Tara Betts

tara betts7 x 7: kwansabas (Backbone Press, 2015)

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

Right now, I am excited about Amber Atiya’s chapbook, and I am looking forward to reading Fatima Asghar’s chapbook. I just got a stack of chapbooks from dancing girl press, but I have enjoyed some from Belladonna, Button Poetry, and Carolina Wren.

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

I think it’s a good way to explore a suite of poems or an idea, but I also think there’s not the same sort of pressure that foments when you are trying to develop a full-length manuscript. It allows you to zero in on a theme without feeling like it has to be 50-100 pages. I think that’s what I’ve loved in particular about Barbara Jane Reyes’ chapbooks Cherry and For The City That Nearly Broke Me.

What’s your chapbook about?

My chapbook is a series of 7-line poems written in a form created by black literary scholar Eugene Redmond. I started off writing poems about black historical figures, then I started to look more closely at tying the poems thematically to the number 7.

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

With help from my friend Aurelius Raines, I self-published my first chapbook Can I Hang? in 1999 because I was on the first Mental Graffiti slam team in Chicago, and I was doing so many readings where people asked me for copies of poems. It was a way to share poems, and it helped me pay bills in a much less expensive Chicago. I think I self-published my second chapbook SWITCH in 2003 and Nikki Patin helped me with laying it out. I reprinted it because I was doing readings all over the country, but I did not have a full-length manuscript that satisfied me. A couple of years after publishing my first full-length collection, I was commissioned to write a short libretto by Peggy Choy Dance Company — to write poems about Muhammad Ali and his relationship with Malcolm X. After I completed that project, I wanted to make sure that it lived in print beyond the performances, and Teneice Durant at what was Winged City Press (now Argus House) helped publish THE GREATEST: An Homage to Muhammad Ali in 2013.

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 know one of the of poems was written for Eugene Redmond’s journal DrumVoices Revue. He did several issues with kwansabas focusing on historical figures, including Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, and Katherine Dunham. So, my earliest attempts at the form and the earliest poems in the chapbook definitely started with wanting to be a part of that journal.

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

I would take notes whenever I saw mention of the number 7, and I have notes for many more possible kwansabas on this theme, but I thought I needed to release these poems since I think they did speak to the historic vein in contemporary poetry that readers are interested in, but they also seemed like their own body of work. As I continue writing kwansabas, they will differ from the ones in the chapbook since I just finished writing a full-length poetry book that will come out in 2016 (Break the Habit), and I am writing more prose these days too. My head just seems to be occupied by other voices and working from a different space.

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

Originally, I had wanted to write 49 kwansabas to mirror the structure of the poem’s 7 lines of 7 words each. I did try to start with the origin of language with the Aristotelian influence, but there is a sense of origin in exploring black history, the stars, and the Bible, which are some of the other subjects in this chapbook.

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

I am excited to finally share some of Miah Leslie’s work with people who may not be familiar with her work already. When we started sharing images after she read the manuscript, she sent me this image of what seems to be a warrior woman with a smaller person enclosed within her. I thought about containing multiple, myriad selves, and I immediately thought of the striking cover of Jayne Cortez’ Firespitter. The striking black and white figures in brush strokes that are clearly signals of African cultures with letter in red echoed what I saw in Miah’s image, so I decided to go with that image and the color red, basic (and historic) as blood and striking to the eye.

What are you working on now?

I am planning readings for the chapbook and the release of my second book, Break the Habit, but I am also starting to write new poems for two new collections, essays and short stories. I will be a fellow at Kimbilio, a retreat for fiction writers of color, in Summer 2016.

What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?

I think the chapbook is a wonderful first step toward publishing or a way to approach writing between books. It can be a way to keep sharing work in an accessible format, but I think we have to think about more than chapbooks too.

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

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

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

I think the publishers or prizes associated with chapbooks are definitely political. Some of the organizations choose who they want, but the prize model definitely does not work, even though it generates funding for some good presses that need it.

Without stopping to think, who are ten poets whose work you would tattoo on your body, or at least, your clothing, to take with you at all times?

I have “won’t you celebrate with me” by Lucille Clifton, one of my former teachers, on my left forearm. I haven’t figured out who else I’d have, but I’ve considered Audre Lorde or Wanda Coleman. Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin would be my non-poet choices.

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

I think it is more difficult for me to sit down and write, but when I do, it is easier for me to be lucid. I know what I want to write. Sometimes, I carry around an idea for a poem or a story for days, weeks, or months before I commit any words to the page, but when I do, it comes. I used to write every day. I used to have to capture an idea, or at least a line, before I forgot it. Now, I remember them, and they linger. I hope it lingers for readers too. As far as a writing habit that I would share, I’d say keep challenging yourself to write something new and unfamiliar, even if it’s a new theme, form, or genre.

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

I have a couple of titles, but I’m trying to keep them to myself!

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

Essays, history, African American Studies. I like reading broadly because it gives me information and other ideas that aren’t so self-referential like poetry that seems to become so damn incestuous at points.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?

Eugene Redmond, of course. Seeing some of his daughter Treasure Redmond’s work that became a part of chop, another chapbook of kwansabas, but I also thought about haiku and other short forms.

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

I try to be open about my audience, but I am definitely interested in creating work that speaks to my own experiences, including the Black experience. I have often pictured girls and young people reading my work, but I am often trying to write something that I would like to read or something that makes sense of the world for me.

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

It can be hard, lonely, and financially trying. Tenacity may be your one constant. Trying to build a small, trustworthy community around me and still reaching out beyond one’s self is very challenging. I have been trying to focus more on the work than the trivial, petty matters that come up based on competition, jealousy, and all the –isms because I have been an activist for most of my adult life. I still am, but I know that one of my strengths is writing, and I need to make that tangible. Some people have told me these things in various ways, but I try to remember that writing is the thing I love.


 Tara Betts is the author of the upcoming Break the HabitArc & Hue, and the chapbooks 7 x 7: kwansabas and THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. Tara received her Ph.D. at Binghamton University and her MFA from New England College. In addition to performing poems across the country and internationally, Tara’s poems have appeared in numerous publications, including PoetryGathering GroundBum Rush the PageVillanelles, both Spoken Word Revolution anthologies, The Break Beat Poets, and Octavia’s Brood. Tara has taught at Rutgers University, Binghamton University, and University of Illinois-Chicago.




Zora Neale Hurston (1/7/1891-1/28/1960)

Woman dipped in dialect, hoodoo, and academy

caught all those tongues marked folksy blues

sinking into clay, islands, pangea broken, feeling

whole in memory, resting solid in mouths,

against gums. Those parting smiles recall heat

burnin’ that jook called the ‘rati Manor,

fyah jumpin’ at de sun, fulla spunk.

