Rodney Gomez

“He produces all copies by hand with love.”


A Short Tablature of Loss (Seven Kitchens Press, 2017)

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?


Lately I have been a gap.
Moth clouds follow me to bed.
I counted them: twenty, fifty, block, choke.

In the room where I used to sleep
a breath hangs low on the bed
and hoarsens the room.
No one knows where the air is
charged and released into the world,
but it thistles.

This is how breathing fills a house
with family: breathing to draw
the buzzing to its source
and breathing to lacquer a plugged maze.

How a house fully beamed and walled
is not a house, but a husk.
How a life in the span of a few breaths
becomes a clockless thing.

Why did you choose this poem?

This poem was the first in the chapbook project, which later turned into a book project (Citizens of the Mausoleum, forthcoming from Sundress Publications). It’s a quiet piece and a meditation, which is characteristic of the extended elegy found in the chapbook.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

The major impetus was the death of my mother. But the chapbook is about loss generally, and the loss of many other things. I have a background in philosophy and so have spent some time thinking about the meaning of death from a metaphysical point of view. This led me to ask questions that were worked out in various poems.

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?

Ron Mohring at Seven Kitchens Press takes great care to produce high-quality chapbooks that can rightfully be considered art. He produces all copies by hand with love. The editorial process has been straightforward and professional. I left the cover image entirely to him, and he took the photograph which composes it. When I saw it, I knew that it was a perfect accompaniment to the tone and atmosphere of my work.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m focused on a book of poems about Brownsville, Texas artist Alfredo Bustinza. Bustinza was murdered in my hometown and his story as an artistic genius who was never really appreciated by his people has been a source of interest to me for years.

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

I’d probably be a musician. I’d love to play piano or guitar, but I have absolutely no physical coordination or mathematical ability. Or much musical ability, really. But I enjoy it and could see myself living a life as a journeyman guitar player or a night club pianist.

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

The best way to learn creative writing is to write creatively? Read, and read everyone, but write, and write, too. I don’t know any better way to have fun or to get better as a writer.


Rodney Gomez is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop and the proud son of migrant farmworkers. His first full-length collection, Citizens of the Mausoleum, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. His chapbooks include Mouth Filled with Night (Northwestern University Press), Spine (Newfound), and A Short Tablature of Loss (Seven Kitchens Press). His poetry has appeared in Poetry, Rattle, Blackbird, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. His honors include the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize, the RHINO Editors’ Prize, the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and the Rane Arroyo Prize.

A Short Tablature of Loss


Mouth Filled With Night

three poems in Blackbird

“Drag Racer” in RHINO

Ariel Francisco

“Writing is only done by the doing.”

Ariel Francisco

Before Snowfall, After Rain (Glass Poetry Press, 2016)

What are some of your favorite chapbooks? 

Some of my favorite chapbooks: How Things Tasted When We Were Young by Nadra Mabrouk (Finishing Line Press), Suddenly Nobody by Christan Carter Cannella (Brick House Books), Until the Foxes by C.M Keehl (Ghost City Press), Perish the Day by Gerald Stern (Miramar Editions), On Not Screaming by Eloisa Amezcua (Horseless Press), The Mark My Body Draws in Light by Madeleine Barnes (Finishing Line Press), Last Train to the Midnight Market by Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello (Finishing Line Press), I Have Learned to Define a Field as a Space Between Mountains by Rio Cortez (Jai-Alai Books), Pound of Steam by Dessa (Rain Taxi), Shirt by Regan Farquhar aka Busdriver (Fake Four Inc), To Gain the Day by Anthony Frame (Red Bird Chapbooks), The Iceland by Sakutaro Hagiwara (New Directions). (And like 20 more but I guess I have to cut the list off at some point).

What might these favorite chapbooks suggest about you?

What they suggest about me is that I like to carry a lot of books on me at all times, so the smaller they are the more I can carry (thumbs up emoji).

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

Maybe. I think a book is context, so the less context a poem has to work with, the harder it has to work. Not sure if that answers the question.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Solitude (voluntary and involuntary), being broke, the endless task of trying to make sense of my experiences and memories.

What’s your chapbook about?

Nice try.

