my friend Monica Ong, who is releasing her book, Silent Anatomies; and another at Kundiman & Verlaine.

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

How does lyricism via poetry allow us to live more vividly? I think it helps you to drench yourself in the substance of an experience rather than getting lost in the semantics of narrative. Ultimately, lyricism is more vivid because it’s not responsible for explaining something in the same way narrative is.

What are you working on now?

A collaborative chapbook, VOTIVE, with one of my artsy friends at Yale Divinity School. I actually dreamed that I should name my second book VOTIVE, and it feels right to start it now. The word comes from late 16th c. Latin votum/ votivus and means to express a desire. I like the intentionality behind it. I also see flickering flame.

What is your writing practice or process? 

Moleskine journals—I love writing on graph paper and write differently by hand than I do when I’m composing with a word processor or in Google doc. I like being messy and drinking lots of tea and I also keep notes in a pseudo-photo diary on my phone. I swim about three times a week, and sometimes lines will come to me in the pool, and I’ll just hang on to them until I get home and write them down. I’ve also found that I can memorize poems when I am running or swimming, so I don’t listen to music anymore when I’m working out.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Write by hand as much as you can. Cross things out. Doodle in the margins. Own your writing as much as possible in each phase of your work.

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

What does your mom think of your poems?

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

Dizzy, haunting, whimsical, watery—inhabited by people who are susceptible to the allure of the imaginative. In “In the senile desert, the wolves eat scarves while the wolfs eat scarfs,” the speaker confesses “I too am a wolf and eat a scarf.” She goes on to describe that the context is not important but the taste is what matters. In “Vis-à-vis,” the speaker collects glossy pink babies from the sorghum factory each week. In “The sky’s apprentice,” the speaker talks about the Sky, “bunched from years of use and no/ longer bothered/ by the ceremony of caprice, all that gold drapery—.” I try to create dramatic situations that are texture rich.

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

Twitter! I love the breakneck speed of social media but it can also inhibit me by being a huge distraction. As an M.Div candidate, I read a lot of theology, which is so fraught with metaphor and allusions that I can’t help letting those seep through my work.

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

The obvious answer is everyone but especially people who are dear to me like my parents, twin sister, and brother. I ardently want people who are going into ministry or studying theology to read contemporary poetry. I also want millennials to appreciate poetry instead of feeling intimidated by it. I don’t want to write for just an esoteric slice of literati.

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Bethany Carlson is an M.Div candidate at Yale University and holds an MFA from Indiana University. She is interested in how lyricism enhances sacred liturgy, invites eschatological imagination, and transcends a Christological understanding of narrative time. Bethany is a Kundiman Fellow and a member of The Lilly Graduate Fellows Program in Humanities & the Arts.

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Bethany Carlson’s personal site: http://blcarlso.flavors.me/ Chapbook site via MIEL Press: http://miel.bigcartel.com/product/diadem-me-bethany-carlson-pre-order-only

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Playacting The earth was yolk and the girl was hash of yolk, and I asked them to spin some more. For myself, I asked to be template of sky to feel the sun’s seismic sweep and roll, panels of wind rushing over me. Every afternoon I drove to the bay in a different colored leotard and folded myself into the sea which was always hungry for me or the near shape of me. The water was fraught with the faces of wandering saints. This created a sense of longing, mostly. I grew geraniums in glass beakers and memorized the orbits of stars. I bought local, I lived in a vista. The desire for scissors kept me up at night. On the porch I prayed for rain. I wanted to be shear of something; I found myself beset in willows. Often I felt ragged. Once I spent an entire summer channeling the cosmos into the prism-tick of a heartbeat. I fused it to my own heart’s beat and recorded the spaces in between. I asked to be named, and I felt my real heart seize—the precision of a waterfall, a double-rainbow etched in mud. My transgressions were many: I ruined the evergreens’ decoration; I lacked temperance. One by one I watched the clouds slink off. Slowly the shadows outgrew the easel of the sky.