Sarah Xerta

tumblr_inline_njupbcWsZV1r0u2qwJuliet (I) (H_NGM_N Books, 2014)

In a previous interview, you stated that in your collection there are “threads that run through them and hold them together like friends.” What is the common thread that holds Juliet (I) together?

I think there are several threads that run through Juliet, one of the core threads being existential despair – death, ruin. One of the original titles for this manuscript was “The Worst Silent Film Ever Made,” which is basically an epic film strip of pain that seems to run through me at all times. Knives are a common visual thread – in the original play Juliet stabs herself with a knife, and knives also happen to be one of my OCD obsessions, one of my irrational fears, which was triggered by the trauma of the relationship that is also woven into the manuscript. In answering this question I realize that threads are a common thread – how everything is interconnected, like fibers of the universe (the other original title for this MS was “Builders of the Universe,” inspired by an art installation at the Soap Factory in Minneapolis that was inspired by Einstein’s text of the same title).

What was the process behind the cover of Juliet (I)? Did you collaborate with an artist for this? 

The process was very unsophisticated. The photo is an image of myself that I took and posted on Instagram once. I then played with the image in a free editing program, I think it may have been Picasa? And I made several collages using this same image and then made a collage of the collages and used red shading and layered text over it. I just played with the images and colors until it seemed right. 

It is clear that there is a lot of deeper meaning behind Juliet (I); does getting fully immersed into your work take a toll on you?

Not really. It’s the world that takes a toll on me, and getting fully immersed in my work is a sense of therapeutic relief.

What is your writing process? In what environments do you work best?

I like to be alone when I write, and if I can’t be alone then I need to have headphones so I can drown out unwelcome distractions. For me writing is a meditative process, an opening and a listening, so it’s really important to be both focused but free, bringing together both critical thought and emotion, making a harmony. I usually don’t spend more than a day or two on a poem and that’s because the poem itself doesn’t matter much to me. If I outgrow my need for a poem before the poem is finished, then the poem will remain unfinished until the day I need it again. The process for Juliet was a bit different – I just opened a word document one day at the coffee shop in early September, 2013, and wrote what is the prologue, but I knew it wasn’t finished. I knew I wanted to write one long continuous piece, which I would end up returning to and working on for the next year.

What was your inspiration for Juliet (I)?

Juliet was the inspiration! I stood outside of my apartment in the spring of 2014 and took a photo of a tree that was blossoming these bright red petals, and when I posted the photo on Instagram the name “Juliet” just came to me as the caption, and so that’s what I named the tree. And she just kept showing up, the name Juliet, and it just seemed like the right title, especially when I thought about the knife element, the suicide, the star-crossed lovers, etc.

Was there a certain frustration with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? What would you change about it?

IT’S SO SAD IN THE END!!!!! I’ve always hated the ending of the play. I want them to live. Also I want to highlight Juliet’s narrative, emphasizing the oppression she was under. She and Romeo are not equal. Juliet can actually exist without him. I mean I would love for them to exist together, but I’m not that naïve.

What kind of music do you listen to?

It depends on my mood. A lot of times, I will just go to 8tracks.com and select the genres I’m feeling, and it will give me a playlist. I love to dance, so beats are good. I like the energy of rap and hip-hop. I will never say no to Beyonce or Nicki Minaj or Kanye West. TLC and Nirvana because I was a kid in the 90’s. I like to space out to dreamy artists like FKA Twigs, Baths, and Lana Del Ray. I like to listen to The National and cry. Dirty Shlohmo remixes.

How has poetry impacted your life?

The act of writing poetry has saved my life.

Did you project yourself on any of the characters or poems?

I don’t project as much as literally I am my poems. The first-person speaker in Juliet is me. I am I.

Is it difficult to be so vulnerable with your poetry?

No. It’s difficult to be in a society that wants you to be anything other than your truest self that will punish you for not digesting and exhibiting what it has described as the norm. If I am vulnerable in my poems, it’s only because we are so used to having to hide from ourselves and each other.


Sarah Xerta’s first full-length poetry collection, Nothing To Do With Me, was published by University of Hell Press in early 2015. She is also the author of the chapbook Juliet (II), one of the winners of the 2015 Nostrovia! Poetry NYC Chapbook Contest. She is currently working on her second full-length poetry book, titled Juliet, which will combine the first two Juliet chapbooks along with three additional sections. She is a mother, a direct-support professional, youth arts mentor, and currently has her sights set on a PhD in psychology. Twitter: @sarahxerta.



Kristy Bowen

i hate you james francoI*Hate*You*James*Franco (Sundress Publications, 2012)

You seem to be a jack of all trades: poet, author, publisher, and artist. How do you balance serving each of these?

Sometimes it’s difficult, especially since I work a full-time, 40 hour a week day job (in a library) in addition to my own creative work and the press.  Admittedly, there are things that take more of a priority over my time at any given moment, and sometimes my own work gets pushed to the bottom of the list while other things take precedence.  I’ve been striving more toward balance lately and setting aside specific days to focus on particular aspects of what I do, and that’s helping a lot.

I was introduced to your work through I*Hate*You*James*Franco, and fell head over heels in love. Where did the inspiration for it come from?

In 2011 or so, I was constantly seeing a lot of people on social media talking about Franco and his antics.  The series actually began as a sort of joke and not at all seriously—my own musings on what a lot of other poets & friends were saying about Franco, his identity as a celebrity poet and other foolishness. They were very informal and blog-like and suddenly I realized I may actually have something…about my own anxieties as a writer, about celebrity, about working in a medium that in general, the world sort of just doesn’t care about all that much.

This chapbook stars a well-known celebrity. Did you have any fear of Hollywood? What kind of reception have you gotten for the chapbook? And how did you go about tactfully writing about a living icon?

The only hesitation that I had about releasing the work was that I had previously been the victim of online harassment/bullying in the poetry world and didn’t want any sort of repeat of that by crazed Franco fans/supporters… lol… but then again, outside of the fact that they are poems addressed to a celebrity, they are only tangentially about him, and actually, aren’t really that critical  (of course, how could they be, I don’t actually know him, right?)  I don’t think much about  “Hollywood” as this all-powerful force, much less fear it, it’s just really just a bunch of actors and writers and producers, people trying to make art (although with much more popular interest than poetry obviously).  I am, however, critical of the poetry establishment so quick to pander to celebrity in general, whoever that may be.  Actually, the reception has been really awesome and no one has come after me… lol…

What are your goals with your publishing company? Are you aiming to reach certain audiences? 