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

The oldest piece in the chapbook is definitely “Perhaps It Wasn’t Such a Perfect Day for Bananafish.” I wrote that in the summer of 2012, though it’s based on day from way back in the summer of 2008.

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

Definitely “Driving Past Lake Tohopekaliga,” the backstory of which is essentially in the poem.

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

I think “Jay Gatsby on Karaoke Night” because of its I-lessness, focusing instead on a very well-known character. I like the poem, since taking myself out of a poem is not something I do very often, but it does make it stand out a little, I think. The other poems in my chapbook are in my forthcoming full-length debut All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017), but this poem didn’t make the final cut. Another L for Gatsby, I guess.

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

My favorite revision strategy is reading the poems aloud to myself (when my roommate isn’t home, of course). The only prompt I ever really use is stealing a line that I really like from another poet and using it as a title (for example “Nighthawks of the 24-Hour Donut Shops” is a line from Campbell McGrath (it’s cool, he knows).

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?

IT WAS AMAZING, SHOUTOUT TO GLASS POETRY PRESS AND ANTHONY FRAME FOR BEING THE GREATEST DUDE IN THE WORLD. I got as much say in the cover image and design of the chapbook, which was pretty awesome. (Also shoutout to Maddie for the cover art).

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on my second, third, and fifth full length poetry collections. I’m also working on getting a job in NYC (not sure which of these is more difficult, to be honest).

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

Film is the only other art form that truly interests me but it’s so goddamn inherently collaborative that I don’t think I’ll ever really bother with it.

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

Read a lot and then read even more and also practice writing. Writing is only done by the doing. You won’t get shit done if you just sit around waiting for inspiration.

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

If you could write a collaborative chapbook with any writer living or dead, who would it be and why?


Ariel Francisco is the author of All My Heroes Are Broke (C&R Press, 2017) and Before Snowfall, After Rain (Glass Poetry Press, 2016). Born in the Bronx to Dominican and Guatemalan parents, he was raised in Miami and completed his MFA at Florida International University. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2016, Gulf Coast,, Prelude, Washington Square, and elsewhere. He lives in South Florida (for now).

Sierra Golden

“We often think of writing as a solitary act, but I think (read: hope) these poems bring people together, bring them into place and community.”

Sierra Golden

Aristotle’s Lantern (Seven Kitchens Press, 2017)

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I worked on a commercial fishing boat in Southeast Alaska for eight summers. The second summer on the boat, I was twenty years old and wrote a poem about why fishermen curse. Since then, fishing has been my muse. I’ve written dozens and dozens of poems about fishing, so this chapbook is, in some ways, the best of those poems and, in other ways, just the poems that fit nicely together.

What’s your chapbook about?

On the most literal level, it’s about fishing and fishermen and place, but with what aim I’m not always sure. I have moments of thinking of the book as an homage, paean, elegy, bildungsroman, and ode. Maybe the chapbook as a whole acts more like a catalogue of all the various elements that make fishing what it is. Killing small animals. Growing up. Longing. Nets. Knots. Phone calls. Sex. Love. Destruction. Lots and lots of scales. Family. Stars.

After I started trying to arrange the poems, I was also struck by how much they are about the ways we touch one another, both physically and metaphorically. We often think of writing as a solitary act, but I think (read: hope) these poems bring people together, bring them into place and community.

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

I found the term Aristotle’s Lantern while researching sea urchins for the poem “Growing Up,” which appears in the chapbook. That was in 2012, I think, and I never could think of a better title than that.

For the arrangement, I spent a lot of time with poems spread across my floor, bed, and walls. I think my favorite way to look at them is taping them to my walls. I haven’t necessarily been satisfied by this process, but at least printing and taping means I can see everything at once.

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?

Net Work

Shuttles flick through diamond-shaped windows.
Just fingers flash, bending the twine in stair steps up and down cut edges.
Their pockets full of hooks and flagging tape, men mend the net.

Jim recalls branding cattle as a kid in North Dakota, winter cold just lifted,
calves struggling in mud before the prairie bloomed, withered in summer heat.
Playing cowboy now, he says he shot coyotes and Indians off his dad’s land.

