Marsha Mathews

“The unifying idea is surviving girlhood, reaching adulthood, intact. Along the way, we probe the deep questions of why we’re here and why we die.”

marsham

Growing Up with Pigtails (Aldrich Press, 2016)

Could you share a poem from Growing Up with Pigtails that is representative or could serve as an introduction for your chapbook?

Interlacing

Grandmother stands beside me
in front of the bedroom mirror,
the fingers of her left hand
touching my neck.

She brushes my hair
so gently
I do not feel the bristles.
She sets the brush down.

She begins to braid
one strand over another
then under a third,
again, again,
until they knit into one
thick bind.

The glass reflects her
composed smile
but not its intensity
nor the warmth
she weaves.

What about this poem made you choose it?

With the first stanza of “Interlacing,” the reader may be unsure about those fingers on the girl’s neck. Is this grandmother angry? Why is her hand so close? As the poem continues, the tone becomes clearly tender. Because my chapbook presents a range of complex emotions that accompany growing up female, I thought this one an apt representation.

Furthermore, “Interlacing” with its subject of hair-braiding, conjures the chapbook’s title, Growing Up with Pigtails. The book interlaces poems of adolescence, into early young adulthood, portraying its struggles and triumphs.

Does the chapbook draw on your autobiography?

I attempt to convey truth of experience and observation. When writing a poem or short fiction, I draw on stories from my own life and stories that have been told me by others. I work hard to craft an event, an image, or an idea into a written piece that will sing to others. There is always a piece of me in my work though not every narrator is literally me. Don’t let the first-person narration fool you! The poet and narrator are not the same, except maybe in the case of Emily Dickinson or Anna Akhmatova.

My poem, “Around and Around We Go, Turtle Hunting at Lake Oxbow,” for instance, began more rooted in autobiography than what appears in the chap. Because it was my brother and I who hunted turtles, the poem originally conveyed a brother. However, in examining the poem in relationship to others in the chapbook, I realized that because no other references were made to a brother, the poem might benefit from a modification, changing the brother to the sister the reader meets in “Camping at Horseshow Beach.” By the way, Growing Up with Pigtails is dedicated to my sister, Nan.

In an earlier interview with Speaking of Marvels, you said that chapbooks tend to be more accessible when unified by an idea. What would you say the unifying idea of Growing Up with Pigtails is?

The unifying idea is surviving girlhood, reaching adulthood, in-tact. Along the way, we probe the deep questions of why we’re here and why we die. Both marvelous situations and those that shock of betrayal shape us into maturity, and similarly, shape this chapbook.

You say in the dedication that Growing Up with Pigtails is “For the young and the young at heart.” Did you set out to write these poems for a specific audience, or did you find out who it was for after writing them?

These poems were written over a span of 30 years, plus! Some were written when I was a graduate student at Florida State University in the 1980s. The more recent poems, “Snowy Road Back to Sandy Ridge, Virginia” and “Old Man Duff Goes Out Teaching”

are conspicuously different in style, being prose poems, but they reflect the theme of growing up. I am hopeful these poems will appeal to young people as they, too, confront the highs and lows, the many moral dilemmas of coming of age and settling into adulthood. I am equally hopeful that older adults will also enjoy reading my book, reminding them of their own personal transitions. I suppose when I decided to pull these poems into a book, I thought about the words of one of my writing professors at Florida State University. He said he was tired of reading so many books and manuscripts about what it’s like to grow up as a guy. “What’s really needed,” he said, “are books about growing up female. Now that, I’d finding interesting!”

You chose to change the titles of a few poems that had been published previously for Growing Up with Pigtails. Does that change the meanings of the poems, or serve a different purpose?

Sometimes title changes are made to fit the integration of poems into book form. The very action of placing a poem into a book brings a slightly different slant to the poem.

Each poem may stand alone, but each also, to a degree, is shaped by the poems it appears alongside.

The beginning poems of the chapbook are seemingly about a father, next a mother, then a sister, then a grandmother. Are they part of the same family?

I have braided together poems that relate to the theme of growing up female. The book takes more the structure of a collage than a report or autobiography. The reader should not expect chronological order or too much in the way of poem-to-poem linkage. This is a small collection of individual poems that relate to one another through a coming-of-age theme.

There seems to be a focus on a few different places in your chapbook—Florida, Virginia, Georgia. What made you choose those locations?  

My life’s journey has carried me to live in various states in the South. My first chapbook, Northbound Single-Lane, (Finishing Line Press), presents a woman who leaves all she knows behind, as her marriage ends. She moves north from Florida, to raise her two young daughters.

The poems of Growing Up with Pigtails emerged while I lived in those locations. However, for the last fifteen years, I have lived in Dalton, Georgia where I teach English at Dalton State College.

What aspects of the South do you address in your chapbook?

Having always lived in the South, (if one considers Florida part of the equation, which, interestingly, many do not), I find this question difficult. It’s not easy to see the South when you live it every day. I have traveled outside of the South and have studied Southern Literature, so I could do a little guesswork, but I think this question is better left to the readers to determine.

The poem “Reporting Calhoun, Georgia” feels like a turn in the chapbook. Could you tell us more about the poem?

Your sense of a pivotal moment probably relates to a greater maturity expressed in this poem. The formation of an interest in politics and fundamental beliefs in freedom and what it means to protest, defend, and advance freedom are ideas with which young adults struggle.

By presenting a poem with an “it’s [war’s] got nothing to do with me” attitude, my aim was satire. The U.S. involvement in The Gulf War of 1990 and subsequent war against Iraq, 2003-2011, were reported in the news daily, yet I noticed many of my students, unless they personally had a family member or friend involved, didn’t want to think about war. At the time, I wanted to write a poem to shake them awake. The gruesome image of the boy being crushed is real. The apathy is real, too.

Are there any writers or teachers that inspired you to pursue writing?

Van K. Brock, most recently author of Lightered: New and Selected Poems, helped me to learn to shape imagery. David Kirby, most recently author of Talking about Movies with Jesus, helped me to see a place for humor in poetry. Lola Haskins, most recently author of How Small, Confronting Morning, helped me to learn how to put together a poetry collection and to appreciate my own voice.