I feel like poets and poetry-readers are such a small demographic when you look at the larger literary world. And feminist, women centered poetry probably an even smaller demographic.  That said, our books (like my own aesthetic tastes) vary in style from the more innovative to more traditional, so probably appeal to a larger number of readers in different factions and corners of the literary community.

When it comes to your own personal work, how do you choose which publisher to submit your work to? For instance, how did you choose Sundress Publications?

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve sort of stumbled into great relationships with presses, sometimes just through happenstance, sometimes over the transom.   I’ve always sent my work to presses that I admire or feel would have an affinity to my work or shared interests. Sundress’ cornerstone journal, Stirring, had been one of the first online journals I ever published with way back in 2001.  In 2003, they invited Wicked Alice, the online journal I founded, to join up with Sundress.  I was excited when they started publishing e-chaps and decided to send them the Franco poems which they accepted, and later, my full-length book major characters in minor films (that contains the Franco pieces) , which they wound up publishing earlier this year.

Your latest chapbook, Apocalypse Theory, seems very interesting in a sophisticated Mad Max kind of way. Where did the inspiration come for this?

I’d been watching a lot of Supernatural and plague/ zombie movies and this is sort of what came from it.  I’m a horror / sci-fi fiend, so I suppose it’s only natural.  That particular series is one part of a larger manuscript that deals with apocalyptic themes, including 1950’s Cold-War logic, monster movies, zombie-girls, and the atomic bomb.

Would you consider yourself more of a mandatory scheduled writer or a spontaneous writer?

I definitely TRY to be the first, but definitely end up behaving more like the latter.  After a full-day putting out other fires, the writing sometimes gets pushed aside, and what was once supposed to be orderly progress becomes a furious mad dash as deadlines (external or internal) approach.

I read in an interview that you take a lot of inspiration from Plath and Eliot. Do you have any contemporary authors or poets you admire or recommend?

There are so many, both poets I’ve published and poets I’ve never even met, that I admire and that inspire me.   Lately I am digging on Catie Rosemurgy, but some of my other favorite non-dgper-s are Matthea Harvey, Jenny Boully, Selah Saterstrom, Daniel Pafunda, Maggie Nelson, and so many more.

Do aim your art toward one audience and your literature toward another?

My best projects are those that include both written and visual elements, so in that respect, they probably have the same audience.  But I do feel like art is something that is more easily packaged for general consumption, definitely something that appeals more to the mainstream eye than poetry. For example, I’ve actually made far more money from selling artwork and paper goods than I probably every will selling poetry. I don’t think it’s something I aim for, but perhaps the art winds up having a wider sphere of appeal than the writing by its nature, even though I think the impulses that lead to both are the same across the board.

I was blown away by your art collections posted on your website. Do you do all your own covers and artwork for your chapbooks? Where do the clippings or images you sometimes use in your art come from?

The dgp covers are a mix.  We approach cover art trying to involve the author as much as they are willing to be involved.  In many cases, I design something specific based on my own impulses or ideas they’ve given me to work with.  In other cases, another artist (usually a friend of the author) is pulled in to provide artwork which I then do the text layout for.  In some cases, we are able to get a print ready file from an artist or designer.  I think these approaches allow us to always have variation in our catalogue and to keep things from always looking the same.

I do sometimes harvest some of my own visual work for covers if it seems to fit, as well as design new pieces from scratch (which actually sometimes touch off entire series of work in a similar vein if I like the results.)  I like to tear up old books and advertising for a lot of my work, use vintage illustrations and diagrams I’ve found online.  I’ve just finished up a series of collages involving old Victorian cabinet cards from my mother’s side of the family and some creepy vintage animal masks.  Lately, I’m trying to incorporate other mediums into my 2-d work like watercolor and acrylics along with paper.

Do you intend for your art to be a social statement? Could you tell me a bit about Strange Machine and Radio Ocularia?

I don’t think I intend to make social statements from the outset, but sometimes they just sort of happen.  When I was writing my second book In the Bird Museum, I was very much thinking about the ways that women are always treading that line between knowledge and danger. I always feel that if I were to try to write something with social  implications, I’d end up being too didactic, but I always feel like all my work is feminist in its nature, whether it’s dealing with beauty and the grotesque (as in girl show) or women in relation to pop-culture and artmaking (major characters in minor films).

Radio Ocularia was written in relation to a series of visual pieces I had done involving anatomical illustrations, so those came about first and the text was a response to those.  I had been thinking about illness and vulnerability and the ways in which the body fails us.  Strange Machine, which is part of that apocalypse manuscript is all based on Cold-war hysteria and the atom bomb, and like RO, is being written to accompany a series of collages.  The visual and written is actually sort of evolving in tandem and I hope to finish them by the end of the year.

Your website says that you are from Illinois. How do you feel your background or roots influence your writings?

I think so much of my writing is rooted in a certain ruralness, even though I’ve sent close to the last 20 years living in a city. Landscape plays a role in so much of my work, as does the “Midwest” as a concept. I’m similarly rooted to Wisconsin and its woods since I spent much of my childhood summers there.  At first I was definitely writing more about my childhood in the country than I ever was about currently living in an urban landscape, but now I tend to go back and forth.

Does your family have a history of being creative or are you the “misfit”?

While my extended family is pretty much non-artists, my dad is a big reader, so I suspect my literary tendencies can be linked to him.  My mom used to paint a lot of porcelain figurines when I was a kid just as a hobby and I remember always begging (unsuccessfully) to get my hands on the paints. I was actually always more drawn to words than images when younger, so my sister is the one with the visual art education. I moved back and forth between writing and theatre but only started working visually in the last decade or so.

What advice do you have for writers in college looking for a break?

Don’t go into it with a preconceived and faulty idea of waiting to be hit with the “legitimacy” stick. Know yourself, know your work, build your audience and don’t wait for the break, just do what you need to do. That, and “Fake It Til You Make It” which is a valuable piece of info in all things.


A writer and visual artist, Kristy Bowen is the author of several book, chapbook and zine projects, including major characters in minor films (Sundress Publications, 2015), the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press, 2013), and girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Her work has appeared most recently in Split Lip Review, Hound, and Whiskey Island. She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and spends much of her time writing, making papery things, and curating a chapbook series devoted to women authors. Her next full-length collection, salvage, is due out from Black Lawrence Press in 2016.



Matvei Yankelevich

13483952The Blue Notebook (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2004)

translations of poems by Daniil Kharms

In several online interviews, you mention that you pick young or inexperienced authors’ work to publish. How well do you know these authors, and what is your selection process like?

