Melissa Lozada­-Oliva

“I want to spend time writing for girls looking for reflections of themselves.”

rude girl

rude girl is lonely girl! (Pizza Pi Press, 2016)

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

Anything Jess Rizz puts together. Also, this zine called MALCRIADA by Suzy X about growing up punk in Miami.

What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

These chapbooks shamelessly explore identity & girlhood & give me freedom to do the same.

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook is inspired by the Netflix adaptation of Marvel’s Alias, a comic series about Jessica Jones. I wrote it while binge-watching the series & also feeling sad about old, new, never-there loves. While watching Jessica Jones, I fell in love & identified the most with her bad bitchery. Or at least, aspired to be such a bad bitch. But I was also like, “Hey, here’s another White Feminist Icon in the Media, why are there so many of these? Why are women like me always erased? Why do I have to settle for this angry white girl?” Additionally, I was trying to dissect my feelings about all of these dumb boys I had been seeing. Basically, the chapbook isn’t about Jessica Jones specifically, but about everything she made me feel & all of the feels I was having at the time. I sum up what my chapbook is about with the three L’s: love, loneliness & Latinx identity.

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

My last chapbook was called Plastic Pajaros. It doesn’t have as much of a hard, specific theme as rude girl is lonely girl! But it’s basically more stuff about my relationship with Spanish, my childhood, & the women in my family.

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

I wrote “AKA WWJJD?” & “AKA Crush Syndrome” simultaneously. One is about superimposing my Latina identity onto Jessica Jones & one is about wanting someone to text me back as the world ends. What I remember is feeling like a Lovesick Latinx.

Do you have a favorite revision strategy?

What is it? I wish I had a significant revision strategy. Mostly I just have a lot of google docs going at once & send things to my friends in the middle of the night with a lot of exclamation points in the subject line.

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

In a particular episode, a man shouts at Jessica Jones: “Rude girl is lonely girl!” and she shouts back, “Counting on it!” I watch everything with captions because I like reading TV or like to trick myself into thinking that watching TV is just like reading—so anyway, seeing those words pop up on the screen while Jessica Jones–in her leather jacket & jeans–walks away, really struck me. What does it mean to be actively rude & thus, actively lonely? I also loved the titles of the episodes: “aka I’ve got the blues,” “aka crush syndrome,” etc. Each title of the poem is named after a title of an episode. It’s kind of like me saying, “But what I really mean is this.”

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

I sent my friend Naomi Lawrence the first manuscript & was like, “Lol want to collab?” I think I used that word, “collab.” I was pretty vague with what I wanted, basically just told her I wanted the art to match the mood of the poems. Anyway, Naomi is amazing & did this whole photo shoot with random objects & then manipulated everything in photoshop. My favorite one is from “aka take a bloody number”–a woman’s hand is about to hit a man’s mouth with a spatula & his head is split open to let go all of these butterflies. The cover is a stencil of Jessica Jones’s silhouette, with the letters J O N E Ssplattered around her. Tiffany Mallery did the lettering. The author photo I included is also done by Naomi. All of it is messy & emotional & I love it.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a manuscript about my mother being an aesthetician. Trying to explore white beauty standards & what hard work means when you’re making other people feel beautiful.

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

You could always be a better reader & you could always be a better listener.

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

I listened to Palehound & Waxahatchee on a loop, basically.

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?

Well, A Little Life really fucked me up to the point where I had to stop reading because I was crying so hard. Does that count?

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

Probably my sophomore year of high school because I was failing math class and especially awkward with my hispanic kid mustache & my lovesick notebooks.

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

I would think so! The way I’ve been doing chapbooks with Pizza Pi, at least. The editors at Pizza Pi know how to make my work look like the best it can be without policing what I have to say.

There’s a very D-I-Y quality to the chapbook in that way. Like, the poems are hella emotional & rude & come from me being a bit of a mess. The chapbook lets me be emotional & rude while still being a beautiful product. It’s like, I’m rude with a purpose & so is the chapbook.

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?

Well, I worked in a bookstore for about a year so that sort of dictated what I would read. I’d always be overwhelmed by all the ish there was to read. One of my managers, Brad, told me that life’s too short so you should only read what you want to read. Right now, I only want to read things written by women, preferably women of color. I know that can be problematic but I spent so much time reading things that didn’t even have my shape in them. In a similar light, I want to spend time writing for girls looking for reflections of themselves.

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?

Ada Limon, Sandra Cisneros, Aimee Bender, Porsha O., J. Johnson, Olivia Gatwood, Dorothy Parker, Rachel Ronquillo-Grey, Vanessa Diaz, Jess Rizz.

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

I would try to sing sad songs in a sad band & have the exact same haircut.

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

I don’t write where I sleep.

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

“AKA I’ve Got the Blues” came from a story my friend told me at a bar. We were talking about crying about boys. The story she told me is pretty much in the poem itself, but I just remember her telling me and feeling such a strong love for her and all of my friends who have been sad about boys. People look down on crying so much, especially girls crying, especially girls crying about boys. Yeah, it’s a waste of time. Yeah, we are better than the men who do not love us. But the world is sad and boys are a product of it. The world feeds us happy endings and we rarely get them. My friend gave this explanation: “Of course I cried. I cried because it was so disappointing.”

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

I guess “AKA top-shelf perverts” just because whenever I think about it I blush because it’s pretty explicitly about fucking. Like, I do not want my mom to read that.

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 is the last poem of the book: “Sonnet for Letting You Go AKA the Sandwich Saved Me.” It’s the one that has the most to do with Jessica Jones, with direct references to things that happen in the show, but it’s also one that speaks the most to my oldest feelings. I had edited it many times, always keeping the line, “You were never really a Kilgrave.” Finally, I adopted Sherman Alexie’s love of sonnets, or rather, a poem made up of a list that is 14 lines long. It’s about letting a love that you didn’t want anymore, about not regretting anything, about pretending to be a different person, about finally turning into the person you’re (maybe) supposed to be.

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

Tortuga Con Muletas

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?