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Marsha Mathews is a poet and Professor of English at Dalton State College, in Dalton, Georgia. Her new book, Growing Up with Pigtails, presents both narrative and lyrical reflections on that sometimes troubling, sometimes triumphant experience of growing up, girl. Earlier books include Hallelujah Voices (Aldrich, 2012), Sunglow & a Tuft of Nottingham Lace, Red Berry Editions 2011 Chapbook Winner, and Northbound Single-Lane, (Finishing Line, 2010). A recipient of the Orlando Prize (AROHO) for Flash Fiction, Marsha has published her work in periodicals, such as Appalachian Heritage, Broad River Review, Greensboro Review, The Los Angeles Review, Pembroke Magazine, Raleigh Review, and anthologies, such as Literature Today.

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Marsha’s books may be purchased for a modest sum at www.amazon.com

aldrichbookpublishing.blogspot.com

redberryeditions.com/contests.html   

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Khaty Xiong

“I not only inherited these stories and traumas. They easily became my obsessions.”

khatyOde to the Far Shore (Platypus Press, 2016)

 What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

World mythology, legends, and folklore have long interested me since I was a child. In particular, Hmong mythology and origin stories have always fascinated me. I grew up hearing many of these stories surrounding how creatures came to be, which ones to fear and which ones to revere as gods and good spiritual forces. In the mix of these stories, my parents would often share with me what their lives were like before immigrating to the U.S.: the Secret War in Laos, hiding in the jungle to avoid persecution from Lao communist forces since my father, like many of my uncles and relatives, along with several thousands of Hmong and other ethnic tribes, aided the U.S. during the Vietnam War, and ultimately how my family and others had to cross the Mekong River in order to secure refuge in Thailand. Many died making this dangerous trek. My parents’ survival stories have long stayed with me; besides, they weren’t the only ones who talked about these experiences—after all, the Hmong’s presence in the U.S. is a direct result of the failed war, and so, Hmong people talked and longed all the time for “the old country.” The Hmong diaspora is my beginning. I not only inherited these stories and traumas. They easily became my obsessions that I have long been writing in my poetry.

What’s your chapbook about?

This chapbook is a response to the sudden loss of my mother, who passed away from a car accident in May 2016. After all the dangers that my mother faced as a young Hmong woman, surviving the war, immigrating to the U.S. and raising sixteen children and over twenty grandchildren, that my mother would be violently taken away by a car accident has been really traumatizing for me. I have been trying to understand the fate of my mother, how her car had split in two, how she remained intact despite the impact, how someone like my mother, who was also a shaman and medicine woman, a healer, could leave this realm the way she did—with so much hurt and unreconciliation. This micro chapbook is a window into my sorrow, love and good wishes to her spirit.

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 “Circadian,” which was actually written in response to the death of my oldest brother, who died in June 2014 from a rare lung cancer. I was still grieving his loss when one night I woke up with violent rustling in my left ear. Turns out a silverfish had crawled in there. It was not the first time an insect had wedged itself into my ear, so close and tender to my brain. And just like the last time this happened, of course, I panicked (which is totally an understatement). Eventually, I drowned it out. Although this poem was written during my first year of grieving for Kue, before my mother passed, when I decided to put this little book together, after my mother passed, I came back to this poem because I felt like it was a universal elegy to the dead in my family—those whose deaths and sacrifices made my parents’ life in the U.S. possible. Kue was about two weeks old when Long Tieng, the U.S. military base in Laos, had fallen to communist forces. That was the start of the Hmong diaspora. When arranging the poems in this chapbook, I realized then that this poem was not only grieving my brother’s fate, it was also grieving those whose lives were lost before his, and especially right now, the death of our mother. This poem was speaking to me from the past, present and future; I had no idea that when I wrote this poem, I would also be writing about my mother’s fate.

 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?

Platypus Press was very straightforward and gracious with the chapbook. They were incredibly receptive to the work and accepted the book as it was, for which I am grateful.  There wasn’t a whole lot of collaboration on the design, since that was a set design for all chapbooks they have published in the past. As for the cover image, I did ask for a couple of options since the cover image was also chosen for me. While I was rather pleased with their editorial choices, I wanted to make sure that the image truly reflected the poems. Ultimately, I settled on an image that was their original choice anyway, so I’m glad I was able to “talk” them back into their original cover, which is beautiful. I am very pleased with the love and care at Platypus Press.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on putting together my second poetry manuscript that will essentially be a larger version of Ode to the Far Shore, touching on Hmong mythology, origin stories, and the recent deaths in my family. My first book, Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015), was very much a book of elegies too; there is no denying that this second manuscript will also have the same fate. My grieving period is far from over.

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

Hold fast to your obsessions, and be faithful.

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Khaty Xiong was born to Hmong refugees from Laos and is the author of debut collection Poor Anima (Apogee Press, 2015), which is the first full-length collection of poetry published by a Hmong American woman in the United States. In 2016, she received an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award in recognition of her poetry. Xiong’s work has been featured in The New York Times and How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, 2011), including the following websites, Poetry Society of America and Academy of American Poets, among others.

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khatyxiong.com

Eileen R. Tabios

“I tinker a lot with subverting the form of (auto)biography.”

tabios

IMMIGRANT: Hay(na)ku & Other Poems In A New Land (Moria Books’ Locofo Chaps, 2017)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem (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? 

I intended, and hopefully it succeeds, that the chap’s first poem presents such an invitation. In part, this reflects the nature of the chap—because of its slimness, I thought there’d more chance (than in a thicker, full-length book) that a reader might read it chronologically from the first to the last page. So I wanted the opening poem, “South of ___ (fill in the blank)” to be an invitation; indeed, it ends with

“… hold my hand as the day unfolds.

To hold my hand
simply offer an uplifted palm
and trust in my response.”