doris davenport 

request (Imaginary Friend Press, 2014)  request-cover

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

Naming my favorite chapbooks could take a while since my favorites change often or rather, the list keeps growing. i have chapbook collections that date from the 1960’s; the writers of the Black Arts Movement (BAM) inspired me, especially the works of Haki Madhabuti (then Don Lee), Saundra Sharp, Sonya Sanchez and others. When i started submitting poems, at the height of the wimmin’s (women) cultural movement in the late 1970’s, several chapbooks / authors were influential and necessary: Linda Jean Brown of azalea; Michiyo Cornell, Chocolate Waters’ books, Mab Segrest, and Luisah Teish. Often i buy a chapbook just because i like the cover art.  Lately, i am inspired by chapbooks from Julie Enszer, Jaki Shelton Green, Kay Byer, and Shelby Stephenson. i even have a self-published chapbook (1979), and all these works created  “revolutionary” possibilities; because of them, i was inspired to create and self-publish my first chapbook in 1980 and to continue self-publishing thereafter.

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

Mainly, i believe, these chapbooks demonstrate that i appreciate a wide range of poetry and poets; that i am inspired by and interact with diverse poetry, poets and poetics on infinite levels of engagement.

What’s your chapbook about?

i read this question as “What kinds of poems are in the book?” As always, there is an eclectic range, but i honestly chose the poems based on the publisher’s descriptions and preferences, as much as i could, since “request” started as an entry in a chapbook contest. The poems are: quirky, suggestive; political critiques, love poems, reflective quiet poems, and 1 – 2 very long ones, and several haiku too. The process was to read through recent poems and “simply” choose those that were most finished, that fit the publisher’s criteria, and that worked well (style and content) together. Most of the poems were later included in my latest book, 65 poems.

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

it’s like this (1980), the first chapbook, contains some of my first published and most favorite poems, reflecting the context of the lesbian-feminist communities of Los Angeles of that time.

a hunger for moonlight (2006) is a book of re-emergence, written and produced after a difficult time in my life when i felt my identity erased . . . except that of poet. The poems in a hunger. . .  are in part, about a kind of celebratory re-birth.

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

Since 1980, i have published eight additional books of poetry using essentially the  same writing process. For example, i always keep a small journal and a pen with me, and in recent years, a smartphone with a writing app. i write at least one poem a day, sometimes several, and when it is time for the next book, i go back through and do *hard* editing, as i choose poems for their relationship to a chosen theme and their readiness. My major revision strategy is to eliminate excess words (prepositions, auxiliary words, gerunds – HA!) and to focus on the poem’s intended impact – humorous, descriptive, playful, satirical, etc. HOWEVER, i long for the more disciplined approach of a set time (maybe 2 hours) daily for writing. That’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions . . . so far, not kept  . . .  :(

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

The poems in request were arranged based on rhythm, flow and juxtaposition. The titling process – sometimes the hardest part – depends on each poem’s contents. In this instance, i wanted brevity, one word, and a connection to one of the best performance poems, in my humble opinion, in the book.

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

Dan Nowak designed the book, inside and out. i suggested cover images, but i am glad he ignored them, since i like the simplicity of his choice better, both front and back. (Included here, below) That was refreshing, since i get real OCD-ey and proprietary about all aspects of my work.

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

Yes: what, if anything, would you change about your chapbook(s)?

ANSWER: i had my own artwork (sketches) in the first book, so i wish i could have included some in the next two as well, or maybe, photographs in request.

What are you working on now?

This interview. (Smile.) As soon as this is done, or at least starting sometime in the next week, i will be working on two new books of poetry, one for a contest and the other, my next book of poetry (for April).

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

What and how do you conceptualize your audiences and ways to involve them in the poetry?

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

Since i am also a performance poet, i would emphasize the performance or theatrical aspect more. As for promotion – i would / will concentrate more on this aspect. i tend to focus on the artistic aspects to the neglect of the business aspects.

Did you read straight through your chapbook out loud during the revision process or while finalizing revisions?

i am always hearing and reading my poems “out loud” since orality or the sound of the poem, the sound of the poem in my voice, is a major component of the overall composition and presentation.

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

Novels.  Especially sci fi (Octavia Butler), fantasy, murder mysteries, and horror.