Oh, I have to read everything I write out loud. I feel like I can’t understand it otherwise.

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

I mostly read a lot of fiction or emotional-as-hell essays by women. Also, Netflix Captioning can get real deep sometimes.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Megan Falley’s Bad Girls, Honey: Poems About Lana del Rey really inspired/ encouraged me to do something like this, as in, something so immediate & contemporary & feminine it could be waved away as forgettable but you want to make it unforgettable & also, plot twist, actually all about you.

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

I always hope some other lovesick Latinx will read this–just because whenever I was reading something by someone who remotely had my experience, it would mean the world to me. But really: to any self-identifying bad bitch out there & anyone trying to make their loneliness groovy.

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

It’s okay to write about the same thing again & again.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Stories my friends tell me. Random animals crossing the street. Selfies.

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Melissa Lozada-Oliva is a nationally recognized & touring spoken word poet. She has been featured on Button Poetry, Bustle, The Guardian, Huffington Post, & Glamour Magazine. She is a 2015 National Poetry Slam Champion, a Brenda Moosey Video Slam winner & the author of the chapbooks Plastic Pájaros & rude girl is lonely girl!. She lives in Boston.

order Melissa’s chapbook here

melissalozadaoliva.tumblr.com

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sonnet for letting you go aka the sandwich saved me

1. I’m not a real superhero; I just chose the right costume.
2. I can’t really fly; I’m just really good at jumping.
3. I’m not a real detective; I just learned how to spy.
4. You said you would never find anyone like me but I am not the only gifted one in this city.
5. You could binge­-watch me over & over & try to feel different every time the same ending came around.
6. You were never a Kilgrave, as in, you never made me do anything I didn’t want to do.
7. Still, when you would hold me I’d think of the girl who could never leave her bed, the boy standing by a fence forever, all the ways to wipe a body off the face of the earth.
8. I wish you a love that feels like the greatest hyperbole.
9. You said I didn’t need an alias ­ that people recognize a hero when they see one.
10. Now, it’s the alias that spoons me to sleep .
11. Green men will come back to the city & some buildings will burn down & more cars will crash & trees will definitely get set on fire & I will still check my phone & wonder where you are.
12. Here’s something: You were every street name I recited when I was afraid.
13. Here’s something else: That really was me that saved you.
14. Here’s one last thing: That isn’t me anymore.

Robert Walicki

“…the act of snowfall represents the shock that follows loss. There’s a muteness, a deadening of sound.”

Walicki

The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015)

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

Two chapbooks come immediately to mind, Jan Beatty’s Ravenous and Fred Shaw’s Argot. The working class themes and the frank, unapologetic language really appealed to me. The freedom to speak plainly, without artifice, and yet, to still accomplish that with a sense of grace was something I wanted to aspire to.

What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

When I started to mature as a poet, I realized that the things I wanted to write about were right in front of me. I come from a blue collar, working class background, and reading poems from this perspective sort of gave me permission to write from my own experiences.

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook follows a progression which began in my first chapbook, A Room Full of Trees, which centered around the death of the speaker’s father. The Almost Sound of Snow Falling follows this arc and the aftermath of this tragedy, moving the speaker toward maturity and the future. If I had to use one word, I would say that this book is about growth.

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

The oldest poem is “The Skaters,” which originally was intended for my first chapbook, but because I wanted most of those poems to center around the speaker’s father, it got put aside. The poem centers around the figure of the speaker’s mother watching young couples skate from a window. There is a sense of letting go, a hard beginning in its tone and intent, which I think plays perfectly with the recurring theme of growth, death and rebirth.

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook.

My process is very organic. I discovered that when I wrote my first chapbook, that this approach works best. If I just write, and not worry about specifically sitting down to write poems for a book, the poems feel much less forced. Some of the poems from a batch of writing may fit and others may not, but writing this way is not only more freeing, but often times, there are surprises in these poems which help keep a collection fresh in the end.

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

The title came from a poem which didn’t actually make it into my first collection. The poem describes the slow drive of an ambulance moving through a snowstorm to respond to an emergency call for the speaker’s father. In the poem, the act of snowfall represents the shock that follows loss. There’s a muteness, a deadening of sound. The fall absorbs sound from everything and leaves silence. The first half of this book attempts to express this aftermath. After the snow has fallen. What we are left with. It felt natural to arrange these poems chronologically. I needed to move that tragedy to the front of the book. To deal with it, and then move on.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two projects right now. One is a full-length collection which is going to focus heavily on work poems, along with selections from my first two chapbooks. I’m also working on another chapbook, which will feature music-based and pop culture themed poems. It’s a big departure for me and I’m looking forward to finishing that. It’s been a lot of fun writing it!

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

I would urge them to continue writing outside of school, and to continue to push themselves. Write outside of your comfort zone, experiment with form. Some of my best poems came from prompts in workshops. These are poems I would have never written on my own, had I not gone to a workshop. Writing is not solely a lone experience. Being aware of your larger literary community, by going to readings, and workshops, not only validates your calling, it gives you a sense of belonging. Gaining friendships in the literary community, sharing ideas–it’s so very important to one’s maturity as a poet, developing that supportive network.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Take your time with your writing and let others you respect read your manuscript and give you advice. It can be tempting to want to rush off a manuscript to a publisher, but it’s important to be patient and to submit only when you are ready. You’ll save yourself time and money. I also have a rule where I submit the individual poems in a book to journals, before I submit a chapbook for publication. It’s important to have a healthy representation of publication credits for your acknowledgement page. You want to build up that credibility first. It’s as important as writing the poems.

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

The sense of support and community is very important to me. We are our own best advocates. What I mean is, I would like future writers to bring more awareness to all of the poets who have been featured at Speaking of Marvels. Social media outlets and personal websites can be very useful tools to this end.

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

I do this very often, put down a book to savor it. I like to read slowly and take my time with the words, drink them in. It’s so difficult to pick just one, but Facts About The Moon by Dorianne Laux was one that took forever to read because each poem spoke to me in a deep way. That feeling of being totally lit up and inspired when reading is, I think, something we poets live for.

