Michelle Tudor

“I wanted to make something that you could go back to and feel beauty.”


The Quieting (Platypus Press, 2016)

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

A section from the first poem the deer have grown soft by Mary Buchinger:

puttering along footpaths,
nipping on potted petunias,
the wild fed,
no longer wild

and I don’t know
am I hunter or hunted

Why did you choose this poem?

We originally received this poem as a submission for our literary journal WILDNESS,  but I found it to be perfect for another idea I had been toying with, creating a small, soft anthology.

What themes and images “bridge” your anthology?

Our description for The Quieting is ‘an anthology of softness and light’ and that’s exactly what it is. All of the poems are delicate in both tone and layout. They take up minimal page space with carefully chosen words.

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

We were originally thinking of calling it Quietness as an offshoot of our journal for smaller pieces of work, but in the end we just felt that The Quieting sounded better as it really is a standalone work. The arrangement took a lot of planning. The entire chapbook is letter-pressed on an old Adana 8×5 machine which we bought specifically for this project, so that was a huge learning curve for us. We also hand-bound the chapbooks (limited to 50 copies) so it was a real labour of love.

What obsessions led you to edit and publish your anthology?

I think my love of all things soft. I wanted to make something that you could go back to and feel beauty. To truly feel that physical aspect in a way you don’t get digitally. And, of course, to experience the words.

How did you decide on the cover image and design of your anthology?

The cover is very simple (with only the title on it) and, I think, reflective of the whole project. Also, the binding takes up nearly a third of the cover, which was intentional for an aesthetic we were trying to achieve.

What are some of your favorite chapbooks?

I really liked Philip Schaefer’s [Hideous] Miraculous, and I’m also really looking forward to Kaveh Akbar’s upcoming chapbook Portrait of the Alcoholic.

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

The Quieting was our very first anthology, but we have been releasing and editing poetry collections through Platypus Press for almost two years.

What are you working on now?

Through the press and journal, we have many projects in progress. However, the next one will be in November. We are releasing an anthology based around identity, gender and bodies (platypuspress.co.uk/apib) which will be edited by jayy dodd.

What’s the title for an anthology you haven’t edited yet?

That’s a great question, but one I’m going to keep a secret for now.


Michelle Tudor is a writer, average barista and wannabe cartographer. She is an English Literature and Creative Writing graduate whose work has been published both online and in print. Her first poetry collection You Are the Map and her debut short story collection Miyoko & Other Stories were both released in 2015. She currently serves as the editor of Wildness and Platypus Press.

The Quieting: platypuspress.co.uk/tq

Press: platypuspress.co.uk

Journal: readwildness.com

2412: platypuspress.co.uk/2412

Aaron Coleman

“For me, a definitive ‘home’ or ‘identity’ can’t be as clear-cut as we might sometimes want it to be.”


St. Trigger (Button Poetry, 2016) 

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Before anything else, thanks so much for this opportunity to look back at this chapbook and think about what it means to me now that it’s out in the world.

I probably obsess too much about the intersection of memory and imagination. How we think about memory and imagination has so much to do with how we think about identity, experience, lies, and truths. Consequently, I don’t know what to do with Americanness (not just the United States, but all of the once-called “New World” as colonized spaces that hold such chaotic, convoluted, and unearthed histories/myths/stories). My understanding of blackness as a transnational double consciousness, running with DuBois’ sense of the term and having lived in the U.S. and outside of it, often makes me look at location (geographical or even one’s emotional location – I guess we say “I am angry,” similarly to how we say “I am American,” don’t we?”) and the idea of home with a certain suspiciousness. For me, a definitive “home” or “identity” can’t be as clear-cut as we might sometimes want it to be. St. Trigger aims to unearth some of that messiness of unbecoming, becoming, and belonging.

More to the point: I’m obsessed with figuring out what home is and can be. What faith is and can be. What love, violence, masculinity, kinship, desire are and can be…

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?

I think “Viciousness in Ends” is representative because of its content and form. The differently fragmented phrase “blood and trust in my mouth” at the beginning and end of the poem feels so crucial to the complicated, restless faith at the core of this collection— and what it wants to question and explore. You can read the poem in its entirety here.