Face deadly straight, you only know he’s lying when his fingers stutter,
stick, the tiny knot coming up slack. Just one unraveled compromises the delicate
lift and pull of meshes under stress. I’ve seen whole seams split from end to end.

He knows love knots pull tighter under pressure, stronger than the lines used to tie them.
He starts talking about his grandmother with Alzheimer’s. Each winter she thinks
every day for a week is Christmas. Last year she fell in two feet of snow.

Feeding the horses, hay in her hands, the wind at ten below, she lay crying
until Jim’s grandfather found her. She didn’t recognize him,
but knew love when it grabbed her, pushing back the terror.

Jim joins two lines with overhand knots, sliding them one on top of the other,
pulling for tension. Sometimes the line snaps in his swollen fingers. His hands ache.
He cracks his knuckles, asks the boys if they’re ready for a beer, remembering his first.

At fifteen he drank Rainier, bittersweet scent biting his nose while he sipped,
making him crave pancakes all night. He didn’t know why until he remembered hunting trips when he was five and six, Brown Betty, the old flat top stove at his uncle’s cabin.

Uncle Joe would tinker the diesel flame into smothering heat, sizzle of bacon
while Jim’s dad poured Hamm’s in the pancake batter, saying, Our little secret.
Holding a burnt handled spatula, he’d flip white beer cakes mid-air.

Outside the web locker, Jim’s crew chuckles, calls it a day, each popping a beer tab.
At home their fingers twitch all night, tie imaginary hitches, sheet bends,
loop knots, a bowline on a bight. Jim dreams of the whole net flexing,
all the pearl-sized knots shrunk and snug, rippling in the current.

Why did you choose this poem ?

This poem appeared as the first poem in many earlier versions of Aristotle’s Lantern. It’s also a poem that I often use to open readings. There’s something about it that both draws listeners/ readers in and feels like a gateway to another world. In some ways, it’s a bit unwieldy and prosy—and it’s definitely not the roughest/ toughest representation of fishing culture in the book—but when I read it, I often get that strange tingly sensation that goes along with an audience connecting with a poem. Hopefully it’s having that effect right now.

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 don’t think there’s one poem in the chapbook (as it’s published) that really catalyzed things, but I feel somewhat compelled to refer (again) to the poem about fishermen cussing. I don’t even remember what it was called, but writing it and workshopping it certainly motivated me to write and to write about fishing. The poem also had a lot of curse words in it—so it was a funny thing to watch the faces in the workshop when it was read aloud. Keep in mind that I was a student at Gonzaga, a small, private, Catholic university.

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

All but one of the poems in Aristotle’s Lantern are tightly connected through their setting in Southeast Alaska. “Light Boat” really takes place in Southern California. I like to think it still fits into the collection because it ties into the themes and fishing imagery of the other poems, but someone who really knows the fisheries might catch on that it’s an oddball. I also think “Triangulation” stands out stylistically.

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

The poem I most recently revised significantly in this collection is “Triangulation,” but “finishing it” didn’t necessarily make me feel as though the chapbook were complete. Most poets have heard Valery’s idea that poems aren’t finished but abandoned. I feel that way about many of my poems—and this chapbook.

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

Ron Mohring, the editor at Seven Kitchens Press, was very open to suggestions for the cover image. (Thank you!) In the end, I worked closely with Chelsea Stephen of Left Pebble Studio to adapt one of her original images for the cover (another big thank you!). Sierra Golden 1I’ve known Chelsea for several years because she was instrumental in putting together an anthology for the FisherPoets Gathering. When it came time for my own cover art, I knew I wanted to look at what she had. When I saw “Love has a Tide,” I knew it was the image I wanted. Chelsea would laugh and say I had others picked out as well—it’s true—but that was the one that I really felt deep down was perfect for the book.

What are you working on now?

The full-length collection!

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

I can dance a little bit… I even dance a fair bit of tango… but I cannot sing at all. If I had a fairy wand to set myself up with a successful artistic career as a singer, I would totally do it. I’m fascinated by what I imagine is the emotional/ spiritual release of making music inside the body.

