Janice Lobo Sapigao

toxic city (Tinder Tender Press)toxic city

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook toxic city is about immigrant women in California’s Silicon Valley who make microchips – women like my mom. It is a part of a larger poetry collection, microchips for millions (PAWA, Inc.), which will be out in summer-fall of 2016. The poems in the chapbook are the ones that I’d selected for readings, especially when I was shopping the entire manuscript around.

My chapbook is also a critique of the Silicon Valley and the ways in which its high technology industry is linked to a need for safer work environments for all workers.

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

I self-published a chapbook called small sky in 2010; it was everything I wanted to tell the world about myself before I went to school to get my MFA in Writing. I also understood chapbooks as a form of exchanges and intellectual currency between poets, especially the spoken word poets I loved, listened to, and created community with when I was first starting out. small sky was written mostly in poetry – specifically free verse and haiku – and there was even a short story in there. The funds I’d earned from creating this chapbook with my friends in various living rooms helped me get to a writing residency for the Voices of Our Nation (VONA) Conference for writers of color.

I also created, with my friend Paola, 16 tiny books titled exploration, specifically created and left only to be found between Burbank and San Jose airports.

I also took a tiny press practices/literary citizenship course with Jen Hofer, as a graduate student at CalArts, and I created 66 copies of a chapbook called ain’t no power (like the power of the students) to honor, complicate, and represent the 66+ years that Filipina/o American World War 2 Veterans have gone without full rights to equity or recognition.

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 is one of the first, fuller poems that appears in the chapbook, “the assembly line.” This poem definitely catalyzed what came after. I remember writing it as a result of a prompt that asked about real world issues that should be addressed in poetry.

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

I never intended to have a chapbook out of microchips for millions, but it started out as a chapbook in Jen Hofer’s “Documentary Poetics” course at CalArts. Can you tell I love Jen Hofer? CalArts was so crucial to the beginnings of my art-making practice. It was there that my friend and fellow poet, Peter Nichols, said that he uses intuitive research in his writings. Once I heard him say this, I realized that was the perfect description for what I use, too. I describe and define intuitive research as a way of trusting myself to research, discover, and seek out the narrative of the poems I need to write. I feel that I know of the parts, wholes, and holes of a collection as I write, and I write to figure out how the poems belong.

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

Intuitive research! I read for spaces and spacing. I attempted to make use of the blank spaces between poems – utilizing them as breaths, creating caesura. I also purposefully wanted to braid and weave strings of poems. Each poem (hopefully) functions as a block of text that mimics the shapes of microchips. All of this space – the women and their families in between the lines and in my thoughts as I wrote, the ever-changing landscape of the Silicon Valley, and the threads of conversations with my mother – arranged and created a kind of toxicity I wanted to write against.

In addition, the arrangement of the poems closely mirrors what I would read from this collection at readings. I wanted to create a narrative arc that addressed some of the major parts of microchips for millions.

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

What music do you listen to as you work and write? Through the making of toxic city, I listened to a lot of the music that reminds me of the times in which events in the chapbook happened to me: R&B, hip hop, and 1990s pop music.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a manuscript currently and tentatively titled you don’t know what you don’t know. This collection of poetry is about my relationship with English, Ilokano, and my father. I am also grading a lot of my students’ work and papers…

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

I would say either or all of these things: “Do it!” “Please write!” or “Yes!” I read so many stories and essays from students who have so much to say and are not sure if they should share or write it because it makes them feel different. I get it. I know why that happens, as that has happened to me. I wish that it didn’t. I wish that it does not. I think time and time again of Audre Lorde’s quote about the importance of speaking, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” I offer this quote and I cannot emphasize how much I would love to share spaces with more writers who represent, value, and embody difference.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

I would say either or all of these things: “Do it!” “Please write!” or “Yes!”

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

What music do you listen to as you work and write?

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

Definitely. The form of the chapbook attempts mapping, and hopes to mark onto the pages toxic waste sites – at my mom’s workplace(s), at home, and even in my memories as a young girl and young woman. Because each poem functions as its own microchip, I hope to show the pervasiveness of microchips, and to highlight the poetry in between every piece inside.

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?

I’ve got a quote by Carlos Fuentes on me already. That quote is “writing is a struggle against silence.” I am actually hoping for more ink from poets and activists like Rupi Kaur, Assata Shakur, Tanya Davis, and maybe one day, my mom. I would also consider but not sure if I would actually tattoo works by Sandra Cisneros and Sonia Sanchez, and hip hop artists like Blue Scholars, Rocky Rivera, Lupe Fiasco, and Common.

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

I think that my chapbook (re-)creates a world where immigrant women and a concern for their wellness and livelihoods are at the center.  This world is also about how the high-tech industry can crash on and suffocate the people who work hard to uphold it.

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

I think that “the family tree” has the most meaning to me because it reminds me of how our technologies and memories work their ways into obsolescence.  In this poem, I list many major tech companies that made up most of the Silicon Valley’s image and public memory at the time in which I started really writing this chapbook. I wanted to flip the idea of “the social network” and turn it into an overwhelming presence of tech companies that neighbor people’s homes. I think of and worry about obsolescence with this poem because a lot of the companies listed in it are either 1) more popular than ever before or 2) non-existent due to companies buying out and competing with one another at intense rates. This poem also reminds me that, seemingly, there was no way that my writing could keep up with just how fast our technology and our world, as a result, was and is changing.