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

I chose it, and the three poems following it, because they are from my first (and now-out-of-print) chap After The Egyptians Determined The Shape of the World is a Circle which was issued in 1996. I wanted to present poems from the beginning of my writing life to the present (the chap ends with a recent poem). By spanning the entirety of my writing life, I wanted that span to mirror the “life” of the collection’s protagonist, who—as noted in the title—is an immigrant. I tinker a lot with subverting the form of (auto)biography and this chap’s persona is an immigrant poet who, as it turns out, not just writes poems but contributes to poetry by enlarging its expanse, specifically by inventing a new poetry form. That poetry form is called “hay(na)ku” and its core is a tercet with the first line being one word,  the second line being two words, and the third line being three words (more information about the hay(na)ku is available at https://eileenrtabios.com/haynaku/). So the poet’s contribution is an example of the theme of how immigrants contribute to the “land” where they emigrate—an important reminder given the current heightened attacks on immigrants and refugees.

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

My favorite chapbook has to be Pack Rat Sieve by Mei-mei Berssenbruge, issued by Contact II (New York) in 1983. It was about 3 x 6”. By fitting easily in my purse, I was in daily contact with it for years such that it physically deteriorated from all my handling. At one point, I had to tape up all of the pages and still kept handling it for rereadings until it finally fell apart.  The power of that chap was its incredibly resonant poem. It’s an example of how a chap can provide at least this service to a great poem—by highlighting it on its own. Certainly, that this chap existed allowed me to be in 24-7 communion with it and I’m not sure, with hindsight, that inclusion in a full-length book would have allowed my not just emotional/psychological but bodily engagement with the poem’s existence over a prolonged period of time. It’s easy to carry around and slip out a small, slim chap for daily reads.

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

Berssenbrugge’s chap encourages me that my goal moving forward may be to write poems where each is worthy of a single-chap publication (if it came to that). In the past as I created full-length books (and I have created long poetry books), some poems are not as effective as stand-alone pieces; they’re still decent poems but also (over-)rely on their context within a book. Moving forward, I’m going to focus more on a poem’s stand-alone quality. One of my favorite poets, Jose Garcia Villa, once said that every single word in a poem has to be necessary. Similarly, I’d like every new poem I write to be necessary as a stand-alone unit.

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

My IMMIGRANT chap is part of a politically-oriented series (http://www.moriapoetry.com/locofo.html) created by the editor of Moria Books, William “Bill” Allegrezza. Bill wants to create 100 chaps during the first hundred days of the new presidential administration. He plans to mail copies of the chaps to the White House after the series is produced. So that series, by itself, certainly affirms how the chapbook form can have a political impact. Given the series’ need to find 100 chaps in a hundred days, the chap’s relative briefness allows poets to create a short collection. Bill suggested that chaps can be as short as 5 pages, and up to 25 pages. Many poets can muster that, and thus participate in the Locofo series which I consider to be one of the most effective protest and/or resistance acts.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

While IMMIGRANT had a particular impetus based on recent anti-immigrant actions, it also reflects my long-time obsession with disrupting the form of (auto)-biography—it’s a notion that is more expansively explained in my 2016 chap, EXCAVATING THE FILIPINO IN ME (Tinfish, Hawai’i, 2016). From that chap is this excerpt:

“Disrupting the (traditional) form and genre of autobiography and biography is one of my interests… [T]here’s certainly many reasons why one (or I) desires to disrupt auto/biography—from the general factors of how one may or may not ever know the true story, how one elides the true story, and how I believe identity is both constrained by inherited circumstances as well as fluctuates such that any life story narrative is at best a snapshot narrative rather than something that can hold true over time. I call these ‘general’ factors because they can apply to everybody, thus how *knowing one’s self* is one of the most difficult goals to achieve.

“But then when, in my case, one is forced to grapple with immigration, diaspora, minority/POC positionings in the land where the migratory transplant ends, then the memoir, by being a genre that posits it can present an accurate life story, becomes a landscape fertile for disruption. I have a book in 2016 from Black Radish Books (who I cite because they’re a press that’s known for innovatively experimental authors), and that book title says it all: AMNESIA: Somebody’s Memoir.”

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

The poem “Dear Mama,” is the most meaningful in that I wrote it for IMMIGRANT. But it’s also one of the, so far, very few successful attempts to write in response to my mother’s passing over seven years ago. It’s interesting how, when my father passed, I swiftly wrote out and published a book about him. As regards my mother’s passing, I seem to be relatively speechless. We were so close that words, to date, usually fail to articulate our relationship. In “Dear Mama,” I mention some of the sacrifices my mother underwent as an immigrant, including giving up her pre-immigration career as a schoolteacher because she needed to earn more money to help feed her four children than the salary she could find as a non-U.S. educated teacher.

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 for the collection, also the last poem in the collection, indeed made me feel that its existence allowed the chapbook to be complete. That’s because the poem “On a TRAPPIST-1 Planet” was written in response to the February 2017 revelation of astronomers discovering “not one, not two, but seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a star called TRAPPIST-1.” So the poem imagines a day when earthlings travel to one of those planets—immigration on a planetary basis. And the poem asks, “Earthling, how have you treated immigrants? // Do you know the difference between ‘space travel’ and ‘colonialism’? // Have you heard of karma?”

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?

Locofo Chaps allowed me to pick my own cover image. In this case, it’s a black-and-white photo of me as a toddler featured within a colonial frame my mother chose. I believe my mother chose the frame because along its borders were books and both she and I love books. But the figurine of a girl presented along the frame’s right border is clearly non-Filipino and, as a Caucasian, might be said to represent a U.S.-American. I thought that fitted IMMIGRANT’s theme since I—and the collection’s poet-persona—obviously emigrated to the United States.

