Alina Stefanescu

“Perhaps one girl can be dozens inside the same frame, and not this voice– but hundreds– issue from a single name.”

ascover

Objects In Vases (Anchor & Plume, 2016)

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

So many favorites, so many inspirations…… Laura Theobald’s The Best Thing Ever (Boost House) gave me permission to play with text in surprising ways and to mine my surroundings more thoroughly. Sonya Vatomsky’s My Heart, In Aspic (Porkbelly Press), a beautiful and bloody mess, a reclaimed territory, a haunting voice that encourages me to push deeper, harder, nearer.

Zach Savich’s The Man Who Lost His Head (Omnidawn) taught me a new way of using repetitions in narrative poetic forms. I covet his skill. David Shumate’s In Search of Mariachis (Epiphany Editions) demonstrates how prose poetry can be a highly-disciplined, elegant form. A master. And shelley feller’s Tangled Bank & Daily Bugaboo Jubilee, published by the innovative, edge-pushing letter [r] press, plays so gleefully with words and language– a soundscaped  reclamation of certain nouns, an inspiring frolick, a skirt hiding sharpened knives. I love it. And Rose Metal Press’ A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness which includes four chapbooks– Laughter, Applause. Laughter, Music, Applause by Kathy Fish, Wanting by Amy L. Clark, Sixteen Miles Outside of Phoenix by Elizabeth Ellen, and The Sky Is a Well by Claudia Smith– is my absolute favorite flash fiction read right now.

What does such a diverse taste in chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

That I’m a foil to Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms? I’m joking. Seriously, Pessoa remains a pivot and an inspiration. But I want his multiplicities minus his division of self. Perhaps one girl can be dozens inside the same frame, and not this voice– but hundreds– issue from a single name.

Is there a theme for your chapbook? If so, what?

Loosely, my chapbook is about socialization, the things we are trained to feel and the forms our feelings take despite efforts to contain them. The poems reappraise the vessels and vases of everyday life.

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

The oldest poem is “If Caring Is A Form of Choreography”, originally titled “Windfall”. It was inspired by watching my son interact with new friends– observing the gender-rigid socialization of young boys, and how the weapons of masculinity are handed down.

In American culture, gender socialization begins early, urged on by the desire to establish common ground among peers. To “make friends.” Girls are given make-up and Barbie dreams while boys are given machines and guns. It struck me that so many voices are marginalized by this “natural” welcome into the world of weapons. Though we like to pretend we are a nation of nonconformists, I think watching our children tells a different story. Herd mentalities cover everything from fashion and fitness (think about the latest trending diet/exercise craze) to sports.

The lines for which we stand give you a gun. Then dare you to use it.

Honestly, it’s such a privileged position– this ability to treat guns as toys and recreation. A privilege we assert against difference, whether individual (i.e. wearing a hoodie) or collective (i.e. Colombia, Iraq, Japan, the list is endless). I’m holding out hands and hope against what it becomes.

Is there anything you left out or changed at the last minute in your chapbook? If so, why?

Originally, the dedication aspired to less tragedy. My mother died suddenly in Amsterdam where she went to see my cousin’s art exhibit last summer. It was– and is– impossible to accept. She was a champion downhill skier, a world traveler, a constantly-moving force of life. The embolism that killed her left no clues, no answers. Grief is a horrible companion that does not (or hasn’t) diminished with time. I have found myself begging for a ghost– a presence in which she might haunt me and remain near. For those reeling from the mania and constant anxiety which follows a loved one’s death, I recommend Kathryn Starbuck’s elegiac Griefmania, a poetry collection which serves as a guide and a polestar in these insomniac barters with Charon.

“Your Open Borders, A Fissure” was written while listening to Billy Bragg’s cover of Woodie Guthrie’s “All You Fascists” on repeat. I intended to inscribe the poem “for all you fascists” and then worried that it might be too offensive for those who lacked a reference point. When I was writing these poems, Donald Trump had not announced his candidacy for the Oval Office. Given what I know now, “for all you fascists” seems appropriate.

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?

In retrospect, I wish I’d done a better job of applying discourse ethics to the language in this chapbook– but there are so many things we would change looking back, and all these things are like fairy tales we repudiate without acknowledging the extent to which those fairy tales formed us. The stories and words which got us here– this place, this time, this moment, these words– are as remarkable in their own right as the self-righteousness we serve up against them. It’s sort of like ex-es whom we may use for a poem later without honoring how poetry itself would not exist without those dark spaces we left behind.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

Anchor & Plume is a small press that maintains a very personal, warm relationship with its authors. Amanda Mays, the publisher, mentored me through many a moment– and helped me understand the various practices of chapbook-making.

When I told Amanda I had an artist in mind for cover and design, she encouraged me to run with my impulse. If it didn’t pan out, the press had a few illustrators waiting in the wings. The first person I thought about was Christina Collins, writer, co-editor of Lockjaw, and artist extraordinaire. Her illustrations for an issue of Lockjaw caught my eye and kept it. I threw myself at her digital feet and begged her to invent a cover. And so she did. And I loved it at first sight. There’s no way to describe the gratitude you feel towards certain individuals. Christina is a flint that makes fire wherever she strikes. It’s an honor to have her hand in this.

What are you working on now?

I am currently working on a two poetry chapbooks– asifonly and vindicatio— and a fiction collection anchored around a story titled “Hubcap, Frog, and Luna Moth” (published in the current edition of Parcel). There is also a novel on the back burner that I am avoiding because final draft edits are harrowing. I’m not in the right frame of mind for a hearty dismemberment. But maybe this summer….