There’s lots of ways that UDP finds manuscripts. I wouldn’t say our focus is authors with a lack of experience. Some of the authors we publish in chapbooks or in our magazine indeed have not published before, but it’s not their inexperience that draws us in, but an interest in their poems. Some of our books are the result of a solicitation on our part — one of us might be excited by a poet’s work (heard at a reading, read in magazines) and then we ask them to submit work or suggest that we publish a project they are still working on. We also have several forms of open reading periods, and often the authors are unknown to us until we read their submissions.

See the submissions page on our site for more info.

And there’s more info about the way the Presse works on our FAQ page.

How well do you research the authors you think about translating or publishing?

Depends if you’re asking me about my work as a translator…. Well, as a translator, I do a lot of research if the poet I’m translating is not contemporary. I mostly translate work from the early 20th century. And I have to read a lot about the author, sometimes looking into particular references to historical events or cultural milieus. You can take a look at my introduction to the Daniil Kharms book Today I Wrote Nothing, which I edited and translated, and see the research I did for that book. That book, incidentally, contains the text of The Blue Notebook, which I had previously published with UDP.

As for Ugly Duckling Presse, when publishing translations, we mostly rely on the translators who submit work to us to tell us about the authors.  The editor of the book might do additional research, but mostly we help the translator do the best they can by asking questions.  Sometimes, though more rarely, one of our editors does a bunch of research on an author that has not been published in English, or not widely known, and we try to consult specialists in this or that field to help us find out more. One doesn’t have to reinvent the bicycle if there’s someone out there that’s already done the work and can help us figure out the best way to go about thinking of a book of that author’s work.

Why did The Blue Notebook catch your attention?

I’ve been translating Kharms since college (the early 1990s), so I’ve known about it a long time. I wanted to put something out by Kharms when I started the Eastern European Poets Series for UDP. The Blue Notebook seemed perfect, because – as it says in the afterword – it’s one of Kharms’s few groupings of work that he collected himself. Much of the rest of his work was not finalized in the same way. It seems he was interested in making a serial work made up of fragments. I find it to be a very interesting work, a notebook that might feel spontaneous (like a diary) but actually assembled from texts written in other notebooks or on scraps of paper over a period of several years. It’s composed in a mysterious way.

From what perspective is The Blue Notebook written?  Are there multiple perspectives?

I can’t answer this question. I think it’s worth interpreting The Blue Notebook as a collection of writings such that I’ve described above. It’s kind of up to the reader to think about perspectives. I don’t find that to be a useful term when talking about Kharms’s work, as he’s not a traditional fiction writer, so he doesn’t really write from his characters’ perspectives. He seems more interested in what it means to write, to play the role of an author. He is using a mask of a kind – Daniil Kharms isn’t his given name. I think The Blue Notebook shows a variety of approaches and styles, but not necessarily perspectives; that is, I think, Kharms’s aesthetics are made clear in the compositional strategy of the Notebook, it shows how he’s interested in placing unrelated materials in various formal juxtapositions.

What do you know about the inspiration behind The Blue Notebook?

I can’t surmise the inspiration. I think that for Kharms it had more to do with an interest in employing different strategies and seeing what happened if he placed these disparate parts together.

Is it often challenging to find the best words to convey what the author wrote?

Translation isn’t really about finding the best word, or the “equivalent” word in the “target” language. Languages are infinitely different (there are no real equivalents) and two words might mean the same thing but not have the same connotations, not to mention sound-values. A good translation finds a tone, a rhythm, and an understanding of something that couldn’t have been written in our language. That’s what I hope to achieve. But yes, indeed, translation is hard work. It’s more fun if you can collaborate, otherwise it’s kind of lonely.

How much do you interact with authors before publishing their work?

Depends if they are dead or alive (!).  As a publisher, and particularly as an editor at UDP, I work with authors and translators closely. We want the book to be the best it can be before it goes to print. Not just copy-editing and proofreading, but actually editing the book, asking questions, clarifying, suggesting moving a poem or taking one out, etc.

You are a published author yourself. Which of your published works are you most proud of?

I am proud of my translation of Kharms, and the book Today I Wrote Nothing. But also of my books and chapbooks, in a different way – they are a bit more embarrassing than the translations.

Have you written any work that you did not publish?  If so, why didn’t you?

I’ve written a lot of things.  Publication isn’t for everything.  Some things are better left unpublished, and some things just can’t find a publisher.  I have a long poem that I haven’t found a publisher for, but I hope to someday.  I also have a lot of things that are unfinished, or just aren’t that great. I have to feel that something hangs together, that it makes the impact and statement that I want to make before I want to send it around to potential publishers.

What is your linguistic background? What drew you to translation, and why Russian?

I was born in Moscow, I moved to the states at a very young age. I grew up with the Russian and English languages from the age of 4 or 5. Russian was primarily spoken at home. I went back to Russia frequently after high school, when it was possible to travel. I kept up the language by traveling there by making friends among Russian poets, and by translating and writing about Russian literature.

Do you design the covers and interiors of the work that you publish?

We edit, design, and publish our books. Sometimes, but rarely, we work with an outside designer. We might use artwork by artists whom the authors recommend to us. But the design is mostly our own. I do a lot of design for UDP.

I’ve also helped design some of my own books published with other presses. For example, I did the typesetting for Alpha Donut (2012), and worked with an artist friend to design the cover. On my most recent book, Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt, I made a lot of suggestions to the designer. I also asked an artist I know for the cover image. So I had something to do with it, but I didn’t actually make the digital files for the book in that case.

What are your other translating experiences? Have you translated for other publishers or presses?

Most of my translations and my own original work is published by other presses. You’ll see some examples in my bio. I did translate two chapbooks for Ugly Duckling (Kharms’s The Blue Notebook and Vvedensky’s The Gray Notebook), and I felt okay about that because it was not my original work, and it was important to me to include these authors in our Eastern European Poets Series… They are foundational authors for me, and they were not so well known at the time outside of Russia, and even in Russia, Vvedensky is still mostly unknown.  I don’t like the idea of publishing myself.  It’s a lot of work to publish books by others – I’ve worked on dozens and dozens of books with many authors, so I’d like someone to work on my books. If someone other than myself thinks that my work is worth publishing, I hope that they will take on the project, and it makes me feel good to know that I’m not the only one that thinks my work is worth reading.

Do you search for things you would like to translate, or do the authors come to you? How do you decide what to translate?

This varies. Some small projects are commissioned or requested by others – like translating a few poems for an anthology, or for a visiting Russian poet, or something like that. But my bigger translation projects have been, up to now, based on my own interests, research, and reading. I get interested in a writer (just by reading around, following intuition, or stumbling upon someone’s work by accident) and I think, wow, this writer has barely been translated, or, this writer has been very poorly translated and misrepresented; I should give it a try. There’s a lot I’d like to translate, but it’s very time-consuming, so I can’t get to all of it. Some of my translator friends get hired to do translations of stuff that they like to a greater or lesser degree, and they do whatever the publisher wants them to do, but I’m not fast enough to make that kind of work worthwhile for me.