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

In my current project, I’ve found that I am writing a lot about the period of adolescence. I find the act of change, of flux and transition to be interesting to write about. We aren’t fully formed yet. This period of our life is fluid. It’s also full of possibility. This is exciting to me.

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?

Ha! That’s a little extreme, but in no particular order: Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Jan Beatty, Stacey Waite, Heather McNaugher, Aaron Smith, L. Lamar Wilson, Kim Addonizio, Jason Shinder

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

I actually began my creative life as a painter and a visual artist. It just comes naturally to me. I’m a visual person. This is one of the reasons why concrete imagery is so important to me.

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

Initially, I was attending a lot of free writing workshops and generated a lot of ideas from prompts. Now, most of my ideas come from reading and personal experiences. I sometimes start with an idea or intention, but the poem that ends up coming out is rarely the poem I sit down to write. I’ve found it best to let the muse lead where it will.

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

To me, this chapbook creates a landscape of growth and survival. It has a sensitive, hardworking, and complicated tone to the personalities that live and breathe in these poems.

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

The work poems, specifically, “Rain Leader.” For one, this poem took a long time to write, to put those hard experiences into perspective and find the grace in those stories, while at the same time, not pull punches. This poem describes the trial by fire that I experienced while working in a dismal construction site. It was one of those litmus tests that changes you, and afterwards, you are never the same.

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

I didn’t set down to write any of my chapbooks. I think it just occurred to me after a number of poems that I might have a collection. I let the poems tell me where they belong. After a while though, in the editing process, one needs to think of the bigger picture, how these fit together and are the poems “talking” to each other.

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

I would have to say “Boy as Girl in Orange Tank Top or How To Eat a Nectarine.” I think it has the greatest chance of being misinterpreted. Some have said this is a gender identity poem, but this is more so a poem about being bullied, self-awareness, and empowerment.

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 List” is the final poem in the book, and I knew that this was the poem I wanted to close with. I had written it a while back, but that “off kilter” love poem seemed suitable to end with.

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

I think I would title it “Rain Leader,” after one of the work poems. I think it encompasses a lot of the themes and elements touched on in this chapbook, without being too literal.

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

I always read my poems out loud during the editing process. Sound is very important to me. I am also a very instinctual writer and rely on that instinct a lot. If a poem doesn’t “sound” right to me musically, then I know it needs to be tweaked.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

I would have to say Dorianne Laux and Jan Beatty. The work themes and the poetry of the everyday, two things that these poets do so well, was a real inspiration to these poems.

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

Working class poets like myself. Folks drawn to the narrative, a poem that tells a story, be it linear and straightforward, or not.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Music and my favorite poets really awaken the muse for me.

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Robert Walicki is the curator of VERSIFY, a monthly reading series in Pittsburgh, PA. and an assistant editor at Pittsburgh Poetry Review. His work has appeared most recently in HEArt, VerseWrights, Uppagus, The Kentucky Review, and on the radio show Prosody. He currently has two chapbooks published: A Room Full of Trees (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015). He lives in Verona, PA with his wife, Lynne, and two cats.

https://www.facebook.com/Robert-Walicki-1961568937400784/?fref=ts

http://www.versewrights.com/walicki-robert.html

Anesthesia

Hemp rope muscles twist,
tie themselves with little effort.

Just sitting here at Conley’s bar
is enough to tighten the knot.

Even after last call, doors locked,
the ghost of his sweat haunts

this oak, worn bar top where he rested
his denim arm. A few bills

earned him this medicine,
amber tinged sour mash.

Anything cheap, domestic
whatever was on tap.

Clank of dirty glassware,
laughter. Ripped leather

bar stools and piss troughs
at his feet. At eight, I remember

how my grandfather’s breath
took my breath away. I wrecked

my BMX in thick hollows while he fell
daily, in the made up dust

of B movie westerns. John Wayne,
bar fights and gunfire. I poured Pabst

Blue Ribbon in baby cups for him
like my grandmother told me to.

Spill proof plastic for his shaking hands.
Every time he closed his eyes,

he went somewhere. Ghost towns,
the bar at the end of the street.

I pushed the drapes back, left his bedroom
lights on so he could find his way back home.

Saara Myrene Raappana

“turn the inevitable rejection that writers face into a tool for improving your writing….”

Raappana

Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?

There’s that Hemingway quote about breaking—that “the world breaks all of us, and afterward, some are strong in the broken places.” But we don’t as often quote the next line which is “those that will not break it kills,” and I believe that pretty hard. And then I wrote a bunch of poems, and in writing them realized that everything I wrote was about that. So I started the chap with a poem called “Manifesto of What Breaks” which says, among other things, “To get a hundred million parts, / you must ransom one whole,” and that’s what the chapbook is about. And I hope it explores the idea that breaking—whether cars or chores or ideas or gym doors or forests or aquariums—isn’t always the same as broken.

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

The first, Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever, came out in November of 2015 with Dancing Girl Press. The second came out in 2016 from Shechem PressA Story of America Goes Walking—a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton. We served as Peace Corps volunteers near each other in Guizhou, China, and we wanted to write something that was informed by the way that living in southern China informed the way we understand America and being Americans. So we read Thoreau’s “Walking” essay, and then we used poems and pictures to get into a rollicking argument with it. At least that’s the order it happened in for me—but sometimes I go backwards, so I won’t speak for Beka.

How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever?

The title came when I realized that I needed “Manifesto of What Breaks” to serve as an umbrella poem to hold the themes together

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

The tireless and brilliant Kristy Bowen of Dancing Girl Press sent me an image that she’d scrapped from a different project that she thought went well with the poems in the chap, and I loved it. I made a few small suggestions (probably mostly about fonts because I can’t ever seem to shut up about fonts), and she tweaked some things, and here we are. Did I mention that I love it? It reminds me of my grandmother, who was fashionable and often looked at deer.

What are you working on now?

Two main projects—one is an expansion of that Shechem Press chapbook into a full-length collection of poetry. The other is a secret because I’m embarrassingly superstitious about it, so to distract you from that, I’ll say that I’m also planning to eventually write a series of poems in which a middle-school version of me is Batman.