What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Write first and worry about publishing later. For me, at least, publication and submission is a time-consuming and difficult process with its own procedures and distractions. There are so many temptations to disembowel your own work– and so many fascinating things your peers will be doing– that it’s hard to give the words sustained focus. Fall in love with writing– the act and the outcome– so completely that you can bear the logistical and mind-numbing challenges of submission.

What gets you to the page?

William H. Gass. Archives. Human cruelty. The blood on my hands. The blood people pretend not to notice.

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

How have you been socialized to define the Other/s? Why? By whom? How does your writing explore this subliminal cultural encoding?

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Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by the love-ghost of Tom Waits and Hannah Arendt. She won the 2015 Ryan R. Gibbs Flash Fiction Award and was a finalist for the 2015 Robert Dana Poetry Award and currently lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and four small mammals.

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www.alinastefanescu.com

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first love: forte til finale

These things grew in Tuscaloosa.
You played Scriabin into
the realm of aching tendons;
Bach through dizzy high school
corridors and concert halls
where I knew my place in
the audience, first clap.

The mystery of how you
remembered all-at-once
movements. Eight chords
with no breath between
forte forte the hardest
parts saved for only me
to see. Ours— later.

Furtive, unspeakable later.
Appease a ghost by giving
what it asks. An ear. An eye.
A place. The unlineated face.
Give him sidewalk space, a
melody outside lines. These
bars. Their spines. Dynamite.

Kamden Hilliard

“Why aspire when you can do?”

kamdenDistress Tolerance (Magic Helicopter Press, 2016)

What’s your chapbook about?

Apocalypse / the end of things / the bad things— and how to deal with them. The world is not implicitly shitty, of course, but right now it is: racism / colorism / homophobia. Due to the lasting effects of colonial and imperial projects, we are left with some seriously dark views of the world. I think of this chappie as an attempt to move through the gluck of the world without annihilation.

Also: oceans / alcohol / family / and white boys.

Also violence. Violence in the ordinary-meat-space kind of way, but also a contextual violence. I think it’s exciting to take things out of their original / natural space— after all a wooden table is a site of violence turning tree-wood into table-wood. This chappie is curious about this kind of violence.

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

My sentences, my phrases, my thoughts— they all seem too large, deadened with a kind of anti-nuance. Is large a bad thing? Not always. But I think my first step is figuring out what these units of language are trying to convey then I add / change / remove / annul to move all of us close to meaning making. It is, then, a question of necessity, I guess. What does the poem need?

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

My editor, Mike Young, is the homie. He gave me an enormous autonomy. I got to select my fonts / cover art / blurb-er / and all other details. Mike, I feel, really does understand the chapbook as a unique form with unique possibilities for *~innovation~*. The artist, Neilson Ishida is a local guy who makes these wild collage-type-objects— very, very cool shit. I encountered his work at an art show in the hippest part of our Chinatown, called “Tomorrow Was Weird”.

What are you working on now?

A few things! First, gotta say that I’m stoked to announce that Black Lawrence Press has accepted my second chapbook, Perceived Distance From Impact, for publication in 2017. Second, I’m working on writing less— capitalism is a motherfucker and I’m trying to produce work in a careful / caring way, not in a way that satiates Mr. Adam Smith. Third, because who can actually write less (?), I’m working on a long, long, long essay about Blood— what it is, how it’s used by the state, what it communicates, how it becomes a cultural short hand, how do we exclude based on its qualities, etc. Fourth, graduate school apps.

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

I’ve been meeting really kind people on twitter lately. Do that! Kind people are excellent! They are (usually) read well and often and practice empathy simply because they’re empathic. I had a conversation on twitter with a new homie about the phrase “emerging writer”— that somehow emerging writers are also “young writers”— which is pretty bullshit if you ask me. Nas was 21 years old when he dropped Illmatic, while Morrison was almost 40 when The Bluest Eye was printed. It’s cool to be young or less young or a rectangle or publishing. But the only time this “emerging” business should be relevant is when you’re shoving yourself into an application— possibly the worst social interaction known to womankind, yo.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Why aspire when you can do?! I sent my manuscript to Mike Young and Magic Helicopter Press because I’d gotten my hands on Lauren Ireland’s Dear Lil’ Wayne, which is a firestorm of a collection. I loved the poems, the object of the book, almost everything about it took the breath from my chest (plus I read it on April 20, lol— that helped with the magic thinking, I think). So— I waited till MHP’s next open period and I sent the manuscript. This is all to say please, please, please don’t carpet bomb editors! They will know. They will dislike you. No one wants that. Find a press that you’d like to get ice cream with, then send them your amazing manuscript— then get ice cream.

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

The Tron: Legacy Soundtrack, the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack, the West Side Story soundtrack, the Spring Awakening soundtrack, Nas’ Illmatic, Dr. West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and, of course, the soundtrack to The Bling Ring.

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?

That’s definitely Shane McCrae’s The Animal Too Big to Kill— those poems left me chambered. The dizzying line breaks and unannounced drops into trauma were vital. I read only a few pages of the collection per day and only after working out— I didn’t have much energy after those lines.

We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. 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?

This is a really relevant question as I’m still building out my answer. I grew up in really capitalistic, white, heterosexual spaces, and as such my relationship to knowledge and craft is invested in these qualities. So foremost for me these days has been defining my own tastes. After a lifetime of enjoying Faulkner, I now know I only enjoy enjoying his work— the performance of consumption, I guess. I consider this a process of decolonization. This process is unpleasant. This process feels unkind and isolating. Yet, it is necessary for me to produce work I can be happy about.

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?