What advice would you give new writers who are trying to get published?

First, I would ask myself, “Why do I want to publish this or that particular piece?” Then, if it’s not just about self-esteem, I would go ahead and look for the right place to publish. I would start by reading a bunch of little magazines, ones I’ve never read, not just The New Yorker and The Paris Review and Poetry. I would look for what magazines are being published in the town I live in, or the closest city, search at the library, ask the librarians, and search online listings of little magazines and small presses. (It’s so much easier now with the internet than it was when I was starting to write.) Go to some readings or launches that your local magazines put on, see what the local scenes are doing. Look for the work you enjoy by your peers, or people who aren’t yet Nobel Prize winners or best-sellers. Find out where these peers of yours publish, then you can find the magazines online and in print that you would feel proud to be published in, where you think your work would fit well, where you have a sense of the editors’ tastes. Only then should you start to send your work out. Otherwise, the odds are against you; you might as well be throwing your poems and stories into the wind and hoping one of them lands on your reader’s desk. You can also start your own magazine, band together with writer-friends that feel like making a contribution, and publish yourselves and find other people you think are worth publishing that aren’t having an easy time finding a venue. Make your own scene. Then you’ll find it easy to connect with other writers and scenes and trade magazines, trade poems and stories, and slowly build the writing world that you want to live in.


Matvei Yankelevich is the author of the poetry collection Alpha Donut (United Artists, 2012), and a novella in fragments, Boris by the Sea (Octopus, 2009). A long poem, Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt, from Black Square Editions, will be released in November 2015. He is the translator of Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, and co-translator of the National Translation Award-winning An Invitation for Me to Think by Alexander Vvedensky. He has contributed translations to several anthologies and many magazines (including Harper’s, The New Yorker, Poetry, New American Writing, and Circumference). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He edits the Eastern European Poets Series for Ugly Duckling Presse and teaches at Columbia University’s School of the Arts, the Queens College MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation, and the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College.


Six Poems from From a Winter Notebook

Kayla Miller

millerphoto-page-001-791x1024-791x1024See & Be Seen & Be Scene (Five [Quarterly] Press, 2014)

The title of your chapbook is a clever play on words. We were curious about how you came up with it and why you felt it fit with these stories.

I chose See & Be Seen & Be Scene because I felt it reflected some element of both stories in the chapbook. “In the Days since I Fell out of Love with You” and “Deer & Other Myth” both house characters that desperately want to be seen in a specific way by a certain someone, another character, or themselves. Furthermore, the former is composed predominantly of brief scenes connected only by their relevance to the unnamed narrator; the latter focuses on a prepubescent girl who thinks of her life as scene.

How involved were you in picking the cover art? Did you pick it yourself or did your publisher pick it for you?

Five [Quarterly] was excellent about getting my input throughout the publication process. I selected the cover art among three options presented to me and am beyond pleased with the final result.

What were the inspirations for the chapbook’s stories?

“In the Days since I Fell out of Love with You” is a story I wrote as I was falling out of love with my high school sweetheart, an experience wholly new to me at the time. “Deer & Other Myth” is very much rooted in childhood memories from Jonesboro, Georgia. Many of the men in my family hunt deer. They would often bring the deer to my Nana’s house, where I was raised, to skin and butcher. My family is poor and taking game to the cooler is expensive. I remember being very young–as early as four or five years old–and sitting on the top step in my Nana’s basement to watch them skin deer. Those memories are as stark in my mind as they are in Lynn Brainard’s video tapes.

 “In the Days since I Fell out of Love with You” seems more episodic than linear in how time passes. Was the story always like this, or did it evolve?

 From the very outset, “In the Days since I Fell out of Love with You” was written as a nonlinear, moment-centric piece. At the time, I was studying Virginia Woolf and got really excited by this idea of stream of consciousness narratives highlighting the significance of the moment-as-lived. In the story, I wanted to play with narrative’s ability to re-present time, space, and mental headspace. Like I said, I was falling out of love, too, so I wanted to capture that as well: the way your relationships with folks can come down to memories of moments.

 What is the significance of the hedgehog in this story?

 That’s a great question! I think the story’s narrator would say he purchased it to have something to love as his own feelings fade. I’d further say it works to humanize him a bit. Though I’m obsessed with writing villains, writing flat villains is boring.

What do you imagine happened to Derek? Did he and Terri just have a falling out or was there more to it than that?

 This is a story with secrets. There are suggestions that Derek is more than just friendly with Lynn, Terri’s daughter, so I imagine more than a generic “falling out” passes between he and Terri.

 What is the significance of the pink worm?

 Lynn is a girl desperately trying to document everything, to hold onto everything (or at least, evidence of everything). There is both an excitement and trepidation in her as she moves into womanhood, a dangerous trek for Lynn indeed. With the pink worm, I hope to offer Lynn some opportunities for, if not rebirth, at least the hope of it.


Kayla Miller hails from the south side of Atlanta and lives in Las Vegas. Her work can be found in the journals Tahoma Literary Review, HOLD: a journal, Gesture, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, among others. Currently, she is finishing her MFA at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and revising a novel. She lives with her English bulldog, loves leopard print, and calls herself John Wayne.



Karyna McGlynn

alabamasteveAlabama Steve (Sundress Publications, 2014; Destructible Heart Press, 2008)

What are the advantages and disadvantages of publishing an online chapbook?

There are plenty of advantages to publishing a book online. For one thing, the wait time between acceptance and publication is usually much shorter; there’s not nearly as much editorial backlog and the production timeline is simpler when you don’t have to worry about printing budgets, distribution, etc. Online publications are also universally accessible, so there’s the possibility of a wider readership. That said, there’s still a vague stigma surrounding digital publication–the impression that it’s not a “real book,” that if it’s free it must not be very good. While I too romanticize (perhaps even fetishize) physical books, there’s no denying the shift towards digital publishing. I think people are getting increasingly comfortable with it.

What’s the best writing or publishing advice you’ve ever gotten?

An undergrad writing teacher told me, “Your only job is to not give the reader an excuse to stop reading, to get them from the upper left-hand corner to the lower right-hand corner of the paper.” Makes it sound so simple, huh? I think about this whenever I’m feeling blocked: it’s not that I have to be brilliant; I just have to move the reader from here to there in a not-totally-sucky way.

What’s the worst?

When I told a visiting poet that I had gotten in the habit of writing a poem every day, he told me to “stop raping the muse” (!) Then again, I used that line in a poem, so, in retrospect, I’m glad he said it.

