SJ Sindu

“Cultivate a large ego; cultivate humility; write your truth; and whatever you do, be tenacious.”

sindu

I Once Met You But You Were Dead (Split Lip Press, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal piece (or excerpt) from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

What really bothers you is the newness of it all. This should be old news to you, who fancied yourself born into war. You should know the taste of gunpowder as it hits the back of your tongue. Unfamiliar, a challenge to the memories you thought were real. Maybe you made them up after all. Maybe you’re not the war survivor you thought you were.

You were just a kid. Maybe—you were wrong.

Why did you choose this piece (or excerpt)?

Most of the pieces in the chapbook deal with war or violence in some way. Specifically they deal with the aftermath of war and violence, and part of that aftermath is the constant questioning and re-writing of experience by survivors. This excerpt comes from the first piece, “SR-9,” which is about recovering from panic attacks triggered by depictions of war.

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

The Lake Has No Saint by Stacey Waite is the first chapbook I remember loving. I read it on a train ride from the airport just after the AWP conference where I’d bought it. I remember that because I remember getting on the train and then getting off—everything in the middle blurs because I was so entranced by the words. I’d never encountered a chapbook before that focused on gender in quite the way that Waite does, breaking it apart and showing us its seams. I also love Ms. Militancy by Meena Kandasamy, for how it focuses on the South Asian immigrant experience, and Small Creatures / Wide Field by Jamie Mortara, for what it does with the form—it’s a sort of choose your own adventure book where it really interacts with the reader.

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

I think these reveal my two obsessions when it comes to writing—accurately and beautifully depicting the marginalized experience, and doing weird things with form. In I Once Met You But You Were Dead, I gather together pieces that focus on gender and violence in all its various incarnations, but I also try to play with form and structure to figure out new ways to tell stories.

What’s your chapbook about?

The pieces in the chapbook were all written during my Masters program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. They reveal a map of my interiority during that time. I was greatly embattled about my identity. About my gender, about my ethnicity, about my religion, about my experience with war, about wanting to be a writer. All of that comes out in these pieces, and it’s interesting because I’m no longer this writer—writing this chapbook was part of my catharsis, and I’m changed by the writing of it. So the book is about identity, but it’s also about gender, and marginality, and war.

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

The oldest piece is “Playing Princess,” which is also the longest piece. It was the first piece I ever published—it came out in Harpur Palate in 2008, I think. As a story, it’s extremely flawed, but it has great sentimental value for me. Writing this piece was the first time I sensed the kind of writer I was going to be, and for that I value it greatly.

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

“Good People” is about a friend of mine—the name in it is changed, obviously. But it’s about a time when I failed to be there for my friend when he needed me most, and it’s my way of trying to reconcile with that guilt. It’s a piece that still holds deep pain for me, and I almost didn’t include it in the chapbook. But I think as a reflection of a certain period in my writer life, this piece is essential.

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

All of the pieces were actually finished for a long time before I ever thought to put them together. I just thought of them as individual pieces, never as a collection, until I took a short story collection workshop with Jennine Capó Crucet during my PhD program. At first I just sort of threw everything I had into a possible collection to workshop, but after the class was over, I realized that these pieces—the ones that are in the chapbook now—are different from my more recent work. These pieces represent the writer I was then—which is a writer I’m not now. So I put them together, and they started to speak to each other in ways I didn’t expect. The chapbook just sort of grew from there.

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?

I’ve loved working with Amanda at Split Lip Press. She is a good editor, and I was able to have a lot of creative control over the chapbook. For the cover, I turned to an artist friend of mine, Samantha Talbert, who makes these wonderful little greeting cards. It was exactly the aesthetic I wanted. We talked about ideas, and she came up with the design after reading the chapbook. She made a physical version of the cover, and my photographer friend Ramsey Mathews shot it. The title font was made by Jayme Cawthern at Split Lip. So it’s a true collaboration, and I love the end result.

What are you working on now?

My first novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, is coming out in June of 2017 from Soho Press. I just turned in my final edits for that. (Link to the novel here: http://sjsindu.com/1kl). And now I’m working on revisions for my second novel, called Blue-Skinned Gods, which is about a young boy who grows up in a cult in India.

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

Oh wow. That’s a big question. I’ll say what I say to my students: read broadly and deeply; learn to take rejection constructively; cultivate a large ego; cultivate humility; write your truth; and whatever you do, be tenacious.

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SJ Sindu’s debut novel, Marriage of a Thousand Lies, is forthcoming in 2017 from Soho Press. Her hybrid fiction and nonfiction chapbook, I Once Met You But You Were Dead, was the winner of the Split Lip Turnbuckle Chapbook Contest, and is forthcoming in December 2016. Sindu’s creative writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review of Books, apt, Vinyl Poetry, PRISM International, Fifth Wednesday Journal, rkvry quarterly, and elsewhere.