Harryette Mullen, Fred Moten, Elizabeth Alexander, Hart Crane, Elizabeth Bishop, Terrance Hayes, Monica Youn, Natalie Elibert, Natalie Diaz, and Evie Shockley.

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

Natalie Elibert (the most amazing person on two feet, tbh) wrote the introduction to my chapbook, but before she did this amazing public service, she published a poem of mine (that eventually got cut from the manuscript) at The Atlas Review. When she sent me the acceptance she called the poems “caustic and glittering” which might be the cleanest answer. These poems are two faced / trying very hard / kind of disingenuous.

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

Bad Blood: Imperial Technologies and Biological Exclusion

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

I often joke with friends that I don’t have the attention span to make fiction, but it’s definitely my first love. My work is kind of anti-prose, but I think that’s only possible through a clear definition of prose. As such, the novel is my most important creative database— books like McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Baldwin’s Another Country, or Morrison’s Beloved have been paramount to figuring out how to make poem-like-objects.

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Kamden Hilliard resists colonization. He’s got good vibes from The Ucross Foundation, Callaloo, and The Davidson Institute. Kamden prefers Kam and is an Editor at Jellyfish Magazine. He’s the author of distress tolerance (Magic Helicopter Press, 2016) and perceived distance from impact (Black Lawrence Press, 2017). Find Kam’s work in The Atlas Review, Heavy Feather Review, Redivider, Word Riot, and other sunspots. He has no chill and wonders if you’ve got some to spare.

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tweet @KamdenHilliard

Nathaniel Lee Hansen

“You should read all the works of the authors you admire.”

hansen

Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian (Spoon River Poetry Press, 2014)

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I thought it was time for me to write one. I’d been publishing a couple poems a year for a stretch, and I figured maybe I could gather some of those pieces, along with some others, into a chapbook. I didn’t think I was quite ready for a full-length collection, but a chapbook felt like the “next step.”

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s about the places and spaces that matter to me, that have made impressions on me. Sometimes the poems involve people in those places, and sometimes not. The poems are “set” in southwestern Minnesota and Eastern South Dakota, although the reader might not necessarily know that, and the reader might not necessarily need to know that precise geography. But with each of the poems in the collection, there’s a specific place (at least in my mind) where each poem “happens.” With each of these poems, I have strong associations with specific places, whether that pertains to the setting itself or to the setting in which I wrote the poem, or both. Even as I write this response, I’m clicking through the slides of memories these poems contain.

Another way to answer the question might be this: in these poems, a reader will find multiple references to wind, sky, driving, driving winds, and fields.

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

The oldest poem dates back to 2002, and it was a part of my M.F.A. thesis. “Instructions for Traveling Country Roads” features an ancient device, a “tape recorder.” I remember sitting at my desk in my apartment in Moorhead, Minnesota.

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

At first I thought the poems could be in one long section, but I noticed that I had quite a few poems that were much more concerned with setting than with human relationships. Therefore, the chapbook is divided into two distinct sections: “Loves and Affinities” & “Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian.”

In the first section, “people” matter more. There are a number of “love” poems. There are also some poems about other subjects of importance: teaching, writing, music, family.

The second section focuses on “setting” and works through a cycle of seasons, beginning with a summer poem, and ending with a summer poem.

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

I can recall the backstory to all of these poems, but if I had to pick one, I suppose it would be “Fragility,” which first appeared in the South Dakota Review.

The poem was one of the few poems I’ve ever written in which the second draft was the published version. I checked back in my files, and the second draft added a few lines and clarified some word choices.

Prior to that acceptance, I had one publication to my name. I guess you could say that poem was my big break. It was such a satisfying feeling to have a poem appear in such a regarded publication.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?

The manuscript is largely unchanged from the version I sent my editor, David Pichaske. We worked through the layout of the table of contents, and he managed to do some magic with the layout so that we could have a dedication page. It was extremely important that I have a dedication page, which just has my wife’s name, Amy, italicized.

I’m a big fan of Richard Ford, and each of his books has a simple dedication page with only his wife’s first name on it. I always thought that when I had a book someday, I would put my wife’s name on a dedication page. I think it’s the least I could do considering her support, encouragement, and belief of my writing over so many years.

David sent me several photographs to choose from for the front and back cover. Put simply, I felt very taken care of, and when I received my copy, I was pleased with the result.

On a side note, David was my undergrad American Literature professor, and he introduced me to other “rural” and “place-based” writers. The most influential on me was the late Dave Etter.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a book-length manuscript, Your 21st-Century Prayer Life.

What is your favorite piece you’ve written? Why?

My favorite is a short story called “The Rez Fairy” that was published two years ago in The Whitefish Review. When I reread parts of the story, I’m still not sure how I accomplished writing it.

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

It would be music. I was a music major as an undergrad, and I’ve played in various ensembles over the years. I currently play with a bunch of talented musicians at my church each week. I’m grateful to pursue that path while also being a writer and a teacher of writing.

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

Besides writing with some kind of regularity, you should read all the works of the authors you admire. I’m currently on my 11th Willa Cather novel, and I have one more. Then there are her short stories, essays, and poems. Read a writer’s collected poems or stories.

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Nathaniel Lee Hansen is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor where he edits Windhover: A Journal of Christian Literature and directs the Windhover Writers’ Festival. His chapbook, Four Seasons West of the 95th Meridian, was published by Spoon River Poetry Press (2014). His work has appeared in Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide; Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland; Driftwood Press; Whitefish Review; The Cresset; Midwestern Gothic; and South Dakota Review, among others. His website is plainswriter.com, and he can be followed on Twitter @plainswriter.

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plainswriter.com

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Andrea Fekete

“Shoulds are ridiculous. I get one life. Why would I spend time on shoulds?”

andreafekete

I Held a Morning (Finishing Line Press, 2012)

What’s your chapbook about?