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

Here is a list of my chaps in chronological order. Some are print chaps and others are electronic chaps. It’s fair to say that the electronic publishing, in part due to being relatively inexpensive for its publishers, allowed me to present a group of poems on a more focused basis. Since several of these e-chaps would come to be part of full-length print books, that focus was helpful as I reconsidered and edited them anew for purpose of the print books’ contexts. On the other hand, some chaps are meant to be stand-alone collections on their own. Yet others are excerpts from longer works. I love the chap form for its versatility:

After The Egyptians Determined The Shape of the World is a Circle, 1996
Enheduanna in the 21st Century, 2002
There, Where the Pages Would End, 2003
Crucial Bliss Epilogues, 2004
The Estrus Gaze(s), 2005
SONGS OF THE COLON, 2005
It’s Curtains, 2006
The Singer and Others: Flamenco Hay(na)ku, 2007
Roman Holiday, 2010
44 RESURRECTIONS, 2014
DUENDE IN THE ALLEYS, 2015
EXCAVATING THE FILIPINO IN ME, 2016
The Gilded Age of Kickstarters, 2016
TO BE AN EMPIRE IS TO BURN, 2017
WHAT SHIVERING MONKS COMPREHEND, 2017
IMMIGRANT: Hay(na)ku & Other Poems in a New Land, 2017

What are you working on now?

I’ve been fairly prolific and am working to spread the word on my 2016 and 2017 publications which, to date, total five books, two mini-books, six chapbooks and one edited anthology. The latter is a chap anthology, PUNETA: POLITICAL PILIPINX POETRY (Locofo, 2017). I also expect to have a new chap come out shortly, Comprehending Mortality, which is a collaboration with John Bloomberg-Rissman; for me, the project was inspired partly from the recent passing of my beloved dog, Achilles. Having said that, and again because I’m prolific, I’m also finalizing the editing for my next book HIRAETH: Tercets From the Last Archipelago. It will come out either later this year or in early 2018.

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

Painting and other forms of visual art. I love the visual arts and they actually inspire a lot of poems. My first U.S.-published book, Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole (Marsh Hawk Press) was an ekphrasis collection. I appreciate the visual arts for works that are tangible and observable. I’m so often in my head dealing with abstractions when I write that I envy visual artists their ability to see and touch their works.

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

Read widely and a lot!

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Eileen R. Tabios has released over 40 collections of poetry, fiction, essays, and experimental biographies from publishers in eight countries and cyberspace. Her most recent include her first trilingual (English, Romanian, Spanish) edition YOUR FATHER IS BALD (Bibliotheca Universalis, 2017); THE OPPOSITE OF CLAUSTROPHOBIA (Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2017); and AMNESIA: SOMEBODY’S MEMOIR (Black Radish Books, 2016). Recipient of the Philippines’ National Book Award for Poetry for her first poetry book, she has been translated into eight languages and invented the poetic form “hay(na)ku.” She also is currently writing a long-form novel. More information is available at http://eileenrtabios.com

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eileenrtabios.com

Chloe Honum

“I wanted to write into [the] opening created by bewilderment.”

ThenWinter_1000

Then Winter (Bull City Press, 2017)

What is the chapbook about?

In terms of narrative, it’s about the speaker’s experiences as a day-patient in a psychiatric treatment facility. It’s also about longing, the seasons, survival, and beauty.

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

Late Afternoon in the Psychiatric Ward

The fluorescent light
goes off and the shadows
fall apart like a cardboard fort.

The invisible should be sturdier,
like that stormy summer
the rain came so heavy

the waterfall was just
a thicker column of sky.
Now a fly throws itself

down on the formica table
and buzzes and spins
on its back, quickening

the poison. It resembles
a word scribbled out.
Won’t do, won’t do.

But oh you of the river-
wet lips, I miss you
this moment, and this.

Why did you choose this poem?

This poem brings together several of the collection’s themes. I’m interested in what happens when desire is brought into what could be perceived as an unlikely setting. Of course, there’s really no unlikely setting for desire, but I think there’s a particular spark that occurs when harsh or unpleasant moments (the fluorescent light, the dying fly) come up against passionate moments.

I’d also been thinking about Fanny Howe’s description of bewilderment as an enchantment that “breaks open the lock of dualism (it’s this or that) and peers out into space (not this, not that).” I wanted to write into that opening created by bewilderment. It’s strange, but sometimes that gaze can actually lead to clarity, or to the distilled image or thought. When I open myself to the wonder of “not this, not that”— or “Won’t do, won’t do,” in the case of the poem above— I think I actually get closer to being able to fully enter the clear moment (“I miss you”).

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I was thinking a lot about silence, and I was feeling its weight. I lost my mother to suicide when I was 17. She was 47. Both in my life with her and after her death, I learned a lot about the harm of stigma and the deadly climate of silence surrounding mental illness and treatment. I’m grateful that in writing these poems I was able to feel my way through that silence and to press against it. That pressing—a way of opening a space previously enclosed in silence—is why I love poetry. I also wanted to honor the setting of the psychiatric ward in the book as a deeply human place, full of beauty, terror, pain, struggle, tenderness, grace, and humor.

How did you decide on the title of your chapbook?

The title comes from a moment in the poem “Group Therapy”:

“Beyond the window, autumn toys with ideas of heaven. The trees become fiercely talented and focused. Then winter.”

I liked its feeling of sudden change and inevitability—no choice but to take that deep shift. Throughout the book there’s a lot of nature and a lot of shifts in the seasons.

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

I wrote the poem “Offerings” shortly after the 17th anniversary of my mother’s death. She died when I was 17, so on that anniversary I had lived 17 years with her, 17 years without. It was an astonishing thing to realize, and I was unprepared. I hadn’t thought about the significance of the anniversary until I was standing right in it. My life felt folded in half, with her death at the seam.

I wrote the first draft of the poem in the middle of the night, after waking with the opening line in my head. I was living at the time in Bend, Oregon, in a little apartment with a balcony that overlooked the Deschutes River. It was so beautiful there, and the beauty was intensified by my missing her.

(read “Offerings” below)

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?

One of the last poems I wrote for the chapbook is also the last poem in the collection: “Teaching Poetry at the Juvenile Detention Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.” That detention center is a horrible place. I was surprised that the poem ended with hope. That’s part of how I knew the chapbook was near complete: I had come to a moment of urgent and explicit hope.

(Read “Teaching Poetry at the Juvenile Detention Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas” below.)