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http://sjsindu.com

Courtney LeBlanc

“Find your tribe of writers.”

courtneyAll in the Family (Bottlecap Press, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook? Perhaps a poem that introduces the work of the chapbook, or one that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

Garden

My father tilled the land,
churned up black soil, a garden
bigger than most backyards.
My mother doled out seeds
and my fair sister and I scampered
down the rows, dropping
peas, corn, cucumbers, hard work,
honesty, beets, potatoes, courtesy,
radishes, obedience, carrots,
zucchini, and dill.
We spent summer afternoons
weeding, we were organic
before that was a thing. The garden
had to feed our family for the year,
had to feed our souls for the year.
Some grew better than others –
dill exploded throughout,
its seeds spreading like dandelions.
The freckles on my sister’s face,
my mother’s shoulders, exploded
in response. Humility stayed buried
in the dirt, refused my mother’s greedy
hands. Zucchini grew unchecked,
gargantuan in size and I struggled
to carry them in my butterfly wings.
Late summer the ground purged
her final offerings and we flitted
down the rows, gathering these gifts,
eating peas straight from the vine
and giggling, drunk on sunshine.
My mother frowned, reprimanded us,
clipped our delicate wings,
hoped to quiet us.
We haven’t stopped screaming since.

Why did you select this poem?

This is the first poem in the chapbook and I feel it both sets the stages and introduces you to the characters who the book focuses on – my mother, my father, and my sister. This poem hints at the intricacies that these relationships hold and hopefully it entices the reader to plunge in.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

My relationships with certain members of my family – my mother, my father, and my younger sister – are very nuanced and ever-changing. I initially wrote a series of poems about my mother and our relationship and considered doing a chapbook of just those poems but I felt it wasn’t enough. I needed to pull in my relationship with my father, and my younger sister to show a fully rounded, accurate picture. The chapbook has three sections – Mother, Father, and Sister – each section features poems that focus on my individual relationship with that person.

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

“The Game His Father Played” is by far the oldest poem, I wrote it nearly 12 years ago. It was written at a time when my father was very ill and I was reminiscing on his illness and how vibrant he’d been before he’d gotten sick.

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

Once I decided to focus on the three different relationships, and not just on my relationship with my mother, the arrangement and title fell into place.  I realized that by dividing up the poems in each section – Mother, Father, Sister – it allowed the reader to view each relationship as singular and independent of the others but at the same time allowing the reader to find the similarities and threads that run through them and string them together.

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

“Siamese Sister” – when my sister and I were little we would tell my mother we were Siamese twins and refuse to be separated. We are less than two years apart but we swear we were meant to be born twins. To this day we speak nearly every day even though we live across the country from one another.

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

“Mother | Father | Daughter” is probably the misfit. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to include it, and I wasn’t sure where to include it. Finally, I realized it was the best poem to end the collection with and once I put it there I loved how it fit and how it wrapped everything up.

What were you listening to when you wrote these poems? Did you have any rituals while writing these poems?

I don’t have a specific writing ritual, rather I just write as much as I can and as often as I can. I’ve even pulled over on the freeway to write down the lines that were circling in my head. (I don’t necessarily suggest this!)

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?

“Butterfly Sisters” was the last poem I wrote for this collection though at the time I didn’t know it would round out the chapbook. My sister had recently been diagnosed with the same kidney disease my father had, and I subsequently went to the doctor and learned I do not have the disease…which means I have a high probability of being a match for my sister if she ever needs a kidney. This poems was a culmination of the weeks of worrying she and I shared, and my realization that one day part of me might be in her. My sister and I both have tattoos, though she has full sleeves and so is a bit more colorful than me, so when I refer to us as “butterfly sisters” it’s meant to indicate the bright ink that graces both our bodies.

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?

Bottlecap Press is a really supportive publishing company, and they are great to work with. When I had questions or concerns, they were good with explanations and communication – something I greatly appreciate. My sister, Kirsten, who the poems are written about, is a graphic designer, so I approached her with designing the cover image and she immediately jumped onboard. I told her my idea and she ran with it

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

Bad Girl, Honey by Megan Falley

The Female Gaze is Cool by Alexandra Wuest

Even Though I Don’t Miss You by Chelsea Martin

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

I think the first thing this shows is I like female writers, particularly strong, feminist writers, and that it’s important to surround yourself with poets and poetry that inspires you.

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

My first chapbook, Siamese Sister, was published in April 2016 and focuses entirely on my relationship with my sister. Some of the poems from Siamese Sister are included in All in the Family.

What are you working on now?

I have a full length poetry manuscript that I’m shopping around to several publishers. I’m also constantly writing and publishing individual poems at a variety of literary journals and websites.

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

One of my favorite poems I’ve written is titled “Love is a Lesion on Your Brain,” and it’s essentially a love poem to my husband. I’m not a sappy person and I don’t write sappy poetry, but this poem came out when I was dealing with an 8-month long migraine that neurologists weren’t able to diagnose or stop. Then an MRI showed a lesion on my brain, and this poem came tumbling out. It’s not a love poem on the surface, but by the end you realize that’s really what it was about the whole time.