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

I love the title I chose! I have to make it known, though, that I was deciding between toxic city or toxicity. I ultimately decided on the former because I wanted the title to serve as a form of critique of the Silicon Valley in itself.

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

The Economy of Pop Songs. It would be a place where I respond to works by other female poets, just as it would be a place where I could cite lyrics from hip hop and pop songs as epigraphs to foreground my poems. And to be real, this book or chapbook would be a place where I could put to rest, or to life, all of the love poems to formerly important people and partners that I’ve tucked away for so long.

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

The classroom conversations I have with my students are super inspiring and helpful for me as I articulate my own art-making process. I teach in the Kababayan and CIPHER (Hip Hop) Learning Communities at Skyline College, as well as the Puente Project at San José City College, and so I am always in between some of the dopest and most thought-provoking conversations that the world needs. We’ve talked in the past about the role and complications with authorship, meta narratives, seeing beyond what we can see, ineffability, trusting our intuition, and writing through the fear of writing (which is too real, especially for students of color). These writing-related moments move me to be a better artist and a better teacher.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

from unincorporated territory [hacha] by Craig Santos Perez, Trespasses by Padcha Tuntha-Obas, and The Silicon Valley of Dreams by Lisa Sun-Hee Park and David Naguib Pellow.

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

I’m not sure if my writing matches this, but: I hope that young Pinays (Filipina Americans) and their mothers will read this book. More specifically, I write to young Pinays in the Bay Area – in the South Bay Area – in San José, or Fremont, or Union City, or Santa Clara, or Sunnyvale, or Milpitas – all places where immigrant women workforces and their children may reside.  I also hope that they take pride, or find joy, in just knowing that a book for them exists in the world.

At the same time, I write to and write back and write against people, but I do not write for, those who don’t know that their software, hardware, or phone apps cannot exist without the women who make microchips. Mm-hmm. Yes.

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

Pinays! We must write. We must work to see ourselves in our books, our poetry, our narratives, and in our art.

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

I wish a teacher, or some adult, would have recognized sooner than later not that I was good at it, but that I loved writing. I would have liked that reflected back to me by someone earlier in my life.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Writing about injustice, which as Sandra Cisneros once said at a reading, is called “writing from where my heart hurts.”

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Janice Lobo Sapigao is a Pinay poet, writer, and educator born and raised in San José, CA. Her first book microchips for millions will be forthcoming from PAWA, Inc in Fall 2016. She is also the author of the chapbook toxic city (Tinder Tender Press, 2015). She earned her M.F.A. in Critical Studies/Writing at CalArts. She co-founded an open mic in Los Angeles called Sunday Jump. She lives in the Bay Area and teaches at Skyline College and San José City College.

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janicewrites.com

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Sapigao

 

 

Ashley Farmer

The Farmacist (Jellyfish Highway Press, 2015) 

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

I’m influenced and excited by hybrid forms, so I often return to works that are difficult to categorize and are maybe loosely considered novellas. There are also several prose poem/flash fiction collections I’m drawn to that, to me, do the work of a novella. My favorite novella of all is Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America.

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

I think my work often straddles the line between poetry and prose. As for Brautigan’s influence: on one level, his narratives feel loosely threaded, almost casual. But I think the seemingly-relaxed structure actually generates tension and surprise. Readers wonder what’s missing and why. We feel the friction between two disparate settings. My work is nothing like Brautigan’s (I wish!) but I think I’ve been influenced by what those “loose” connections can do.

What’s your novella about?

I wrote The Farmacist as a response to the Facebook game, Farm Town. I found myself living in Southern California, which felt overwhelming in both beautiful and difficult ways. It also felt like the opposite of a neatly controlled, so-easy-it’s-charming way of navigating life on a silly, imaginary farm. There are no freeways in Farm Town. It was also a refuge: the game is almost meditative in its simplicity and it spoke to the part of me that had grown up near farms or with plenty of space around me. And it’s a meritocracy: you spend time working and you earn coins. In Southern California (or maybe anywhere now, for most people)? Not so much. So the book is about both life in the game and life outside it and the disparities between the two.

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

Part of The Farmacist was originally a chapbook of prose poems called Farm Town, which Meredith Lynn and Blake Kimzey at Rust Belt Bindery created. (They make one-of-a-kind artist books and Meredith generously included hand-colored prints of her photographs in Farm Town). However, I always felt like the book had a true beginning and ending, just the way a game does, so I kept writing. Finishing the book coincided with my leaving California for Kentucky.

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

Justin Daugherty and Matt Fogarty, the heroes of Jellyfish Highway Press, created it. They cared about my feedback, but I didn’t have much except jumping up and down about it. I think that indie lit is lucky to have such stellar designers (like these two!) and it’s amazing when someone can capture the way your book feels to you and visually communicate it to others.

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a novel about a woman-run silver mine in rural Nevada.

What is your writing practice or process? 

I’ve learned that I work best when I focus on one project at a time, so I’ll edit an almost-finished project while the next one percolates. I spend a lot of time envisioning something new before I get it down: I drive around with it, think about it while I listen to music or do the dishes, collect images that feel relevant, consider the major beats I want to hit. By the time I dedicate myself to writing it, I’ve hopefully closed the door on the project that precedes it and also gotten psyched about the next world I’m about to live inside for a while.