It wasn’t intentionally themed at the time, but now I see themes of loss, love, childhood, an attempt at the time to figure out what these things meant or at least, describe them in some way that would put the reader there.

I chose the poems for my collection I felt best described my work at the time. My style has evolved since then, as we all hope our work will.

Years ago, when the chapbook was published, I told stories, not traditional stories with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but incomplete snippets from my own life, moments like running through the yard as a kid or what thoughts and images came to me after I saw my grandfather in a hospital bed after he passed away. Honesty was an important part of my poetry and often, my fiction as well. These days, my poetry has grown to include a lot of stories that aren’t mine, that often, aren’t anyone’s. I like where my poetry is going.

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

I was in junior high during my first attempt at a novella. It was terrible and clichédly about vampires. I still laugh about it but vampires who travel the world is actually pretty creative for a 13 year old! What prompted it is better than the book: I started it because I was in “in-school suspension” for yelling at a teacher who made fun of a boy with a stutter, a boy I had attended school with since I elementary school. Apparently, even when a teacher deserves to be called a “chastising prick” doing so still results in suspension. What better time to rebel against “the man” (ha) by ignoring your assignments and writing a novella?

My first novel would be published. It was my Master’s thesis at Marshall University (2005). It was titled “Canary in the Dark”. It was conceived around 1998, but didn’t become anything more than a few sketches until I entered graduate school and wrote the entire thing. It was published in 2010 under the title Waters Run Wild (Sweetgum Press 2010). It follows a family in southern WV during the WV coal mine wars of 1920, each chapter is narrated by a different family member and sometimes chapters are narrated by coal dust, leaves, and water. That novel was me beginning to find my voice.

My next project was a novel for my MFA program titled “Silver Bottom” about a coal camp in the 1940s. I finished it in 2014. It focused on sin, shame, forbidden, interracial and homosexual love, during a time where these types of love were not only frowned upon but reasons, to some people, to hurt or even kill the “perpetrators” of these types of love. I would not send this to a publisher, because I just don’t think it’s where it could be, but I’m glad I had the practice and help from advisors.

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 is the title poem of the chapbook “(At 6 AM) I Held a Morning.” I think I was maybe 20 when I wrote that or younger. The intent of the poem was to explain not loneliness, but aloneness, two separate states, to explain it in a way that was as strange as I think the state can feel.

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

I like to hand write my poetry usually, while I type fiction. I hand wrote poetry as a kid in elementary school. When I was in junior high I started typing fiction (on a typewriter of course). Handwriting poetry works better for me, probably because the habit is so very old. There’s an immediacy to ink rather than type, to me and a more personal, intimate feeling. I do quick revision initially and often a revisit later with fresh eyes. I immediately scratch out lines that don’t work as I’m writing. I rewrite. Often, I go back weeks or months (sometime years) later and find the sentences that work and scratch out the rest. Sometimes new lines come to me and I add those. Sometimes, months or years later I’ll find only one sentence I like, pluck it out and place into another poem or use it as a thought for a new poem. I don’t like to waste a good line, even if it’s buried in a lackluster poem. Some poems are magically ready the very first time I put them on paper. That is unusual and some would say impossible. The people who write 9 hours a day would say it’s total bullshit, but it happens. Don’t ask me how. I have no process for that. Sometimes I’m happy with something the way it is.

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

I didn’t purposefully arrange the poems in any particular order. Finishing Line read some of my poetry and said they wanted to publish a chapbook. So, I chose the ones they liked plus those I thought were my best work, at that time, and put them together. Since there was no theme to this chapbook, I chose the title at random as well.

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

I had control over the cover of the chapbook to a degree. I was told to submit three possible covers. I chose an artist friend, Lou Perkins (aka Phoenix), a local artist out of Charleston, West Virginia. He makes these beautiful craft pieces he sells but also paints and draws. His work is very special. I told him to read the book and see what images came to mind. He sent me three works. I forwarded those to Finishing Line and they chose from those three. They chose how to situate the drawing, meaning landscape or portrait. I chose the paper color for the cover, which now I wish I’d have went with white to compliment the painting.

What are you working on now?

 My new novel is called Native Trees. It’s told from the perspective of a woman in modern southern WV, who had moved away and returned. She has urban sensibilities, and both a love and a hate for her hometown. She has two sisters and they own a grocery store together. She is a seer (psychic). This ability was passed down through her family, the Mexican side, who practiced Mexican folk magic and healing traditions, herbalism, midwifery. My grandfather was a Mexican immigrant and we still have family there. This wasn’t something in my family, but I am intrigued by the parallels between that culture and the culture of Appalachia and the way their folk traditions are similar.

Her story is rooted in a sense of place, like my novel Waters Run Wild. The book focuses on female strength, female lineage, and the pain unconsciously passed down to the children of the 1972 Buffalo Creek Flood survivors, the “ghosts” that remain. This was an actual disaster.

I grew up there along Buffalo Creek. I still visit family often.  So. this knowledge of the area’s history is from my own experience and growing up with the stories of the people I know.

It’s about being haunted, by unconfessed love, painful history, things we regret and things we still cannot seem to have the strength to do or to lose. Feminine power is a big part of this story.

I’m very excited (and surprised) that I’ve recently been selected as a Virginia for the Center of Creative Arts Fellow. A “fancy” phrase meaning I will spend two weeks in residency there, in Amherst, Virginia, where I plan to complete this project. When I told my dad, he pointed out that Amherstdale, where I grew up and where my parents still live, was named after Amherst. I submitted this project to compete for that residency. Life is weirdly connected that way. I’m the kind of person who believes that’s a message/sign this book matters.