Does what you read as you’re working on a project influence your writing?

Usually, what I’m reading doesn’t affect my current project too much, though it occasionally sparks a new project. Movies and music, I’ve learned, definitely affect my writing in a very immediate way, so I have to be careful about what I’m watching and listening to when I’m really working on something. If I watch a film noir, that noir aesthetic is going to creep in to the very next thing I write. If I’m listening to Scissor Sisters, I know my writing’s going to get more campy & exuberant. This is probably a big reason why my poems are full of pop cultural references–particularly in regards to film and music.

Did you have a particular writing process for Alabama Steve?

The titular character came to me in a dream during a period where I was writing a lot of prose poetry and flash fiction. I dreamed about this “Alabama Steve” character for about three weeks straight, but he kept showing up in various guises, and I kept writing about him. The process was actually very collaborative. My longtime writing partner Adam Theriault and I started imagining the book as an “ambitious narrator who keeps getting drawn into a world of Steves and Steve-ness.” From there, we had a lot of fun teasing out the narrative and creating a Panopoly of Steves. The original publisher, Adam Rubinstein, had a big hand in shaping the book as well. We all just got super obsessed with the idea of Steve.

In a previous interview, you said that this was the work you were the most proud of. Is this still true? You said you like it because of the mythos surrounding its creation. Could you tell us more about this mythos that brought it about?

It’s not true today. Today I’m most proud of the book I just finished, Hothouse. I guess that’s pretty natural, but I’m still a big fan of Alabama Steve. I talked a bit about the mythos of the book’s creation above, but it was just this really exciting and productive time right after I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl got accepted. I had the momentum to keep working and was still having all these weird dreams, but I wanted to do something more fun and freewheeling, something less compressed and haunted. So Alabama Steve became the conduit for all of that, and I was really lucky to have all these people around who were equally invested in the mythos of Steve. We did this big guerilla marketing campaign where we created fake Myspace, Facebook, and OkCupid profiles for the main characters. We even created a fake geocities website for Stephen Brownblatt’s 2003 workshop, Poetry Ship: Manning the Craft (!)

Where did the cover art for this chapbook come from? What was it inspired by?

Sundress Press designed the cover art for the e-chap. The original print cover was green with a praying mantis in the middle of it. I wanted the design of the e-chap to call back to that, so I’m happy they included a mantis. The mantis is a reference to one of the book’s few recurring non-Steve characters, Alejandro the Giant Mantis (who later becomes a flight attendant).

We were intrigued by the Introduction. We initially assumed it was just going to talk about you, your writing, and how this story came about. Instead, it appears to be part of the story—an in-depth look at the character of “Steve” from his point of view. What made you decide to introduce the story this way?

The “introduction” was another thing that grew out of the collaboration between me and the two Adams after the chapbook had already been accepted. It’s purportedly written by Writer-in-Residence Stephen Brownblatt, who is one of the recurring Steve characters (not to be confused with Alabama Steve). I think a lot of people skip over it thinking it’s just some boring introduction, and that’s unfortunate because I think it’s one of the funniest parts of the book. And then there are the people who just don’t get it–I remember going home one Christmas and having my aunt tell me in all earnestness how sweet it was of my former writing professor to write such a thoughtful introduction for me. I think I choked on my eggnog. In any case, I think the introduction–despite being more of a spoof–does actually help bring readers into the surreal world of the book by immediately blurring the line between reality and fiction. It characterizes Brownblatt and actually unpacks a lot of the idea of Steve-ness, albeit in Brownblatt’s ridiculously prolix and pompous way.

You have some particularly fascinating chapter titles in Alabama Steve. Do you typically begin a chapter with a title, or do you write the chapter first and add the title once it’s written?

I don’t really think of the pieces as chapters; I think of them more as interlinking parts in a flash fiction series. Titles are really, really important to me (all of my students can vouch for that one!), so I spend a lot of time thinking about them. But there’s no real consistency in terms of when I title things. Sometimes the title is the first thing I think of. Other times it comes later in the process. In any case, I don’t believe you really know what a piece wants to be until it has the right title.

 How/why did you decide to italicize certain words within the stories?

Ha, yeah, this was one of the things I actually argued with my publisher about. They initially wanted to strip out most of the italics, slang, and vocal tics. I think they thought that I didn’t know any better (maybe because of my performance background), but I finally convinced them that it was an informed aesthetic choice. I did, however, eventually agree to tone it down with the italics, which was probably a good choice. As it is, Alan Bajandas described the narrator as “an excitable gay 12 year-old gangster trying to mingle at the National Book Awards.” I think that’s along the lines of what I was going for with the diction and italics.

Are any of the more realistic passages based on your life, or the lives of people you’ve met? Are any of them metaphors for real-life situations? Is Steve based on any real people?

This is the least autobiographical book I’ve written, but yes, some of the characters are inspired by real people: Stephen Brownblatt is a caricaturized version of one of my early writing professors and Alabama Steve is a mash-up of men I was around growing up in the south: hipster, hippie, and redneck somehow rolled into one. And, yes, I do think that many of the scenarios in the book can be read pretty clearly as metaphors for my anxieties about being a young woman in academia.

Some of these stories make sense as dreams. Was that a connection you intended to make?

Yes, but I wanted to foist the reader into the world of dream logic without ever acknowledging the dream as such.

Are these stories arranged chronologically, or organized in some other way?

Yes, there’s a loose chronology here that follows the trajectory of the narrator’s “relationship” with Alabama Steve from their initial encounter with all the “neighborhood kids,” on through college and grad school, to the ending where both are transformed into hybrid fictional characters. However, I don’t think the book has any sort of traditional plot. I tend to look at the beginnings and endings of pieces to see how they “speak” to one another when I’m trying to arrange them. Then I edit some more to highlight specific themes, motifs, and narrative threads that I discovered during the ordering process.

How do you know when you’ve finished a piece? Is it done once you’ve reached a certain word count, or do you have some other guideline for determining this?

That would be awesome if I could tell a piece was done when it reached a certain word count, but alas! I think knowing when and how to end is something that comes with practice. It takes a certain amount of confidence to “end” a piece. So many things can go wrong! You don’t want the “emergency escape hatch” ending, but you also don’t want a Big Red Bow ending. A well-written piece will usually “tell” you how to end it if you’re willing to listen and get out of its way. If I’m having trouble with the ending, it’s usually an indication of a deeper structural problem with the piece, so instead of trying to “fix” the end, I’ll start revising again at the top.