Why did you choose this poem?

Sometimes there’s this kaleidoscopic complication and emotional blurriness that I feel when I really go back into my memories and begin to think about what they mean to the present moment. The poem’s form enacts that complication and blurring as it bends back over itself as a kind of palindrome (like the word “racecar”), so we go through all these thoughts, this fragmented narrative moving through youth and masculinity, and yet we come back to “the changing same” (I believe Amiri Baraka coined that term) as the first words return to us, and I hope the reader feels compelled to ask herself something along the lines of, “Where did I start and where am I now? What happened in between?”

“Viciousness in Ends” approaches belonging, love, shame, and violence as a young black American man coming to terms with such cavernous terms like masculinity, violence, Americanness, blackness, love, etc…All of the poems are trying to understand and reify those terms’ complexities in the realm of my own memory, identity, and imagination…Reading what I’m typing, this is already sounding pretty heady, but the poem arrives at these thoughts via the concrete actions of backyard boxing and metal bb-shooting teenage boys, as having grown up and through experiences like those. This poem and this collection are so tense and fraught because I think they’re all this way – a precarious balance of contemplation and physicality – and of course I feel that tension in my own life.

How did you decide on the arrangement of your chapbook?

Speaking of obsessions…I spent a lot of time thinking about common themes, unconsciously oft-repeated words, and how different poems would echo next to each other. I didn’t want to pin down a narrative progression as much as I wanted to think about intensity and momentum and silence.

The collection consists of two 11-poem sections and I wanted them to subtly mirror each other. On their surface and beneath it they contain something of the spirit of the poems that surround them— and/or they question and respond to one another. But at the same time I think each section aspires to be its own whole, and the poems that comprise each section also speak back or forward toward the other section that is their reflection.

For example, the two definitional poems, “Rich” and “Through,” inspired by A. Van Jordan’s form in M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A, speak to each other across the two sections. Also, there are two “saint” poems that are in conversation with one another across the two sections. I don’t know which side is the reflection and which is “the real” – I’m not even sure how to make that distinction – and I don’t care to know at this point. But that fragile equilibrium felt right for a collection titled St. Trigger, a collection so concerned with, again, a precarious balance and unconventional faith.

What inspired the title of your chapbook?

I settled on the title before I could articulate the logic or reason behind it. On some level it just felt right. At first it was titled St. Trigger Lovestruck but I think the adjective/surname that I attached there was too heavy-handed in that it distracts from the shock of a saint coming in the form of a trigger (whether that be of a machine or weapon— or the metaphorical trigger of an action or moment that functions as an initiating event). Saints, as I understand them, are such interesting figures because they’re not angels, yet they’re not quite human anymore…they can be totemic and ethereal…there’s this paradoxical intimacy and distance. And I think faith’s intimacy, how personal and nuanced it is, and distance, how it can be blind or beyond reason, is something that factors into how I approach poems, and even how I approach relationships, and narrative, and identity. What has happened in our country and world can sometimes feel absurd or beyond reason, and yet here we are, products of and potentials within that mess. The catastrophic and the miraculous have happened (and continue to happen), and somehow we have to figure out how to deal with such daunting reality.

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

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I haven’t read a lot of chapbooks. But one that stands out for me is Mark Strand’s Mystery and Solitude in Topeka just because of how unabashedly it is itself. The prose poems and the lithographs feel so precise (not to mention how the two forms speak to each other in this subtle but undeniable way).  By precise I don’t mean necessarily resolved or complete, but precise in how they do what they do.

Another one is Hadara Bar-Nadav’s Fountain and Furnace. It feels really potent to me because of the series of worlds it creates through its objects, and how well-suited those poems are to her self-contained chapbook form. It creates a kind of strange cosmology of objects (a motel, a bedroom door, a thumb, for example) and locates and expresses the life or lives stirring in them.

I actually thought a lot more about mixtapes and EPs rather than chapbooks, especially Kendrick Lamar’s, Frank Ocean’s, and J. Cole’s mixtapes prior to their debut albums. I loved how they felt like premonitions to me, how the uniqueness of the songs (their craft as much as their sensitivity as much as their bravado) felt like new voices were coming, ready to add something nuanced and different (at least to the range of music that I was listening to at the time). Those mixtapes felt like purposeful, in-depth introductions through the creation of soundscapes and landscapes filled by the range of their vulnerabilities and desires.