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

My experience with Bull City Press and Ross White, the brilliant executive director, has been wonderful. I’m really honored to be on a press with some of my favorite poets writing today, like Jill Osier, Tommye Blount, Emilia Phillips, Anna Ross, Tiana Clark, and Anders Carlson-Wee. I’m so grateful that the collection found such a caring, inspiring, hard-working home.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on my second full-length collection, tentatively titled Birthday at a Motel 6.

What advice would you offer to students interested in poetry?

Come to poetry with the understanding that it will change you. It will help you grow. Part of the real work is to let it.

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Chloe Honum‘s first book, The Tulip-Flame (2014), was selected by Tracy K. Smith for the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, won the Foreword Poetry Book of the Year Award and a Texas Institute of Letters Award, and was named a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award. She is also the author of a chapbook, Then Winter (Bull City Press, 2017). She has received a Ruth Lilly Fellowship and a Pushcart Prize. She was raised in Auckland, New Zealand.

www.chloehonum.com

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Offerings

I have saved my pantomime of the sky for you. Let me lie with my head in your lap. I will sing the song of the trees in the cold wind, the way they rush up like flames, their leaves rippling. I want to show you everything you might have missed. With my fingers I will emulate moonlight resting on a field of violets. I am about as convincing as the child playing the sun in the school recital. But I have rain in my hair. This much is true. Let me bring it to you.

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Teaching Poetry at the Juvenile Detention Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas

It’s cold and the light is blurry,
the fluorescents spasming,
the walls a steely gray.
Each child is given a pencil.

Their cells are just beyond
the heavy sliding doors.
They write get-away poems
and tree-house poems.

Sack of weed and siren poems.
A flea appears on my arm and
quivers, like a fleck of onyx.
I watch it bite and gleam and the boys

sitting across from me
watch it, too. In a cement
tomb, hope is anything
that travels in big leaps.

Elizabeth Acevedo

“I wanted to savor my mother’s stories, my grandfather’s riddles, but I knew if I didn’t write them the stories would die with them.”

elizabethaBeastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem (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?

La Ciguapa (an excerpt)

La Ciguapa, they say, was made on one of those ships; stitched
and bewitched from moans and crashing waves. She emerged
entirely formed, dark and howling, stepped onto the auction
block but none would buy her. They wouldn’t even look her in the eye.

____________________________________*

They say she came beneath the Spanish saddle of the first mare.
Rubbed together from leather and dark mane. Hungry.
That she has a hoof between her thighs and loves men
like the pestle loves the mortar;

____________________________she hums them into the cotton thick fog
of the mountains. They follow her none word nonsense
and try to climb her, tall and dark and rough as sugarcane
and don’t know until they’re whittled down how they’ve scraped

themselves dead. They say the men were the first to undo her name;
thinking burying it would rot her magic, that long cry
they were compelled to answer; they hung all five-toed dogs
because they alone knew her scent—

there was a time her silhouette shadowed the full moon, they say.

____________________________________*

They say. They say. They say. Tuh, I’m lying. No one says. Who tells
her story anymore? She has no mother, La Ciguapa, and no children,
certainly not her people’s tongues: we who have forgotten all our sacred monsters.

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

This is the first poem in the collection and really opens up the question of what it means to forget your folklore and the myths that have guided the creation of your culture. In my case, the many stories that have informed the Dominican Republic as it created a national and cultural identity. The chapbook travels in time but is always regarding the mythic and how the myth we make of ourselves is crafted from the origin stories of the places that raised us.

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

Some of my favorite chapbooks include: Clint Smith’s Line Breaks, Rachel Eliza Griffith’s Mule & Pear, Safia Elhillo’s Asmarani, Terisa Siagatonu’s Remember We Have Choir Practice, Alysia Harris’ How Much We Must Have Looked Like Stars To Stars, Nate Marshall’s Blood Precussion, and Mahogany Browne’s Smudge. Each one of these collections taught me how to put together a tight and short manuscript that pulses around one common chord.

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

Many of these chapbooks are by my contemporaries and I’m moved by the conversation I think we are all having of considering place and home and the ferocity of language it takes to reclaim all the pieces that make us.  I marvel at how these writers create joy and reverence on the page and honor spaces that are so easily denigrated by outsiders. And in many ways, those collections are ones that are considering what it means to be on the outside, on the fringe. And perhaps I am drawn to them because I too am grappling with centering myself within marginalization.

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

For me, the chapbook had to tell a more focused story than the full length. I’m not sure if that necessarily impacted the politics, but it certainly focused the central ideas.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Myths. All the stories I heard through whispers growing up that weren’t written down in any one centralized location. I wanted to savor my mother’s stories, my grandfather’s riddles, but I knew if I didn’t write them the stories would die with them. This chapbook is such an homage to the Caribbean and the dress she has created for herself from the ruins.

What’s your chapbook about?

Women. Blackness. The Caribbean. Indigenous warrior queens. Harlem. Violence. Superstitions. Rats. Trains.

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?

Funny enough, for the three years I was in my MFA for Poetry I was actually writing an epic fantasy novel set in New York and the Dominican Republic. I sent it off with high hopes and Harry Potter-success-like-dreams, and it was handidly rejected…as it should have been because it was a hot mess. It was also a huge heartbreak for me because I loved so much of what was introduced in that manuscript. The oldest poem in this collection, La Ultima Cacique, first appeared in that manuscript as a dream sequence that introduced a character. After pulling that poem out I deconstructed many of the other scenes and thought about whether or not they would be served better through poetry. I think in many ways the story of writing this chapbook reflects the content. How do you resurrect the integrity of something from a failed attempt? How do you create a people from a false ideology of national unity? How do you manifest a common dream that has so many different origin stories? What do you take with you as poetry and what do you choose to leave behind as too prosaic?

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

The poem “The Story of La Negra, A Bio-Myth” was inspired by Safia Elhillo, and in that poem was the first time I wrote the word “beastgirl.” This collection quickly became about the myths I’ve been told, the origin myths, and the myths told about negras (beastgirls) like me.