Who do you most hope will read your chapbook?

A wide, inclusive range of people – individuals and groups.

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

With request, i certainly did. i set out to win that contest and although i did not, the book was still published.

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

Yes, my family reads my poetry or at least, some members do and no, they know i am and always have been, a poet. They ask when my next performance is or where is the next book. That is very gratifying, in fact.

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

i wish i had been told to find and keep a writer’s support group at all times.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

What inspires me . . .  my backyard, leaves falling, the rain, clouds, mountains, little children; injustices perpetrated by psycho-males and countries against wimmin (women); crimes against “humanity,” crimes against the environment, mountains (did i say mountains?); travel, road trips, memories & desires, sunrise, sunset . . . what inspires me? Everything, and nothing.

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doris davenport is an Educator / Writer / Literary & Performance Poet from Northeast GA with a Ph.D. in African American literature from the University of Southern California. She has published nine books of poetry, articles, reviews and an essay in the recently re-published classic anthology, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color  4/e  2015 (eds. G. Anzaldua & C. Moraga, 1981). As some people believe in money, love, religion, or sex, doris still believes in the transformative power and magic of mountains, friendship, art, & excellence.

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it’s like this (digital reissue)

request

brief performance video  

interview by Alexis Gumbs on The Feminist Wire

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Request (in 3 versions)

Shimi. Shimi. Pretend i
am a pole, please, sinuously wrap
your lithe body slowly around,
around and around
me.

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Request (again, shouted)

Shimi. SHIMI. (Pretend) i
am a pole, please, sinuously wrap
your body slowly around,
mine.

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Supplication or Supplicant

Long afterwards, realized
a better title than mere
“Request” for our Shimi to
treat me like a pole & wrap her
thighs, particularly, around my
body. Supplicant but that bus
pulled off, way up past New York by now
still there are others . . .

O Universe, be my Shimi
enwrap me in your MA’AT
divined purpose until we
both shimmer & glow, satisfy &
grow as One and
still i want

an iPhone 5, s.

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At Home Now (northeast GA)

pecans ripen
apples become wine (again)

davenport

Katherine Soniat

The Goodbye Animals (FootHills Publishing, 2014) Soniat

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

Chapbooks “at a slant.”

I am thinking more loosely here of chapbooks as any “small poetic book-forms,” such as the fragments of Sappho and, in particular, of Mary Barnard’s beautiful translations and arrangement (Sappho, translated by Mary Barnard, University of California Press). Through selection, Barnard creates six spinning universes. Or we could say six small chapbooks within the whole, ones that are united from the remnants of Sappho’s life. Limited boundaries create precise focus and jewel-like texts in these six sections. Through sequence, Barnard creates a narrative, one that was not present before. Linearity derives here from fragments. Kaleidoscope in motion, stops…the puzzle of Sappho’s poetry in place … for a while.

Chapbook brevity encourages concise language and many times an exact lyric intensity. For instance, Mary Barnard drew from the disconnected remains of Sappho’s verse, then through her own knowledge of Greek and dream-smudged narrative, she threads each section with bright instances of the poet’s life. From within each of these six “ribboned packets,” Sappho speaks anew. We grow to understand her broken language in varied new ways.

Sequencing is also key in a chapbook when the poet has very disparate subject matter to assemble. Odd juxtaposition can create sudden awareness in a reader—those “at a slant” connections. What surprise and pleasure we have when rereading any collection that focuses on the muffled ghost narratives. Experience and idea unfold, then refold into new fabric—a bit thinner and awash with colors.

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Two from Sappho 

(translated by Mary Barnard ) 

#20  We put the urn aboard ship/ with this inscription://  This is the dust of little/ Timas who unmarried was led/ into Persephone’s dark bedroom// And she being far from home, girls/ her age took new-edged blades/ to cut, in mourning for her,/ those curls of her soft hair.

#21  Cyprian, in my dreams// The folds of a purple/ kerchief shadowed/ your cheeks—the one// Timas one time sent, a timid gift, all/ the way from Phocaea

What chapbooks influenced your writing?

