Iris A. Law

Periodicity (Finishing Line Press, 2013)download

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

Here are a few favorites from recent years. Yours, by Kristen Eliason and Paradise Hunger by Henry W. Leung are spare and gorgeous, and they move me. Yours, in particular has given me courage to press deeper into loss and grief in my own work. Jane Wong’s Kudzu Does Not Stop is a wonderful, off-kilter romp through an unruly catalog of invasive species. It delights the closet biology nerd in me. I also love the playful (at times coy) conversation between Lori Larusso’s paintings and Carrie Green’s poems in their collaborative chap It’s Not My Birthday, That’s Not My Cake.

What’s your chapbook about?

Periodicity explores the lives and stories of a number of historical women in science. All of the women in the chapbook either built careers around science, technology, or medicine, or were the wives or daughters of famous scientists. As the daughter of a scientist myself, I’m interested in how the poetry of the natural world and the choreographed music of the scientific method sit within the domestic space. I’m also interested in decay and resilience, in the inheritance of passion and of suffering, and in the condition of being female in a man’s world: what did it mean for these women to be pushing the envelope in heavily male-dominated fields during the periods when they lived and worked?

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

“Marie Curie, Dying” is the oldest piece in the chapbook. I wrote it as an undergraduate, while studying with then-Stegner fellow Andrew Grace. Andy challenged me to write a poem that took the rhythms and imagistic patterns of Charles Wright’s “Clear Night” as its form. I used to get chronic canker sores (huge, festering ones that would also make my face swell up and my glands hurt), and the day I sat down to respond to Andy’s prompt, I had a particularly bad one. As I sat there, mouth on fire and feeling slightly feverish, I couldn’t get Wright’s moon out of my brain. I think something about the electric nature of pain, how its energy strings itself through you and makes you aware of your body at a minutely precise, nearly cellular, level, brought my mind to Marie Curie and to the cratered surface of her mouth as cancer overtook her at the end of her life. There is a bitter irony to her story (as there was for many of the women whose poems followed); she accomplished so much in the field of chemistry, pioneered the study of radioactivity and its uses—and yet, the very thing to which she devoted her life, heart and soul, was what killed her.

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

The manuscript was cobbled together over the course of several years (it began as a short series of poems, then morphed into the center of my MFA thesis, and was then extracted and condensed down into a chap), so the writing practices and processes I employed for different sets of poems varied. However, because all of the poems in the chap interest themselves with real historical figures, my process for most began with a period of some sort of research. In some cases, as with the poems about Beatrix Potter and Emma Darwin, the seed of the poems originated in language drawn from source material like letters, journal entries, obituaries, contemporary newspaper articles. In other cases, I began with some central concept related to the subject’s work (like the lacy shapes of the lichens Beatrix Potter studied or the principle behind Chien-Shiung Wu’s disproving of the law of conservation of parity) and experimented with building the poem out of that.

How did you decide on the title of your chapbook?

The title of the chapbook, which comes from the poem “Periodicity,” refers to a concept in chemistry that describes the tendency of families of elements to share particular repeated properties (think: the periodic table). In the titular poem, the sense of repetition and iteration over generations reflects the strength and complexity of women in the Curie family and especially of the relationship between Irène Joliot-Curie and her mother Marie. I think of the project of this chap as a broader exploration of the same concept: I’m interested in not just the individual stories of the women I’m writing about, but also in the things that connect their stories. So many of these women suffered immense loss and heartache, were denied opportunities, were not taken seriously (often because of their gender), and yet in their lives there was also great beauty and passion and joy, a love for their work, and a dedication to knowledge that defied all odds. When taken together, their stories reflect and reiterate and echo one another; they form, in short, a kind of unique periodicity.

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

The cover illustration and design for Periodicity were done by a talented artist friend, Killeen Hanson. Early on in the process, I sent Killeen the manuscript to read and suggested that something botanical or that featured one of the women in the book might be nice, and she came up with a number of really innovative ideas, the most captivating of which involved cyanotypes inspired by the work of Anna Atkins (who features in two of the poems). The cyanotype process (better known to some as “Sun Prints”) is considered to be one of the earliest forms of photography. It involves placing the object whose impression is to be taken on a sheet of treated paper and exposing the setup to sunlight. After the image is exposed, the objects are removed and the paper is washed to fix the dye. The results are distinctive, brilliant, blue-and-white prints that are marked by beautiful, transparent shadows and watery irregularities, depending on the thickness and shapes of the objects being captured and the conditions under which they were exposed. (If you’re familiar with the cover of Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris, the design is actually a manipulated version of one of Anna Atkins’ iconic prints.) Killeen made several cyanotypes, and we eventually decided upon a print of a lilac for the cover. I thought the monochrome blue, almost ghostly, impression spoke to the central motifs of the chapbook very nicely. Not only is it a direct homage to the work of one of the women featured in the chap, but the color blue itself and the ghostliness/ trickiness of narrative, image, light, and the body are central motifs that recur again and again in the book. I loved working with Killeen, and I was incredibly pleased with the cover she designed. We were English majors together during college, and because of her literary studies/ creative writing background, she has a deep understanding of the written word and its complexities. I feel incredibly blessed to have had the chance to work with someone who understood and could interpret my work so well.

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

“Anna Atkins,” in which the titular figure grieves the death of her father, comes from a place of deep personal significance for me. Between the time I began writing the poem and the time that I completed it, my own father passed away. My dad was a chemist, and it was through his influence that I gained my fascination with science and the elegance of the natural world. In the wake of his passing, I remember being devastated that the objects he’d left behind didn’t feel comforting to me—they were just things; they weren’t him. As I returned to revise “Anna Atkins,” I began to see it with very different eyes. Originally, the poem was more outspoken, perhaps a bit more angry. But what I eventually came to realize was that the poem needed the exact opposite of my original impulse: it needed silence, not noise; the finality of absence, not ghosts. So I rewrote it, stripping away as much as I possibly could.

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

“Botanical Variations.” It’s a cento, shaped roughly into a crown of sonnets, whose language is taken from an eighteenth century primary source (the field notebook of Jane Colden), and the language and the pace of it are thus substantially different than the syntax and rhythms of the rest of the book. When I write using my own voice, I tend to write with an eye to both sonics and narrative. But “Botanical Variations” is entirely reliant on the sonics to move it forward. The listener has to trust the music of the poem to buy it. So it’s a trickier piece (both to read, and to hear performed) than some of the others in the book. And yet in some ways, it’s probably one of the more important poems in the chap, because it’s the only one that incorporates one of the women scientist’s actual language—the “sound” of her scientific voice, so to speak—in such an integral way. That’s why I placed it in the center of the chap: I wanted Jane Colden’s remixed words to serve as a kind of sonic and textural heartbeat underlying the narrative and lyric that surround them.