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

“Brother Myth” is definitely a misfit. It fits because it’s still a play at the myth, but it’s part of a longer sequences that touches on my brother’s mental illness. Within the chapbook is stands alone and I don’t think the poems around it serve to help “Brother Myth” resonate in the way it does when in conversation with the other brother poems. In retrospect, if I could pull one out it would be that one…but who knows. Maybe my subconscious saw something there when I was ordering that I can’t see right now.

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 love YesYes Books. KMA is a sharp reader and I really trusted her editorial eye. We went back and forth a lot trying to figure out the best order, the best title, the best cover. We both gave suggestions on potential covers, and I actually sent Erin “BrookylnDolly” Robinson’s entire portfolio for KMA to browse when we were considering a cover. It so happened that the piece KMA thought would work best was also my favorite, although I had been hesitant to say so. I’m so grateful Robinson allowed us to use her work. It’s a majestic and magical cover.

What are you working on now?

My first young adult novel, The Poet X (HarperCollins) will be out in 2018 and I’m currently working on my second novel. My first full-length poetry collection Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press) was the winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize and I’m working on edits for that now.

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Elizabeth Acevedo is the youngest child and only daughter of Dominican immigrants. She holds a BA in Performing Arts from the George Washington University and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Maryland. With over fourteen years of performance experience, Acevedo has toured her poetry nationally and internationally. She is a National Poetry Slam Champion, Cave Canem Fellow, CantoMundo Fellow, and participant of the Callaloo Writer’s Workshop. She has two collections of poetry, Beastgirl & Other Origin Myths (YesYes Books, 2016) and winner of the 2016 Berkshire Prize, Medusa Reads La Negra’s Palm (Tupelo Press, forthcoming). The Poet X (HarperCollins, 2018) is her debut novel. She lives with her partner in Washington, DC.

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www.acevedowrites.com

Social media: @AcevedoWrites

Zeina Hashem Beck

“I think the act of writing poems is, in its essence, an act of translation.”

Beck

There Was and How Much There Was  (smith|doorstop, 2016)

Louder than Hearts (Bauhan Publishing, 2017)

Questions about There Was and How Much There Was:

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem (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?

There was and how much there was.
Women gather in this living room.
They empty and fill the coffee cups.

These are the first three lines of the long title poem, also the last poem of the chapbook.

Why did you choose this excerpt?

The expression “there was and how much there was” is a literal translation of the Arabic “kan ya ma kan,” usually translated as “once upon a time.” I love the abundance the literal translation suggests. And then you have the image of the women gathering, emptying and filling coffee cups, so you almost know you are about to step into an abundance of stories about these women, which is quite representative of the chapbook.

Could you tell us about the upcoming performance of your chapbook? 17202728_10155085415036549_6039040116541578309_n(2)

The chapbook is being adapted to the stage by Lebanese director Sahar Assaf. The performance, which will take place on April 1st, 2017, is the closing event for the KIP multidisciplinary conference on discrimination and sexual harassment at the American University of Beirut. Sahar read the chapbook and felt it lends itself well to performance, and that it was in the spirit of the conference. We started working with the title poem, a long piece in the voices of women and a narrator—Sahar asked me to envision five women (other than the narrator) speaking throughout the poem, and to assign them their lines. Once I did that, she began rehearsing with five actresses, after which we incorporated other poems from the chapbook as monologues for each of the characters. The actresses are Marielise Youssef Aad, Nadia Ahmad, Lara Saab, Elyssa Skaff, and Soulafa Soubra. The performance will also include some video art. I’m about to travel and join the rehearsals as the narrator—it’s all very exciting for me! Even more joy: I’ll be launching my second full-length collection, Louder than Hearts, at the event.

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

Part of the beauty of a chapbook for me is how the poems are more interrelated than those in a full-length collection (though this doesn’t mean a full collection needn’t have unity). The chapbook feels like a more condensed universe in your hands.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

This particular chapbook wasn’t planned.  I had been writing poems about motherhood/ womanhood/ the patriarchy for some time, but I put them on the side and focused on those that would eventually make up my other chapbook, 3arabi Song, and my forthcoming collection, Louder than Hearts. I was probably hiding these poems and hiding from them, wasn’t ready to face them as a body of work, an entity. Some are quite intense and personal—perhaps I was running from that. Many revolve around women and their relationship with their bodies and religion—perhaps I was running from that too. But then Peter Sansom (from The Poetry Business) contacted me, said Carol Ann Duffy had recommended me as a Laureate’s Choice, and asked if I could send him a pamphlet within the next week or so. So, I got to work. And I took that as a sign: it was time for those poems to be out in the world.

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

From the beginning, all poems I chose for this chapbook were quite interconnected. Then I tried to place together poems that echoed each other. So, for example, I followed “Mother, Ka’aba” with “Milk,” because both are about giving birth. I also tried to arrange the poems in such a way that made the chapbook open up as it progressed. And I knew I had to write the final poem: I had been thinking about this long poem in the voices of women in conversation, and I had been scribbling notes here and there, but I didn’t have the poem yet. So I put a lot of energy into writing it (I disappeared into my own space for days), and ended up naming the entire chapbook after it. The expression “there was and how much there was” was gifted to me by a friend, when I asked her, “How would you translate kan ya ma kan literally, word per word?”

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

That’s a tough question because there are many, but I’ll mention one with a back story I feel comfortable sharing. The poem “Milk” recalls the pre-term birth of my second daughter. She was sick at birth, couldn’t breathe on her own, and was kept in an incubator until she got better. Meanwhile, at home, I pumped and froze breast milk. The poem goes back to that heartbreaking period, but includes some humor as well.

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?

Before sending the manuscript for typesetting, Peter Sansom and I skyped and went through the poems, and I’m grateful for his keen editorial eye. As for the cover choice, unlike my other books, I wasn’t involved in that at all. But I was pleasantly surprised when the press sent me the design.

Questions about Louder than Hearts

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

I don’t keep dates on my poems, but one of the older pieces is “You Fixed It.” I distinctly remember I wrote it in one intense sitting—it came to me almost as it is now, in its final form. The poem taps into my Tripoli (Lebanon) childhood, which isn’t the center of the book, but is certainly a big part of the book’s first section.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the book, and how did that affect your sense that the book was complete?