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

Read, read, read, read, read. Think about the book or story or poem that you’ve loved most and try to write something that makes you feel that good. Then revise it and share it with people that you trust and revise it again. Keep doing all that until someone agrees to publish it or until you publish it yourself or until you decide to bury it in the back yard. Then do it again, but this time do a better job. Repeat until dead.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Read, read, read, read, read. Then write, write, write, write, write. Become as comfortable as you can with the idea that rejection of your work isn’t a rejection of your worth or talent so that you can turn the inevitable rejection that writers face into a tool for improving your writing, or at least for improving your resolve to keep writing. Make friends with writers, support their work with abandon, and then celebrate your rejections and successes together.

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

Which television show, movie, or comic book feels most like a piece of literature to you and why?

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?

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit. I’m actually reading it right now—very, very slowly. The essay that runs along the bottom of the book about moths drinking the tears of sleeping birds makes me want to be a moth and a bird but also to keep being me forever so I can keep dying blissfully from this book.

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

Woodworking. For the sawing and carving and sanding and the smell and the magic of grain rising to stain and also for the power tools.

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?

Dropped: Anxiety. Picked up: Remembering to let joy ride on its own melting, to paraphrase Frost.

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

All. Plus podcasts and TV and movies and walks in mundane places and international flights, plus sometimes books about writing poetry.

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

I hope that somewhere, somehow, Nikola Tesla is reading my chapbook.

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Saara Myrene Raappana is the author of the chapbooks A Story of America Goes Walking (a collaboration with artist Rebekah Wilkins-Pepiton, Shechem Press, 2016) and Milk Tooth, Levee, Fever (Dancing Girl Press, 2015). Her poems appear or are forthcoming in such publications as Blackbird, Linebreak, [PANK], The Gettysburg Review, and Vinyl Poetry and Prose. She was born and raised in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern China, is a founding editor of Cellpoems, and works for Motionpoems.

www.saaramyrene.com

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Advice for Icarus

Air walking depends on harmonic weight, so
start at the platform: open-wing position,
feet pivoted inward like skis afraid to run
the mountain. Step with tire-swing momentum.
If there’s wind, drop your umbrella.
Planning somersaults above the Ganaraska?
First, rehearse them on dry land. If you see
an arrow angling, straighten the apple
on your head. If you wear a blindfold,
make it red. If leg irons gnaw your hamstrings,
retrieve the key from your cheek’s meaty hollow.
To rest, braid one ankle bone-tight to the wire;
ease back in standing posture; lie still. Lie loud:
holler out to the crowd that the man hitched
to your neck is sparrow-light, no sweat. Then,
believe it. Clouds appear to waft, but they’re
always, always gently plummeting. When
the audience roars, cast raw salmon down
its mob-throat. When the Niagara Gorge calls,
chant this until its voice drowns: All rivers
were clouds once. All clouds ache to be rivers.

Chad Parmenter

“Chasing that voice, the one that seems natural, not of my conscious mind, and lyrical, seems like a lot of how I revise.”

chad11-1

Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti (Tupelo Press, 2015)

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

The first chapbook I remember taking time with was Jason Bredle’s A Twelve Step Guide. Around the same time, I was taking a course with the wonderful poetry scholar Ed Brunner about book-length poetry projects, but hadn’t seen a chapbook-length one until then.  The idea may have taken hold around then. Since then, I’ve been helped by a number of them, including Joy Katz’s The Garden Room, Anna George Meek’s Engraved, and Kathleen Jesme’s Meridian.

What might these chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?

All four of them are chapbook-length engagements with specific things, which mine is, too.

What’s your chapbook about?

It’s about Modernist photographer Edward Weston (and in his persona) looking at his work, his past, and mostly the parts of that past involving Tina Modotti, fellow photographer and sometime partner who also modeled for him. In real life, they were together in Mexico, and then he left her to return to California, where, at some point, poverty led to him having to use some of his glass negatives as windows for the studio. That metaphor doesn’t just show up in the sequence; I think it helped the whole thing happen–that idea contained in it of erasing the old to look at things more clearly.

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

The first one is Bat & Man:  A Sonnet Comic Book, both written first and published first, in 2012.  That one is also a chapbook-length persona sequence, in sonnets (the Weston chapbook is all prose poems).  A male-female relationship animates that one, too, since the sonnets are dialogue between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, about Batman and related territory.

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?

“Tina mia,” the opening poem of the chapbook, might also be the oldest one–it helped me get into the Weston persona, partly because that greeting, “Tina mia,” was his, in one of his daybooks, or journals. The lyrical quality of those words together, that not-quite-feminine-rhyme of “Tina” with “mia,” helped me get caught up in the persona’s own voice, finding that it just started to come, and turn into poem draft after poem draft.

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

It seems like these poems went through a lot of drafts, and I ended up working on them for 7 or 8 years, on and off, trying them in lines and as prose, fitting different parts and observations together, publishing some of them in earlier forms, and then finding that, one day, or maybe over several days, they just clicked into a lyricism, almost a hum behind them or a new quality to the voice, that wove them all into the sequence that’s the chapbook.

Chasing that voice, the one that seems natural, not of my conscious mind, and lyrical, seems like a lot of how I revise. That can mean trying taking poems into and out of rhyme schemes, fitting different images and/or narrative moments in to see if they galvanize the whole thing somehow, reading or watching different things that it seems like that intuitive little voice in me is guiding me toward, and more.  And, somewhere along the way, I can hit this blessed point where it seems like the poems  are telling me something about me that I didn’t see before.

How did you decide on the arrangement of your chapbook?

It’s kind of mapped from him first leaving her in Mexico to him detaching from the image of her that lived in his pictures, and that he used to avoid intimacy with her. Some details of her life, and its end, come up along the way, so he mourns her death shortly before mourning the loss of that false Tina.