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 used to believe I had to be inspired to write poetry and then I realized that writer’s block is pretty much bullshit. You have to practice writing to make it a habit and to improve. Once I had that view I set about creating a writing practice that worked for me. I write nearly every day and if for some reason I find I’ve gone more than a couple days without writing, I’ll sit down with my journal and my pen and write about what I’m looking at, how the week has been, anything really. Often I find just the act of putting pen to paper gets the creative juices flowing and I can go from there.

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

Read everything you can get your hands on. Find authors whose styles speak to you and read everything they’ve written. Write daily. Find your tribe of writers – having writers whose styles you like and whose opinions you trust will be key when you start editing your work. And yes, realize that good writing requires editing. Few of us write the perfect poem or paragraph or chapter on the first try – it takes re-reading and tweaking and editing to make it right.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Send your manuscript out everywhere. But also make sure you know what the publisher is looking for or usually publishes. If they’re a press focusing on sci-fi, your historical novel won’t be a good fit. Also realize that that process of writing doesn’t end when you put your pen down. Editing your work and then submitting it takes a lot of work. I spend 8-10 hours a week just sending my work to various publishers, presses, and journals.

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Courtney LeBlanc loves nail polish, wine, and tattoos. She is the author of chapbooks Siamese Sister and All in the Family (forthcoming from Bottlecap Press). Her poetry is published or forthcoming in Connections, Welter, Plum Biscuit, Pudding Magazine, The Legendary, Germ Magazine, District Lines, Slab, Wicked Banshee, The Door is a Jar, and others.

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www.courtneyleblanc.com

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Arlene Naganawa

“I imagine writing to someone who is quiet.”

wwwww

The Ark and the Bear (Floating Bridge Press, 2016)

 What’s your chapbook about?

The Ark and the Bear is a blending of two worlds. One resembles the “real world” of the United States in the 1960s and 70s and the other is a mythical, fairy-tale world. In both worlds, young people struggle to make sense of the events and forces that surround them.

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

Many of the prose poems were written in a short period of time, somewhat concurrently. The poems were written for a class I took at Hugo House in Seattle. Deborah Woodard, the teacher, had us read Russell Edson’s work as well as other prose poets, and the little stories started as free associations. The poems were revised many times, however, and rearranged. Some of the poems were rescued from an earlier (failed) manuscript and retooled for this chapbook.

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

“The Jesus Boat” was the catalyst for all of the poems in the “real world” series. It was inspired by a prompt that included Martha, the last passenger pigeon.  For some reason, I loved that pigeon. The rowboat in the yard was a real boat, and the neighborhood girls did play in it one entire summer.

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

Arranging the order of the poems was difficult. I knew it should start with “The Jesus Boat” and “Saved,” but after that it was Now what?   I wanted the fairy tale poems to be interwoven, so I kept shuffling and mixing until the order felt right. The process was more gut feeling than intellectual.

Did you intentionally write toward a book of prose-poems or did it evolve into one? Was there an earlier version of this book that was lineated?

The poems were originally prose poems, which is interesting, because I had never written any prose poems before the class about it. I wrote a few prior to “The Jesus Boat,” very quirky pieces.  One, however, featured a father who turned into a bear, and that initiated the fairy tale sequence. So the manuscript started as prose poems. There are some lineated poems in the chapbook, and they were added a bit later.

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

The editors sent me three cover sketches and they were all lovely. Ultimately, they made the choice, but they kindly asked my opinion.

What are you working on now?

I think I’m working on a series of poems from the point of view of a man who cannot speak. I’ve written a few. It’s interesting to consider what someone who does not talk thinks about. Would his responses to the world be more intense, more careful? I’m not sure why this speaker is a man instead of a woman; sometimes I have no control over my work.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

It might be a good idea to think of a theme or narrative arc before writing. It helped me generate the poems. Most poets probably have recurring themes in their work; they can look through their poems and see patterns. They could group these and have the basis for a manuscript.

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

It would be interesting to address the relationship between pop culture and poetry. Will poems that heavily reference pop culture (Snapchat, blogs, Instagram) endure? I’m curious what writers have to say!

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

The world is childhood/adolescence/mythic. Maybe mostly girls inhabit it? I’m not sure…

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

Mute (maybe)

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

The same images appear and reappear throughout my work. I’m not sure I like that. Here are some of my repeaters: birds, trees, rivers, animals. It used to be scarecrows. Once The Scarecrow Bride (chapbook) was published, I stopped writing about scarecrows. So the chapbook alleviated my scarecrow problem, although I still enjoy seeing them in photos and in urban gardens.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Russell Edson, Marie Howe.

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

I’m not sure. I imagine writing to someone who is quiet.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Sometimes an image inspires me. I’m not prolific, so I don’t get to the page very often. I take classes because there is homework and I think I should do my homework, so I’ll try to write something to address the assignment.