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



Sierra Golden received her MFA in poetry from North Carolina State University. Winner of the Rane Arroyo Chapbook Prize, Golden’s work appears in literary journals such as Prairie Schooner, Permafrost, and Ploughshares. She has also been awarded residencies by Hedgebrook, the Island Institute, and the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology. Although she calls Washington State home, Golden has spent many summers in Alaska, working as a commercial fisherman. She was a 2015-2016 Made at Hugo House Fellow and now works in communications at Casa Latina, a nonprofit organization empowering Latino immigrants through employment, education, and community organizing. Author photo by Shelley Rose Photography.



“Town Day” 

“Elegy for a Boat” 


Light Boat and Net Work

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

“I wanted—in my small way—to honor their stories with something beautiful, even though it was forged in deep grief.”

author photo

Arab in Newsland (Two Sylvias 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?

I can tell you what I have learned—
when darkness arrives the blue glow

of screens will bring you no warmth. You light candles
while the streets beyond you burn and the ashes

of other monuments thicken
the white skies of winter.

When will you understand that storm clouds
cannot be held back by borders?

(This is an excerpt from the poem “Bleu Blanc Rouge”)

Why did you choose this excerpt?

I chose this poem because I think it is written in the voice of an Arab in Newsland, the fictional world created by the way in which we consume information and end up less informed and more separated and torn apart and alone.

The poem was written after the Paris bombings of November 2015. There was the immense tragedy, of course, and concurrent with it, the tragedies in many cities around the world which are rendered less grievable by our news coverage and the ensuing culture of silence and dehumanization that result from it. I wrote the poem in the voice of one always having to explain and remind others of the value of brown, Arab, and Muslim lives, too.

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

Anne Carson’s magnificent Float is a collection of chapbooks unlike any other. I love Safia Elhillo’s chapbook Asmarani, Michelle Penaloza’s landscape/heartbreak, and Kaveh Akbar’s chapbook Portrait of the Alcoholic.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I often say that I write “news-phrastic” poetry, a take on ekphrastic poetry. Instead of being in conversation with a work of art, I am often in conversation with a piece of news, which is curated and designed for us – viewers, listeners, readers. I often find that I want to respond to news reports and events through art, specifically through poetry. I realize after writing this way for some time that it is an insistence on my humanity, on our humanity, that leads me to respond in this way. So much of the news about Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and Muslim Americans traffics in deeply dehumanizing tropes and sound bites that are reductive and painful. As a poet, I have the opportunity, and maybe even the obligation, to set different terms for seeing and engaging with these events.

What’s your chapbook about?

Arab in Newsland is a collection of poems about being Arab and inside of events that are narrated by others for immediate consumption in the 24/7 cycle of news. In many ways, it’s also about place. It’s about the fictional place created by the headline-version of history, which I think of as “Newsland,” and about the places we are from, our homelands, cities, and villages, the languages and experiences that are our actual homes.

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 think “Maritime Nocturne” is the oldest piece in the book. It was written after the horrific drownings of Palestinian refugees in September 2014. Nearly two hundred Palestinians tried to cross the Mediterranean and escape the unfathomable conditions of their lives. It’s worth taking a moment to think about their final chapter: besieged for over a decade, many of them already refugees living in extreme poverty in the camps in Gaza, and surviving three wars during the decade of siege. Maybe it’s strange to think of a nocturne in the face of such compounded suffering, but I wanted –in my small way—to honor their stories with something beautiful, even though it was forged in deep grief.

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 final poem I wrote for this collection is “Anniversary.” I have resisted writing poems specifically about the experience of living in a post 9-11 United States, though so many of the poems I’ve written are informed by that reality and live in that world. But last year, the Muslim holiday Eid Al-Adha, which is part of the Islamic lunar calendar, coincided with September 11th. My youngest daughter likes to write important events on our family calendar, and usually does so in bright markers. Her handwriting against the backdrop of these big events inspired the poem.

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

My revision process both for this chapbook and for all my poems always includes reading poems aloud. The sound of the poem in a reader’s voice is just as important to me as the poem on the page. I don’t read the poem out loud in the earliest stages of writing because it’s still finding itself, but once I believe it’s getting close to how it will live in the world, I read it aloud again and again. This is such an intimate and necessary way of knowing the poem – hearing the line breaks, the places where it whispers or crashes, finding the pulse of the living work.