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

The folks at Tupelo did a wonderful job of selecting a photograph, of Tina Modotti byEdward Weston, and also designing the book, with a typescript kind of a font that’s on the cover and in the text, for me adding wonderfully to the Modernist effect.

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

The wonderful questions so far bring the one to me of what I learned from working on these poems, or how I’ve grown from them.  They owe quite a bit, I think, to Laura Mulvey’s writing about the male gaze, that can objectify female subjects in film–I reallydon’t know if Weston’s nudes had that effect for him or the women who posed, but it became a helpful way to investigate my own ways of objectifying, including women I have loved romantically and people and maybe other entities I have loved in other ways.

That impulse, or that stance, of “I am an artist, and you are future material for my work,” I realized, can be another objectifying, fearful way of trying to avoid love, maybe its vulnerability.  And I think that can also show up in a culture so mediated by technology (which maybe it always has been). But poetry, I believe, works in the other direction, of opening me up to an unmediated world, as much as one is possible, and to love and be loved.

What are you working on now?

At the University of Missouri, I took a terrific playwriting class with David Crespy, and found that this drive I have to write in persona can translate into dialogue, and plays. So I’ve been having a lot of fun working on some of them.

Then there are a number of other projects, including this one called, at least right now, Rose Wilder, that came pretty    much out of nowhere a few years ago, when I was playing with heroic couplets after reading Keats’s Endymion, and also some conventions from epic poems. Somewhere along the way, I think I had read about Rose Wilder Lane, daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, who had a tougher life, emotionally, than the idyllic-seeming one in the Little House books, and suddenly, I started to find this uber-epic-heroic, sometimes brutally violent narrative coming together that seemed to be dredging things up for me that never quite fit in that Americana that I grew up with, or believed was the whole story as a kid.  And, somehow, the draft that came around 2010 ended up around 10,000 lines long, or 370ish pages.  Recently, I actually was able to sit and read  through it all, out loud, and go, well, didn’t plan on writing this, not sure how the revision will go, but there’s a lyricism here that asks to be followed through.

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

One of the things Kevin Prufer said, about his own poems, that has helped me since then, is that he gets interested in the voices of their speakers. That jumped out at me–that the poem’s persona can be like a partner in a dialogue, or maybe a linguistic dance, rather than a mask to hide behind, or an escape. In the poems of mine that are more autobiographical, what he said helps me look at the speaker as free of what I think, and what I might worry readers of the poems might think, really with something to offer me, before anyone else.

And following the sounds of the words can really help that happen, for me–looking for how the one word merges into another after it, maybe helped by some form or image, so I can let go from the busy, intellect-inflected kind of drive to arrive at the point, and, I think Derek Walcott wrote in one of his poems, “following the poem, going where it was going.” It might be a spiritual way of engaging language, for me–I get these elements in place that remove my thinking, plotting mind from control of the writing, and what comes after that becomes fun, deep and mysterious at once.

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?

H is for Hawk, the memoir by Helen McDonald, has been kind of like that for me over the last, I don’t know, year or so. The language, the images, and her experiences are just so generous and rich that it doesn’t have the page-turner effect on me; it’s almost the opposite, in a delightful way.

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?

Keats, Shakespeare, Byron, Lucie Brock-Broido, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Robert Lowell, Phyllis Wheatley, & Ovid in Latin and in Golding’s translation.

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

Music might be it–I loved to sing as a kid, and learned not long ago that I continue to really enjoy it, along with playing piano. For me, it feels like it’s in a separate sphere from writing, but maybe it comes back to that same way of engaging language–that it’s about finding a sound that helps me let that busy mind stuff go, and maybe see or just experience deeper truths.

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

It seems like writing that’s directly related to poetry that I’m working on can help, and also writing or other media that goes deliberately away from it. For a while, for the Weston poems, I was reading his daybooks, absorbing his way of saying things, with musical and image-y aspects, and biographical details, too. And I was looking at his photos a lot, plus doing other things like stopping at Carmel, CA, where he had lived, on a road trip. But then it helped me to step away from that direct engagement with him, to maybe let the project grow into its own, since it’s not really about the historical person–that’s a useful way to get at other things. And I ended up getting more into Shakespeare, into reading some photography theory, and also into streaming Netflix around the time the last drafts took shape.

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

That’s always a helpful question for me to consider, because I don’t really know, and it seems, so much of the time, like the poems are talking to me, rather than me talking to anybody else through them. Sometimes I’ve wondered if that’s about narcissism and/or fear, but then I took a great class on poetics where I started to see John Stuart Mill, Yeats, and I think others talking about the same thing.  But I do hope others can get something out of the poems, for sure.

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Chad Parmenter’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, AGNI, Harvard Review, Kenyon Review, Spillway, and Black Warrior Review, where one won the Third Ever Poetry Contest. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. Author photo by Anastasia Pottinger.

from Vivienne’s Recovery

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from Weston’s Unsent Letters to Modotti 

This letter will never be sent–not because Tina has died–but because it’s to you, the Tina made by my gaze.  I never knew another.  I wish I did.  But even that wish comes shaped by my desire for you–the numb one.

Where what she was met my making gaze–are you there?  That flash of shadow they made–I lived in it–in you–still do.

Look at–no–through me–and tell me who you see–who I am.

Jason McCall

“I think of chapbooks like mixtapes in hip-hop. There’s room to experiment.”

McCall

Mother, Less Child (Paper Nautilus, 2014)

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

I feel like a lame for mentioning him because he’s current department chair, but Joel Brouwer’s This Just In really helped me see how much work you can do with the title of a poem. The titles of the poems in the chapbook were written as newspaper headlines, and that really helped create a certain atmosphere for the poems and the book as a whole. Other chapbooks I have really enjoyed in the last few years are Jonterri Gadson’s Pepper Girl and Saeed Jones’ When the Only Light Is Fire.

What’s your chapbook about?

Mother, Less Child grew out of a few inspirations. First of all, I wanted to write about my mom. A lot of my poetry is invested in the idea of legacy and narrative. For better or worse, a lot of my work leans towards traditionally male narratives (pro wrestling, comic books, mythology). Because of that, I noticed that many of my poems mention my father, my grandfather, or other men in my family, but my mother didn’t get the same attention in my work. My mother is great. She deserves attention. So I started writing the book.