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

Best question ever. First, my advice to students is to take all advice with a grain of salt, including mine.

With that said, be sure you aren’t relying on a formal classroom alone. Formal creative writing teachers are great. I’m a teacher myself. That type of learning has value and can be useful. I’ve had some amazing teachers. But I’ve learned so much outside of the classroom. I can’t tell you what works for me will work for you. But I can tell you what works for me: I pay attention to my surround, to the mannerisms and stories of strangers, behaviors of loved ones, to the words of children. I especially pay attention to what children say and what they see. Anywhere I go, if there are children, they always try to talk to me or ask me questions. They’re always hanging around me. It’s because I listen I think.

My friend, writer and teacher Matt Wolfe, said to me once, “Children are little geniuses until about the age of ten, then the world ruins it.” That’s about the age when people start instructing them on what and how to see, how to think, he explained.

If you ask children or just take note of what they notice about the world, you’ll be astounded at what you don’t see, at what you’ve forgotten is there. My teachers have said some amazing things but so have seven-year-olds and cab drivers and drunk neighbors, old people at the store. They are teachers, too. And animals. Spend time with them.

Your topics, your inspiration, the lines you can steal from the mouths of strangers in line at the grocery store, all of it is around you. It’s all given to you. What you need to write a great poem or novel is already there. My advice, in two word is—pay attention. Then, go make it into something. If you don’t feel like writing that day, paint, even badly. Or dance. Sing. Go be terrible or fabulous at something your own. Creativity feeds off itself. Don’t be afraid to be awful.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Write poems and send them to people. Convince them you know what you’re doing.

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

Thomas Newman radio on Pandora. He composed the soundtrack to “American Beauty.” The soundtrack is gorgeous and quiet, haunting.

This station plays all sorts of compositions that allow me to think, that guide me. I also like Samuel Barber radio. I couldn’t name the titles of their works but it’s what I always listen to.

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?

 All books make me stop reading for a moment if they are any good. Books that can’t do that make me stop reading them entirely. One book I’ve read a few times snags my attention every page or so, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I read that book in high school and I still read it. No, it isn’t Moby Dick, but I love it.

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

Probably the year I turned 21. Undergrad. The year 1999-2000. It was the most fun and one of the most tumultuous years of my young life. It was a year I made all these crazy ass artsy friends in college. We ran around and thought we fell in love (often), went insane from time to time (ok, often). We drank too much. We fought too much. We smoked cigarettes. We took things too seriously and not seriously enough. It was the first time I felt really free since I was 12 but often took it completely for granted. We were ridiculous and had no idea but wouldn’t have cared anyway if we had. It was a time of learning, of making mistakes. It was the year we played on swings at the park at 3 AM but started trying to talk like grown-ups, pushed and pulled between those two worlds. Obviously, debauchery cannot go on forever, (If you don’t want to end up in real trouble or dead) but it was necessary for our growth at the time. We were broken people. We were artists. Absurd. Wise. And completely stupid.

We all have to make choices about who we read in our limited free time. 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?

 Even though I don’t have a family to “keep happy” (whatever that means) I don’t read nearly as much as I’m told “real” writers read. I read so much in undergrad, in grad school, I’m burnt out right now, probably for the next decade, on reading what I “should” read.

I often read the work of my friends. I also choose to read what my friends say, “read this” because I value their opinions. Or I do what I do with Netflix; I pick a cover and title I like. Sometimes this results in horrible choices, but it’s never boring.

For me, there is no choosing what I “should” read. Shoulds are ridiculous. I get one life. Why would I spend time on shoulds? When I die, I will not get a report card of the shoulds I completed. I mean, some shoulds like “don’t be a jerk” and “help people” and “love” are great. Other than that? No shoulds.

I don’t worry about “the literary landscape.” It takes care of itself.

Who gives a shit what “has been done?” I know some people who have written about Buffalo Creek (and made bank) but I have not published a book about it yet. What I do will be entirely my own as what they did was theirs. No one “should” care what has been done when choosing their own topic. How limiting that would be.

Topics choose me.

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

Dance/singing. I sang on the porch swing and danced in my room as a kid. Had I grown up in a more artistically privileged area, places that offer classes for children, places that encourage serious pursuit of those types of things, I would’ve immersed myself in training at a young age.

I come from a very talented musical family. I sang in bars for years with guitar players and songwriters in undergrad. But nothing serious. I have a bunch of uncles and cousins on my mother’s side (The Ojeda’s) and nearly all of them play an instrument or sing. My cousins who went after music careers have succeeded in those pursuits. Music came natural to me in both interest and some measure of ability and so I would’ve chosen that. When I saw the movie A Chorus Line as a little kid, I watched it each time it came on. I was great at remembering lyrics. I remember wishing I could dance the way they did. As an adult, I was jealous of Katherine –Zeta Jones in Chicago. I can’t watch musicals because my suspension of disbelief is disabled thinking more about the technical side of it and “could I do that?” I think about how they learned what they know and how many times they practiced a particular phrase or movement. I think too much about the fact that they are performing rather than the story.

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?

My work still often relies on things I know well (like West Virginia) but my work is no longer as autobiographical. I may draw from my hometown, but I’m not in the characters as much now. I’m not telling stories from my life in my fiction or poetry as much. I lie more often. But lies make for good stories, especially when laced with truth.