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Arlene Naganawa is the author of three chapbooks, including Private Graveyard (Gribble Press) and The Scarecrow Bride (Red Bird Chapbooks). Her work appears in Calyx, Pontoon, Crab Orchard Review, Caketrain, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, Crab Creek Review and other publications. She is the recipient of Seattle Arts Commission Literary Arts Awards. Her poetry has appeared on Seattle Metro buses and in a Rapid Ride Poetry Station.  Ms. Naganawa teaches middle school humanities and lives in Seattle.

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The Jesus Boat

We discovered one June morning that Mr. Sand had moored a rowboat in his yard under a weeping willow. His three daughters were too bouffant and glowing to play outside anymore, so Linda, Sandy, Jackie and I became the crew, shipwrecked our entire before-sixth-grade summer. We named the boat Martha after the last passenger pigeon. Our teacher had told us that Martha died in 1914, a romantic and war-torn time. And we were sailors on a foreign sea. One afternoon, after we’d all fallen asleep in the Martha, I woke up to see that the sky had turned bruise-gray, pigeon colored, with a faint peachy orange bleeding through the clouds. Oh, no, I thought, this is when the angel comes to Mary and tells her she is going to have Jesus, the sky strange and whispery. But it was only the end of something, not the beginning, and that is the way it was that whole summer.

Milla van der Have

“Part of being a writer is stubbornly going your own way, even if no one else sees yet where you’re going.”

milla

Ghosts of Old Virginny (Aldrich Press, 2015)

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

Living in the Netherlands, it’s somewhat more difficult for me to get my hands on chapbooks. Also, we don’t really differentiate between chapbooks and poetry books – in fact, Dutch poetry books are usually the size of chapbooks. I have always been a voracious poetry reader, in all forms. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to name only one poet that influenced me. But, in 2008 I started writing in English, and one of the poets that helped that ‘transition’ was W.S. Merwin.

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

Mostly that the chapbook form and size is actually the most natural to me, and that for me, it  would be a more conscious decision to write a ‘longer’ collection.

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook is about Virginia City, Nevada. I spent 3 weeks there on a writer’s residency to work on my novel, but while there, something happened. The town and its history had their effect on me, and I started writing poems about the things I saw and read. My chapbook is a reimagining of Virginia City’s history and legends and also an account of my time there.

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 is ‘Silver Terrace Cemeteries,’ and it’s directly linked with the whole magic that got me writing poems about Virginia City. One day, as I sat writing on the porch, a herd of wild horses had snuck up on the lawn. That was one of the first moments that ‘captured’ me. It was so amazing to see these horses, that come and go as they please. I planned on trying to write some poems. This first poem I wrote during a visit to Virginia City’s cemeteries. One of the first things I saw on the cemetery was a big pile of horse dung and I realized the wild horses hung around there too. That started off that first poem.

Another catalyzing poem was the next one, ‘A Boomtown Love’. The history of Virginia City isn’t my history, and I realized that in order for these poems to work I needed to find my own perspective. So I started with something that always interests me, legends and history and reimagined them. ‘A Boomtown Love’ is a love poem based off the story of how Virginia City got its name (hint: it features a drunken miner and a whiskey bottle).

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

I somehow manage to start a lot of poems by reading non-fiction. I read a bit about a certain person or a period and off I go. And walking around proved really inspiring in the case of this chapbook. The things I saw and thought were stored away for later when I’d sit down to write the poem.

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

The title was one of the first things I thought of, before most of the poems were written. I find I work really well off a premise, that the idea and the title help to shape the poems I write. The fact that I stayed in a ‘haunted’ town and tried to recreate old stories helped with the title. The ‘Old Virginny’ in the title is actually the drunken miner that inspired one of my poems.

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

I supplied the picture for the cover and Karen Kelsay, my publisher, designed the book and the cover. She really caught the spirit of the book and I think it looks really great – but I am biased of course.

What are you working on now?

Right now I am again working on something history-related. I’ve just returned from a road trip through the Northwest US, and I’ve started on a long poem that is one part travelogue and one part foray into Native American mythology.

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

Listen to people commenting on your work and yet be stubborn. I don’t mean you should ignore good advice (and you’ll know what good advice is, it’s the kind of advice you don’t want to follow but know deep down you have to), but part of being a writer is also stubbornly going your own way even if no one else sees yet where you’re going.

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

Either jazz or classical music. To write, I need music that doesn’t ask much from me, and I prefer instrumental music. Jazz can’t be too modern, but some good old hard-bop works just fine.

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

I think I’d pick the year in which I was born, because I’m interested in how we develop our sense and our consciousness and it would be interesting to explore that from a poetic angle.

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

For me not necessarily, but that’s because I’m from a tradition that doesn’t distinguish between chapbooks and longer collections. In the Netherlands most poetry books consist of about 30 poems, so that amount of poems has always been the amount I aim at for a collection. That being said, I tend to create chapbooks/series in which the poems have strong ties with one another on the level of symbolism and theme, so ‘thematic cohesion’ is something I like to work with within the chapbook format.

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?