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

Chapbooks aren’t just shorter versions of books to me, at all, but they are more compact canvases wherein everything is in closer proximity, so things echo differently. A long poem is that much longer and a succinct poem bears even more weight. Maybe there’s a different immediacy or urgency that comes with the more concise scope of chapbook-length projects.

From the beginning, I was thinking about how creating and organizing St. Trigger might prepare me for the process of my first full-length collection. And in so many ways, it did.  St. Trigger as a whole is deeply in conversation with, and shares poems with, Threat Come Close, which is my first full-length collection, forthcoming from Four Way Books in Spring 2018. The chapbook was a launch pad and experimental space where I first began to think about how these poems could speak to each other. I began to think about that distance and intimacy around the idea of a saint, and of different valences of faith, and their metaphorical potential.

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

“[American Dream] See” was a poem that came out of the grief and confusion I found myself feeling in the summer and fall of 2014, for a few reasons that included the killing of Michael Brown while living here in St. Louis. Looking back I think I was trying to find a way to access my sense of power and possibility after yet another example of state-sanctioned violence against black bodies. This strange poem just came out of me:

[American Dream] See

two black people [what] in an alley naked
[am i] having sex frantic in a cop car
with the cop lights chaotic [silent?] circling
across the walls [what]. See two black

people in an alley naked having
sex in a cop car cop lights writ frantic [am i]
across the walls [gone]. The sirens fracture
shadows, whir, near – unsilent [?] – drawn.

I still can’t explain it, but its images continue to haunt me usefully, and I hope I figure out what is so compelling to me here, so I can continue to pursue it.

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?

Button Poetry has been really great. I’m deeply thankful that this was my first experience bringing to life my own collection. Sam Cook, Dylan Garity, and Michael Mlekoday all were really thoughtful, supportive, and kind in the process of helping me sharpen my vision for the work, revise the manuscript, and release it into the world.

Nikki Clark designed the cover and the first time that I saw it I was just floored. We had talked about some of the covers of books and chapbooks that are my favorites, along with words that I felt were descriptive of my chapbook, but Nikki really conveyed my abstractions and emotions better than I could have expected. The way that light and dark are working in the cover, and the hidden intricacy of the stained glass…the cover still captivates me.

I’d spent quite a long time with the poems before it won the Button Prize (Thank you, again, Adrian Matejka), but I still feel like I gained further clarity around what I wanted the project to be during our editorial process. I especially have to thank Michael Mlekoday for great notes and conversation.

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

This might seem a bit off base, but my question would be “What happens to chapbooks and literary art in general within the spaces and gravity of social media?” I’m not sure how to answer that but I find myself thinking a lot about what it means that our art, something that I think many of us cherish and value as a unique means of communication, becomes a particular kind of commodity and is often fragmented into screenshots, short quotes, etc. I’m not saying these changes are bad – I want poetry to endlessly find new useful spaces to express itself – or that there’s any past I’m interested in returning to…it just seems to be something that we’ve accepted and acquiesced into without contemplating its effects or consequences.

What are you working on now?

I’ve become more and more interested in translation, from and into Spanish and hopefully sooner than later I’ll be capable of working with French, too. I spent a few years living abroad in Spain teaching English, a summer in South Africa working with young people that were writing seamlessly in isiZulu and English, and I also worked with a lot of Spanish-speaking youth during my time with Literature for All of Us in Chicago. So I’ve been curious about the translation of language and culture for a long time but I’m just now beginning to understand how that curiosity factors into my writing. Without saying too much prematurely, I’m working toward a book-length collection of translations of a Cuban poet.

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

Hm, advice? Do whatever it takes to let yourself be yourself on the page. Giving in to vulnerability and cultivating compassion, toward others and toward myself, has fundamentally changed who I am as a person and writer and perhaps meditating on the power and potential of those concepts might be useful for you, too. Read, read, read and also live, live, live! Get comfortable with silence. Respect experience and respect imagination. Imagery is crucial. As Mary Jo Bang once told me, when you revise, try to read your work as if it were the writing of a stranger (this is still hard for me, but often it is incredibly useful).