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 loved working with Two Sylvias on this chapbook. From the very beginning, Kelli and Annette treated me as a full partner in the production process. I had a sense of how I wanted the cover to look, but I couldn’t find artwork that matched that right away. In our conversations, Kelli suggested I send her any images I may have that felt relevant. I sent some pictures I took in Amman, Jordan, where I lived for a while. She and Annette both loved the cityscape image that became the cover for the book. I was so touched that they also included a second photograph on the inside of the book. That image is from my grandparents’ garden, and the leaf in the foreground is from their Aleppo Pistachio tree.

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

This is my first chapbook, and most of the poems in this book were written over the last three years, though a few pieces are older. My full-length collection of poems, Water & Salt, was published this April, and includes poems written over the last ten years.

What are you working on now?

I’m just putting the final touches on a full-length manuscript of poems. Several of the poems in it have already been published in journals; I’m really looking forward to sending the entire work out into the world. These poems are so important to me, and it was an incredible journey to write them. The first few began as tentative drafts during my residency at Hedgebrook, and then took on a life of their own. I am so moved by the response many of the poems have gotten, and I really hope they find their place in the world as a book.

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

If I absolutely had to choose? Dance, poetry of the body. Like poetry, you become the medium for your art.

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

Read everything you possibly can. And while you’re reading, write. Write terrible embarrassing poems on your way to great ones. Keep a journal, write letters, whatever it takes to keep you writing. Try out turns of phrase and words with delicious sounds. Look everything up. Take copious notes. Don’t be afraid to try and fail and try again.


Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is an American writer of Palestinian, Syrian, and Jordanian heritage. Her book of poems, Water & Salt, is published by Red Hen Press. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net and her chapbook, Arab in Newsland, is the winner of the 2016 Two Sylvias Prize. Lena is a Hedgebrook alum and an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.



Anders Carlson-Wee & Kai Carlson-Wee

“Fall in love with your own language.”


Two-Headed Boy (Organic Weapon Arts, 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?

Anders’ Poem:


A loose flap of skin passes just below
his eye. Bruises ride the bridge of my nose.
The dark ropes of handprints grip
both our necks. Our fresh buzzcuts
lumpy with goose eggs. It’s easy to forget
we were trying to kill each other.
Or at least I was. But what I wonder now
is why our father shot the photo before
he bandaged the hole where the nail
went in, stuffed my raw mouth with gauze.
We stand side by side against the garage,
eyes focused just beyond the lens,
each pointing at what we did to the other.

Kai’s Poem:

Jesse James Days

If I called to you now. If I carried your name to the skateparks
and railroad temples of rust, would you come to me, brother,
wherever you are in your faded arrangements,
your growing away from the past? Would you lie with me here
in the shore-grass, watching the college boys paint
the gazebo, the endless advance and retreat of the sea?
I’m trying to imagine us back to our origins.
Skitching the Friday night dump truck in Moorhead,
shoplifting soft packs of Camel Lights,
kicking our boards through the rodeo crowds at the fair,
searching the beer tent for half-finished bottles of High Life,
for cigarette butts in the ashtrays, for lighters,
for dime bags and dollar bills left on the tables, for anything
other than home.

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

Anders: “Polaroid” is a good example of the “brotherly trouble” that writhes in this book. It seems like the most intimate relationships are also the most dangerous––not always physically, but to risk real intimacy we face real danger too. That’s part of what the book is about.

Kai: When I wrote “Jesse James Days” it was sort of a break through poem. I could feel a new energy in the lines. Anders and I were going through a tough spot in our relationship and I was trying to understand the violence we grew up around, how it shaped us, what history it stemmed from. There’s a certain posturing that happens between brothers, but I wanted this poem to speak openly, from the heart. What happened was a kind of love song, and I think it’s one of the most important things I’ve written. It created an opening for the rest of my poems in the book.

What’s your chapbook about?