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

Lots of things. News headlines, Scientific American articles, scripture, letters and other types of correspondence (both historical and my own). Novels that are important to me (e.g. Cannery Row, Jane Eyre) provide voicings, background ghosts that infuse and inflect the underpinnings of my work. Maps and oral histories are wonderful jumping-off points, especially for historically based poems. I’ve worked with (and borrowed from) medical dictionaries and science textbooks, diaries and technical notebooks, biographies. They keep my language fresh. I work in editorial at a university press by day, and sometimes my responsibilities there also season my poetry in interesting ways, whether through the subject material of the books I work on, or through the influence of the sort of technical head space that I need to access in order to perform my job. I have to turn off my “editor brain” when I’m composing and reading poetry, but the technical attention that is required to make precise and measured decisions about style and grammar has sometimes proved helpful during revision: it gives me a kind of double-vision, a simultaneous sense of both the aesthetic landscape of the poem and the physical scaffolding of the language that enables me to play with the poem on both levels.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Louise Glück’s The Wild Iris and Jill McDonough’s Habeus Corpus hooked me into persona as a compelling form, and Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia continued that interest. A. Van Jordan’s Quantum Lyric and Kimiko Hahn’s Toxic Flora were also both helpful at different stages, as examples of collections that handle the language of science deftly and beautifully.

What kind of person do you imagine writing to?

I of course want other poets and lovers of poetry to read my work; I envision my reader as the contemplative sort who loves, like I do, the music of a poem, the movement of its lines, and the pleasure of crisp, clear imagery. But perhaps even more than that, I long for my work to have some point of entry for people who are not poets, and who may not even think of themselves as book people. I want people like my dad, who knew nothing about stanzas or line breaks, but who saw and loved the poetry in the banded spectrum that blooms up the shaft of a chromatography column, to be able to read or listen to my work and find in it something that moves them. Today’s world is full of women who have made their mark in STEM and who are continuing to pave the way for others in what is still a very male-dominated field. They are the legacy of the women I’ve written about in Periodicity, and in some ways, this chap is as much for them as it is for anyone else.


Iris A. Law is the author of Periodicity (Finishing Line Press 2013) and founding editor of the online literary magazine and blog Lantern Review. A Kundiman fellow, she lives and works in Lexington, Kentucky.




for Chien-Shiung Wu

In essence, we are all lopsided. The baseball player,
flexing the tensile length of his body, favors
the smooth parabola of one arm
over the imprecise swing of the other.
The marksman, settling the line of his gun,
fixes his shot with a single, steely eye.

There is no parity in decay. Matter collects
its property to itself in asymmetric heaps.
In this ultraviolet umbrella of a universe,
electrons evacuate their atoms from unbalanced poles.
Cobalt, heavy with grief, drips particles like pearls
snipped too close to the quick of their string. And you,

when wound against the axis of my own unfurling arc,
align to another contour entirely. We do not mirror
one another. Rather, we resist replication, shaping our stories
stubbornly against our chosen vectors: one arm, one eye,
a single plotted quadrant into which we arrange
battered folding chairs and settle in to watch the sun
slide liquidly into the diamond-speckled dark.

Kathleen McGookey

mcgookey-mended-coverMended (Kattywompus Press, 2014)

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

Some of my favorite chapbooks are I Left My Wings on a Chair by Karen Schubert, The Accidental Seduction and Any Kind of Excuse by Nin Andrews, Earth and Narcissus by Cecilia Woloch, Last Hula by Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Against Elegies by Jack Ridl, Her Human Costume by Cynthia Marie Hoffman, and Basil by Katharine Rauk.

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

That I like and write prose poems. My prose poems are grateful to be in the company of the above writers, which is why I like to have those books near my desk when I am writing. I am grateful to have found the work of these writers, and in some cases, their friendship.

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

I’ve published two chapbooks. The first one, October Again, was selected by Mary Szybist as the winner of the Burnside Review chapbook contest in 2011. That chapbook is a series of about twenty short, untitled prose poems. It could be read as one continuous poem. Some readers have also said that reading it is like reading journal entries. I wrote this series of poems after my mom died, so the poems are steeped in very fresh grief and loss.

My second chapbook, Mended, is made up of prose poems that are divided into two sections. When I was trying to organize my chapbook, I looked to those on my bookshelves. I borrowed the structure of Mended from Cecilia Woloch’s Narcissus–that chapbook is also divided into two sections that are approximately the same number of poems. The poems in Mended still deal with lingering grief and loss, but also other subjects as well.

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 think the oldest poem in the chapbook is “Joe.”  I wrote it after my husband and I taught one of his friends–a boy who had had a leg amputated because of cancer–how to water ski. I remember wanting to capture my initial worry that I might feel awkward or do or say the wrong thing, as well as wanting to capture the exhilaration and joy I could see in Joe. And also, really, how ordinary the experience was. I remember the poem perfectly encapsulating some of my worries at the time–we had been considering having a child, and you worry about everything that can go wrong with a baby. But things can go wrong across the whole span of a person’s life.

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

I wrote “Like Stars” for my friend Mimi. When she and her husband were expecting their first child, they learned that their baby boy would only live a short time after his birth. Short, meaning minutes or maybe hours. And while she was in labor, I was walking near my house in the afternoon and all the normal insect sounds just fell silent. The silence felt like presence. And then when the noises started up again, I felt the absence of that presence. It was a strange and significant moment, where not much was happening, yet so much was happening. I tried to capture all that in the the poem.

What was your writing practice or process for your chapbook?

I did not set out to write a chapbook, but was searching for a way to get my poems published. At the time I organized it, I had two full-length manuscripts that were getting consistently rejected by publishers. I mean, this had been happening for at least six years. I began to despair of them ever finding their way into print. Because it had been comparatively easier to publish my chapbook October Again, I thought of boiling down each manuscript to its essence, and creating a chapbook in two sections out of the two longer manuscripts.

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 of the chapbook comes from the poem called “Mended.” I liked that Mended suggested something broken but fixed, and homespun, familiar. I thought of my mom sitting with her sewing, and how often I had asked her to fix something small for me–a hole in a sweater, a hem. It seemed like a comfortable title. I also liked that Mended suggested an ending to the grief that some poems in section one deal with. Within each of the two sections of the chapbook, I tried to tell the essence of the story of the longer manuscript. Section one hints at the ache for a child, and the loss of a parent, and section two deals with the daily experience of raising a child with an awareness of grief and loss. At least this is what I think. I am sure I am simplifying.

Titles for the individual poems are always hard for me. When I bring drafts to my writing groups, I always need titles. Lately, most of my titles are suggested by other people. And it always takes a long time to find a title. It was a relief to have a series of untitled prose poems in October Again. Though, strangely, some of those poems did have titles and I had to remove them for the chapbook.

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

Sammy Greenspan at Kattywompus Press was easy and fun to work with. She suggested cover images and asked me to respond. The cover image is the second one she suggested. She was looking for images that were partially unrecognizable–images that would suggest something, but not state it. I love the image she came up with. I love that it is a garment that suggests the shape of a body. (At least that is what I think when I see it.)