You don’t have to take anybody’s advice, but the ability to openly listen to it, try it out, and say yes or no to it for yourself is a lifelong practice and skill.

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

Ecstatic emotion lives inside music so seamlessly sometimes…I think I’d want to be a Prince- or Andre 3000-style musician, able to play a range of instruments and write songs, all that fun stuff.


Aaron Coleman is the author of St. Trigger, which won the 2015 Button Poetry Prize and Threat Come Close (Four Way Books, forthcoming 2018). A Fulbright Scholar, Cave Canem Fellow, and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis’ MFA program, Aaron has lived and worked with youth in locations including Kalamazoo, Chicago, St. Louis, Spain, and South Africa. Winner or the Tupelo Quarterly TQ5 Poetry Contest and The Cincinnati Review Robert and Adele Schiff Award, recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Apogee, Boston Review, Fence, Southern Humanities Review, and elsewhere.


Jasmine Dreame Wagner

“I’ve always loved speaking into the void, or more precisely, speaking to the void.”

jasminewagnerAsk (Slope Editions, 2016)

Could you share with us a poem from the chapbook?

Heat Death of the Universe

_______________Torus Poem for Anonymous

I was in love with the world
but the world was far away;

the world said, “meet me halfway”;
so I did; I stayed awake; I typed:

“I was in love with the world…”

What’s your chapbook about?

In the winter of 2013, I chinchilla-sat for my friends Hannah and Alexis while Hannah was working in San Francisco and Alexis was traveling Europe, running stadium sound for a rock band. After feeding Trillian golden raisins or watching her clean herself in magic chinchilla-cleaning dust, I’d sit at the dining room table and post on Twitter. Outside the wide-panel glass windows, snow accumulated on the Bed-Stuy rooftops, time passing slowly in the lull between the close of the fall semester and the beginning of the end-of-year holidays, a time when weather moves in and college kids and people with families in other places catch flights and buses out. The coffee shop around the corner had a table waiting and a draft that leaked through the storm doors into an overgrown backyard that hadn’t hosted a smoker since the leaves came down. Banks and Moonface and Drake crooned on the stereo speakers that hung over the wooden tables. I trekked my laptop between the chinchilla and the coffee shop at least four times a day, tweeting.

Actually, the chapbook began earlier than this. I can trace early lines to idling in traffic during my backward commute from Brooklyn to Connecticut, where I taught creative writing at the state university. A drive that felt longer each time I completed the loop, making me think (and tweet) that what I was truly experiencing wasn’t traffic but the heat death of the universe. Points of matter, from my bed to the lectern in my icy, basement classroom, were in fact, moving farther and farther apart, so slowly and coldly that only poets with incredibly sensitive calipers could measure the spread. I did in fact, as I state in the chapbook, lose a lot of followers tweeting about the heat death of the universe.

I tweeted the whole winter. Snapshot of books, one-liners, thoughts, selfies, and links to songs. I’ve always loved speaking into the void, or more precisely, speaking to the void. From AOL chatrooms to Livejournal posts, speaking to the void has been one of the most rewarding and consistent activities I’ve undertaken in my life. Describing myself to the void has blessed me with so many things: friends, readings, publications, youth.

Hannah and Alexis broke up. The next time I chinchilla-sat for Hannah, who maintained primary chinchilla custody, she had moved to Sunset Park. After feeding Trillian raisins, I’d walk the park, watching seniors do tai-chi in the meadow, flute music on a boombox powered by batteries that were losing their juice. I tweeted the persistent humidity in the Jasmine1cool-ish autumn evening, the globes of light surrounding the streetlamps like halos of insects. Sometimes the halos were actual halos of insects. What I love about poetry is that the actual and what the actual is like aren’t very different at all. I suppose this is also a rough description of the way we create ourselves on social media.

What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook?