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

During revision, my focus is usually on sound and image, so I read aloud and feel for wonky spots or where to crank up language or where a picture can be made more vivid. It’s a messy, less-than-methodical process, but I enjoy it. Then I hand it off to the writer Ryan Ridge (whom I’m married to) and see what he has to say about things.

When did you discover the ending of your novella?

Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to move on from the project, but I actually had an excess of endings. I thought, is this section final enough? Should I add more? If I keep going, will it feel “more final”? So that was something I had to tackle during the editing process: find the right moment for the reader to close the book and walk away.

How does the novella allow you to do things you wouldn’t normally do in a full-length book? Why does it allow you to do it? Is it because the novella is more under the radar? Or is it because of its format? Its length?

For me, working on a project of this length allowed me to focus on language and rhythm in a way I couldn’t have in a longer project. I feel like this book sustains a kind of fever pitch that wouldn’t work if it went on and on. There’s also a lot of distillation in this project, both in terms of narrative and at the sentence level. A novella allows you (me!) to get away with some things one doesn’t typically find in a poetry collection or novel or other traditional form.

What do you think the connection is between image and language, and how might this connection be seen in your writing?

As a reader, I’m satisfied with almost those two things exclusively. I can feel wholly engaged in just the edge of a world or the threads of a story when language and image are working in tandem. And I feel like percussive, muscular prose can make an image electric. In my mind, language serves the images and the images can tell a story. I’m not entirely sure how this might be seen in my writing, but I know that it often informs how I’m thinking, how I’m hearing what’s on the page, and how I’m revising.

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

A stranger’s polaroid album.

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Ashley Farmer is the author of The Farmacist (forthcoming this fall from Jellyfish Highway Press), as well as Beside Myself (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2012) and The Women (forthcoming 2016 from Civil Coping Mechanisms). Her work can be found in places like The ProgressiveFlaunt MagazineSanta Monica Review, and Gigantic. An editor for Juked, she lives and works in Louisville, KY. 

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ashleymfarmer.com

Carl Phillips

Carl PhillipsAnd Across Our Faces (Aureole Press, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?

I don’t know that it has a real theme – something to do with two people navigating a relationship with each other, with themselves, and with the landscape.

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

I’ve never really written a chapbook – I have a total of three chapbooks, and the first one was a selection of poems from across all my books, the poems selected by a person in Berlin who does a series of selected poems of authors he’s interested in. The second chapbook was put together when I was being honored with the Kenyon Award for Literary Achievement – David Baker made a selection of my poems, and arranged them, then it was all made into a lovely chapbook.

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

It might be easier for me to talk about how this chapbook came together. When I gave a reading at the University of Toledo, I met a fellow, Tim Geiger, who runs a letterpress at the university, among other things. He asked if I’d be willing to have him make a chapbook from a collection of my poems. We ended up deciding to have the whole chapbook consist of just five poems, interspersed with artwork. So when it came to choosing the poems, I wanted to have a mix of never-published-before poems and poems that had appeared in a journal but not a book yet. And then it was just a matter of arranging the five. They all come from the same period of writing, in the last year or so.

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

It was more that Tim had some images in mind, and we agreed he’d show them to me. As it turned out, he didn’t like the original idea he had – I believe the designs were silhouettes of some kind – but he found some images of sea kelp, magnified, so they look more like trees…he showed them to me, and I loved them.

What are you working on now?

I’m always just working on the next poem. I don’t think in terms of books.

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?

A View of the Harbor by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress).

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?

Shakespeare, Dickinson, Hopkins, Randall Jarrell, Robert Hayden, Sappho, Louise Bogan, Frank O’Hara, James Schuyler, Plath

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

Singing in an indie rock band. I’m most influenced by music as a writer – I love singing, I love lyrics, it seems it would be a good match for me.

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

I think the main habit I have dropped is that of writing every Sunday. I find my life and schedule make it necessary for me to write when I can, rather than scheduling a specific time or day. I’m less able to sit down and say it’s now time to write – if anything, that inhibits things.

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

I never know the title of a book until after I’ve written it – often quite a long time after I’ve written it.

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

I think I’ve always written about the body, morality – the question of what morality might be – desire… I think those themes bridge the work, the main difference being that the same themes get examined in the ever shifting context of age….

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

Pretty much all kinds – I read a lot of novels, also a lot of graphic novels. I often stumble upon a word or phrase that way, that I wouldn’t have thought to employ in one of my own pieces. Also, the different genres help me to look at the same subjects differently. The other main kind of writing that’s helpful is songwriting – I spend a lot of time learning new lyrics, revisiting the lyrics of older songs, jazz standards, old pop, whatever. I feel it’s important to be living in language as much as possible – and there’s so much language out there besides poetry.