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

I wish I knew more about how to promote a chapbook. Or a book of poems, for that matter.

What are you working on now?

I am still just writing prose poems. I just write, and accumulate poems, and then when I’ve got a bunch of them, then I think about organizing them into a book or a chapbook. So right now, I am in the stage where I generate work.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Read and write.  And don’t give up.

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

I now use Google docs to organize my poems. I love it. I’ve had two computers fail and I look forward to never losing any more work.

To organize my submissions, I keep two little notebooks. In one, I write down the date, the name of the journal or press, and what I submitted. Even if I submit electronically. In a second notebook, I write down the months of the year, one month per page: January 2015, February 2015, and so on. Then in the appropriate month, I write down reading periods of magazines, contest deadlines, or note when an editor invites me to send more poems. I am sure there are more high-tech versions of this. But these two little notebooks work for me.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by beautiful language and, sometimes, surreal art. I love the paintings of Rene Magritte. I’m also inspired by ordinary moments. And also the view from my window. And sometimes the questions that my children ask.


Kathleen McGookey’s work has appeared in journals including The Antioch Review, Boston Review, Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, The Laurel Review, Ploughshares, The Prose Poem:  An International Journal, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, Seneca Review, West Branch, and Willow Springs.  She is the author of Whatever Shines, October Again, and Mended, and the translator of We’ll See, prose poems by French writer Georges Godeau. Two books are forthcoming: Stay from Press 53 in September, and At the Zoo from White Pine Press in 2017. In 2014, she received a grant from the Sustainable Arts Foundation, which supports artists who are parents.



I Wait

like an egg for you. You do not come through the field, boots soaked and dark. You do not crouch in the dusk or the mist that rises to the horizon. I’ve unlocked my window and put on my red scarf. I’ve wrapped up my nightmare and left it by the door. Here’s a candle. Here’s a sandwich. Here’s your antique dresser in the garage, drawers jammed with photos and silver trays. What do you make of it? What do you make of me now? Your journey can’t be easy. Let your fingers grow eyes, let all those eyes fill with tears. I am flying a bright flock of kites so you can find your way back to me.

JeFF Stumpo and Logen Cure

Villains (Finishing Line Press, 2015) by JeFF StumpoStumpo Villains

Still (Finishing Line Press, 2015) by Logen Cure

JS: Let’s kick this off with a question to you. Any of the poems in your chapbook are strong. So how did “Still” get to be the title song, as it were?

LC: The poems in the chapbook are unified by a voice, a single speaker. The speaker is struggling, at odds with herself, and deeply concerned with particular things: relationships, desire, memory, place, the body. I think “Still” shows how all of those elements are in play. Also, the word “still” can mean so many things: motionless, hushed, lasting, nevertheless. I wanted to select a title poem from the collection, and out of everything, I felt the word “still” could shed light on every piece in different ways. Still - Smoke Cover
What about you? Villains is clearly a play on “villanelle,” but what else went into selecting the title for you?

JS: For me, it was basically a process of “how thickly do I want to lay on the puns?” I started off calling it Heroes & Villanelles, realized it had no heroes, started calling it Villainelles, thought that was just too much, looked up the etymology and found that villain/villanelle actually do share a root (they refer to common folk), and kept it to just Villains. I’m a little worried that people will assume that means I consider all my characters to be bad guys, but some (most? all?) are not bad, they’re villagers of a sort – the Blues man, the kid playing football in a podunk town, the woman working a 9-5 that doesn’t want to let her go, the rapper strutting his stuff. A lot of the characters are at the precipice where they either interact with or are turning into the more popular conception of villain.

I have to come back to “still” have many meanings. Do you feel like there are movements to the collection? That is, do we have a period of time in which we’re experiencing still(ness) as motionlessness, then a few poems of being hushed, or anything of that sort? Or how did you otherwise decide to arrange things?

LC: The arrangement follows an arc. The speaker is definitely experiencing a coming-of-age. The opening of the collection raises a lot of questions, somewhere in the middle we take a difficult turn and things get pretty bleak, and by the end, things are much more optimistic. I think “still” is the through-line of all of that. The speaker is definitely changed by the end of the collection. I think she achieves a sort of stillness, or tranquility perhaps, but not without acknowledging the lasting effects of trauma. I think there’s also a struggle between silence and voice happening in these poems, particularly in that middle section. These are not easy poems. For those, I see “still” as an insistence.

How did you manage the arrangement for Villains? And as a follow up, what was the first villanelle you wrote that’s included in the collection? Which is the last?

JS: The first poem was the first poem. I didn’t have a name for it; my friend Lisa N. Edmonds-D’Amico came up with “Villanelle in royal blue.” I let it sit there for a couple of months, and then wrote 30 villanelles in 60 days as sort of a personal challenge. These are the 20 I liked best. But as to ordering them? I’m still not super-confident about the order. I “managed” is probably the best way to say it.

When you say your poems aren’t easy… weren’t easy to write? aren’t easy to read? aren’t easy to deal with?

LC: I’d argue that writing poems is difficult in general. Some are more emotionally difficult to write than others. I can’t imagine those poems are easy to read or deal with. The poem in the collection I wrote first would probably be “To Shed.” That poem was also one of the first accepted to a journal, Sundog Lit. They like “earth-scorching” work. When I told my mother, she said that it certainly isn’t one of her favorites but “the ugliest thing at the garage sale always sells first.” I’ll never forget that. I was touched. That really is just about the most optimistic thing you can say about that poem.

Speaking of difficult, can you talk a bit more about the process of writing 30 villanelles in 60 days? Why the villanelle?

JS: I had a period of time when I was in the car a lot. Driving to referee soccer. To my psychiatrist. And it would be at least half an hour in each direction, often an hour. So I started trying to write in my head. And one night I sat down and produced “Villanelle in royal blue” while listening to Howlin’ Wolf on repeat, and I memorized it enough to revise it a bit while driving the next day. My friend Lisa gave it its title, incidentally. I had this compulsion to keep trying to succeed, to write a villanelle in an hour. And the music helped. One to two songs on repeat for 30-60 minutes, plus a little mental revision while driving. It was kind of a healthy obsession, to be honest.

You ever get like that? Where you’re writing, but it’s not the surface you that’s doing it? It’s some deeper you that understands what you are doing better than you do?

LC: Yes. I think all writers have obsessions. The poems in Still weren’t written with the idea that they would occupy a book together. When I decided to make a chapbook with the best of the disparate poems I had, I was surprised at how many common threads I found. Poetry works in subconscious ways, for both readers and writers. That’s the magic, I think.

So Villains is influenced by music? Can you expand on that? What about literary influences?