I try not to think too much about what my work will contribute to the literary landscape,  because I believe it’s hard to do something ‘new’ and that shouldn’t be the main incentive. At least not for me. I want to make something I want to make. I want to enjoy the activity of writing and immerse myself in it without thinking of the things that come afterwards, like publishing. Of course that is on my mind too, but I find that if I think about that too much, it becomes stifling. And deciding on what to read, yes, that’s an eternal fight. In the end, I usually read what I feel like at the moment and try to stick with it – even when something else comes along.

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?

Rainer Maria Rilke, Pablo Neruda, Seamus Heaney, Louise Gluck, some poems of Mary Oliver, Osip Mandelstam, Fernando Pessoa, Zbigniew Herbert, T.S. Eliot, Hans Andreus.

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

I would hope music, but since I am not really a musical talent, that doesn’t seem likely. Perhaps painting, but something abstract then because my drawing skills are also mediocre. Oh, who am I kidding. I can only be a writer.

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’ve become less dependent on a sudden burst of productivity. I have gotten a more structural writing discipline, setting aside some hours every other day for writing. And most important, I don’t center all my writing on One Sacred Day in which everything has to get done. Instead, I know now that sometimes 20 minutes of writing can be more productive. The essential part is to write often.

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

I hope that my chapbook transports readers to Virginia City of both past and present. The inhabitants are people who have left behind life as they knew it to follow their bliss, people who try to find a connection to one another and the world that surrounds them.

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

I think that would be ‘The Comstock Lasts.’ In this poem I sum up all the things I will miss about the Comstock. I wrote it on my second-to-last day, and what made it meaningful was that I hadn’t expected to form such a strong bond with the area and the nature in particular. I knew beforehand I would like some animals, like the wild horses, but there was one creature I had grown fond of despite myself: the tarantula hawk. This is a big black wasp that preys on tarantulas and does some fairly ugly stuff to do them. Now I have a slight wasp-phobia, but these wasps I actually liked. They have these big, red velvety wings and when they fly about (a tad slow) they make this peculiar humming sound. Later, I realized it reminded me of the sound Disney fairies, like Tinkerbell, make in the movies. I worked that into the poem – as well as my beloved horses, of course.

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

I think that I left the misfit out of the collection. It was the ‘try-out’ poem that, just like a first pancake often does, didn’t quite live up to its expectations. But I needed to get it out of my system so I could write the rest of the poems.

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, was ‘On The Way Home,’ and I literally wrote it on the way home. I started it on the plane from Reno to Seattle and finished it in Seattle Airport. I felt it was a natural closer for a collection that dealt in part with my stay in Virginia City.

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

Auto-biography 🙂

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

I am working on a series of chapbooks that are centered on ‘place’. So bridging themes between those 3 chapbooks are things connected with place and history. Given that, I have to take care that the 3 books aren’t repeating one another and differ enough. So I work on additional, central themes for each book and try to play on the different settings. A book with poems about the Black Forest is different than one about islands, for instance. But still it’s important to make each of them individual enough and that’s where, for me, the myth and legends of a place come into play. Myth has been a long-standing theme of mine, even before the chapbooks, and it’s one of the things that inspires me. And, as a theme, I find it strong enough to be repeated without losing any of it’s force, exactly because that’s what myths are: a few powerful stories, repeated into countless variants.

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?

During my revision process, I had someone edit the poems: read through them and ask me questions about stuff that was unclear. Those conversations were extremely helpful and it’s very interesting to see how a discussion about a simple word could really open up new meanings to me in my own poems.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

During my stay in Virginia City, I met David Toll, who has profound knowledge of the history of the area. Talking to him was ‘gold’ for me, especially because his great-grandfather had lived in Virginia City during the ‘bonanza’ (gold fever) and wrote down his memories, which David edited into memoirs. That book gave me a bounty of eyewitness information.

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

I hope young(er) people will pick up the book, just because they aren’t the usual suspects for poetry… or history for that matter.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Other books, not too long walks, and stories and myths.

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Milla van der Have wrote her first poem at sixteen, during a physics class. She has been writing ever since. One of her short stories won a New Millennium Fiction Award. In 2015 she published Ghosts of Old Virginny, a chapbook of poems about Virginia City. Milla lives and works in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

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www.millavanderhave.nl

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A boomtown love

They’ll settle in on anything, old legends.
Like mountain ghosts. They’ll take
hold of you. Say that night we broke

our bottles like vows upon the path.
All was silent except for your silver
laughter and that sudden rain of glass.

We sat down amidst the shards, counted
their sparks as blessings and the way
the moon swindled off their light edges.

And I remember thinking, this is it,
this is all that will come to mean
something in our days of rest.

Looking Back at 2016

Here are our sixteen most-read interviews of 2016.

Cam Awkward-Rich Transit

Cameron Awkward-Rich

“it was a strange, unsettling time where all of the usual contradictions of being a person in the world felt more palpable & the chapbook is about that feeling.”