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Carl Phillips is the author of thirteen books of poetry, most recently Reconnaissance (FSG, 2015). He’s also written critical prose: Coin of the Realm: Essays on the Life and Art of Poetry (Graywolf, 2004) and The Art of Daring: Risk, Restlessness, Imagination (Graywolf, 2014); and has translated Sophocles’s Philoctetes (Oxford, 2004). He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

Sarah Carey

The Heart Contracts (Finishing Line Press, 2016) 464Carey_Sarah_COV

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

The chapbooks that are among my favorites include Castings (Countryman Press, 1984) by my friend and editor, the wonderful poet, Lola Haskins, which I happened across in the Grolier poetry bookstore in Boston in 1994. Lola and I were friends then and it was cool to just come across her work perusing through shelves in this bookstore I had never heard of and had no idea at the time was so famous. Another chapbook with special meaning to me is Freight (Slapering Hol Press, 2000), which was sent to me by its author, Sondra Upham, after she and I met at a poetry workshop with Carolyn Forché in the Keys. Her book reminds me of the workshop, which was meaningful to both of us and also demonstrates how beautiful a well put together chapbook can be, with ribbons, special paper, etc.  There is something about how these books can feel to the touch and how uniquely personal they can be.

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

I like to support writers I know and care about. I also hold onto special books for as long as I can. There is something about reading a writer’s earliest published works that reminds me that while publishing a full-length collection is something many writers aspire to, a chapbook-length collection can be equally significant.

What’s your chapbook about?

The book itself was not assembled with a particular theme in mind, but once I determined which poems to include, some of the themes began to reveal themselves. Even so, articulating what those themes were wasn’t something I’d ever consciously tried to do.

My former creative writing professor, Van Brock, gave me a huge gift in the blurb he was kind enough to provide me. Essentially, and I’m paraphrasing, but he wrote that the book deals with losses, and the stories of these losses that live within the author. When I read his blurb, I thought: Wow, he’s right. Like most of us, I’ve dealt with loss at many levels in my lifetime. Many of my poems have to do with a sense of commitment I feel to capture something of the essence of the person, creature or thing that was lost, so that somehow others might experience them, not necessarily as I did, but somehow through a shared sense of the imprint they left on the world. These are the “heart contracts.”

I also feel that taken as a whole, my work deals with claiming identity and how we come to terms with who we are and what we want in life.

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

This is my first-ever poetry chapbook, although I’ve been fortunate enough to have published several individual poems in various literary journals over the years.

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 poem “Breath” was inspired by the death of my grandmother in the early 1990s. She was the first close family member whose death I was literally present for and writing that poem, although it took a few years, was probably an indicator that loss would become a key theme in my work. A few years later, I wrote “The Heart Contracts” after a dog I loved very much was hit by a car. There was a lot of drama surrounding that event; he’d had a rare heart condition that had been diagnosed where I work, at the UF veterinary school, and had been doing well on medication, only to die in a fluke accident. That poem, too, took a few years to write. When I assembled a group of poems that could be a publishable collection, those two poems stayed, as did others that dealt with loss but also with renewal. In that sense they each probably helped to catalyze the collection that became the chapbook. Strictly speaking, the oldest poem in the chapbook is “The Service,” which I wrote in the late 1980s and published in 1990.

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

I frequently revisit older poems and play around with them for a while to see if something interesting happens. Often, it does – an older concept, seen in a new light, turns into a poem I want to keep. I do occasionally have something specific burning in my brain that compels me to write, and there’s a sense almost of urgency, so I start a draft. Other times there are ideas, concepts or emotions that hang around in my head and seem to demand attention. At some point, I have to put those things out there on the page, wrestle with them and begin the process of asking myself what I’m really trying to say. All of the poems in the chapbook have undergone countless revisions and all took years to take the form they now have, although some poems are much more recent than others.

I also find that if I’m not writing but I’m sending things out, that “counts” toward feeding the muse. You’ll never publish if you don’t send, and if your goal is to publish, this part of the process is necessary, if somewhat tedious. Personally, I find comfort in routine, and the process of sending one’s work out has become so much easier with the advent of online submissions. Although submitting one’s work to potential publishers doesn’t afford the same gratification as when one’s work is accepted, or even that feeling one gets when one successfully works through many revisions to finally end up with a finished poem – it’s still rewarding, and it has to be done. So if you can’t write, send. Roughly half of the poems in this chapbook were published in literary journals along the way, allowing me to build the publication credits on my acknowledgements page.

As for a revision strategy, I don’t really have one, other than I revise everything, a lot, and have learned over time to seldom trust early drafts of a poem.  So even if I think a poem’s finished, I’m still usually going to distance myself from it for a bit, until I’m ready to take another look at it.  If I’m really feeling blocked, just getting lost in a good mystery, walking the dog, doing those one-foot-in-front of the other things to clear my brain, helps. The chapbook is ultimately a byproduct of all of those strategies, I think.

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

The title comes from the poem by the same name that I alluded to earlier. I do love the title because it emotionally tracks to a specific and impactful event in my life – the loss of a beloved pet that happened to have had a heart condition but died of something completely different in a sort of cruel and ironic twist of fate. But the title also has the double meaning of contracts, agreements, commitments we make to ourselves and to others. My editor did help me select poems to include and with their arrangement. As I amassed a few additional publications in the past five years or so, I felt they worked thematically with the other poems and was able to work them in.

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

I provided the cover art, as requested by the publisher, along with a general mock-up of what a cover might look like. I created the mock-up somewhat on the fly using a free downloadable desktop publishing program, but wanting to convey a look I had in mind.  The designer with Finishing Line Press finalized the design with a few tweaks just before the advance sales of the book started on January 1. The cover artwork makes use of a photo of a raku pottery I have hanging in my home and I’m thrilled with how the design turned out.