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

Probably the “Childhood Hour” which I wrote for my friend Misty Adkins-Justice when she married. At the time, it was the best description of the magic of my childhood in southern West Virginia than any poem I’ve written, I think. It’s so difficult to explain how beautiful it was here and the connection we still have to our childhoods and those old friends (and cousins) once we’ve grown up. Thinking of my childhood friends when I sat down to write something for her marriage, somehow those two combinations of her bond with her new husband and us growing up together, produced something extremely authentic to place. Both of them grew up here, so that added to what I had to say about the topic, about growing up, about adult relationships.

What themes and images “bridge” your work?

For some reason I’m constantly mentioning the color yellow and blue both in poetry and fiction. I often write about mountains, valleys, being little. I also frequently talk about “dark” and I’m always (unintentionally) striving to find new ways to explain dark, and also green. But that’s about what you find most in Appalachia, isn’t it. This place is as ingrained in me as can be. Nothing I can do about that.

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

I like essays in magazines and collections of essays like Best American Essays. Short stories. I love works that are poetic that are not poetry. Also, film, though not reading, helps me a good deal, both in writing fiction and poetry. I also like song lyrics.

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

I wish someone would’ve told me when I grew up I would be published and read because as a kid, I always thought no one would ever care what I thought or said. I wish I had known that someday people would read my work, because I spent a lot of wasted time as a kid thinking what I was doing would probably never amount to a whole lot. Back then, that was the goal, to say something, to matter.

Now, though, the wisdom I have arrived at is that I realize doing something I’m good at, that I love, is freeing and worthwhile even if no one cares what I say or think. It doesn’t really matter all that much if no one reads it. It matters to my career, of course, but not to my spirit or self esteem. It also frees me up to say what I want. You can’t do that if you care too much about judgmental people.

It’s amazing and rewarding and exciting to be read but now I write because I enjoy it, which I think often results in the work being enjoyable to others, even helpful to them or healing. I no longer write for the sole purpose of publication. I no longer write for attention and validation. I write because I’m a writer, what else can I do.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

It would be easier to answer the question what doesn’t. Actually, no it wouldn’t. I can’t think of anything that doesn’t.

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Andrea Fekete is a native of Buffalo Creek, West Virginia. She is author of Waters Run Wild (Sweetgum Press 2010), a novel of the WV coal mine wars. She is author of one poetry chapbook, I Held a Morning (Finishing Line Press 2012).  Her work appears in many literary magazines. She sometimes teaches writing. She’s currently editing a book of writing by women. She resides in West Virginia.

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www.facebook.com/andreafeketewv

femininedivinebook.blogspot.com

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Trees Catch White

branches swish, bend, tangle.
Train outside the trailer window
stuck on a high note
sings of coal miners,
bodies deep—black caves.

Next door, a baby’s cry.
A dog’s bark.
A shotgun blast echoes
among the hills.

Ice feathers across the window,
the night—a blue shade.
Fog glimmers, seems to crack
a white slit in the orange throat
along the horizon.

(first appeared in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review)

 

Sarah Blake

“Writing is what helped me hold myself together.”

sarahblakecover

Named After Death (Banango Editions, 2016)

What’s your chapbook about?

The summer in between two years of graduate school, my mother was diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma (a brain tumor). A few weeks later, my grandfather was found to have a brain tumor and multiple tumors in his lungs. These poems are about that time in mine and my family’s life.

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?

Many of the poems came out of the first week in September of 2007. They look different now, but the drafts started then, in the peak of the anxiety of that time. Writing is what helped me hold myself together.

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

For these poems, the task was often to find the poem in the mess and then find the best shape for it. I usually write very carefully for my first draft, revising as I go, but I wasn’t capable of that during this time.

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

The arrangement tells a story and follows, mostly chronologically, what happened to my family. The title comes from the first poem and the Jewish tradition of naming a child after a dead loved one, sometimes by taking just the first letter. My son, Aaron, is named after my grandfather, Allen. I’m named after my grandfather’s mother, my great grandmother, Sarah. We are named after them and named after death.

What are you working on now?

A new collection of poems that explores my unrest.

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

Learn how to identify cliché. Watch television and movies, read plays, visit museum collections online, listen to music, read everything else, too. There is an entire history of writing and art and so many ways to access it.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Look for presses that publish online or that publish online after a small print run. Don’t let the work of the chapbook keep you from working on a full-length book if that’s what you need to be doing.

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

Sculpture. I love all kinds of sculpture, from clay to glass. I would love to work with my hands and have studio space. Well, an alternate version of me would love that. I really like being a poet.

Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook?

Not at all. I didn’t know much about setting out to write any kind of book at that point. I just wrote poems. This probably explains why I didn’t have the thing figured out until years later, after I’d put a full-length book together, and overall thought about books more.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Distress.

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Sarah Blake is the author of Mr. West, an unauthorized lyric biography of Kanye West, out with Wesleyan University Press. Named After Death, her first chapbook, is forthcoming from Banango Editions with an illustrated companion workbook. Her poems have appeared in The Kenyon Review, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Threepenny Review, and many others. She was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship for poetry in 2013. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband and son.

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www.sarahblakepoetry.com

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Like Bird, Like Body, Like Grace

I think you want it all more beautiful.
What can I do for you? Is there a bird?
Is the bird like another more beautiful bird? Is the human body
like a lamb’s bleat? Is there an invitation
from the girl’s naked body to see her
also as the grief of me?

I don’t think you want to hear that the water falls like grace
but perhaps the horse is always
in the field for you. The morning passing
in the sun, sketches of starfish,
a broken egg in the sink, all waiting.

But in the still growing field of corn, stalks only up to my ribs,
my grief, ten feet tall, wanders. A haunting thing.
The clouds could be described as the falling laugh of him
but what then?

