Another New Calligraphy (2015, first edition, with instrumental CD)
Finishing Line Press (February 2016, second edition, chapbook only)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
One of my favorite chapbooks is Emily Kendal Frey’s Frances, published by Poor Claudia. And I wouldn’t have known about Emily and this book if it hadn’t been for Kate Greenstreet. I wanted to use Kate’s chapbook called (Delete Press) for The Art of Poetry course I was teaching at Marist College, but it was out of print. Kate suggested Emily’s Frances. Studying Emily’s writing, as well as Kate’s, really inspired me to take Green from long poem to long-poem chapbook. I felt it could stand on its own using white space, especially after reading their books. It does stand on its own now, but only after many revisions and some positive, constructive feedback from a couple of editors who rejected the manuscript in its earlier stages.
I also love Ocean Vuong’s Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press); Joan Larkin’s Cold River (Painted Leaf Press), which borders on chap/full-length book; and Jill Alexander Essbaum’s The Devastation (Cooper Dillon Books). I am currently reading Matthew Hittinger’s chapbook, Pear Slip (Spire Press), which is delightful and might soon be added to my favorites.
I’d also like to add that I love the way in which many small presses are producing today’s chapbooks, keeping art as book making. Some that come to mind: Blood Pudding Press, Delete Press, Greying Ghost Press, Poor Claudia, and Red Glass Books.
What might these favorite or influential chapbooks suggest about you and your writing?
Firstly, what these chapbooks suggest is that I like writing that takes risks, whether the risks be content, form, and/or presentation. Secondly, what these chapbooks suggest about my writing is that I’m always trying to experiment with writing styles. I think my voice and what I want to share evolve with each book, but the essence of why I need to write remains the same.
What’s your chapbook about?
My chapbook is about an old woman and her grandson. It undulates through time, showing the grandson visiting his grandmother’s home after she has died, him remembering the times at her home when she was alive, and him dreaming about a future love as well as the love of his grandmother.
If you have written more than one chapbook, could you describe each of them in chronological order?
I have written two chapbooks: The Music of Hands and Green. The Music of Hands expresses the movement of life and death, like music, and how hands play a large role in both. Many poems are lyrical, not only looking at the unison seen in death of body but also what is unseen, untouchable: a different “sound” with every life. Green was first published in 5X5 format with an accompanying instrumental CD of my digital reinterpretation of the second movement of a piano sonata I wrote 30 years ago, with Pauline Lederer as pianist. Green is a fictional long-poem narrative, so I use poetic techniques of metaphor, imagery, strophes, sections, and white space along with narrative techniques such as character development, flashback, conflict, climax, and resolution within an emotional yet simple narrative arc.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
I was very involved with choosing the covert artist for this second edition of Green. When Another New Calligraphy’s publisher Bill Ripley accepted Green, I had no choice in cover artist. Bill drew the cover, and I loved his decision on the cover and entire packaging of Green. But before Another New Calligraphy accepted the manuscript, I had told my nephew Frank Valvano that if Green ever got accepted for publication, I would love for him to draw the cover. When Finishing Line Press accepted Green for republication, I felt it was even more predestined for Frank to draw the cover. We texted and talked back and forth quite a bit, going over ideas. I really wanted the cover to reflect what Green was conveying but also to highlight Frank’s artistic areas of expertise: graffiti art and abstract landscape. I also chose to do a black and white cover on green card stock to keep the cost down, so it would be more affordable for buyers. Later I learned that Finishing Line Press would not be using colored card stock after the new year; but Leah Maines, the publisher, took a special interest in Green and has generously offered to include some color in the cover but keep the lower cost the same.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a full-length poetry manuscript entitled “Wing Bones.” Briefly, “Wing Bones” questions the age-old dichotomy of heredity versus environment; but I open up my text to many new possibilities, including the effects of marijuana and mental disorder, the possibility of genetic sequencing, and the examination of anatomy versus life narrative. Ultimately, my goal for this book is to share some unique insight into the many definitions of “family,” focusing on the ways in which humanity and love, although coupled with science, challenge science and all its phenomena.