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

I would love to be asked how learning that my very first chapbook of poems had been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press affected me. Certainly I was thrilled. I was actually convinced at first that there must have been some mistake; I found the publisher on social media and messaged her, whereupon she assured me the acceptance was legitimate and even added that she loved my work and was excited to be publishing it. A few days later, I received a personal card of congratulations from the press. Scrawled in the return address area were the words, “Good News.”  I practically swooned. I don’t know what else could have made me so happy.

In the weeks that followed, I proceeded to pull together my packet, which included blurbs for the book, for the press. The process of procuring these blurbs allowed me to reconnect with two of my former creative writing professors, Van Brock and David Kirby, both of whom have supported me and my work for a long time. I was not even 20 years old when I first met and began studying with them as young college student. My professors knew I wasn’t their best student, but I think they also knew I was determined. And they’ve been there for me in some way, all these years.

I really want to give a shout out to Finishing Line Press for accepting my chapbook for publication, which will allow my work to become available to a wider audience. The book’s acceptance has been a huge confidence builder for me, has expanded my literary connections already in a variety of ways and has both energized and motivated me as a poet.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m reading a lot of writers whose work is new to me but which I have come across or heard about, as well as revisiting poets I studied in school, as well as others I’m drawn to for whatever reason. There are so many writers in the literary canon whose work I never really had the chance to study or understand in context, despite having studied creative writing and literature in college. I want to read more writers from different cultures. My Kindle is full of a lot of new recent downloads and my bookshelf continues to expand. Books I’m simultaneously reading right now include the Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr, Empty Sleeves by Sidney Wade, and The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling.) I recently read The Great Gatsby for, imagine this, the first time.

As for my own work, I have been reworking a lot of older poems recently and have written a few new ones. I’m writing more poems that deal with specific cultural or societal events because I feel compelled to do so, even as I wrestle with how best to do it.

I’ve been sending groups of poems to various literary magazines in hopes of gaining more individual publications as my immediate short-term goal. I’m also thinking toward my next collection.

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

To be a serious writer is not just hard work, it’s a lifetime commitment and it’s blood, sweat and tears in the sense that you make yourself vulnerable over and over again and you get rejected over and over again. But you must be able to pick yourself up and keep writing and keep going. Find a community of writers, whether through a club or a class or an online group. Be selective who you share your work with, but share your work and be as generous with your time to others as you hope they will be with you.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Amass a decent list of publications before sending to chapbook competitions. Find a good editor to provide feedback not just on poems themselves but also regarding arrangement within a collection and title possibilities. If you are lucky enough to find a great editor, stick with that person and treat him or her well. Most importantly – don’t give up.

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

We all have to make choices who we read in the limited free time most of us have in today’s world. Many of us have demanding jobs, a house to keep up, a family to keep happy, a dog to walk. How do you decide which poets (or other writers) you want to read or should read, and how do you begin to understand what your own work might offer to benefit the literary landscape in the context of what else has been done?

If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?

It would probably be this past year, 2015. It was a year punctuated by family visits, the aftermath of the tragic loss of a young nephew, coping with aging parents and various illnesses. Essentially the year consisted of a lot of drama and acute emotion tempered by gratification, often overlapping and compressed into one year. Maybe that’s what I’d name this chapbook: Confluence.

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?

Lola Haskins, Anne Sexton, Philip Levine, Carolyn Forché, Elizabeth Bishop, William Stafford, Emily Dickinson, Denise Levertov, Jane Kenyon, Ranier Maria Rilke.

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

Painting, because it affords an opportunity to be physically closer to the transformative tools of art, including various types of paint, brushes, and paper, and requires an approach that starts with at least some type of end in mind while allowing the ultimate creation to still be a surprise. I actually have enjoyed painting since I was a child and have studied it off and on in later life. I love to paint and hope to do more of it one day.

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

It’s a world populated by people, places and things that have entered and exited my life but whose imprint remains and will hopefully be recognizable to readers as in some way universal and connected. These world occupiers reside in both physical and emotional landscapes that should mirror facets of the lives of each reader. Put more simply, the residents in this world are simultaneously strange and familiar, but they are connected in ways that will be perceived differently by each reader through their individual lenses.

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

While the poems are all unique, all seem to be themed in some way toward longing, the desire to claim identity, loss and the everyday things in which those parts of life and the self can be reflected. So in my mind, they all fit.

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

I am very happy with the title of this book and wouldn’t change it.

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

Probably Fracture. I’ve actually got another collection in the early stages and it fits. But then I was listening to an NPR interview the other day and someone used this term and I thought: I’ve got to steal that and use it somehow. It was: “Fingerprints of Glaciers on Mars.” Not exactly a title I’d associate with my current work, but I loved it anyway so who knows, maybe I’ll write a book to fit the title one day.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

As far as writing style and voice, that’s something I’ve just developed over time and it’s hard to say which poetic voices directly influenced me. I’ve read a lot of poets over the years but I do tend to gravitate to those whose work tells a story, paints a picture or captures a reality I can relate to in a multidimensional way. I would have to say that those people who have influenced me the most (over the years it took to put this book together) haven’t done so just through their actual poetry but equally through the ways they’ve modeled the writing life—their beliefs, practices, excellent advice, candor, and of course their kindnesses toward me. Lola Haskin and I go back 25 years and her editing of this collection was key.