Karyna McGlynn is the author of I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, Scorpionica, and Alabama Steve. Her poems have recently appeared in The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Black Warrior Review, AGNI and Witness. Karyna received her MFA from the University of Michigan and her PhD from the University of Houston, where she was the Managing Editor of Gulf Coast. She is currently the Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin and the Senior Poetry Editor for Devil’s Lake.



Les Kay

bureauThe Bureau (Sundress Publications, 2015)

What does a writing day look like for you? Do you have any routines or rituals that get your creative juices flowing?

Honestly, I don’t have that many specific rituals. I think I’m a bit unusual in that respect. The only consistent habit is that I like to have coffee and, on occasion, tea close at hand.  But my rituals are anything but consistent. Over the summer, for example, I started working on a non-fiction essay that has since turned into a book (or at least an attempted book).  I wrote most of those 50,000 words in the morning after I’d had a little bit of coffee and checked Facebook.  I would then move outside onto the front porch, where there’s this wonderful lightly stained pine porch swing. I’d sit on that swing all morning, drinking two or three cups of coffee, typing away on laptop, until I reached my word count for the day, which was typically something like 2,000 words, or, if it was a good writing day, when I felt like stopping. The three dogs who live with me slept through the morning, and I would be outside typing away, trying to reimagine Texas, where I’m from.

Clearly, those aren’t rituals that translate well to an Ohio winter, so I’m frequently changing my rituals—often simply in search of time to write. I’d prefer, for example, to write on my laptop, using Microsoft Word, pausing now and then for Facebook or for more coffee or to take care of the dogs, but for me, my rituals are very, very malleable. I’ve been known to stop writing for a month or more, to write on my cell phone while riding the bus home, and even, once upon a time, to write everything out in longhand.

For me, the key is, quite simply, to give my mind permission to wander and fail, if need be. More often than not, that probably means developing project-specific routines.  The poems in The Bureau, for example, were very difficult for me to write. I had to wait for those poems to show up when they did, perhaps because the mode is so very disjunctive or perhaps because the “head-space” of world-spanning conspiracism is a really uncomfortable place to inhabit.  So the poems would come as if inspired, and then I spent a very long time revising, connecting the narratives, arranging, and revising yet more.

In your Tinderbox interview, you talked about the best piece of writing/ publishing advice you’ve ever gotten. What was the worst?

Someone reviewing one of my manuscripts once called a poem a “solid filler poem” or something like that. I don’t think such poems exist anymore. If a poem is just a filler poem or poem solely for the sake of connecting to other poems, why bother?

Besides your chapbooks, have you written anything else (perhaps something that has not been published)? Have you written things besides poetry? Any fiction?

Well, I have two chapbooks published and a collaborative chapbook called Heart Radicals that will be published in 2016 by ELJ Publications. It’s a little book of love poems by four different poets: myself, Allie Marini, Sandra Marchetti, and Janeen Rastall.  Though I may be a bit biased, I think the mingling of voices on such a topic makes for a fascinating book that I’m really honored to have contributed to and to have helped shape. In addition, Sundress Publications is going to publish my first full-length collection Home Front in 2016.

I’ve written enough failed and incomplete novels that I don’t count any more.  I’ll try again at some point. I’m certain of this. I’ve also written scores of short stories over much of my life. Three of the smaller ones are about to be published.  One in Hermeneutic Chaos and two in kadar koli.

Of course, as an academic, I’ve written scores of papers.  I’ve also written much more mundane things, like e-learning targeted for pharmaceutical sales representatives. That corporate work experience probably has something or other to do with The Bureau, and I expect it to impact my writing in new, surprising ways in the future.

And, as I mention above, I’m currently working on a creative non-fiction piece that will juxtapose my last visit to Texas over the span of a few days with some more quotidian moments here at home in Ohio. I’d tell you more, but I’m absurdly superstitious about such things. I’d rather write than write about work that’s incomplete.

As a writer, I’m deeply fascinated by genre limitations and pushing against those limitations in search of that which is betwixt and between, so the idea, for example, of a long poem with e-learning as its form holds a certain appeal to me. So, I expect I’ll do that relatively soon.

What exactly is the Bureau (assuming you are talking about an organization or branch of government in your chapbook)?

A fiction. But within the context of the chapbook, I imagined it as a convergence of multinational corporations and the government. For me, the Bureau is an international organization. A potential future. A literalization of deeply disconcerting overlaps in governance and profit. It is what K Street might one day become. Or perhaps already has become.

The character Smithson piqued our curiosity. Can you tell us something about Smithson’s backstory? Does he go crazy in the chapbook? Why does Smithson report the narrator and the iguana to the Bureau in “Smithson in Love”? Is Smithson in love with the Bureau in a strange sort of romance or loyalty?

Not really. He’s an everyman. I know much of the backstory, but I’ve made promises that it wouldn’t be revealed.

I can tell you that the redacted text from the Bureau suggest that he has lost his mind. And that his madsong is, indeed, his. But, given the context, I think it’s difficult to gauge whether or not he’s more insane than any of the other characters. Or, I guess, anyone.

I think, as far as love goes, that seems to me an entirely predictable behavior for a kind of everyman when that everyman is foisted into a management position. If you think about the ways in which organizations (like Bureau) so often function, we do find ourselves loving them in peculiar ways.  Our nation, for example, breaks our heart regularly, yet still we love it. Companies convince us to hum their jingles, recite their slogans, and recognize their logos instantaneously. If that’s not love, what is it?

PS: Is this the iguana of The Bureau?

If you’d like. A friend took this picture of his iguana on Facebook. I liked it so much that I reused it with his permission. When writing, I imagined an actual iguana rather than a toy.

Is the red text used in The Bureau significant to the meaning of the chapbook, or is it simply a design choice used for emphasis?

Credit for that, and the design generally speaking, should go to T.A. Noonan, the editor and designer of the book. She suggested red in lieu of italics, which was how the lines were presented in the manuscript.

I, personally, think the red is extremely suggestive as it’s used to signify a shift in speech as italics might. I’ll leave to readers, however, whatever that significance may be.

We’re really curious about the collie that crops up throughout the chapbook, in multiple poems. Is it a metaphor for something else? Or a real collie? We feel stupid. Help us out.

I suppose the collie could be a metaphor, but this chapbook really emerged from my own fascination and love of fiction. I’d not seen—when I started the collection—any Magical Real poems. So one of my goals was to bring Magical Realism into poetry.  I love Angela Carter, for example, and her Nights at the Circus includes all manner of human-animal relationships in service to broader revolutionary and feminists goals. I simply thought, once upon a time, that poetry could and should use those techniques as well.