Transit (Button Poetry, 2015)

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drea brown

drea brown

“I wanted the pieces to ebb and flow, to crash against each other, to speak to Phillis and for those whose names we do not know.”

dear girl: a reckoning (Gold Line Press, 2015)

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Choi

Franny Choi

I love having a ten-minute time limit to begin creating something; I think my brain works best when it’s fighting against a restriction.”

Floating, Brilliant, Gone (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014)

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tianaclark

Tiana Clark

“This question, ‘What is left whispering in us once we have stopped trying to become the other,’ is at the seam of every poem.”

Equilibrium (Bull City Press, 2016)

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Asmarani

Safia Elhillo

“I was having a recurring dream featuring the musician Prince and he and I talked about the chapbook a lot in the dreams.”

Asmarani (Akashic Books/ African Poetry Book Fund, 2016)

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235Gist_Wendy_COVWendy Gist

“The otherworldly light and low-slung sky gets my creative fire burning like no other place. There’s a dreaminess to New Mexico.”

Moods of the Dream Fog (Finishing Line Press, 2016)

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Honeycutt

Scott Honeycutt

“Sometimes there’s just a word or an impression that I collect, hoping to use it at a later time.”

This Diet of Flesh (Finishing Line Press, 2016)

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toxic city

Janice Lobo Sapigao

“I feel that I know of the parts, wholes, and holes of a collection as I write, and I write to figure out how the poems belong.”

toxic city (Tinder Tender Press, 2015)

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rude girl

Melissa Lozada-­Oliva

“The chapbook lets me be emotional & rude while still being a beautiful product.”

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

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Jackson

Ashaki M. Jackson

“My work reverses the lens —it watches the witnesses, the YouTube viewers, and God while critiquing the practice of trialing civilians by gunfire.”

Surveillance (Writ Large Press, 2016)

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kovatcheva

Anna Kovatcheva

“Like children’s stories the world over, the ones I grew up hearing also often had lessons to teach about how good girls should behave–that they should be self-sacrificing, clean, subservient.”

The White Swallow (Gold Line Press, 2015)

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Ciara Miller

Ciara Miller

“My notebooks look like pure madness.”

Silver Bullet (Mindmade Books, 2015)

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peterson

Kate Peterson

Grist deals a lot with how to make sense of the body in disruption.”

Grist (Floating Bridge Press, 2016)

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Lisa R.

Lisa Richards

“Everything that you do is connected at the soul level.”

Their Sobering Suicides (Finishing Line Press, 2016)

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Ross, Figuring

Anna Ross

“Giving myself time to write is almost as much of a discipline as the writing itself.”

Figuring (Bull City Press, 2016)

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watson   blue-tarp

Rachel Joy Watson

“Poems usually have to push through the busyness, but I’ve learned to stop what I’m doing and write them down when they arrive.”

Blue Tarp (Finishing Line Press, 2016)

Tommye Blount

“Knowing the page is blank and full of so many possibilities is what drives me.”

whatwearenotfor

What Are We Not For (Bull City Press, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem from your chapbook? Perhaps a poem that introduces the work of the chapbook, or one that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?

What Are We Not For

but to be broken
like the deer resting on the side of the highway,
in a bed made of

its insides? Isn’t the scene
always the same—the rump and legs
frozen in its last kick?

I too have lost my gaze,
the grip of the wheel—
like the one that plowed into

the deer. Wheel, will—it’s all the same.
And the ear does fail me at times,
as it must have the deer

that should have listened better.
Francine, on the other end of the line,
tells me I’m not listening; to listen

to my body or I won’t last long. We never
last long, do we? It all breaks—
the line pulsing forward, the line pause,

the long bone of it all. After all,
I am a broken animal. I am brokered
in the name of the wheel.

Why did you choose this poem?

“What Are We Not For” is a kind of synecdoche for the book. The sensibility of the poem and the way it behaves enacts a belief about the body—it is all too willing to harm and be harmed. In the book, there is suspicion of the body’s motives and the lengths it is willing to go in the name of self-fulfillment.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Living in a Black gay man’s body in American today is overwhelming for me. So one of the things I am interested in recording are the sites at which there are breakdowns in the connective tissue between a body’s intent and the actions/postures that that intent manifests. It is at these sites of experience, I see desire, violence, tenderness, cruelty, and love vying for space. This collection looks at spaces in which men and boys are forced into narrow proximities of each other; spaces in which each is forced to touch (emotionally and physically) the other.

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

The oldest poem in this collection is “Of a Wicked Boy.” The poem you see is the descendant of so many versions over the span of ten years or so. But the original poem came from a writing exercise given to me by poet Vievee Francis in 2006 or 2007, I think. The prompt went something like: write about a horse in the first stanza; in the second stanza, write about a nightmare or dream; finally write about a city in the last stanza. You can still see the pentimento of that original project in the poem now.

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

Initially, the construction of the chapbook was built around motifs, something like, “in this poem, I have a bird, and then in the next poem, there is a man dressed like a bird.” This created the sensation of a very linear and orderly narrative. But, then Matthew Olzmann, my editor, got me to question what might happen if I troubled that order. One example is what happened with what I call my “dog suite” of poems.