JS: Every poem has a soundtrack. I don’t necessarily draw from the lyrics of each song (although I use the chorus of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” as an A1/A2 in “Villanelle questioning a pop culture phenomenon”), but the feeling of the music should be present somehow in each piece. Some of the poems are attempts to marry villanelles with the Blues, another form based on repetition and variation. Some are straight-up hip-hop (“Villanelle to all you sucka MCs” and “Villanelle enlisting the ACLU”). There’s one that’s about listening to Mumford and Sons. Some just draw from the tone, like “Villanelle that is not now nor ever has been.”There’s a list in the back of the chapbook that tells you what to match with each poem.

For literary influences, there aren’t many direct allusions this time around, like in a lot of my previous chapbooks. But the lyrical play and formalism owes a lot to one of my favorite poets, Terrance Hayes, who also digs down obsessively into an old style or form and makes it do new things with the culture at hand. In retrospect, it owes something to Patricia Smith’s Blood Sonnets, a little bit to Jimmy Santiago Baca’s Meditations on the South Valley (not in form but in subject matter). I’ll address it directly – despite being an old French form, these villanelles don’t speak much to their white predecessors, the Dylan Thomases and such. They’re far more interested in the amazing formal work being done by nonwhite poets.

I know you have another chapbook on the way, Letters to Petrarch, that directly addresses one of the Old Masters and reinvents what he had done. Can you comment on the differences between dialoguing with a literary influence, like LtP, and writing poems that may have influences but don’t go seeking them head-on like in Still?

LC: That’s a great question. Yes, Letters to Petrarch is an entirely different sort of project. It’s a series of epistolary poems in direct response to a single influence. Still definitely has many influences: Richard Siken, Lynda Hull, Anne Sexton, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Andrea Gibson. I actually worked on both projects in the same years, during and right after my MFA program. I think in some ways, the poems from Still were a mental break from the focus of Letters to Petrarch. Like I said, the poems in Still weren’t originally written as a cohesive project. I’d dedicate my time to LtP for a while, then my mind would get restless and I’d write other poems.

It’s interesting that you used the word “seeking” because I think that’s a good descriptor for what you’re doing when you write poetry. I think with LtP, I was looking at particular things, trying to shed light on certain connections and emotions. I think the poems in Still look for something. The process is different for each type of seeking. I think shifting gears over time helped me maintain momentum.

You’ve written other chapbooks as well. Can you describe those and talk a bit about the differences in creating them?

JS: Not letting you off the hook yet. I like your idea of using different kinds of seeking to maintain momentum. When you’re stuck – writer’s block, depression, life just plain full – do you find your poetry looking for something or looking to shed light on something? Is there a default position from which you can regain momentum?

LC: For me, one type of seeking is conscious and one is more subconscious. The poems in Letters to Petrarch were an intentional endeavor. The project was research-heavy. I had a plan. I was drawing energy from an outside source. The poems in Still just happened. They surfaced from within, from whatever work my subconscious was doing. The brain is an incredible thing in that way. You’re right that writer’s block happens for various reasons. Either type of seeking can help me break out of it. I can choose to carefully look at something and try to shed light on it with my work. Alternatively, looking for something usually means getting out of my own way, mentally or emotionally, and allowing the work to surface. It can be much more difficult to do the latter, as you can imagine.

How about those other chapbooks of yours?

JS: Similar to yours, in that seeking/ shedding respect. OsSerp (El Océano y la Serpiente / The Ocean and the Serpent) was me trying to out-Wasteland Eliot for the 21st Century. Up until I did a 64-page poetic sequence in rhyming verse and visual poems for my dissertation, it was the most ambitious thing I’d attempted. Riff Raff just kinda happened, and I lucked into getting it published by Unicorn Press. The Icarus Sketches is often the chapbook that people come back to as a favorite, another obsessive mining and turning over of a particular stone, but I’m happy above all that I got to really work with the editor of Seven Kitchens Press to make it a dual-author collection with Crystal Boson, who is by far my superior as a poet but hadn’t been looking to publish at the time. I’ve got samples and more on all of them on my website,

I just ordered five copies of Still. Seriously. It’s partly the former bookstore owner in me, partly because I want to hand them out to people later. It’s something I started doing after I opened Wonderland Books & Games – I’d order extra copies of something I loved and just give away some of them to people who would appreciate them. Not great business sense, but it felt right.

What comes next for you? You’ve got readings galore on the horizon, workshops, all that. Is there going to be a Still tour?

LC: Thanks for ordering Still! I love giving things away, too, so I think you’ve got a great idea. I’ll have to get myself some extra copies of Villains.

I do have so many events coming up. I’m fortunate to keep busy. You never know, maybe I’ll string together enough appearances to call it a tour. In other news, I’m writing a full-length manuscript about my hometown. I’m working a narrative arc and also making poems about the town itself: environment, creatures, history, weather. So far this project has been fun and difficult, both seeking something and shedding light, so to speak. You can find my next readings, workshops, and publications at my website,

What comes next for you? Readings, events, works-in-progress?

JS: I’m trying to book some gigs around the Northeast. We just moved to Pennsylvania, and I’m within reach of my old stomping grounds from a two-year stint in Portsmouth, NH while Kate did a postdoc. I love the open mics and slams in this region. I’d like to contact some universities as well – I’ve done university readings and workshops before (they’re the best-paying of the gigs I’ve done), and I feel like Villains lets me talk about a lot of craft issues in a workshop setting. Maybe I should see if the Poetry Festival at Round Top is looking for poets from afar – I was a regular speaker there for about three years, and I miss it greatly. And I could see you while I’m there!

As far as projects, I have all these doodles of lines and stanzas and concepts that I’ve been kicking around for a series of poems I want to give to my daughter, Ellery, someday. The manuscript is definitely called Dove, and I know some of what’s going on in it, but I haven’t been able to nail it down. That’s partly because I’m trying really hard to resist the urge to turn everything she does into a poem. The stuff that comes out of her mouth is fantastic and ends up on Facebook a lot, but there’s this (strangely?) sincere part of me that doesn’t want to be her translator, that wants to just be her dad. I think I’m trying harder at that than at anything I’ve ever done.

Presale: June 22 to August 21, 2015
Release: October 2015

JeFF Stumpo has been a bookstore owner and a part-time professor, a slam poet and an apologetic telemarketer. His wife is the smart one. His daughter is three going on thirteen. His dogs are nuts. He has a website with samples and ideas and occasional blog posts at

Villanelle to all you sucka MCs

This is my track
meet. You trippin’ on cracks in the street.
You just backin’ that

fat beat. I’m 175 of man
and muscle. You empty cuz you hustle. Please,
this is my track

record: I don’t lack records. I make black
records like Glasper makes radio, G.
You just back in that

saddle, addled, same horse, same stream. I got a knack
for innovation, always addin’ to my team.
This is my track,

my trade, just call me Jack.
You fade. You lose. You got a two-bit dream.
You just backin’ that

bad play, MC. This is my track,
my way, home free.
This is my track –
you just backin’ that.