Before I started working with her, I worked for about a year with Betty Bedell, a co-founder and former editor of Kalliope, whose services I read about in the Poets and Writers classifieds in the early 2000s. At that time I was trying to bring my creative writing back into my life in a more focused way versus sending out the random set of poems here and there. I remember sending her around 60 poems that I thought were terrific. She sent them back with edits and comments and basically said that of that group, maybe 20 were worth keeping. It was the type of honesty I needed. I think a few of those poems made it into The Heart Contracts.

Another person whose influence has been long-standing in my writing life is Van Brock, my former major professor at Florida State.

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

I don’t write consciously for a specific audience, and I know some people always want to know “what a book is about” before they’ll even pick it up. I’m further along than I once was if I can say about my chapbook that it’s about “losses and claiming identity and everyday things”. Something there for everyone, right? Actually I can’t presume to say who will connect most deeply with my book. I just hope some people do.

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

I suspect that many people who buy my book will be friends and family members, maybe some other writers who want to show support. Of course, I hope they all read it—and if the people who know me best buy and read this book and like it, or even better, love it, I would feel enormously gratified.

But if people who don’t know me at all read it and like or love it, and if in some way this book stays with them, that would be a divine bonus. If any people who don’t regularly read poetry or think they don’t like it, or don’t get it, read my poems for whatever reason and find that they are touched by them, I’d call that a double divine bonus.

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

That it’s OK if you read and write in cycles, as long as you keep doing it, and that it’s not helpful to compare yourself to other writers who are naturally more brilliant or better read or more clever than you are. We all do it; I do it. But I know that ultimately it’s about being honest with yourself about how much you don’t know, seeking to enhance your knowledge and your practice in some tangible way, and staying the course.  You still have a unique voice, a story to tell and a world to invent, and even though building that world can be a lonely pursuit, it doesn’t have to be emotionally solitary. You don’t have to be a miserable person or unsociable to be a good writer, you just have to be creative and insistent. Defend and protect your writing time, whatever that looks like for you.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

I write when I’m feeling sad, desperate and helpless. At the same time I write when I’m not feeling much of anything. I get to feeling by excavating pieces of my or someone else’s history that take me to a place I understand. And then I claw up way up and out, into the present and onto the page. My personal reading time is at night before bed. If I’m trying to write but am feeling blocked, I usually do one of two things – pull out a book by a poet whose work I know I’ll relate to quickly, just to get the juices flowing, or excavate old poems and play with them to see if I get anywhere. It doesn’t always happen, but it won’t happen at all if you don’t make some effort to open that creativity channel.

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Sarah Carey is an award-winning veterinary public relations specialist, science writer and poet. She holds a master’s degree in English with a creative writing concentration from Florida State University. Her work has appeared in many small magazines and literary journals, including Rattle, The Carolina Quarterly, and South Dakota Review, among others. The Heart Contracts is her debut collection of poems. She works as director of public relations at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine and lives Gainesville, Florida, with her husband, Chad Hunsaker, and their Labrador retriever, Finn.

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sarahkcarey.com

advance copies of The Heart Contracts can be purchased directly from Finishing Line Press

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A Rare Disease

We work backwards:
who did what to whom, who took which drug
for pain? We chart ways of birth control
from pills to foam, to finally, withdrawal.
Cross the what-ifs off our lists.
Who else might we have exposed?
Who yet might learn from our mistakes?

We share which lines in our respective genes
could predispose us to this end,
exercise our possibilities, not excited,
not content, not with the long view of regret
but rather with the fixed eyes of predators
biding our time, tracking blood scent,
having set about to kill doubt
and, if we’re lucky, pinpoint how to live.

(From Poetry Motel)

drea brown

drea browndear girl: a reckoning (Gold Line Press, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?

dear girl: a reckoning is about the girl who would become Phillis Wheatley, the first published African-American poet… it’s about haunting, how I imagine the girl must have been haunted by middle passage, my experience being haunted by her, sea sick in bed, the resonance of ghosts, and crossings, what a body holds and (re)members. It is about reimagining certain miracles.

The miracle for instance, of a seven-year-old girl who survived a journey one out of every four slaves onboard did not.

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, and the one that set me off on this journey, was “mercy visits the schooner phillis.” I’d just reread “On Being Brought From Africa to America” for the ___ time, and always, always the line twas mercy brought me from my pagan land… it’s always been so troubling to me. I had no choice to refuse it, question it. What if this pagan land was the slave ship, this floating wooden world, with its own rules and ways, and if so what is mercy, who is mercy. I thought a lot about folktales and myths of black folk flying home, walking into the sea, becoming mermaids… and African cosmologies, particularly Yoruba and the orisha Yemoja, mother of fishes, of oceans of children and mothers, fierce protector. This was mercy to me. And the possibility of these things thrills me still.