Mother, Less Child was also inspired by the tradition of having to watch black mothers grieve over the deaths of their children. It almost feels ceremonial at this point. And for me, as a guy who grew up as an ancient history/ mythology nerd, I see those mothers and think about the goddess Eos grieving for her Ethiopian son after Achilles kills him in the Trojan War. I think of all the pietas showing Mary trying to hold Jesus in her lap one last time. My chapbook is about that tradition, and how I’m damn lucky and damn thankful my mother hasn’t been part of that tradition yet.

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

Mother, Less Child is my second chapbook, actually. My first chapbook is I Can Explain. It was inspired by the AMC drama Mad Men. When I went to college, I planned on being an advertising major and making commercials for a living. I wanted to be Don Draper, basically. But I couldn’t bring myself to write a one page paper about Vince McMahon for my mass communications course, so I ended up studying classics and creative writing.

But as a fan of advertising, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of manipulation in advertising. When commercials give us emotions, we’re supposed to feel icky about it. When the media manipulates us, we’re supposed to fight back. However, when art manipulates us, we’re supposed to give in, to submit. That seems a bit hypocritical to me. Artists and salesmen have a lot in common, and I Can Explain works with those commonalities and their consequences.

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

Juan Reyes, who also teaches in the English Department at the University of Alabama, produced the cover image for the book, and I owe him a lot for it. I think chapbooks offer great opportunities for collaboration and experimentation when it comes to design and layout. That’s part of the fun of doing a chapbook project. Juan and I talked about different visual images, and we settled on a battered version of the Virgin Mary’s face to represent the pain and battered bodies I talk about in the book.

When it comes to collaboration, I also have to give a big, big thanks to the editor of Paper Nautilus, Lisa Mangini. She gave me a great amount of freedom in what I wanted for a cover image, and she did a great job putting the book together.

What are you working on now?

I have a few projects on deck right now. I’m co-editing It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop with P.J. Williams. We have great poets in the anthology, and I’m really excited for the world to see the great work we received from the poets who trusted us with their work. The anthology will be published by Minor Arcana Press. We’re hoping to publish in the second half of 2016.

My third full-length collection, Two-Face God, will be published in 2017 by WordTech Editions. I’m really happy about that book because that book focuses on my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, more than I have in other collections. Along with finishing the revisions for that book, I’m starting my next book of poems. The next book will focus on John Henry.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Chapbooks are fun. Let them be fun. I think of chapbooks like mixtapes in hip-hop. There’s room to experiment. There’s room to talk to an audience in a way that might not work in a full-length collection. Full-length collection might need three or four threads to feel like a full manuscript. Chapbooks allow writers to focus on one or two threads, and this can create a stronger gravity or density that might get lost in a full-length collection.

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

2003, easily. I graduated high school and went to college in 2003. I got my black belt in Tae Kwon Do in 2003. I learned how good it feels to quit a job when I quit Applebee’s in 2003. I bought SmackDown!: Here Comes the Pain in 2003. We had Michael Vick on the Madden cover in 2003. Also, a lot of great albums came out around that time. We had Speakerboxxx/ The Love Below, Trap Muzik, Kings of Crunk, The Black Album, Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I had no idea what was I doing on a college campus or if I really wanted to be on a college campus or if I really wanted to be anything at that point in my life, but I could play Madden and jam to “Rubber Band Man” and pretend I was going to figure things out. It was a great, weird year. Perfect year for a chapbook.

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

I never want the Iliad to end. I want them to fight over Patroclus’ body forever. I want Hector to take off his helmet and hold his kid forever. I want Glaucus and Diomedes to discuss their family tree forever while their friends die around them.

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Jason McCall is an Alabama native, and he currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He holds an MFA from the University of Miami, His collections include Two-Face God (WordTech Editions, forthcoming), Dear Hero, (winner of the 2012 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize), Silver (Main Street Rag), I Can Explain (Finishing Line Press), Mother, Less Child (co-winner of the 2013 Paper Nautilus Vella Chapbook Prize), and he and P.J. Williams are the editors of the forthcoming It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop (Minor Arcana Press).

jasonmccall.weebly.com

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If I Had a Son

I’d raise him on Justice
League and Life After Death.

I’d teach him how to wash
his car before prom,

how to hide
a condom in his wallet,

how to crease his khakis and shake
a man’s hand,

how to read
a comic book, a tire gauge.

He would know how to work
a Playstation controller, a word problem.

I wouldn’t let him be
a Jr. or II.

I’d hang the cheesy football
pictures in my office.

He would know about the week
I spent in the psych ward.

He would know it’s ok to cry
when Hector dies in the Iliad.

I’d tell him no son of mine can cheer
for Auburn or New England.

I’d make him promise not to fuck
around in Cullman County or Louisville, Ohio.

He would have to say “I love you”
before he left the house.

We’d spend weekends making waffles
on the George Foreman grill.

He’d have to bring his girlfriend
over during the holidays.

He’d have to bring his boyfriend
over during the holidays.

He would have to wake up
early and go to graduation.

I’d stay awake and hope
he doesn’t end up like Sean, Memnon,

or Trayvon when he decides
to leave home.

I’d give the gods as many necks as they wanted
as long they didn’t take my son’s.

Leah Umansky

“The speaker is so dissatisfied with life that she looks outside of her own society, even outside of her own planet.”

new Umansky

Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

Some of my favorite chapbooks are Susan Bruce’s Body of Water, Sarah Gerard’s BFF, any of Julie Brooks Barbour’s chapbooks, and Anne Carson’s  The Albertine Workout.

What’s your chapbook about?  

My chapbook is about the near-future. It’s steeped in feminism and sci-fi/ fantasy, but also is very much about hope. It’s a collection of poems that are about a female speaker fighting the good fight in a world long lost.