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?
Tattoos on clothes? I don’t think so, although I do have a jeans jacket that has a nice amount of unique buttons. I’m a tattooed poet and don’t have any poems tattooed on my body yet. And I would be very selective in the poets’ work I would have tattooed. Therefore, I’m not sure if I would pick ten, at least not at this moment. Here’s a few wonderful poets whom I would consider:
Edgar Allan Poe
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
I don’t think Green creates any new kind of world, although it does blend a grandson’s past, present, even future within the narrative—the last in a very subtle way. And although it’s obvious the grandson inhabits the world in the chapbook, his grandmother’s memory is very present—so is her spirit and what it hopes her grandson will find—love, especially because she has died. I’d like to think that readers themselves can inhabit Green because in some way, they all will have connected to some small nuance or, perhaps, an even bigger part of the story.
Did you set out with the intention of writing a chapbook?
No, I didn’t set out with the intention that Green would be a chapbook. Green began years ago as the result of an exercise in an MFA creative writing workshop at Goddard College led by Dr. Jane Wohl. For a while, it was a hybrid poem, using a mix of poetry and prose to form the strophes. After teaching The Art of Poetry classes at Marist College and studying/ teaching how poetry is art/ art is poetry, I realized that although it was risky, I wanted to pare down Green and use white space on the pages to create the slower rhythm of the lines and the narrative.
What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?
What helps me best to write my poetry is reading other poets’ poetry. I’ll also refer to craft books, if I feel stuck with my writing, which happens more than I want. I have enjoyed reading literary fiction leaning towards the experimental or non-linear, such as Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter, Toni Morrison’s and Rebecca Brown’s work, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, and Donnelle McGee’s Shine. But I always try to read a variety of poetry; it helps me remember what I can do, helps me try to go beyond what’s been or being done.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
I hope many people read this chapbook, mainly because my writing style in Green is quite different than my other books; and it really does share the importance of grief as metaphor, as well as the strength of love and hope. My therapist, Dr. Christine Young, suggested that Green could be used in grief workshops. I would love for that to happen. I like to think of Green as a little book that eases the heart without being overly sentimental.
What gets you to the page? What inspires you?
It is still very difficult for me to “get to the page” or to the computer keyboard just to write, but I find myself always carrying around poems or ideas for poems inside me. I have recently begun to take notes when I’m researching for a poem. I’ve even begun a quasi-journal. But I’m not really a journal writer, mainly because it’s difficult for me to write every day. What does help me write is what Bea Gates, one of my mentors at Goddard College, taught me. She said to ask yourself what it is you want to say in the poem; and when I look at other writers’ poems, ask the same question: “What is it that they are trying to say in the poem.” Keeping this in mind has helped me tremendously to write and, especially, to revise.
My poetry books include two full-length books: Voices Through Skin (Sibling Rivalry Press) and Painting Czeslawa Kwoka ~ Honoring Children of the Holocaust, a full-color collaboration with painter Lori Schreiner (unbound CONTENT); this collection won the Tacenda Literary Award for Best Book, 2011. My two chapbooks are The Music of Hands (WebBook, Seven CirclePress; self-published print, 2012); and Green (forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February 2016; first published by Another New Calligraphy, March 2015). Excerpts from my manuscript in progress, “Wing Bones,” can be found in Gargoyle Magazine’s Print Issue # 60 and online at The Nervous Breakdown. “Battered,” from Voices Through Skin, will be included in the 2016 anthology, Veils, Halos, and Shackles: International Poetry on the Oppression and Empowerment of Women (Kasva Press). I was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2012 and received a writing residency from Drop Forge & Tool in September 2015.
(section II of Green)
MM’s grandchildren never noticed time—
transient in the frame of grandmother’s
evenings of peach ice cream.
Lightning in the ground:
sparks from grass when
he ran from his parents’ car
to the front door, slight halos
around each daffodil lining
Smell of blue
on her front porch.
The longing stopped:
her grandson’s heaviness
quiet on the overhang.