I am still using my wider definition of “chapbook” when I speak of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies. In those ten poems is a universe of lyric linkage, of agitation and relief—within and between poems. When reading these masterpieces, I find small phrases that bind line to line and then push into a flash of thought. Subtle strategies too come from an overview: precisely how one elegy prepares us for the next—(all while the sea beat on stone of a borrowed castle. And there Rilke sat, writing.)

Rilke always has been a deep influence on my work—his poetry offers me a visceral knowledge of what it means to reach for the next trapeze while still in midair. To study these ten Elegies is to fly. Our own chapbooks offer likewise this chance for speed and lyric economy. Strangely placed lines (or poems) jolt your reader into a third awareness. No one quite knows where they are, and a voice is saying, let go and connect but never in the same breath.

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from Rilke’s The Tenth Elegy

Only those who die young, in their first condition/ of timeless equanimity while they were being weaned/ follow her lovingly. She waits/ for girls and befriends them. Shows them, gently,/ what she is wearing. Pearls of grief, the fine-spun/ veils of patience—With young men she walks/ in silence.

What is your chapbook about?

This is the question always asked, and, for me, the hardest to talk about in a meaningful way. BUT, I have many times wondered what is it in the human psyche and in earth’s dynamics that “requires” different forms of life to always say, Goodbye? Never to settle, but ever to jitter ahead. Rilke knew that one well: creatures in love with leaving and, always, on the cusp of farewell. And indeed there are many ways to do that. Does one choose or is one chosen to leave; is another forced to exit?

And indeed we humans are part of this—my “animal” collection.” In many ways, humans have forced the animals, collectively and individually, to go away. To become extinct. We have literally taken the land away, “backing them off this planet.” Because we too are animal, we share those archetypal patterns of “goodbye” with mammal, bird, fish. Earth too is in the process of leaving. The nourishment of relationship, in the largest sense, of being “next to” that which nourishes—from rock and water underground (‘fracking’ got that one) to a hand we can hold, and hold dear.

And do you and I (with wisdom or ignorance) choose to leave parts of ourselves behind? Is our own notion of home (domestic or planetary) a definition we back timidly away from, or finally are exiled from? The Goodbye Animals places humanity, more now than before, in direct relationship with its animal/ natural counterparts: What might it mean to respect and be in “right relationship” to other life? It might feel very different, but not in a visionary way. To stop this habitual ease of “goodbye,” we must feel absence so that we come to love presence(s), and become responsible for other than ourselves.

How did The Goodbye Animals come about? It arrived as surprise, Like emptiness knocking and saying fill me up in a hurry! Not quite, but it felt like that the day I was asked to make a chapbook, one ready to go in two weeks. This initially was not an intentional book of poems, as many are. Having two unpublished manuscripts, I selected a first poem, “The Goodbye Animals,” and that choice led me to the rather quick work of one-to the-next until I had thirty pages. Though I sensed pattern, I would have been unable to articulate what these pages focused on.

Maybe a story about writing the poem The Goodbye Animals” will best offer some details, the import of which I only understood in hindsight:

Once upon a mountain, I was handed a bucket of water and a sack of clay—me and six others. Create pieces of life, we were told. Marvelous creatures came forward from our damp hands! Everything was given shape that day…from the human foot to Noah’s smallest animals. Then there was the heart-shaped bowl for flowers that contained a tiny rustic human heart. And yes, we the creators were pleased. Our clay art sat in a field on boards to dry. Two heart shapes, big and small, sat on a shelf in the hot summer shed.

At midnight a storm whipped in. Wind, rain, lightning, and the next day each hard-won form was mostly washed away. Pretty lifeless, these once-storied chunks of clay. And later that poem about a day twenty years ago gave the animals a context in which to say goodbye. They had to. The rain was insistent. But later, once their poem was picked to start a chapbook, the rest almost jumped into my lap. Poetry has its own sly intelligence.