Presale period: May 19 to July 17, 2015
Release: September 2015

Logen Cure is a poet and teacher. She is the author of three chapbooks: Still (Finishing Line Press 2015), Letters to Petrarch (Unicorn Press, forthcoming 2015), and In Keeping (Unicorn Press 2008). Her work also appears in Word Riot, Radar Poetry, IndieFeed: Performance Poetry, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She lives in Texas with her wife. Learn more at


From now on, I will
tell people that you died.

I will say it calmly, without tears.
It is not that I want pity
or take pleasure in lying.
I have simply grown tired of
mapping the perforations we made,
intolerant of questions
concerning who-broke-what.

I officially excuse myself from this exercise.
I am not interested in people’s opinions
of my victim or villainhood.

The only thing people should be allowed
to say to me about you is
____________________I’m sorry for your loss.

And when they ask me
what happened to you, I will tell them
without hesitation that one day
your heart just stopped.

Joseph O. Legaspi

Aviary-Front-FinalAviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014)

What’s your chapbook about?

This is a tough question and I don’t even know why I’m even considering answering it, but I am. Here’s my answer: I don’t know what my chapbook is about. Maybe it’s not about anything. Although I can say that most of the poems are love poems. They examine, describe, and interrogate sexuality. Gender roles. Religion. They flirt with sensuality. I feel the chapbook possesses a dreamy, mythical air. Putting it together, I often sensed a Wonderland aspect to it.

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

I have published one previous chapbook titled Subways (Thrush Press, 2013), and this one is easier to peg. It consists of a series of mostly prose poems set in the New York City subway system. Having lived in NYC for nearly twenty years, the subway is a constant, a lifeline, the proverbial human cesspool in which I wallow, a space of intrigue, wisdom and pathos, source of entertainment and endless fascination.

Can you name one poem that catalyzed the chapbook?

Here’s the story: I had no predisposed intention in writing a chapbook, nonetheless two! What happened was that the chapbooks branched out of a failed second manuscript. I knew I had two incongruent “sections,” these poems in Aviary, and the subways poems. As hard as I tried to mesh them, they just wouldn’t fit. I realized the subway poems are an entity on their own, a followed-through project. I was left with these poems brimming with imagery of animals and birds, and they gravitated toward each other. If there is a poem that anchors Aviary, it is “Threshold of Revelation.” Not only is it an offshoot of Subways—the poem is set on a train—but the final, ultimate image of Pangaea is where I feel the other poems branch out, the fauna and humanity.

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

Once I realized “Threshold” is the anchor poem, in length and theme, I placed it in the middle of the chapbook, and worked from there, like water ripple effect. Moreover, I have a triptych of three prose poems each in three sections. I view them as pillars, recurring throughout the collection, holding up the proverbial house. I also tried to weave in poems with more personal narratives, interwoven with lyrics and what I refer to as fairy tale poems. I wanted a progression of varying styles and forms that still grounded the reader.

As for the title, I was first stuck with “Menagerie,” searching for something similar; it was too Tennessee Williams, so I knew I couldn’t use it. I believe I used the word bestiary in one of my poems, but it wasn’t enough. There are also plenty of bird images in the collection, and the opening poem, “Music Box,” plays up the comparison to a cage, an aviary. I particularly like the rhyme and rhythm of the two words, how they roll together on the tongue like rambunctious twins: Aviary, Bestiary.

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

Jamaal May and Tarfia Faizullah, the dynamic duo at OW! Arts, pretty much gave me free reign in choosing the art work. I’m a huge fan of the artist Edward del Rosario (, and I jumped at the chance to work with him. The cover image compliments the poems. I love that it’s surrealist, and doesn’t bash you in the head with “aviary!,” “bestiary!” I suppose it would’ve been easy enough for me to just have a picture of a parrot or a cow. I jest. I’m very happy with my chapbook, and it was so easy working with Tarfia and Jamaal on the interior and exterior design.

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 and revised turned out to be the last poem in the chapbook, “In This Bed.” I went through many drafts of that poem, just couldn’t get it quite right. Initially it wasn’t going to be included in Aviary, but as I worked on the poem I realized, thematically and simply, the tone and feel of it makes it a worthy end-poem. Its lack of animal imagery also works for me in that the lovers, the bodies, are the bestiary.

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

I read lots of fiction and non-fiction. And I love watching nature shows.

Do you have experience with winning over new readers to poetry with either your own or others’ poems? If so, what’s that been like? Do you think a new poetry reader would have a different reaction to the chapbook format than an established reader?

Witnessing a person fall in love with a poem, albeit for the first time or the thousandth time, is one of the best feelings. I love when it happens during a vibrant discussion, or upon hearing a poem and how it could swoop down and lift.

I think the chapbook form is a good medium to ease in a novice poetry reader. A chapbook is not so intimidating (it’s a pity that in schools, poetry is approached and taught as some kind of difficult puzzle “to solve”) due to its size, to creating a vivid world with less. Isn’t that a function of poems, too: to speak volumes with the fewest words? Compact, compressed, precise?


Joseph O. Legaspi, a 2015 Fulbright fellow, is the author of Imago (University of Santo Tomas Press; CavanKerry Press) and two chapbooks: Aviary, Bestiary (Organic Weapon Arts), winner of the David Blair Memorial Prize, and Subways (Thrush Press). Recent works appear  in of American Poets, jubilat, Salt Hill, The Journal, and Painted Bride Quarterly. He co-founded Kundiman (, a non-profit organization serving Asian American literature.


Academy of American Poets:

From the Fishouse:


A Love Story

She was the most beautiful
hen, feathers the kilned brick
hue of New England autumn
before I knew autumn,
her radiating heat
the tropics of my childhood.
Summoned by her magnetic,
clucking love I released her
from the coop, cyclone
of fowl drudgery, first
song of farm fandango.
Pubescent eyes met chicken
eyes electric between boy
and his bird. Her crown,
red as overripe strawberries,
flowered down to her
epiglottal wattles,
curtains of blood
suspended from her throat.
Then hand traveled the length
of her hen-ness—comb
to wingbow to shank—
compelled to explore under
her tail feathers, fanning
the pinkness
of the pudenda, puckering
like a mouth. What’s a boy
to do, orally fixated as he
was, but press his finger in
against the bristling,
then moist suction
and swallow. Quickening,
his eggshell heart shattered,
his whirlwind self spun
like iron planets
orbiting below a cock
bellwether perched spur
and claw on a stormy rooftop.

Michelle Peñaloza      

landscape heartbreaklandscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias Press, 2015)

Whats your chapbook about?

Over the course of a year, I went on walks with twenty-two individuals, who each took me to a place in Seattle where they’d had their hearts broken. These heartbreaks weren’t limited to the romantic kind; as we know, the heart can be broken in any number of ways. My chapbook, landscape/heartbreak, is made up of my responses-in-poems to these walks, along with maps of the walks in Seattle.