“Bareback Aubade with the Dog,” “And the Dog Comes Back”, “The Runts,” and “Lycanthropy,” was the original order of the dog suite. In that order, each poem built on the one before to create a larger narrative. All of the poems were bunched together in the manuscript that way as well. What we ended up doing was: separating them across the collection; then transposing the last and penultimate poems. This new arrangement still gives the poems space to talk to each other. But also the poems are now able to react in a way I hadn’t thought before to the poems around them. This creates, I hope, a sense of wildness, abandon, uncertainty, and discovery.

As I stated before, the title poem is truly the central poem to the book, yet it does not sit at the center of the book—this was intentional on a structural level. The speakers in these poems are often heading either willingly or blindly toward danger and risk. Safety and stability are not an option for the men and boys moving through these poems. The title of the collection mimics this sense. The natural and bodily inclination is always to “correct” the title when read aloud to “What We Are Not For.” The mind wants to resist what is being read. There is comfort in having the subject in control of that verb. But comfort is not the space for this collection. By prioritizing the verb before the subject, the syntax clues one in on what I am after, I hope, with each poem. It should feel wrong when it is spoken. There should be a sense of unease. I am also in love with the way the syntax of the title wrestles with nomenclature. It is at once a question, a dare, and an edict.

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

There are no “misfits” in the collection. But a poem that I think is reaching beyond the collection, that may or may not guide me in a full-length collection, is “The Lynching of Frank Embree.” This poem, like “Of a Wicked Boy,” has haunted me for years. Moving through the world in a Black gay man’s body, there are tricky spaces in which I am forced to move through. In this poem, I seek to trouble this historical Black body that I have inherited. What I do with this body and the larger societal repercussions of those actions are all things I think I am not done writing about.

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

One of the many lessons I picked up from my time at Warren Wilson College was allowing myself the space and time to explore all of a draft’s possibilities. I mean “possibilities” in the broadest of sense. I’m slow, so it wasn’t until the last couple of years that I was able to go, “Oh, right! I can do whatever I want with this poem!” So one of my strategies is to go easy on myself when drafting a poem. I don’t write well under pressure. For me, writing has to be play. I love turning a poem backward sentence by sentence. I like to pull a sentence from the middle of a poem and make it the last sentence to see what will happen. Received formal conceits (sonnets, villanelles, etc.) also work well for me; they force me into different choices that I would not have made consciously. Because it is so easy for me to write in the present and past tenses, I might challenge myself to write in future tense. Perspectives and vantage points are always fun to toy around with. The list goes on and on.

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

Bull City Press is a dream press. Ross White and Matthew Olzmann have held my hand through this whole process. The emphasis has always been, “Tommye, what do you want to do?” I feel quite spoiled.

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

The brilliant Philip McFee and Flying Hand Studio came up with the cover design and art. The art is actually a composite of different images, I think. Ross White and I had a conversation about how I see the aesthetics of the collection. I also sent art samples of some of my favorite visual artists. What came back to me was the cover you see now. It made feel, and still makes me feel, uncomfortable and unsettled, which is what the poems are owed. Yes, it is quite the risk having a cover like this, but so too are the poems inside.

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

Noah Stetzer’s Because I Can See Needing a Knife, from Red Bird Press, is hands-down one of the most searing chapbooks I have read this year. In these poems, the emotional intelligence is backed up by a keen sense of a poem’s mechanics. Noah is one of my favorite poets.

Another chapbook I am obsessed with is Aricka Foreman’s Dream with a Glass Chamber—from YesYes Books. I am in awe of the way she toys around with sound. There are moments when her poems build toward a wall of sound that registers at odds with what is happening on the level of information. But even that is just the blade’s edge of what Foreman is up to in this collection.

What are you working on now?

I’ve stopped telling people that I’m working on a full-length manuscript. By doing so, I’ve placed a lot of needless pressure on myself. As I said earlier, my strategy is now to allow myself time and space for possibility. I will just say that I’m just writing poems. I follow threads, as I mentioned earlier in the case of “The Lynching of Frank Embree,” but I am just giving myself space to create and travel.

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’ve actually made a return to an old habit of mine—writing in longhand. As technology has improved over the years, it’s easier to just type up a poem right quick. Well, I have a problem with that. I can be easily fooled—I’ve learned. On screen, a draft can go, “Look at me and how perfect I look in this Word document.” But in reality, that draft should not see the light of day. I try and stick close to longhand for as long as I can in my process. I write very slowly, so I need to work things out. I carry pencils and a pencil sharpener with me everywhere.

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

The same thing Vievee Francis told me years ago: read everything. You can’t call yourself a writer if you are not a book lover first. And don’t just read stuff you think you would like, but read the stuff you think you won’t like too. Are there blurbs on the back cover of that book? Read those people too. I want to go even further, and say read essays and reviews on writing. Heck, why not even write a review of a book you’ve read—just for yourself. This helps to start articulating what it is you are doing or want to do in your own work.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

My mother used to do office work at Michigan Bell in the 80’s. I remember getting so excited when she would bring home these huge reams of dot matrix printer paper. I used to get so giddy about all of that blank space waiting for me to fill it with whatever I wanted. That same giddiness is still true for me today. Knowing the page is blank and full of so many possibilities is what drives me.