Anders: Two-Headed Boy is about the explosive bonds between brothers, and sort of lets you in on a lifelong conversation that Kai and I are having with each other––from the years of intense fighting when we were little, to times when we were estranged, to times when we’ve traveled together on freight trains and slept in weird spots all over the country, utterly dependent on one another for sanity and companionship. In a larger sense, it’s about the danger of intimacy, the endurance of family, and the redemption and camaraderie of adventure.

Kai: The book is definitely a conversation between me and Anders, but it’s also a record of our lives. It charts the development of our relationship over time. We both write autobiographical poems, so the stories in the book represent a progression of two perspectives, reflecting each other, contradicting each other, creating a kind of collage of experience. I don’t know if this is as interesting to readers as it is to us, but a big part of the project is the travelogue element, the recording of where we’ve gone together, what our relationship has endured.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Anders: A deep love of adventure, the unbearable depths of intimacy between two people, a yearning to experience a tangible version of God, fear of isolation, recurring images in my mind and in my dreams, an urge to make something out of the transformative experiences I’ve had on the road, an urge to share the stories of perfect strangers who have saved my life, fear of forgetting, fear of chaos and a need to turn the chaos of my life into story and image and music.

Kai: I think the main obsession for me is experience. For years I’ve wanted to create a style of poetry that reflects a lived life, the empirical truth of the heart. When I was in my twenties I went through two mental breakdowns and it was difficult for me to read books. I was medicated for periods of time and struggled to find reasons to live. Every day I thought about burying myself in dirt, disappearing. I’ll talk openly about it now, but at the time it was more difficult to navigate. Therapy seemed like a joke and all the social mechanisms we use for dealing with depression just made me more depressed. Medication helped, but it also created a black hole of dependency. What saved my life was traveling and writing poems. Experiencing new things and writing about beauty. The kindness of strangers. The shifting hands of fate. When I would enter a mode of travel like this my brain would engage on a more intuitive level, and I would see poetic symmetry in things. I valued unique sensations and experiences because they kept me farthest away from the alternative, which had been living at my parents’ house taking anti-psychotics. Nothing else really helped me. The healing was found in novel experiences and poetry.

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

Anders: Kai and I sent each other the poems we were considering for this project, and then we each helped choose the other’s poems. We knew we wanted to use a “call-and-response” format, so once we had all 18 poems, we just started ordering them, one by me, one by Kai, all the way through. That part was weirdly easy, although we did rearrange a few things after a first draft. The title comes from the band Neutral Milk Hotel, which has a song of the same title. The book’s epigraph is a lyric from that song: “I am listening to hear where you are.”

Kai: The poems have an image set dealing with dismemberment and displacement. Many of the scenes involve Midwestern landscapes and references to a violent past. There’s a “fingerless man” in a few of the poems. There are descriptions of hearing impairment and ears being shot off. The brothers in the poems are always on the move, in states of transition from one place to the next. The “Two-Headed Boy” title, apart from the Neutral Milk Hotel reference, is also a nod to the traveling circus, which used to go from town to town in the Midwest, often traveling by train.

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

Anders: I don’t have any big secrets. I just write everyday. I would recommend getting in touch with your body and your breath. And I’d memorize your poems after you draft them, so you can work on them in your head and focus on hearing the music and rhythm.

Kai: I need to be moving when I write. I can’t just wake up in my pajamas and start typing. I usually go for a run in the morning, pay a little visit to my coyote friend in the park, eat breakfast and play some guitar. Then I’ll get on my bike and take photos around the city. I’ll talk to strangers and see what people are saying, what the mood is. For me, writing poetry is about connecting with a spiritual rhythm. It’s a way of seeing and moving through the world.

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?

Anders: Organic Weapon Arts has been so awesome to work with! Jamaal May did an absolutely immaculate job with the design––both cover and interior––and was generous enough to let Kai and I have a ton of input. (Thanks, Jamaal!) Tarfia Faizullah had a keen eye as editor––so keen that there’s not a single misplaced comma from cover to cover (Thanks, Tarfia!). And the contest judge, Laura Kasischke, wrote us the most generous blurb (Thanks, Laura!) Thanks to the OW! Arts team, the book is gorgeous! I’d highly recommend sending them your chapbook!