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

This is my third book of poems, and my second chapbook.  My first chapbook is the Mad Men inspired Don Dreams and I Dreams (2014), which is part love song to the AMC television show, its genius and its characters, especially the great Don Draper, and part social-commentary on gender and life in the 21st century.

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

The oldest piece in the chapbook is “Where are the Stars?” which was written in September of 2014, but a close second is “I Dreamed of a Less Vulnerable Network,” which was written in October of 2014. With “I Dreamed of a Less Vulnerable Network,” I recognized that I had ventured into the voice of a character and in doing so into a science-fiction/ fantasy perspective/ genre.  The woman-warrior speaker is all of us women, but in my head, I pictured someone like my favorite  Game of Thrones character, Daenerys Targaryen. She is not only the mother of dragons, but is fierce, she has her own army, and she is a strong independent woman. The speaker in many of these poems knows that she will survive this world on her own if she has to.

These poems make me think about how mysterious life is. We struggle so often to understand who we are and what we desire, but in the grand scheme of things, life’s larger mysteries are all around us: like the universe.  That’s sort of how the star-focused poems were born. The speaker is so dissatisfied with life that she looks outside of her own society, even outside of her own planet. Sometimes life is unbearable in so many ways for the single woman in the 21st century.

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

I’m a collagist and have been lucky enough to have designed all of my book covers.  What I love about the cover of Straight Away the Emptied World is that it captures the hope in a dystopian universe but it also captures the primal fear we all have.

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?

Well, that’s an easy question. I have two: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. H is for Hawk just spoke to me. All of her inner-wanderings, her discussion of the British countryside, her meditating on T.H White, and the Hawk. The hawk changed me. I’ve never been a bird person. Her book is so painstakingly beautiful. Poetry, really. Read it.  My title, “Straight Away the Emptied World,” is a fragment of one of Macdonald’s sentences, actually.  Station Eleven is basically a love poem to the world. I never wanted it to end.  I found myself teaching three dystopian novels, one to each grade I was teaching, and reading Station Eleven. Dystopia was on my mind.

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 poem that was the most significantly revised was “Once (Reprise).” I wanted a sort of echo in the chapbook and that poem revolves back to the book’s central themes. The last poem I wrote was the final poem in the book, “What Will I Do With All These Wolves.”  When I was working on my collage for the cover, I had all the cut-outs of wolves around me and a friend said to me, “What will you do with all those wolves?” and I typed into this list app I love, Wunderlist, under “poem ideas,” and later on sat down and wrote a poem.

What themes and images “bridge” your work?

I always joke about the fact that all my poems are love poems; they are, even these dystopian-themed ones. So Love is a theme I am always writing to, so is gender.  In terms of image, at least in this book, there are a lot of birds and wolves in my imagined future. It’s sort of a going back to the primal days, (or maybe to Westeros). Part of what I love about Game of Thrones are those direwolves and the fact that so much of it is based in all of these archetypes that have been used in literature for hundreds of years. GoT seems like it’s a mythical medieval time, but in some ways it feels like a primal future. This book cover is part landscape, part bird, part wolf, and part stars.

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Leah Umansky is the author of the dystopian-themed chapbook Straight Away the Emptied World  (Kattywompus Press, 2016)¸ the Mad Men inspired Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), and the full-length collection Domestic Uncertainties (Blazevox, 2012). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in such places as Poetry Magazine, Faerie Magazine, and Thrush Poetry Journal.

www.LeahUmansky.com

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Forgotten Century

There is a door; I am the housekeeper of the history behind that door.  My rich inadequacies are a career of recents; a file of settings.  My dirty linens are a non-linear myth.

What naked flame? I like my blues muscular. I like my breath to be as wide as a wooden spoon.

This is not a warrior’s helmet. This is a scarf, really.  This is how we antiquate the world.

rob mclennan 

“Far too many first-time chapbook-makers aren’t utilizing exchange. It not only broadens distribution, but opens the possibility of both expanding one’s reading, and one’s potential community. One should never be stingy with chapbooks; their inexpensive quality, at least for me, is part of the entire point.”

DSC02330 (1)Four Stories (Apostrophe Press, 2016)

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

That’s a huge question, so I can only answer in fragments. Some examples, both recent and otherwise, might include Rosmarie Waldrop’s In Pieces (O’clock Press, 2015), Inger Wold Lund’s Leaving Leaving Behind Behind (Ugly Duckling Press, 2015), Marilyn Irwin’s the blue, blue there (Apt. 9 Press, 2015), Hailey Higdon’s How To Grow Almost Everything (Agnes Fox, 2011), Sarah Mangold’s Parlor (Dusie, 2011), Dawn Pendergast’s leaves fall leaves (dusie, 2011), Robert Kroetsch’s Lines written in the John Snow house (housepress, 2002), Revisions of Letters Already Sent (disOrientation books 1993) and The Lost Narrative of David Thompson & Ten Simple Questions for David Thompson (Wrinkle Press, 2009), Marcus McCann’s Shut Up Slow Down Let Go Breathe (dusie, 2015), Megan Kaminski’s This Place (dusie, 2013), Lydia Davis` The Cows (Sarabande Books, 2011), John Newlove’s Three Poems (Gorse Press, 1985) and George Bowering’s Quarters (Gorse Press, 1991), and then, of course, multiple titles produced by Stuart Ross, jwcurry, Monty Reid, Cameron Anstee, Gary Barwin and Nelson Ball. There are most likely others I’m forgetting at the moment.

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

I am not interested in remaining static.

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

That would be too many to count. I’ve published well over a hundred chapbooks with a dozen or two different presses.

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

The chapbook Four Stories is a selection, as opposed to a composition; I’ve been working on a collection of short stories since 2010, and keep hoping that I’m only six months away from completing (I’ve been in this position for about three years now). Generally, the stories have each gone through extensive revision, sometimes daily, over a period of months. Given how dense the stories are, each word has to have a reason for being there, and it must be the right word. I’ve been learning how to not be in a hurry, while pushing as hard as possible to get every word in the right place.

The four stories here are a selection from a handful of pieces in the manuscript that have seen journal publication. There are some threads and repetitions through the larger manuscript-in-progress that there wasn’t the space for, in selecting only four stories, so I tried to select four pieces that played well off each other, without too much overlap.