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

Two Sylvias Press released landscape/heartbreak first, on Valentine’s Day, 2015, but I wrote almost all of that manuscript after I wrote my second chapbook, Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes, which was released by Organic Weapon Arts Press at AWP 2015. Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes is mostly comprised of poems which I wrote during my time in the MFA program at the University of Oregon, exploring loss; intersections of race and gender; and the space among and between individual, familial, and national histories.

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

The oldest piece is the poem “Custom.”  I wrote it during a time before I even moved to Seattle, processing my own broken heart and trauma; I included it because it was one of the first poems in which I began, in process and in content, to engage with the body’s movement through landscape, specifically with walking, in relation to the narrative and processing of trauma.

I remember that poem was sparked by reading about an Eskimo practice in which an angry party walks until his or her anger is exercised/exorcised by the walking; the length of the walk, a manifestation of the depth of her or his anger. I was quite angry and confused at the time and going on many walks myself, trying to make sense of my situation.  It made sense to include that poem in landscape/heartbreak.

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

As far as my process in ordering the chapbook, I thought about creating a way for the reader to experience the accumulation of narrative, emotion, and discovery that I experienced when people took me on walks. Giving context to the project and my own investment in it—where did this idea come from?—seemed key to the communicating this accumulation and was the impetus for writing the nonfiction essay in vignettes, “Notes From the Field,” which begins the chapbook. I asked myself, “If someone had never heard of the project and just picked up the book—what would they need to know to find the poems meaningful on multiple levels? How could I communicate the breadth of the project?” I also wanted the reader to experience seeing and engaging with Seattle’s mapped, physical landscapes and its storied, emotional landscapes. This led to framing landscape/heartbreaks text with the two maps—one blank, at the beginning, and one filled with the routes of the project, at the end.

In reference to the order of the poems themselves, I thought about accumulation as well. I wanted to begin with “Pentimento,” a poem in couplets, which works in the mode of layering and accrual—a catalog of simultaneous narratives in different times and spaces within the specific place of Seattle and the surrounding area—to allude to the idea that the stories in the landscape and within this collection are, and have always been, here. From there it made sense to move from my own heartbreak into the various kinds of heartbreak—moving back and forth from the specific to the broad—the order interspersed with what might be expected and what might be a surprise.

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

My dear and very talented friend, Tessa Hulls, painted the cover of landscape/heartbreak. Being my good friend, she heard about many aspects and iterations of the project; she was also one of the people who took me on a walk. So, Tessa was pretty keyed into the aims of landscape/heartbreak on multiple levels. I asked her if she’d be kind enough to create an image for the cover, and she asked me to show her book covers I liked and we went from there. Two Sylvias was really wonderful about letting me find my own image and implementing my vision for the chapbook.

Why a chapbook?

I had a sense, at the start of the project, that the poetry that would come from landscape/heartbreak would ultimately be a chapbook. I was open to the possibility of a full-length collection; however, as I continued on the walks, the necessity of a set timeframe became clear. The amount of heartbreak and the number of people who have stories to share are infinite. If I hadn’t decided to limit the walks to happen within the span of one year, I would probably still be walking with people today. I wanted to be realistic about my own capacity and energy; I didn’t want to diminish anyone’s experience or my own or my writing in response to people’s experiences due to my own exhaustion, physical or emotional. I was wary of how the project could become unwieldy, emotionally and creatively, if I took on too much.

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?

I wanted to conclude the chapbook with an all-inclusive, composite piece, which became “Field Notes.”  A great anxiety of mine throughout the making of landscape/heartbreak was the task of doing justice and paying homage to the openness and vulnerability of the people who took me on walks. Not every walk inspired a entire poem. Not every attempt to write a poem was successful enough to do justice to a story someone had shared with me. There is a whole pile of attempted stop-starts that did not make the cut, which could make up another chapbook (that should never see the light of day). Yet, I still wanted to acknowledge every walk as a part of the project, as integral to the whole even as some appeared as entire poems, in parts of poems, or only in “Field Notes.” This final poem, which I aimed to also correspond with the final map in its form, is comprised of small pieces—vignettes, details and snippets— arranged in the chronological order of each walk. I conceived of these smaller pieces as “inside poems” shared between me and the people with whom I walked.  These small moments may read as more esoteric than the rest of the collection, but my hope is that they resonate for every reader, and taken as a whole, will reiterate the culmination of story and transformation of place in landscape/heartbreak.

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

Oh, geez. Everything. Buzzfeed quizzes, tarot cards, people’s Facebook rants, New York Review of Books articles about books I probably won’t get around to reading, graphic novels, short stories.

When I went to Kundiman, Matthew Olzmann led us in this great exercise in which he gave us an index card with several unrelated, random elements—I think mine had some facts about chimpanzees, Niagara Falls, and just the place name, Rahway, New Jersey—and through that exercise, I wrote a poem that got to the heart of something I’d some trouble writing about. So, since then, I’ve taken to being more and more open to finding inspiration in unlikely places.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Frank O’Hara, WCW’s Patterson, Li-Young Lee, Evie Shockley, Sylvia Plath, Ross Gay, and Susan Stewart were people I was reading at the time.

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

They do. They are very sweet in their pride of me. I am lucky. I think before landscape/heartbreak, they weren’t exactly sure what I was going for, what my being a poet really meant, but having the book in their hands and the specificity of this project seems to have created a clearer picture of what it means that I am a poet and not a novelist. My mom is very proud; she was really pumped about her mention in the acknowledgements: “I’m the very last one you thank! That means I am the most important, right?” Yup. She gets it.


Michelle Peñaloza grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of two chapbooks: landscape/heartbreak (Two Sylvias Press) and Last Night I Dreamt of Volcanoes (Organic Weapon Arts). Her poetry can be found in Asian American Literary Review, New England Review, TriQuarterly, The Collagist and elsewhere. She is the recipient of fellowships and awards from the University of Oregon, Kundiman, Artist Trust, Jack Straw, the Richard Hugo House, and Literary Arts, as well as scholarships from VONA/Voices, Vermont Studio Center, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, among others.  Michelle lives in Seattle.



The Announcement

At first, it’s the meals you remember most:
We had Thai, before.
Beth brought us Pagliacci’s, after.

The nurses give you binders to help you
find funeral homes. They use the word,
cremation. All the while, this body
you can no longer trust, this body still needs
to eat and sleep and so Andy stands in line for food
you will refuse to touch.

Iggy. Ignatius. A name of warmth and fire.

What do you call labor
when you know the baby
inside you is dead?

Birth is not the word.
The arrangements
are not of homecoming,
the calls made not, It’s a boy!
Nor, She’s doing just fine!

You wait. Someone turns down
the light, quietly shuts the door.
And here, you question
how your body could continue
to need anything from you.

Iggy. Ignatius. The name you chose,
a tinder. Tender is the word you think.
Andy dances with him, swaying
his still body, not quite yet a body.
Those tiny, discernible hands.
You look away. Gaze at the window.
Pray for the city to burst into flames.