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

This chapbook came from unexpected places. I’m currently working on my PhD in Black Studies, but all of my other works, interests, studies have been primarily in English and poetry. Honestly, I was having trouble with traditional academic jargon, and would substitute lines of poetry whenever I was stuck on my “epistemological explorations” and “methodological approach.” I was afraid of it, afraid I would somehow lose myself. So I took a poetry class (about obsessions, no doubt), and simultaneously a class about history and memory; Phillis was my project for both. Between the readings and exercises in both classes, something opened up for me, led me to new ways of understanding. And so, dear girl comes from that, two seemingly different classes and angles that helped me with this reckoning.

Prompts…I  think one that I really appreciated involved ekphrasis. I hadn’t tried much ekphrastic poetry, and for this project, had to think deeply about what art, what visual I could write from. I chose a diagram from the British slave ship, The Brookes. And from there, many drafts later came to “cross-section of the schooner phillis.”

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

The designer (bless her) Cindi Kusuda and I spoke a lot about what this work felt like for me, what both of our visions were. We talked on the phone when we could and went back and forth in a ridiculously long string of emails to bring this cover to life. It was important to feel underwater, to see what would not sink, and to want to touch it. Does that make sense? That said, Cindi worked hard to produce something that felt good to us both. And I was right there, asking lots of questions, offering suggestions. I’m grateful for her work and patience!

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

dear girl was immediate for me. I’d been writing snatches of letters to the girl who would become Phillis for a while, and the words dear girl were always there, whether in greeting or comfort. Reckoning too, seemed natural, because that’s what this is. A working through, a coming to… The arrangement was interesting because essentially there are named poems smashed against these untitled blocks of prosy-ness. I suppose in some ways I wanted the pieces to ebb and flow, to crash against each other, to speak to Phillis and for those whose names we do not know.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my dissertation… so much that could be said in that ellipsis. My work is on haunting and black feminist elegy, and yeah, Phillis is still there, not in the same way as this chapbook, but it’s impossible to think of black women and elegy without her. I’m also working on editing a larger manuscript of poetry and praying it will be received warmly.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Trust what you feel, and write it down. Let your friends talk you into submitting your work, talk yourself into it. But believe in the power of your voice.

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?

Ok, I actually have a line from Lucille Clifton’s “won’t you celebrate with me” as well as Gwendolyn Brooks’ “we real cool”, around my bicep and lining my rib. I’d gladly put more Clifton. And have plans to get a line from Phillis as well. I’ve been debating which line, but recently it’s become quite clear. Other poets I would gladly ink myself with:

Patricia Smith

Nicky Finney

Claudia Rankine

Sonia Sanchez

Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

Akilah Oliver

Audre Lorde

+ Phillis, Brooks, Clifton, that’s ten!

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Charles Simic’s Dime Store Alchemy, Anne Carson’s Nox, Marcus Reddiker’s The Slaveship, Vincent Carretta’s Phillis Wheatley: Genius in Bondage, Ngugi waThiong’o’s Something Torn and New, Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters, June Jordan’s “The Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America, or Something Like a Sonnet For Phillis Wheatley.”

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

I didn’t set out to write a chapbook, but I’m so glad it happened. I think there’s a clear arc, but I also think maybe I’m not quite finished. There’s so much more I want to work through, so maybe dear girl is just the beginning of the stories I’m exploring.

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 last poem I wrote for dear girl: a reckoning was “sonnet/ conjure: tongue untie.” Perhaps I’m responding to two questions at once, but I think this is also the misfit poem for me. As necessary as it feels, it also feels like it sticks out a little. I wanted to offer the girl something for all that I was asking… rosemary for memory, molasses for sweetness…and as much as I am aiming to conjure her voice, asking her to return and remember, but I’m also lamenting for all that could not be said. In many ways it felt like this chapbook couldn’t be complete until an offering was made, until I showed gratitude and honor.

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

Playing with form is something that I really enjoy. But I’ve stopped sticking to the rules so heavy-handedly; I think sometimes forms (sonnets, sestinas, interviews etc) can push you to think in new ways, but you don’t want them to lock you in. Maybe the form works as a prompt, and then you let it go. So I’m still picking that up and turning it over and over

 

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

some mamas are fishes

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

Lately headlines, news reports, transcripts. I also like reading folktales and mythology and have an etymology dictionary that I’m all the way into.

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

I hope my audience is made of folks who understand the personal is political is spiritual is poetical, and how powerful that is. And if this is not yet my audience, I hope that I can open folks to this. I imagine I can.

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

Folks who have heard of Phillis but aren’t too sure of her, folks who are troubled by Phillis, who want more for her, who owe her their pens and lives. Let’s be honest, I want some of everyone to read dear girl: a reckoning.

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

I’m thinking Toni Morrison here, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

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Originally from St.Louis, drea brown is currently a PhD candidate in African and African Diaspora Studies at UT Austin. Her work has appeared most recently in Stand Our Ground: Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander and Southern Indiana Review. drea’s chapbook dear girl: a reckoning is also the winner of the 2014 Gold Line Press poetry chapbook competition, judged by Douglas Kearney.

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http://dornsife.usc.edu/goldlinepress/catalog/

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mercy visits

Margaret Gibson

Richer than Prayer or Vow (The Georgia Review, Fall issue, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?   

The series of poems addresses “No one”—a name for the space the holy might inhabit. Having kept “God” out of my poems for years, these poems seek to establish a relationship with “No one,” under circumstances that include aging, illness, and living nearer to death.