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

I like the simplicity of the title. I find it reminiscent of Sheila Watson’s Open Letter issue, “Five Stories” (which later appeared with Coach House Press in 1984). I didn’t want to complicate anything by coming up with a title that read as arbitrary, and I didn’t want to use the work-in-progress title, both for not wishing to confuse, and because I didn’t think it really fit.

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

Self-produced. Simple.

What are you working on now?

I’m slowly putting a poetry manuscript together, titled Cervantes’ bones, my short story manuscript, On Beauty (from which this chapbook is selected), and eventually returning to my post-mother memoir-in-progress, The Last Good Year. Once all of this is out of the way, I can get back to my novel.

I`m working on a small mound of new above⁄ground press poetry chapbooks, including new titles by Reneé Sarojini Saklikar (Vancouver), Sean Braune (Toronto), Kristjana Gunnars (BC), Pete Smith (Kamloops BC), John Barton (Victoria BC), Sarah Mangold (WA), Katie L. Price (Philadelphia), Robert Hogg (Ottawa), and Sarah Burgoyne (Montreal), as well as new issues of the poetry journal Touch the Donkey and our writer`s group occasional, The Peter F. Yacht Club.

We`re also putting the final production elements together for an anthology of experimental Calgary writing we`re publishing this spring, The Calgary Renaissance (Chaudiere Books), co-edited by myself and derek beaulieu.

There are a couple of other projects kicking around as well, but one has to be realistic about what one is actually working on, while being home full-time with a two-year-old and a two-month-old.

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

Read as much and as widely as possible. Write as much as possible, and take risks. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Be more patient than you’ve ever been. Give yourself a decade or two in which to become really interesting (and then keep going).

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Roughly the same as the previous question. Be curious. Try things. And be open to exchange. Far too many first-time chapbook-makers aren’t utilizing exchange. It not only broadens distribution, but opens the possibility of both expanding one’s reading, and one’s potential community. One should never be stingy with chapbooks; their inexpensive quality, at least for me, is part of the entire point.

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

During much of the composition of fiction over the past year, I had David Bowie’s Heroes on permanent repeat. I’ve long been partial to Grant Lawrence’s CBC Radio 3 podcasts (brilliant). There are also a number of other albums I’ve got in the queue that sit on permanent repeat for weeks at a time. I find selecting new music during writing sessions to be a distraction, and ‘replay’ is the least complicated option; and yet, radio doesn’t work, if there’s a song I don’t like, which knocks me out of my thoughts entirely.

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?

Lorrie Moore’s Bark (2014). Toward. Some. Air., eds. Fred Wah and Amy De’Ath (Banff Centre Press, 2015). Lisa Ciccarello’s At Night (Black Ocean, 2015).

Why the chapbook? What made it the right format for your work?

I’ve always been fond of the short form. I spent my twenties composing chapbook-sized works before eventually evolving into composing book-length works. My chapbooks since then have predominantly been made up of elements that have been selected from larger manuscripts-in-process.

I like the inexpensive quality of chapbooks, also. I can afford to produce a good number, mail out a bunch, and even hand out or trade. It becomes far more difficult to be able to afford to do the same with books.

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 writing process has become slower, and far more methodical. After twenty-five years of daily practice, I’m far less in a hurry to call something complete. Some of the stories in the manuscript-in-progress took more than two years to complete.

Moons ago, I would start at the beginning, and write chronologically. Now my poems tend to begin somewhere in the middle and expand outwards. Fiction is composed in fragments that are endlessly carved and re-sorted into a narrative order.

What kinds of writing that aren’t poetry or fiction help you to write?

I’ve 7,000 comic books, and watch an enormous amount of television, from sitcoms to drama to talk shows to documentaries. Watching Brian Michael Bendis’ ten-year run destroying and rebuilding The Avengers titles was absolutely genius, and taught me much about the episodic long-form. I always got a bit more work on fiction after watching episodes of Mad Men, and found the movie Smoke (1995) rather generative as well. Neil Gaiman, especially through The Sandman, is the best storyteller I think I’ve read. I do rather miss the conversations in episodes of Inside the Actor`s Studio; I found many of them paralleled considerations of literary writing. Even after a half-decade or so, I`m annoyed that Bravo Canada took it off the air (I still can`t figure out where else to watch it).

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Ken Sparling, Lorrie Moore, Jean McKay, Lydia Davis, Sarah Manguso, John Lavery, Dany Laferrière, Etgar Keret, Sheila Heti, Miranda July, Michael Ondaatje.

Patience. Everything takes its own time.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Daily practice. That, and toddler naps.

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The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, rob mclennan won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent title is the chapbook Four Stories (Apostrophe Press, 2016). An editor and publisher, he runs above⁄ground press and Chaudiere Books (with Christine McNair), the online journals ottawater, The Garneau Review and seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics, and the print journals Touch the Donkey and The Peter F. Yacht Club. He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at robmclennan.blogspot.com

www.robmclennan.blogspot.com

order Four Stories here

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What frightens us most isn’t death, but its result: absence. Memory shapes and makes us, constantly shifting and changing. We are never the same for very long. If humans the only animal with a connection to even the concept of history, how couldn’t absence overwhelm? We dream up vampires, ghosts, the zombie apocalypse.

The dark side of longing. We won’t allow our dead to disappear.

From Romanian folk tales, we learn that suspected vampires were buried in rice-packed coffins. If the dead were to rise, they would first be compelled to pause, to count every grain. The cemetery caretaker would have time to act, decapitate the corpse with a shovel. Separately, bury the head.

These stories fail to explain why vampires have such innate compulsion, or how a craving for blood relates to numbers. A possible blood count. On Sesame Street, the purple-skinned Transylvanian, Count von Count, rolled numbers off his felt tongue with ease. More often, without invitation, or ability to stop. Obsessed.

For the record: I hate the zombie apocalypse. If there is an apocalypse, it will come from the living.

(from “Character sketch”)