One of my favorite places in Brooklyn is the Transmitter Park pier in Greenpoint. Where the East River Ferry docks, there’s a row of lights that glimmer on the water as the sun goes down. At night, the row of lights reminds me of a bead necklace, not strung on an elegant neck, but laid flat on a dark blue table. The metaphor springs from the dream I have in the chapbook, the dream of a broken necklace. Many of the poems in Ask are tweets strung together in stanzas, like a necklace. Flat on a table, flat on the page. The tweets about walking in the Transmitter Park are the oldest tweets in Ask.jasmine3

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

The editors at Slope Editions are brilliant book artists who designed and produced the physical form of the finished chapbook. The long poem, entitled “Ask,” is bound in a booklet, but the other poems are formatted in a way that the shape of the paper that the poems are printed on references the online platform that the poem itself is referencing. This sounds complicated. Let me explain.

For example, “Love Poem (15 Tweets)” is printed petite and tucked into an envelope that resembles the envelope icon you click on to access your Direct Messages on Twitter. “My OkCupid Profile (Vol. 1-3)” is printed on tall, thick paper like a fine dining menu. The folded verses of “Military Spring (5 Tumblr Posts)” accordion downward, the way that comments on reblogged Tumblr posts visually form “stairs” as they scroll down the newsfeed. When reading Ask, the reader doesn’t approach the poems linearly, as one would with a traditionally bound book. Instead, the reader unbinds the chapbook and is free to switch between poems as they would move from one social media platform to the next, switching between tabs or clicking from one website or profile to another.

I settled on the title Ask because the verb Ask describes what we do when we go online. We ask Google for answers. We ask others to guess at our motives, match our bids, like our jokes, comment on our salads. We ask others take a chance on loving us. Also, at the time, I was answering questions at an Ask.fm profile and maintaining casual correspondence with friends and strangers in the Ask portal on my Tumblr. Remember Ask Jeeves? It’s now Ask.com. “Ask” was the reoccurring word, so Ask it was and is.jasmine4

Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook.

I have a book coming out next year called On a Clear Day. One of my blurb writers wrote that I’d undertaken the project of loneliness. Am I lonely? It’s something I’ve wondered and truthfully, I don’t know if I’m lonely or if my wire is tuned to a solitary channel. I like being alone, taking walks alone, reading Twitter as though it were a divining practice in another century. When I’m with friends or witnessing art, I’m completely present, but I feel absolutely alive when I’m gorging myself on solitude.

While I wouldn’t have described my forthcoming book as a project of loneliness, I might be tempted to use that term to describe Ask. There was a period of time where I was writing, tweeting, where I felt a watery loneliness. Not a lemon loneliness where happy couples in yellow sweaters fall out of bars and stumble into me on a Thursday night in New York City, but a silk loneliness that feels more akin to receptivity. I don’t always need a person to talk to, but I do need to talk… silently. Or quietly. Maybe my blog is my “thou.” Sometimes, when I write online, I feel like I’m talking to someone I love very much who hasn’t yet arrived. Sometimes I feel I’m talking to everyone I’ve ever known.

I suppose I could say that my process for writing is exactly what I’ve described in the chapbook. I walk, I tweet, I sit in the park. I drink a hot coffee. Something speaks to me. I remember it like it’s something I have to tell the most beautiful, wonderful person in the world who also happens to want to listen to me, someone who wants to listen very much. And I don’t know who that person is, so I say it to the internet.

Jasmine2When I was in high school, as soon as I could drive, my other friend and I would drive all day, anywhere, for any reason. One day, we caught a good station somewhere in the hills, but as soon we started to get into the song, the song began to break. So we spun out in a dirt patch to turn around to chase it, but the song broke again. So we took off down an ancillary road, following the signal, and then another road, chasing and catching the song and losing it when it cracked until the song was over and the song cued next was entirely unsatisfactory. Where were we? We were driving.

I follow one hilarious tweet to another hilarious profile. It isn’t a profile for a person. It’s Nihilist Arby’s. This is this process. It’s always been the process. Where to next?

Could you describe each of your chapbooks in chronological order?