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 second poem, “Not to Remain Altogether Silent” was the first in the series to be written, and all the others followed rather steadily for perhaps six months. The poem came quickly. I’d read Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss some months earlier, but had long been wanting to clarify what might be my relationship with “No one,” which others might call God, or the holy, or the Absolute, or the Source, or . . .   there are many names for what really has no name.

The poems follow a curve of growing intimacy; even if one is not a believer, if one continues to address “No one,” a sense of presence comes into being; intimacy deepens. I didn’t set out to write a chapbook. The series of poems closes a book of poems in progress, Ask Heraclitus. I sent the poems to The Georgia Review, often a first reader of what I consider my best poems to be. It was their idea to publish the series of 11 poems (11 of 14) within the fall issue as a chapbook.

What are you working on now?   

I’m finishing the poems in Ask Heraclitus.

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

Writing poems asks you to give yourself completely and honestly, to pay attention, to ask yourself questions you can’t answer. Just do it.

If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?

The one I’m living now. Why? It’s where “not-knowing” is focused right now and the questions are fresher, more insistent.

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Margaret Gibson is the author of 11 books of poetry, most recently Broken Cup (Louisiana State University Press, 2013). The title poem won a Pushcart Prize in 2014. Gibson has received the Lamont Selection (1982), The Melville Kane Award (1986-87), the Connecticut Book Award (2008) and was a Finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry in 1993.

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www.margaretgibsonpoetry.com

www.facebook.com/MargaretGibsonPoetry

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After Innocence 

Within the plum tree’s froth and bloom,

imagination steered me,

rapt, into the star fields, and I hummed—

hymns, most likely.  Now I break down

in a mutter of tears for no reason—yes,

I should calm down.  As a child,

I was the plum tree’s rough bark

and fuzzy scent; the night sky was vast

and near, the stars a somatic dazzle.

Oh, that was long ago!  I was unified

and clear.  Since then I’ve either

looked away or held on too tight,

unwilling to see what I’ve cherished

become a lovely clutter in the heart.

But tonight I hear you, No one—

Let the petals fall

and into the ringing stillness,

where I may wait forever for all I know,

I let them go.  What’s in doubt for once,

No one, isn’t you.  You exist, if only

as an odd willingness to let my spirit

be empty of everything I thought

I felt or heard or saw or had to have

if happiness were to continue.

I have nothing now.  The nothing’s you.

Kelly Fordon

kelly fordonThe Witness (Kattywompus Press, 2016)

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

A Girl Could Disappear Like This by Deborah Schwartz

Don Dreams and I Dream by Leah Umansky

Homebodies by Sarah Jane Sloat

Invisible Girls by Erika Lutzner

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

I often write about motherhood, and the delicate balance between art and the domestic, and I love Sarah Jane Sloat’s chapbook because it addresses, so adroitly, some of the same issues. Erika Lutzner is concerned with how certain circumstances foster violence as well as the invisibility/ vulnerability of children, a subject that I have tried to address in this particular chapbook.

What’s your chapbook about?

This chapbook was written in response to the testimony offered by members of the Survivor Network of those Abused by Priests and drew on some of my own experiences with the Catholic Church as well. Many of the poems are told from the perspective of “The Witness,” someone who witnessed sexual violence and/or was a victim of it who is in a state of arrested development and whose life, for all intents and purposes, has been halted by what happened.

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

On the Street Where We Live won the 2012 Standing Rock Chapbook contest and is poetry largely about the domestic. Many of the poems are persona poems about people who live on one street, Ballard Avenue.

The second chapbook, Tell Me When it Starts to Hurt, furthers the theme of the first chapbook, but with more of an edge.

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

The Witness poems all spilled out after a boy I knew (I can’t give the details) died years after being abused. This was happening at the same time when all of the other stories were coming out about abuse and I was just compelled to write about it.

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

Sammy Greenspan (the publisher at Kattywompus) and I were searching for the perfect image for this chapbook when I happened on William Cheselden.  In 1733, William Chesleden published Osteographia, a grand folio edition depicting human and animal bones, featuring beautiful copperplate images, including playful skeletons, vignettes, and initials. Cheselden and his engravers, Gerard van der Gucht and Mr. Shinevoet, employed a camera obscura to execute many of the images, and this one just seemed like the perfect picture of The Witness, who is the speaker in many of these poems.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a novel and a full-length poetry collection.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Submit to Sammy Greenspan at Kattywompus Press. She’s wonderful!

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

I love to hear about the process of creation.

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

No, I just thought I would write one poem in response to this debacle, but once I started, I could not stop. I now have a full collection, which I will shop soon.

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

In this instance, all of the testimony I found on the SNAP website, as well as certain documents from the Vatican, helped me tremendously.

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Kelly Fordon is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a novel-in-stories, Garden for the Blind, which was published by Wayne State University Press in April 2015.

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 www.kellyfordon.com

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S.N.A.P.
On my dorm room wall
I had a poster of a tabby cat
and one time–
was I high?
He touched me
with love
you heard that right
it was pretty
spectacular
better than the other one
insane
ok
maybe he didn’t
but I felt it
in the back room
one time a poster
of a cat
looked down on me
with love
not the other way
so I
still believe in God.
That’s all I have.
Nobody touches me now.