The final poem I wrote for Louder than Hearts is the opening poem, “Broken Ghazal: Speak Arabic.” I feel it somehow unifies the book and introduces it, with its reference to mother tongues and mother lands.

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

Ha, that’s a fun question. The poem “Carioca,” inspired by Egyptian dancer Taheyya Carioca. I wouldn’t call it a “misfit,” since it does fit in with other poems about Arabic music. But I remember thinking, after I wrote it, “Oh, that could have been a poem in There Was and How Much There Was.”

Betsy Sholl describes Louder Than Hearts as “God-soaked and edgy.” Could you tell us more about how the book reflects on God, translation, and the Arabic language?

This is such a big question—I’ll try to address some of the points you mention, if only to ask more questions.

I don’t think I realized the voice in Louder than Hearts was “God-soaked” until I read Betsy Sholl’s blurb, and then it kind of dawned on me. What I did feel though, as I was writing the book, is I was writing in English, yes, but not really—I was somehow writing in Arabic too, because both languages intersect in my mind.  And God is inseparable from language in an Arab context. Believer or non-believer, you can’t speak Arabic and not use the word “Allah” so many times in the span of a day. So yes, God is there, throughout the book, and is constantly reinterpreted.

I think the act of writing poems is, in its essence, an act of translation. For those poets who speak more than one language, poetry then becomes a double/ triple/ etc. act of translation. So, it’s not just a matter of “How do I translate what I’m feeling/ thinking into words?” but also “How do I write within that space between languages, between cultures?”

How do I, for example, write a poem in English about Arabic tarab music, this music that makes you feel both rapture and grief? How do I convey the feeling of listening to Umm Kulthum? How do I describe the call to prayer, I mean really get inside it and describe its effect, rather than just incorporating the words “adhan” or “call to prayer” within a poem? The list goes on, and the poems span from speaking to your aunt in Tripoli to conversing with a “non-Arabic” lover and telling him things like “I’m already tired and you already / mistranslate” or “The ceiling is leaking. Drop the goddamn / camera.”

Could you describe your other books and chapbooks in chronological order? In what ways are they continuations and in what ways are they departures?

My first book, To Live in Autumn (2014), obsesses with Beirut, so the idea of home/ place was already there, and some of the last poems I wrote for that book start to tap into areas that would become central for Louder than Hearts. But I feel my writing/ style/ voice has changed since then.

My chapbook, 3arabi Song (2016), mourns the loss of lives and homes in the Arab world and at the same time celebrates Arabic song and singers. Many poems from it are included in Louder than Hearts, so in some sense, the book is a continuation and an expansion of the chapbook.

General Questions:

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

Theater—because it also concerns itself with words and going beyond the self, because I love performance, because performance is also part of the writing and reading of poetry.

And I would be a singer too, oh if only I had the voice. But I console myself that poetry, too, is song.

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

I’ve said variations of the following before, but it’s always worth it to say it again, in the hopes it does help someone out there:

If you don’t really really love it, don’t do it. If you do, then read every day, read like a writer—slowly, paying attention to the craft. Again: read, even if this means just one poem on busy days. Write, wait, revise, submit, and repeat. Don’t take rejections personally. I know you might feel alone in this, but you are not alone. Take your time, there’s no rush, remember you only want your best work out there. Put in the daily work: this doesn’t mean you have to write daily, but (did I say this?) read, make space in your head for those poems to come, listen, take notes, slow down, listen. Champion fellow poets whose work you like. Tell them you like their work. Share their work. And remember, you love writing.

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Zeina Hashem Beck is a Lebanese poet. Her most recent collection, Louder than Hearts, to be released in April 2017, won the May Sarton NH Poetry Prize. She’s also the author of two chapbooks: 3arabi Song, winner of the 2016 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and There Was and How Much There Was, a smith|doortop Laureate’s Choice, selected by Carol Ann Duffy. Her first book, To Live in Autumn, won the 2013 Backwaters Prize. Her work has won Best of the Net, has been nominated for the Pushcart and the Forward Prize, and has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, and The Rialto, among others.

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www.zeinahashembeck.com

order There Was and How Much There Was here

order Louder than Hearts here 

order 3arabi Song here

Poetry Magazine Weekly Podcast for March 13, 2017: Zeina Hashem Beck Reads “Maqam”

 

Jennifer Tseng

“I like intimacy. I’m not afraid of it. I welcome closeness, interiority, quietude, kindness, wonder. I like listening & listeners.”

notsodearjenny

Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press, 2017)

Could you share with us a representative or pivotal poem (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?

Not so dear Jenny:

We sew a knot
To hold the thing
That’s dear to us.
Ropes that lashed
Your trunk to the mast,
Cord that fastened
Your briefcase to the bicycle,
Thread at the end of the seam
Down the back of my dress.
Eleven letters to confess
Your love. Three more
To negate it.
Not so, dear Jenny,
Not so.
That knot.
Our fear,
So dear,
Is its undoing.

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

The title poem introduces the work. It immediately complicates the title, invokes the letter writing context & invites the reader to read closely, to listen for multiple meanings. It also announces the ever present possibility of misunderstanding.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

A few of my favorite chapbooks are Kathy Garlick’s The Listening World (Momotombo Press, 2002), Ari Banias’s What’s Personal is Being Here With All of You (Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs, 2012), E.J. Garcia’s Your Bright Hand (The Poetry Society of America, 2012), & Fanny Howe’s For Erato: The Meaning of Life (Tuumba Press, 1984). I also can’t help but mention a chapbook I’m looking forward to & that’s Shelley Wong’s Rare Birds. Diode Editions will release Rare Birds at AWP about the same time Bateau Press brings out Not so dear Jenny.

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

I like intimacy. I’m not afraid of it. I welcome closeness, interiority, quietude, kindness, wonder. I like listening & listeners.