I’ll try to describe each of my chapbooks using only five things.
Listening for Earthquakes (Caketrain, 2012)
moonlight, lemon, motorcycle tattoo, ice pick, almond

Rewilding (Ahsahta Press, 2013)
autofocus, black jack, flower, rust, yellow jacket

True Crime (NAP, 2014)
raccoon, dream dictionary, cherry, mirror, snowdrift

Seven Sunsets (The Lettered Streets Press, 2015)
skyscraper, napkin, sine wave, black box, orange soda

Ask (Slope Editions, 2016)
lilacs, screenshot, iPad, hot dog, metal dog dish

The Stag (Dancing Girl Press, forthcoming 2016 or 2017)
coins, stompbox, licorice, felt mallets, bike chain

What are you working on now?

A novel. An album that I’ve been working on forever. A short film. I can’t go into more detail because the more I describe what I work on, the less I work on it. I’m so superstitious! I’m hoarding my energy so that I can funnel it into my work, my day job, my daily practices, and my relationships.


Jasmine Dreame Wagner is the author of Rings (Kelsey Street Press, 2014) and four chapbooks: Ask (Slope Editions, 2016), Seven Sunsets (The Lettered Streets Press, 2015), Rewilding (Ahsahta Press, 2013), and Listening for Earthquakes (Caketrain Journal and Press, 2012.) Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Letters & Commentary, Colorado Review, Fence, Hyperallergic, New American Writing, Seattle Review, Verse, and in two anthologies: The Arcadia Project: North American Postmodern Pastoral (Ahsahta Press, 2012) and Lost and Found: Stories from New York (Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood Books, 2009.) A graduate of Columbia University, Wagner has received grants and fellowships from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and The Wassaic Project. On a Clear Day, a full-length collection of lyric essays, is forthcoming from Ahsahta Press in 2017.



Ask at Slope Editions

Social Media

Leslie Marie Aguilar

“There’s a world out there just waiting for us to take notice. What better day than today?”


Mesquite Manual (New Delta Review, 2015)

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?

Opening lines from “Mesquite Manual”

If every syllable of every word
is an acre of skin in this country,

let the tongue be an emblem
that waves uncontrollably
in the wind. Let it thrash

violently with every groan
from the throat. Let it rage.

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

I’ve always been partial to this poem, especially when I make selections for poetry readings. While it may be an unwritten rule that poets read the title poem from their collection, for me, reciting the opening lines of “Mesquite Manual” is akin to spellcasting or mythmaking. The speaker proclaims her intentions in these opening lines and rewrites the history of her home place. This theme serves as the primary lens for the chapbook and is carried throughout each section.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

Many of the poems that comprise Mesquite Manual were written during my MFA at Indiana University. As a native Texan, relocating to the Midwest became an exodus, of sorts. Leaving a familiar landscape behind and establishing roots in a foreign place became a fixation. I found myself constantly searching for escape routes—ways back home. The poems in this chapbook function as maps or written records of a place worth remembering.

What’s your chapbook about?

At its inception, this chapbook was designed to commemorate my love of West Texas. The poems inside Mesquite Manual describe a place where winds blow irreverently, rain is gathered in silver spoons, and God is seemingly absent. In this hellish landscape, the speaker learns to navigate her harsh reality and seeks to create new world—a place where survival isn’t a struggle but rather a celebration.

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?

It’s not often that I feel completely satisfied after writing a first draft, but there are a few times (I can count them on one hand) that a new poem left me reeling. “Tender” is one of those poems. It was written after reading Eduardo Galeano’s “Love” in Genesis. I was immediately taken with the idea of using creation myths to describe everyday occurrences, even the comical and mundane. “Tender” employs the language and mythos of origin stories to shed light on the liminality of place and gender. Once I was able to bridge the gaps created by these imagined borders, the rest of the chapbook seemed to organize itself as a guide book or a manual for survival.

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

I would argue that the poems in a chapbook are forced to do more work than the poems in a full-length collection. That’s not to say that one mode is better than the other, rather I see the chapbook as a specialized form of relaying an experience, or a moment, or a project. The length ascribed to a chapbook ensures that the poems inside resonate at a similar frequency. Where a full-length collection allows for an extended exploration of subjects and themes, the chapbook provides an avenue for more focalized analyses of select topics and a more immediate method of consumption.