Aricka Foreman

“Everything is mundane and incredibly vital and full of color. I wanted to understand the language of living, while living with the loss of the dead.”

af-cover

Dream With A Glass Chamber (YesYes Books, 2016)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

Some of my favorites are Unnaysayer by Hajara Quinn; Bruised Gospel by Phillip B. Williams, hands on ya knees by Danez Smith,  Between Old Trees by francine j. harris, How Swallowtails Become Dragons by Bianca Spriggs, A History of Flamboyance by Justin Phillip Reed, The Animal After Whom Other Animals Are Named, by Nicole Sealey, Ocean Vuong’s No, just to name a few.

What’s your chapbook about? 

The poems in Dream With A Glass Chamber are preoccupied with why, obsessed with grappling at an anti-answer to how we attempt to neatly move through the terrain of grief. I was equally interested in what informs our language around grief: self-help and mental health “wellness” narratives, much of which seem rooted in diagnostic cataloguing. I suppose there’s an attempt there to make sense of what can’t be made sense of. While I have my own predilections toward mania, I find grief is a kind of mania as well. Everything is fine because we make it so; you are whispering in the dark, the names of the dead while a heron traipses outside your window, or you’re on the back patio of your favorite coffee shop watching a bee do the work it was born and made to do, over and over, and maybe you weep, maybe you curse the bee for being so oblivious to the task it’s charged with day in and day out. Everything is mundane and incredibly vital and full of color. I wanted to understand the language of living, while living with the loss of the dead.

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, Year of the Molotov, was written well before the rest of the book. I was reading (or I’m always reading) Diane Wakowski’s essays Creating A Personal Mythology while contemplating how we carry the narratives of ourselves. Mary Karr talks about memory being “innately corrupt” and the language of it is disturbing in its truth. While working, I was also doing a lot of research on the effects of trauma, and how intersected (race/gender/socio-econonic) bodies come to focalize their experience through simultaneous lenses. I wanted to, rather than purely reimagine, find a place for that in a memory that I’d long made pedestrian. Of course someone threw a molotov cocktail through my parents house when I was four, what other way could this memory work have begun? Later, the poem seemed as good of an origin story as any: how I came to this preoccupation with rebuilding after loss. The question of rebuilding looks different for different people. We want to make it respectable, or neat. Often, it’s not.

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

I keep returning to this question, since the process of writing the majority of these poems was so  compulsory. I wrote many of them during a one month long poem-a-day challenge through The Grind writer’s group, curated by Ross White. The nature of the exchange is focused on a generative operatus modi rather than critique-based workshop, and comments are only encouraged via backchannel, and only if you feel led to respond. That silence amongst digitally presented voices took the pressure off me to vary the content. In terms of revision, I wanted the music and the static of grief to shake the language; if a line was too neat, I needed something in the syntax or the lexicon to undo it. Or if I was going to catalogue, I had to include what I thought at the time were absurd reactions to the physical, psychological, and emotional effects of grief.

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

The arrangement, given the compact nature of the chapbook, felt more like a track list to an album. I incorporated music references that either directly or indirectly struck a chord when memory would come waving its hands;  and the subject of many of the poems, my friend whom the book is dedicated to, was a musician in addition to being a bardic poet.

I was lucky to study with an incredibly generous professor at Cornell, Dagmawi Woubshet, who included The Root’s Undun album as part of his American Elegy course. The album is told from the first-person perspective of Redford Stevens, a man whose life was cut short due to the circumstances he was given, beginning with his death, his story is retold backwards. The poems feel backward, where the book ends on a memory of a moment I shared with my friend before he died; and then, some poems feel more instrumental than ballad, some more ballad then dirge, but it seemed to come together in the same strange and visceral way my grief did.

I’m grateful for my editor KMA Sullivan who pointed out that the collection had more light than the original title led on. It was initially titled after one of the poems Dream With an Empty Chamber. After a few calls, she convinced me to let some of the light in. Here I thought, these poems are ridiculously sad, and maybe yes, but, so what? What’s beyond the sadness? How do we see ourselves in relationship to it?

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

It took me a while to find a cover artist. I wanted something that looked like a lyric poem, where if the art was going to be figurative it couldn’t be a straight-forward portraiture of some sad wailing woman. After a while, I revisited my colleague’s work, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and the final image we decided on took my breath away: the stark contrast between the pastoral and the body, that we couldn’t see her face. There’s a distant possibility of light in the background, but the foreground is cast in shadow. Griffiths was gracious in giving us an immediate yes.

In terms of design, YesYes Books makes gorgeous art objects. It’s primary designer, Alban Fischer, is a genius and knows how to make attractive collections of poetry that stir, invite, and intrigue someone picking up a collection whether on purpose or by happenstance. I’m so thrilled with how everything turned out.

What are you working on now? 

I’m working on poems that explore mental illness and trauma through a Black, Queer, Woman lens, trying to get at the trauma/memory work I’ve always been preoccupied with. There’s an undoing taking place, particularly among black women writers who are defying the impetus to hide. Morgan Parker comes to mind, essays by Bassey Ikpi; poets Jonterri Gadson and Tarfisha Edwards. Every time I “admit” that I live with a mood disorder, it seems like I’m letting a reader in on a secret; or that I’m reducing the daily trauma cycled through the news outlets to a “personal problem.” It’s a supremacist language I will probably spend a vast majority of my time undoing. There’s a very real denial among the American public regarding not only the state sanctioned violence against LGBTQ, POC, Women and Children’s bodies, but how to reconcile these acts with the daily living we commit to. Both of my parents are social workers, and neither of them had an easy go of it in speaking freely about the violence inflicted on them; and given the state of things in the world, it’s no wonder that there’s only so much we can keep in without using a pressure release valve to set some things free.