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Born and raised in Detroit, Tommye Blount now lives in the nearby suburb of Novi, Michigan. He has been the recipient of fellowships and scholarships from Cave Canem and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. His work has either appeared or is forthcoming in the following journals: Poetry, New England Review, Phantom, Ninth Letter, Third Coast, Ecotone, and others.

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bullcitypress.com

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Katie L. Price

“The only thing worse than cancer is the desire to write.”

katielprice

Sickly (above/ground press, 2015)

What’s your chapbook about?

Sickly concerns the emotionally-sterile language we use to talk about sickness and health.

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

BRCA: Birth of a Patient was published by above/ground press earlier in 2015. The chapbook is a counterpoint to Sickly, taking a different approach to the same material. BRCA is composed solely of language taken from medical records. The book is a work of confessional poetry written by an industry. In an almost ultra-literal sense, this book was written by a body—a body lived, diagnosed, and treated by the medical establishment. The body in BRCA is a body entirely discoursed. In Sickly, we see this same body begin to assert agency within that discourse, but never emerge as completely outside of it.

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

I don’t have a standard writing practice or process. When I have an idea, I follow it through. If it doesn’t work, I try something new. Doing public readings of works in progress or having my work read by students is a great asset to my revision process, as it allows me to see and feel how the writing is resonating. I often do my best revision work after sharing my work with others.

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

This chapbook emerged from a full-length manuscript with a working title of “Sik.” When I first began work, I was focusing on medical errors and glitches in medical records that were often humorous. The idea for this chapbook originated when, reading through hundreds of pages of medical records, I came across the phrase “umor present”—of course a mistyping of “tumor present.” I was struck by the extreme gravitas (and medical importance) of this phrase with its accidental homonym: “humor present.” A word that looms so large in the cultural imaginary was reduced, through accident, to a marker of perspective—of the small cells and shifts and starts and letters that make up the biological systems that we assign so much emotional and cultural meaning.

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

I would like to be asked more frequently about how both chapbooks—BRCA: Birth of a Patient and Sickly—disrupt existing non-medical discourses surrounding breast cancer. Although individually quite different, the cultures of “think positive,” “pink warrior,” or even “fuck cancer” all reduce the disease to a slogan of self-affirmation. The cancer blog has become a genre unto its own right. But why write a cancer blog that has already been written? If writing is cathartic, what kind of catharsis do nurses and doctors experience by taking meticulous notes on everything they hear throughout any given day? What might be gained from reclaiming the book that has already been written about one’s highly individualized case, already reduced to a series of relations to standardized bodies, standardized tests, and standardized drugs?

What are you working on now?

A book manuscript that builds upon the work in Sickly, an edited critical volume on ’pataphysics, and several new creative projects.

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

The only thing worse than cancer is the desire to write.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

Have gratitude for those willing to have honest and thoughtful conversations about your work. You never know where or when opportunities will arise, so talk with anyone who is interested in your work.

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

I often listen to acoustic indie rock.

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

I suppose my current projects do focus on one year: 2009. But I’m interested in how one year (one day, one diagnosis, one misread scan, one conversation) can structure and stretch over a lifetime.

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

Yes.

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

I would choose to be a multimedia artist.

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

No. This chapbook emerged from a manuscript that I have been working on for several years.

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

“Kisses.” I’m interested in exploring the language of metaphor and euphemism in the context of the clinical. “Kisses” offers the reader a counterpoint for the other material in the chapbook.

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?

“Consent.” The chapbook did not feel complete without “Consent.” I think the sustained and increasingly frequent occurrence of the refrain “consent” formally mimics the feeling of relentlessness that accompanies many of the poems in Sickly and BRCA. This poem queries the moment at which cancer becomes monotonous, and the ethics of feeling ambivalent toward another’s diagnosis.

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

“Umor Present”

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

“Body of work,” “corpus,” “body of a text:” these phrases are commonplace, but I constantly find myself returning to the theme of more literal relationships between the body and text—not only how language structures our bodies, but also how our bodies structure language.

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

Scholarly writing in literary theory, contemporary art, medicine, architecture, and science.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Craig Dworkin’s. Vanessa Place’s. Michelle Taransky’s. Jason Zuzga’s.

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

I would love my chapbook to reach wide and diverse audiences.

What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

Big ideas and encouraging friends.

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Katie L. Price‘s writing—critical, creative, and other—has appeared in such venues as Fence, the Journal of Medical Humanities, Canadian Literature, and Jacket2, and with such presses as No Press, above/ground press, and Manchester UP. She currently works at Swarthmore College, serves as Interviews Editor for Jacket2, and co-directs the Philadelphia Avant-Garde Studies Consortium. Follow her on Twitter @ktlprice

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