Jessica Piazza

This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press, 2014)Piazza

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

There are so many fascinating chapbooks I love. Jill Alexander Essbaum’s long poem The Devastation (Cooper Dillon Books) is absolutely stunning. Elizabeth Cantwell’s chapbook Premonitions (Grey Book Press) uses broken and fragmented language in a haunting, anxious way that I hugely admire. Bradley Smith’s Diorama of a People, Burning (Richochet Editions) and Amaranth Borsuk’s Tonal Saw (The Song Cave) both use found text in engaging, effective, and fascinating ways, which was definitely inspiring for my forthcoming full-length collection, Obliterations (Red Hen Press). I was also really impressed by Cody Todd’s To Frankenstein, My Father (Proem Press), which takes what would be a confessional style of poetry and transforms it into tightly lyric, pop-culturally relevant pieces. I would also mention Heather Aimee O’Neill’s Memory Future (Gold Line Press), but since I was editing the press at the time, I don’t want to seem too forward. Still, it’s AMAZING.

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

I like games. I like surprises. I like when people take something you think you’re familiar with and do something so new, so exciting. I like bravery.

What’s your chapbook about?

This is not a sky is a book of ekphrastic poems about famous artworks, mostly paintings. There’s a QR code on each poem you can scan with a smart phone to see the corresponding artwork. (I thank Amaranth Borsuk for that idea!) The poems were meant to engage with the art in a seemingly straightforward way, but then there is an italicized voice running through the book that works the way an “outsider” would, commenting upon the art and the speaker of the poem in disjunctive, sometimes wry, sometimes prophetic ways.

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

This was my first! I’d put together loose chapbook-length manuscripts before, but they were never successful as collections. I think it worked best for me when I found my specific theme and ran with it.

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

The oldest poem in the book was from the first group of poems I ever submitted to a journal, “New York Movie,” which The Formalist published literally in the 90s. It was also the last poem I added to the book. I’d written all these ekphrastic poems and forgotten that I’d done one all those years ago that had been successful. I looked it over and edited it so that my italicized speaker had something to say, and off it went into the manuscript. I never thought about it as a precursor to these poems, but in a way I suppose it was my first attempt at the process that would eventually become this book.

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

I get inspired. I get obsessed. I write and can’t stop writing. The subject exhausts itself for me, so I stop. I edit, grudgingly (but always realizing the necessity of it), refine, submit. I get into a crazy dry spell where I’m not fascinated by anything, which means no obsession, which means hardly any writing. Until the next inspiration. Then: repeat.

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

This one was easy. All the poems were named after the artworks. As for arrangement, I tried to think of it like the reader is going through a gallery. I didn’t want anything to be too overwhelming at once, so I tried to vary the length and density of pieces as much as possible.

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

It was a very collaborative process, though the original idea definitely came from Amy Freels, Black Lawrence Press’s awesome designer. I liked it and we went through a bunch of iterations of it, but mostly playing with color and font. They were really accommodating.

What are you working on now?

Tinkering around with some ideas, but nothing’s sticking in the poetry department yet. I have a series of short stories in meter that I’m thinking of getting back to soon. And I’m working a lot on my website Poetry Has Value (, which I created to spark conversations about poetry, money and worth. It has amazing guest bloggers writing on the subject, as well as interviews with editors of journals that pay poets. I also created a Google document of paying poetry journals that is fully editable and entirely public, which you can find on the site.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Keep it tight. In other words, find a project that fits the length and reasoning behind a chapbook.  The biggest problems I tend to see with chapbooks are scope. It feels obvious when a poet tries to stretch an otherwise smaller subject to make it chapbook length, especially when weaker poems rear their heads. But it’s also pretty common for someone to stop when there’s definitely more to explore – make those full-length! Of course it’s totally fair to take a selection of a longer sequence or group and make them into a chapbook. Though I prefer chaps to be separate projects as opposed to smaller samples of a larger work, because in the latter case I feel like the chapbook becomes obsolete once the larger work is published.

Why a chapbook?

I wrote these poems for exactly as long as the subject fascinated me. When I stopped, it was chapbook length.

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

In this case, it’s me (and my poems) inhabiting the world of the artists. Or, if anything, it’s me creating a hybrid world that includes the visual art I write about, the imaginary worlds in my head, and the voyeuristic world of the viewer of a piece of art.

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

My master’s thesis manuscript was called Charm School in Exile. The poems within pretty much disappeared or were subsumed by other projects, but I really want to write that book one day.

To what degree is your work with writing about binding to form? To what degree is it about freeing ________ from form? Is there writing, for you, without the work of writing being a form-married requirement? If so, what does (or could) that look like?

For most of my writing years I was some version of a formalist. Formalish, I liked to say. I’m always attracted to traditional form not because it’s traditional but because the tradition works as a useful springboard to play with and subvert expectation. My first full-length collection, Interrobang, is all formal poems that work heavily with rhyme and general soundplay. And fit the form perfectly.  But This is not a sky was different. I was very influenced by the art I chose to inspire the poems.  Some of it nodded to tradition but moved beyond it, and a lot of it bucked convention entirely, although the artists often had a classical background. All of that appealed to me, so I dropped the traditional forms entirely, though I continued to utilize repetitive metrical structures and rhyme.  Mostly because I can’t help it; it’s just too much fun for me to stop.

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

When I was in college I interned at The Favorite Poem project for the then-U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Robert’s stance on reading poetry aloud has always stuck with me. His basic premise is that poetry is fully realized only when it manifests through the medium of the body. Any body, anyone reading it. I always read my poems aloud because sound is so important to me, but also because I buy into Robert’s principle. Poetry is the sum of the written and the spoken. It’s funny, my PhD dissertation was on Cognitive Poetics, specifically on how readers react physiologically and neurologically to the sound of poetic text. In my research I learned that when we read, the neurons that control our jaws actually fire as if we were speaking the words aloud, not just reading them silently. Appreciating the phonics and sonic qualities of a text are an integral component of fully comprehending meaning, and I’m a big advocate of realizing and utilizing that fact. (Nerd rant over.)

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

I did a bunch of research on phobias and philias for Interrobang.  I love reading scientific stuff, generally, though the technical stuff is sometimes beyond me. (My husband is a scientist, so that helps.)  My reading material often depends on what I’m obsessed with any given moment.  But my secret shame is that I read as much (if not more) fiction than I do poetry. I read different genres for different reasons, but it all helps. I believe art is generative; it inspires more art.

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

Everyone, of course.  But for this one, especially visual artists and art lovers. I’m really curious about what they’d think of my interpretations and play with the original artwork.

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

My family members say they read my work, but I’m pretty sure they don’t.  Probably for the best, right?

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

When you write, don’t focus on success.  When you edit, mostly focus on success. Once you’re successful, REALLY throw out the idea of success when you write. Otherwise you’ll never be brave enough to grow.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

I teach my poetry students that writing is something we do for ourselves, but publishing is ideally a gift to others. I don’t know.  I’m not really sure if my writing is a gift, but that’s the hope. That it moves someone. That it changes something positively. That’s what gets me to the page.


Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections from Red Hen Press: Interrobang—winner of the AROHO 2011 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize and the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize—and Obliterations (with Heather Aimee O’Neill, forthcoming), as well as the chapbook This is not a sky (Black Lawrence Press.) She holds a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California, is a co-founder of Bat City Review and Gold Line Press, and teaches for the Writing Program at USC and the online MFA program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. In 2015 she started the “Poetry Has Value” project, hoping to spark the conversation about poetry and worth. Learn more at or

Adam and Eve

after Chagall

Some say the world will end in fire, a pyre for the best
of us to watch while the worst are purged, already ashen.

The man I loved loves endings of this sort. (No ellipses, small
apocalypses limping one after the other

into the light-washed after-morning healing.)
Imagine us standing silently at the barren

spring lip of a vineyard. The vines are twisted,
mist over them, like charred hands scratching

the background hills. He is giddy. (All this
illness—thrilling.) Branches black, all of it aching.

Overtaken by this goneness (his fingers
in mine soft and white, malicious), everything feels

finished. Fires untying the knot of us. The burn
of our own promise. This torture by interminable

smolder, slow inferno. My only wish: that it would end
for us by ice instead. (But we’re already dead.)

Sam Slaughter

When You Cross That Line (There Will Be Words, 2015)

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

I honestly started reading chapbooks only very recently. I’m a terrible reader/writer in that sense, but I wasn’t as tapped into the community as I am now. The first chapbook that did something for me was Ben Hoffman’s Together, Apart (Origami Zoo Press). I dig the overall feel of his stories—they’re put together so well—and it was sad when I came to the end of the collection. I think that’s a great sign, when your reader has a reaction akin to watching your favorite sports team lose in the playoffs. Also, while not a chapbook, Sheldon Lee Compton’s  flash fiction collection Where Alligators Sleep (Foxhead Books) was also influential in the sense that it made me think hard on what it meant to write a good story in a very small amount of space.

Becoming a book review editor has been a boon for me, because I’ve found out so much that I didn’t know was going on in the literary world. I love being in this place because it keeps me on my toes and it keeps me finding new, great books.

What’s your chapbook about?   

WYCTL is about Florida. The stories I wrote for it all take inspiration from the Florida Man Twitter and Reddit accounts’ seemingly endless supply of Sunshine State stupid. When you go a little further, though, I’d like to think that it’s about what happens when people are pushed to their limits—when they cross the line, if you will.

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

All of the pieces were written around the same time. As far as catalysts go, the title story “When You Cross That Line” was what I used as a basis for the rest of them. I wanted a story that had someone literally crossing the Florida state line and thus setting off a number of weird experiences, et cetera. The stories aren’t connected, but that was the piece I felt I needed to open up the worlds of the other stories.

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

I spent a lot of time on the Florida Man Twitter page for this collection. I read the headlines, selected around 40 of them, and then copied the news stories into a document. From there, I read through them again, highlighting and marking up things I thought would be useful and in the space below the stories, I’d try to write out a couple of sentences to see how they felt. Some things I saw and went, “I need to use this. Right now.” While there were other stories that appealed to me, they didn’t make it past the design stage, I guess. They just didn’t feel right, so I left them behind.

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

I’ve mentioned it a little already, but the title reflects two things: first, literally crossing the state line. Florida is a weird place, and in the almost four years I’ve lived here,I’ve seen a lot of weird, weird things that would garner a lot more attention in other places. The second is the other meaning of crossing the line, of going beyond what is normal and good. The characters I wrote are the ones that are left with little and find themselves in crappy situations. At that point, they need to cross the line to exert some sort of control over the situation, whatever it is. I wish I could say I had a titling process for the individual pieces, but I didn’t. I don’t think, in general, I’m good at titling, so I tried to keep it simple. With such short pieces, I decided to try and add some general information (i.e. “The Bear in the Trunk”) so that I didn’t have to spend time explicitly doing so in the story.

What are you working on now?

I’m about to begin work on my second novel. My first, Dogs, will be published in January 2016 by Double Life Press. I will be taking part in a writer residency at Sundress Academy For the Arts in Knoxville, TN in a couple of weeks, and I’ll use that time to begin trying to put my notes in narrative form.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

Read and write. Just read and write and repeat, just the same as you would if you were writing a novel, story collection, memoir, or poetry book. The need to see what other people are doing (both good writing and bad writing) doesn’t change with the medium/ genre.

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

Do you have a soundtrack that you use while writing?

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

My chapbook is full of odd people who live pretty crappy lives or, at the very least, are in pretty crappy situations. They’re the ones you would see at a gas station on a rural highway, pounding Miller High Life forties at nine a.m. because they can. They’ve probably also committed a felony at one time or another. They may seem imposing or scary, but they’re as flawed as anyone else.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is a constant source of inspiration for me. I also have to say the fine people of Florida never cease to amaze me.

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

Most of my writing is done on a computer. I handwrite notes, usually, but the actual prose is typed up almost every time.

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

The last piece I did major work on was the title story—I needed to push the one character a little further along so that his actions don’t seem forced. I had a friend read through it and he gave a thumbs up on the “He’s crazy enough now,” and that was about the point I knew it was done.

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

Seeing as this is my debut anything, I’ll be happy that anyone reads it.

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

I’m sure my mother will read it. Beyond that, I don’t know.


Sam Slaughter is the author of When You Cross That Line and the forthcoming novel Dogs. He is the book review editor at Atticus Review, a fiction editor with Blackheart Magazine, and a contributing editor at Entropy. He’s had fiction, nonfiction, and book reviews published in a variety of places. He enjoys a glass of good bourbon and playing with puppies.



from “When You Cross That Line”

A man leaned against the tailgate of a Subaru that was parked a few spots from my car. If he’d been there when I walked in, I hadn’t seen him. There was what looked like dog’s neck cone, wrapped in foil, tied to the antenna of the car. I could also see stickers on the window advertising a political candidate that, to my knowledge, had killed someone.

“Buy a gator?” The man said as I walked by.

He was old and the color of a burnt waffle. The skin on his face wrinkled in ways that drought grapes had never even tried. It took me a moment to realize the dark lines that spotted his cheek under a gray beard were a tattoo. He wore glasses without lenses.

I stopped. “Excuse me?”

“Can I offer you a genuine Florida gator?” he said, slower, like I came from somewhere else. He spit and as he did, pulled the hatchback of his car open. The smell of the inside of an outhouse followed the door as it moved. Inside were four glass tanks lined up and in each, foot-and-a-half-long alligators. I looked from the gators to the man and back. It looked like there might have been blood smeared on the inside of the glass, but it had long since turned brown.  What sounded like church music played on the car stereo.

“No,” I said. “No, thanks.”

“You sure?”