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

There’s a beauty and music to language, there’s no real turning away from it. But it’s an excellent way to critically think through the world. While teaching at Cornell, some of my best students were engineering students. They wanted to take things apart, understand how they worked, and put things back together: machines, histories, etc. Take a chance, even if it’s not your career path: it can help you think through the world around you and your place in it, through a different POV, like a kaleidoscope-how displacing and curious the colors and images that bend the light of what we view with the naked eye.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Chapbooks are fantastic. They exist like an EP or an art installation. You can create or re-create an idea through a series of pieces that can also stand on their own. No narrative is without a history, without water as Morrison says, “turning back onto itself.” You might surprise yourself with yourself. So, why not?

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Aricka Foreman’s poems have appeared in The Drunken Boat, Minnesota Review, RHINO, Day One, shuf Poetry, James Franco Review, thrush, Vinyl Poetry, PLUCK!, and Please Excuse This Poem: 100 New Poems for the Next Generation on Viking Penguin, among others. Foreman, from Detroit, currently lives in Chicago. She is the Art co-editor at The Offing.

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I Got Mad Love

I hope. Eat collards out the pot, drink its liquor.

Let lover’s welt my body for tomorrow’s blue

pleasure. Don’t look for Chris O’Donnell to save

me, he was a shitty Robin anyway. It’s not

the 90s anymore. Except for this dark matte,

the way I rip my jeans. Some days

when I am brave, I walk to the train without

headphones. I wish a bitch would tell me to smile,

the arrow of my brow cutting their spleen out.

On my best days, I take my sheer black bra off

before the deadbolt slides shut. Pour myself a glass

of red wine, let it stain my tits. Roast a chicken

and suck the salt off every finger. Live.

(first appeared in The James Franco Review)

Kathryn Smith

“I started writing these poems after reading an article in Smithsonian magazine about a family that lived alone in the Russian taiga for 40 years with no outside contact.”

smith stars

Tracing the New Stars (Rock & Sling, Issue 11.1, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook?

Here’s the opening poem. I feel it does the best job of setting things up for the reader.

Where No Crumb Can Save You

In the stories, children wander the woods alone,
falling to the trap of sin. There are ways
to survive. You cannot let the witch
lure you with her house of sweets.
You cannot fear the wolf. I am the girl who
plies the forest with darkness as her ally.
I dig the traps with my own hands, bare. I
am ready to wrestle the lion, just as the Book
prepared me. To emerge unscathed after I’ve
shared its bed.

Why did you choose this poem?

In many ways, Tracing the New Stars exists in its own world, and this first poem introduces many of the themes and concepts that shape that world. There’s a convergence of fairy tale and biblical story. There’s wilderness and solitude, sin and survival. And the poem also introduces the central protagonist, the girl who is the speaker in many (though not all) of the poems.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook? What’s your chapbook about?

I started writing these poems after reading an article in Smithsonian magazine about a family that lived alone in the Russian taiga for 40 years with no outside contact. They fled civilization in 1936 to avoid religious persecution and never went back. Tracing the New Stars is about this family, but it’s my own version of them. I’m drawn to religious outliers, these offshoot sects that strive to maintain what they consider a pure or true faith. So the chapbook is about survival, faith, isolation, but also about seeing in the world in a new and original way, outside the influence of culture or civilization or anyone else’s ideas.

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

The dream poems came first; “She Dreams her own Undoing” was one of the early poems. In that article I mentioned, a journalist said that the family’s primary form of entertainment was to tell one another their dreams, and that sparked this whole project. What would they dream about? Could they dream of things they’d never seen or experienced? I decided a person living this extremely meager life might dream about shoes, and also about the constant threats to their survival—here, the potential destruction of the garden, their food source. And because their religious beliefs infuse everything they do, the dreams might cross a line into sin that they dare not cross in their waking lives.

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

Tracing the New Stars is actually a small selection of poems from a full-length collection I’ve been working on. So when choosing the poems, I was drawing from a larger pool, which meant I had to think about which poems would work together on a smaller scale, without feeling like there were gaps in the story. The title was initially suggested by a friend, the poet Maya Jewel Zeller, who really helped me to revise these poems and craft the book. The “new stars” are from the poem “Satellite,” and since the poems are about a family that’s sort of stuck in time, the word “tracing” gets at the fact that the characters are observing progress without participating in it.

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

“The Children Learn the Alphabet” is clearly not like the others. In the larger manuscript, it’s one of three poems with the same title, and one of many that are lyric rather than narrative. I wanted to include one in the chapbook to give a feel for something different going on, but in retrospect, I wonder if having only one makes it seem out of place.

What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? 

I think my experience was outside the norm, since the chapbook was published as part of a literary journal. Initially, I sent a handful (maybe five) of these poems to Rock & Sling for consideration, and the editor there, Thom Caraway, wrote to me asking if I could send more. They were intrigued by the poems and interested in a broader sense of the story I was working with. It was Thom’s idea to feature the poems as a mini chapbook.

What was your biggest challenge in writing these poems?

Because I was writing about real people, I struggled quite a bit with the idea of appropriation. I didn’t want to presume to speak for others, and I didn’t want to steal their experience or try to write a story that isn’t mine to tell. I tried to draw on what I found most intriguing about their story and craft a narrative inspired by that.

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Kathryn Smith’s poems have been nominated for Best American Poetry and the Pushcart Prize and have appeared or are forthcoming in Mid-American Review, Bellingham Review, Southern Indiana Review, Redivider, Third Coast, Ruminate, Cleaver Magazine, and elsewhere. She lives in Spokane, WA.

kathrynsmithpoetry.com