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

I think that depends. One example of what feels to me like a very subversive chapbook is the aforementioned What’s Personal Is Being Here With All of You by Ari Banias. It’s very simply made in black & white, I don’t think it even has a price on it. Ari gave me a copy when we were riding a bus together. The poems, so fittingly, address the question of whether or not “in all this there can still be—tarnished,/problematic, and certainly uneven—a we.” I love thinking of Ari giving this out to people. In contrast, his new book Anybody, which contains many, if not all, of the chapbook poems, is a very fancy cloth bound edition, quite beautiful & priced at $25.95. Although I love this book too, I was not a part of the we who could afford to buy a new copy of it. There’s a way in which Ari’s meaning in the new book isn’t met in the same way by the new format as it was in the black & white chapbook. Part of what can be political about a chapbook is that it exists to serve purposes other than profit-making. Ari’s chapbook enacted its own meaning & I think that’s a very beautiful & political thing. Many small presses, like Bateau for instance, print only a small number (Bateau will print 250 of Jenny) so there is no pressure to sell thousands of copies, there is less pressure to sell, period. The object may even become more precious, priceless really, because unlike books the trade houses are publishing, a chapbook is fleeting; it will not be made over & over again.

That said, I feel compelled to mention two fabulous chapbook archives where readers can read out-of-print chapbooks. The Tuumba Press index (which includes Fanny Howe’s aforementioned For Erato: The Meaning of Life) & Ugly Duckling Presse’s out-of-print archive.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Love. Death. Time. My father. Language. Letter-writing.

What’s your chapbook about?

Not so dear Jenny is about living with a dead person. It is a book of conversations, arguments, confessions, dreams, warnings; it is a record of time spent with a person, a dead person who never dies.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

I’m not sure which piece is the oldest. Most of the poems were written during the span of a year or so. One of the earliest poems is “Please ask your mother one more time to drop the warrant for my arrest.” What do you remember about writing it? I remember crying when I wrote it & whenever I reread it. Strangely, when I read the title at a public reading, the audience laughed. It was my closing poem so I suppose by that time my descriptions of my father’s demands had begun to seem absurd. Of course then I laughed too.

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

In some of the poems, my father feels alive. Others feel post-mortem. I wanted an arc or a circle even. I wanted to slowly bring him to life & not let him die until the end, if at all. In short, I want(ed) him to live forever. This was my guiding principle.

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

Now that you ask & I’m looking them over, I realize most of my poems are the meaningful back story. I bring what’s most meaningful to me into the poem so there’s very little back story lurking around. That said, there is one poem whose back story illustrates my process (though I don’t know how meaningful it is). The line There is no short cut. in my father’s letter has nothing to do with physical short-cuts but when placed at the top of the page, it immediately sent me back to a field near our house. Instead of walking all the way around the neighborhood you could cross through a field from my friend Dede’s house to my friend Ruthie’s house. There were a couple of horses there we would stop to pet & feed along the way. I don’t think my father ever saw the field. He didn’t turn up that street much, if ever, but as soon as I thought of the field, it became our field; we became two friends walking together or towards each other. His line, originally about hard work & ambition, led me to a field with horses in it, to friendship & to everlasting love.

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

“If all hinges upon oneself.” This poem allows for the possibility of my father’s death more so than the others do. It fights death too but its sense of time is a fatherless future; it faces this possibility head-on like none of the others do. One of my readers suggested I cut it & I considered cutting it, it stuck out to me a little too. But I thought I would keep it in for the sake of fear & bravery.

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

I wrote these particular poems by typing a line from one of my father’s letters at the top of the page & then waiting. The line almost always led me somewhere. If it didn’t, I would discard it & choose another.

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?

Working with Bateau Press has been bliss. Editor Dan Mahoney is very direct, responsive, effervescent, hard-working & full of love for the work he does. As for the cover image & design, I began by sending book designer Amy Borezo some images of my father’s letters & envelopes just to see if they might spark something. She came back with a couple of gorgeous cover options for us & we chose the one we wanted. I wasn’t involved in designing the interior.

What are you working on now?

I am putting the finishing touches on the full length version of Not so dear Jenny. As well, next month I’ll begin editing with Kathleen Rooney & Abby Beckel, The Passion of Woo & Isolde & Other Stories, winner of Rose Metal Press’s Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest. The chapbook will be published in August with an introduction by judge Amelia Gray.

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

This is a tantalizing & difficult question for me because I find all three of the paths you mention deeply appealing. As a child I was a classically-trained pianist. What I experience when I write a poem is probably most similar to what I experienced when I played the piano. Listening. Repetition. Obsessions. Rhythms. Themes. Variations. Silences. Harmonies. Translations. Transitions. Perhaps because of that, I find painting & dance slightly more alluring. I’m very drawn to painters  – I tend to like them as people & I love being in a painter’s studio surrounded by light & color. What I love about dance as an art form – especially as a writer who spends so much time sitting still – is the movement inherent in it & its lack of trappings. (Then again, I’ve also always wanted to be a weaver.) All you need is your own body. But that’s also what’s frightening about dance; the body doesn’t last!

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

If you don’t really love it, do something else. If you do choose to write, listen, be receptive, persist.

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

Is there a forthcoming chapbook you’re looking forward to reading? Tell us about it.

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Jennifer Tseng’s chapbook Not so dear Jenny (Bateau Press 2017) won the Bateau Press Boom Chapbook Contest & her forthcoming chapbook The Passion of Woo & Isolde & Other Stories won Rose Metal Press’s Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest, judged by Amelia Gray. She is also the author of a novel, Mayumi and the Sea of Happiness (Europa Editions 2015) and two books of poems, The Man With My Face & Red Flower, White Flower, the latter featuring Chinese translations by Mengying Han & Aaron Crippen. Tseng teaches poetry and fiction for 24PearlSt, the Fine Arts Work Center’s online writing program.

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jennifertseng.weebly.com

“Dearest Jenny: Reading my Chinese Father’s English Letters” (essay):

 electricliterature.com/search?q=jennifer%20tseng\

“I never read one word Toni Morrison wrote.” (poem):

memorious.org/?id=688

“The Riddle of Morro Rock” (poem):

www.berfrois.com/2017/01/riddle-morro-rock-jennifer-tseng/