And while I was assembling that chapbook, I was NOT thinking: everything is in the process of saying goodbye. When the chapbook was published, and I was asked WHY this group of poems, I saw straight to the bottom of the well, where each of my animal/ earth forms dozed. And there too were the poses of goodbye—in each poem is a partial gesture, a nod to that final word. How uniquely goodbye arrives—and in fragments. Some leave by choice and others sense life here is no longer sustainable (wherever that “here” may be).

What other chapbooks have you written?

Winter Toys (The Green Tower Press, 1989)

The Fire Setters (Web del Sol Online Chapbook Series, 2003, re-issued 2012)

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

Small

I mark the patterned weather, the design
of the slow, returning whale. Clouds roll
in, a whole new species with no purpose
yet in mind. They cast illusion on the
rhythm of the whale. By evening I want
a nocturne of a formal instrument. Wind
blows on the bare branch. It turns me
small, my shadow long.

This poem embodies my chapbook refrain: we must exist in conjunction with all life, and that of our planet: Right relationship. Pattern counts, not habit. Radical pattern that has proved its worth. Recall how migration works—meet species that have hung around earth for a long, long time.

Did you collaborate on the cover image?

My Facebook friend, an artist whom I have never met, graciously offered this stunning photograph. (See Pd Lietz’s work here.) Her words and imagery are “art” in the truest sense.

What are you working on now?

I just finished proofs for my seventh collection, Bright Stranger, forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press in spring, 2016. It took about ten years in the writing process, and then lengthy revision.

What would you do differently next time?

Well, as you probably know by now—my interpretation of an interview question often is counter to what was asked. So, about strategies for my writing, things I might do differently next time, or keep . . . . What I do know of my “next time” in writing poetry is that each time is the first time. There are certain unspoken things I enjoy doing with my imagination, and I really emphasize the word “with”: me and my imagination (or unsecured recollection) have had a wild and bumpy relationship! Many details of which I have discovered in responding to this interview… some habitual protocols I do have. They nest inside process, and they are the “keepers.” These good habits are my good friends to share: Let go the narrative idea of a poem. Imagine, instead, what dwells on top and beyond your known thoughts. Wiggle into every shadowy angle. Furnish those spaces. Don’t say, I can’t remember. Make it new. For you see, “Your Story” is very tired and wants to go home. Regard any writing as you would dream fragments and interpretations. Remove every pointed notion that pins down your imagination; see this creation (you right now are making) begin to shift like mercury. Turn the lights off (in your head). Nod a while. Dream your way to the center of the poem, touch it, then swim way far across  … to the other side of the circle. You are a great dreamer, so swim. This is what you do well. Love the process of “moving between,” (and outside of).  It’s is who you are.  Or maybe you have an idea in place of who you will become. Write that down too, and go to sleep. A long cold winter is predicted next time—to hold you in place. The biggest concern of all….

Katherine Soniat’s seventh collection, Bright Stranger, is forthcoming from Louisiana State University Press, spring 2016.The Swing Girl (LSU Press) was selected as Best Collection of 2011 by the Poetry Council of North Carolina. A chapbook, The Goodbye Animals, recently received the Turtle Island Quarterly Award. A Shared Life received the Iowa Prize for Poetry. Poems have appeared in World Poetry Portfolio #60, Hotel Amerika,The Threepenny Review, The Nation, Poetry and Connotations Press. She was on the faculty at Virginia Tech, Hollins University, and teaches now in the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNC-Asheville.

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www.katherinesoniat.com

foothillspublishing.com/2014/id96.htm

moonglows-reviews.blogspot.com/2015/03/katherine-soniats-goodbye-animals.html

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Anima Mundi

In my mother’s house there was no heart.
In my mother’s heart she was always looking
for a home. I threaded stories of her, ones neither
of us had ever heard. Soft ones with feathers at the bottom.
When my son had a daughter, she came into this blueness
knowing details with a past.
____________________At night in bed playing puppets
with the covers, she whispered, You know, there’s so much
sadness in the world. She was three, and I almost couldn’t
hear her.

It was dark in the bedroom, and inside her head. She didn’t hesitate
but thought in stride with nothing. Hem of the sheet humped up—
cave in a city on earth that soon would go away

_______________________________________________— for Olivia