In the world of the Bureau, the relationships between animals and people are quite different than we (particularly American readers) tend to think of relationships between people and animals.  I wanted the book to be disruptive like the work of Angela Carter, and the collie (as well as the iguana and the South African rabbit) was a means to do that. To point towards power.

We are very pleased to have added the word “prodromal” (featured in “Integration and Incense”) to our vocabularies. This isn’t a question. We just wanted to let you know.

Thank you.

Is it cliché to ask about your inspiration for The Bureau? We ask shamelessly: how on earth did you come up with this idea?

It’s a good question. And in many ways, it’s a flattering question; it suggests that The Bureau is different from what’s “expected” of poetry.  So even if it is a cliché, I’m quite happy to answer the question.

I started working on the poems in the late 1990’s. At the time, I was reading a lot of fiction that was uneasy, often conspiracy-tinged and bristling with paranoia, including Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, etc.  I was struck by the capacity of fiction to convey such uncomfortable mental states, and how English-language poetry, with a few notable exceptions like John Ashbery, had—at least to my thinking at the time—left such an expanse of human experience unexplored. As a (novice) poet, I simply wanted to figure out how to represent that affect. That’s the genesis of the collection and how very early drafts of poems like “Taste Ferments” and “The File Cabinet” were written. I was, quite simply, drawing on much of the fiction that I loved and the influence of John Ashbery, or perhaps, the influence of the attempt to understand John Ashbery’s poems.

For a long time, the poems were just a batch of random experiments. The Bureau hadn’t been invented yet. The narratives hadn’t been envisioned. There were no characters, per se. Just experiments. Fractured little dreamscapes.

Then, in the early 2000’s, I was working as a copy editor and then as an instructional designer at a small start-up in San Francisco with offices just off Market Street. It was, in many ways, precisely what you’d imagine work would be like during the tech bubble: absurdly long hours on occasion, excellent pay, a strong and palpable sense of corp d’esprit, and occasional nagging doubts about what you, as an individual, were doing to the world. So any given week, you might see a show at the Fillmore, march in an anti-war protest, drop far too much money on books and CDs, but during the day, you would be writing, chunking, and organizing sales training for pharmaceutical representatives or proprietary software training for loan officers. And you would (errantly it now seems) imagine your own wealth—as a creative cog, but a cog nonetheless—within this process as something of a given as you stood on an apartment balcony considering how long it might be until you could afford one of the quarter-million-dollar two-bedroom bungalows nearby.

This is not to say that experience was a model for the Bureau or that the company had done anything unethical, but that’s the milieu from which The Bureau emerged. That’s when I started thinking of those little paranoid poems as part of a whole and whether or not I could write about globalization, sort of, and when Smithson appeared, echoing those dystopian fictions and, apparently, much more. I think I wrote early drafts of key poems like “Smithson in Love” and “The Stranger” at that time. That’s when I began fleshing out the overarching narrative, and thinking of The Bureau as a series. A book someday.

From there, it only took me a decade to write and edit the remaining poems. I imagined the poems, almost, as their own genre, a very specific mode, so that space wasn’t one I could inhabit every day or at will.  I had to wait for poems that fit that mode to arrive—often unannounced—in the normal course of my writing, for a particular kind of imagistic movement to show up in a poem, and then I had to work with the poem shaping it to fit as a kind of fragment within the whole of The Bureau. Even when I had the skeletons of all the poems that would comprise the chapbook, I had to visit and revisit that world to figure out how the connections were working, where a character might reappear or vanish, which of the chorus of voices was in play. So, in retrospect, there was a significant amount of collage-like work that had to be done so that a reader would catch glimpses from within this thing that would speak to the conspiracies and the idea of resistance as well as, perhaps, the difficulty of resistance.

More than that, however, it took me a very long time to just trust the poems. The book was, at the time, very different from my other work, and of course, it’s a patently absurd premise. I only had this vague sense of how it might work, and when I first sent out the poems for individual publication, they fared rather poorly. I suppose, though, that the patent absurdity of the world around us caught up with the “vision” in The Bureau, and all that seemed far-fetched in the 1990’s didn’t seem so far-fetched by the time the chapbook was sent to Sundress Publications.

What is your editing process? How do you revise your poems? How much do you involve other people in the process of editing your poems?

Typically, I’ll write a first draft rather quickly trusting in the fact that it’s probably lousy.  Then, I’ll show that draft to my wife, Michelle, who is almost always my first reader.  I’ll then make changes she suggests and go on to tomorrow’s writing.  If a poem really strikes me for some reason, I’ll edit the poem (for sense, for sound, for imagery) until I can’t face the poem any longer, and then set the poem aside.

I like to let poems sit a long time. A very long time if possible.  Then, I’ll revise, as appropriate, trying to make the poem better.  I tend, also, to group these early drafts into manuscripts that don’t really matter or work as manuscripts and then poke around in those manuscripts.  Every once in a while, I’ll return to really old work, try to see the poem again, and rewrite it entirely. I mainly have intermittent and quite long revising sessions where I work on poems I’ve drafted over the years.

So, typically, it takes a very long time for me to get a poem to a place where I think it can be sent out. And sometimes, if a poem is sent out and it fares very badly, I’ll look at the poem the next time it goes out and perhaps revise.  Typically, I’d guess a poem takes 20-30 revisions at least.  But, sometimes there are gifts.

Any tips for vocabulary expansion/ word choosing? [Laura was very impressed.]

Read, read, read, read. Read broadly and deeply. That’s really the only answer. It’s also why my wife probably has a stronger vocabulary than I do.

As for word choice, that’s a much more complicated issue. I don’t think, for example, I’ve written anything other than The Bureau where the word “prodromal” would fit. So in those terms, I’d simply encourage others to create contexts that enable a sense of play and possibility and then to strive, as the Imagists once suggested, for precision in the variety of connotations and denotations in any single word.  And edit out any note that strikes your ear as false.

On the other hand, if you’re studying for the GRE or something similar, I recommend freerice.com.

We were wondering about the redacted portions of the last few poems in The Bureau — do they actually say anything?

Yes. I wrote the poems, and then they were redacted. Some of the most beautiful things I’ve ever written were redacted.


Les Kay is the author of Home Front (Sundress Publications, forthcoming 2016), Badass (Lucky Bastard Press, 2015), and The Bureau (Sundress Publications, 2015). He is also a coauthor (with Allie Marini, Sandra Marchetti, and Janeen Rastall) of the collaborative chapbook Heart Radicals (ELJ Publications, forthcoming 2016).  His poems have appeared in a variety of literary journals such as PANK, Southern Humanities Review, The McNeese Review, The White Review, Superstition Review, and Ghost Town. He teaches writing in Cincinnati, where he makes his home in a post-war Tudor with his wife, Michelle, and three very small dogs.