Kai: Jamaal and Tarfia have a super progressive view of what 21st century poetry can be, who the audience is, what we’re trying to accomplish as artists. I’ve admired their work for years and it’s inspiring to be able to work on this project with them. They’ve supported our vision completely and have been very encouraging about ways to develop and imagine the book. Honestly, they’ve felt more like family than book publishers.

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

Mercy Songs (Diode Editions) is our other coauthored chapbook, and, like its title suggests, the focus is on song. It has lots of lyric portraits and elegies, and the themes are more kaleidoscopic than in Two-Headed Boy. The other project we’ve worked on together is a short film called, “Riding the Highline,” about one of our train trips across the country.

What are you working on now?

Anders: I’m working on finishing my first full-length collection of poems (almost finished!)

Kai: I’m doing edits on my first book of poems, RAIL, which is coming out with BOA Editions in Spring 2018. I’ve been working on this project for the last ten years, and I’m thrilled to be able to share it with the world.

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

Anders: Follow the natural impulses of your personality and imagination. Notice the ways you like to convey information or stories or jokes when you’re just talking with your friends or whatever. Are you more interested in the larger story, the details, or in what people say? Do you like tangents or straightforwardness? Those kinds of things will help you work on your craft. Also for craft, every time you don’t like a poem or a book or a movie, try to really understand why; then don’t do that. More toward content: record your dreams; notice what obsesses you when you daydream, what you’re ashamed of, what you do and don’t want to share. All this stuff is pretty much like getting to know yourself. And, like being a teenager, it’s about letting go of the notion that there are cool people somewhere doing cool stuff, and you should try to change to become more like that. Eventually you realize that your weird quirks are the good stuff, and the stuff that will ultimately shine through in your work––even though your quirks usually seem a little sloppy and wonky when you’re young, which is why they’re often destroyed in writing workshops. In the end, it’s about being yourself. But as a writer, you have to be yourself (on the page) long enough to figure out how to harness it.

Kai: I would say do your own thing. No matter what anybody tells you, be original and trust your voice. Fall in love with your own language. Don’t write poems you think you should write, write poems you need to read. There’s a big difference between these approaches. The first will get you published and win you awards, the second will make you a real poet. It will develop your soul. It will give you the strength to continue. Waste time. Allow yourself to fail. Become an artist before you become a critic of other people’s art. Remember that no one else can do this but you. If you follow your own vision, it will take a long time. You will spend a few years with no social or financial support. Your parents will worry about you. Your girlfriend/boyfriend will start to have doubts. Other writers will be jealous and condescending about your work. Editors will reject you because editors are not writers. They only see what they’ve seen before and mostly they’re just looking out for themselves. I know it sounds rough, but this country is not easy on writers, especially poets. It will be hard for a while. But if you make it through a few years and develop a practice, an original style, a community of like-minded writers, the reward is more valuable than anything else in the world.


Anders Carlson-Wee is a 2015 NEA Creative Writing Fellow and the author of Dynamite, winner of the 2015 Frost Place Chapbook Prize. His work has appeared in Ploughshares, New England Review, Poetry Daily, Best New Poets, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, and Narrative Magazine, which featured him on its “30 Below 30” list of young writers to watch. Winner of Ninth Letter’s Poetry Award, Blue Mesa Review’s Poetry Prize, and New Delta Review’s Editors’ Choice Prize, he was runner-up for the 2016 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize. He lives in Minneapolis, where he serves as a McKnight Foundation Creative Writing Fellow.

Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of RAIL (BOA, 2018). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, Gulf Coast, and The Missouri Review, which awarded him the 2013 Editor’s Prize. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his co-directed poetry film, Riding the Highline, received jury awards at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival and the 2016 Arizona International Film Festival. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and is a lecturer at Stanford University.


Two-Headed Boy (chapbook), by Kai and Anders Carlson-Wee

Mercy Songs (chapbook), by Kai and Anders Carlson-Wee

Riding the Highline (short film), by Kai and Anders Carlson-Wee

 Dynamite (chapbook), by Anders Carlson-Wee

RAIL (full-length book), by Kai Carlson-Wee


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.”


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?


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.


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.


Marsha’s books may be purchased for a modest sum at

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.


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.