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

Organizing a manuscript, no matter the length, is a daunting task. I tried several different organizational methods when organizing this chapbook—color-coded notecards, Post-it notes, bulletin boards, etc.—but the most effective method involved printing each poem and laying it on my living room floor. Being able to read each title and recall specific lines helped me visualize the book and its trajectory. Once I arranged the poems into thematic categories, I braided them together in order to tell a cohesive narrative. That was the hope, at least.

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?

“Abilenian” is the poem that gave me the most trouble during the revision and editorial process. While it’s a vivid portrait of my hometown, I find that it lacks the same emotional register as other poems in the chapbook. It went through many iterations before I felt like it was finished, but once it was finalized I knew that the chapbook could be considered complete. If Mesquite Manual is my love song to West Texas, “Abilenian” is the final verse.

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

My writing practice is cyclical. Unfortunately, I’m part of the class of writers who experience bouts of unfettered productivity followed by debilitating periods of inactivity. This might sound a bit dramatic, and of course it is, but the cyclical nature of my process affords me time to revise. The act of revising a poem is the closest a poet can come to getting away with murder, I think. Though in all seriousness, I look forward to the revision process because it allows me to unburden myself of the guilt associated with this inactivity. For me, revision is a form of alchemy that renders raw material pure.

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 could sing the praises of New Delta Review forever. No hyperbole. No exaggeration. The team of women who worked to bring my chapbook to life were nothing short of brilliant. Working with Hannah Reed, M.K. Brake, and Laura Theobald was an absolute blast! They kept me in the loop during each stage of production and always welcomed my suggestions and requests.

My favorite part of publishing this chapbook with NDR was being able to commission a cover image based on the work itself. Sarah Leea Petkus (sarahleeapetkus.com) created this stunning (and menacing!) jackalope based on poems from the collection. Being able to hold this chapbook in my hands and admire the work that Sarah created for me is an invaluable gift.

What are you working on now?

Right now, I’m finalizing my first full-length manuscript. I envision it as a big sister to Mesquite Manual, in that many of the themes explored in this chapbook are expanded upon in the larger collection. It’s my hope that this collection will further disrupt the definitions ascribed to borders, frontiers, and liminal spaces.

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

The most fulfilling experiences for me, as an instructor, have been the opportunities to put theory into practice inside the classroom. I aim for my classroom to be a studio where students work together to push against boundaries and ask each other what lies beyond the walls of academia. My work in the classroom has gifted me with the opportunity to explore greater themes in my own work and has encouraged me to take risks—the same risks that I ask my students to take every day with their own work. I encourage emerging poets to focus on the miniature—minute aspects of life which offer brief glimpses into unexplored worlds, scenes, and experiences. I’m also reminded of the advice my friend, Curtis Bauer, gives his students on the first day of class, “Take off your headphones.” Which is to say, look up and listen! There’s a world out there just waiting for us to take notice. What better day than today?


Leslie Marie Aguilar originally hails from the heartland of Texas. She has served as the Poetry Editor of Indiana Review and received her MFA from Indiana University. Her work has been supported by the National Society of Arts and Letters and the Fine Arts Work Center. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bellingham Review, Callaloo, Ninth Letter, Rattle, Sonora Review, and Southern Indiana Review among others. She is the author of Mesquite Manual (New Delta Review, 2015).



Scott Beal

“There’s an almost inexhaustible supply of ways into a poem when you’re translating human experience into the biology and behavior of another animal.”


The Octopus (Gertrude Press, 2016)

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

the octopus goes thrifting

the octopus has never had to say    what    haven’t you seen
an octopus in a shirt before    cashiers take its card
hand hot soup across the counter    without a blink
as if their vision can’t distinguish the octopus
from the other customers    it makes no conscious attempt
to tuck its arms or flatten its eyes

but wonders at its capacity for reflexive camouflage
you have trouble taking up space    says the octopus’s friend
and the octopus starts to notice    how it favors corners
defers to raised voices    remembers passing the other
in the hallway of the house    in the weeks after The Talk
leaning close to the wall    to avoid bumping shoulders

that’s no way to move through the world
garments on the thrift rack are grouped by color    midnight
to powder blue    wine to salmon    in smooth spectra
regardless of pattern    the octopus touches each one
imagines its wearer getting numbers from strangers
its skin grows paler as it nears the end of each row

Why did you choose this poem?

I hope it’s a fair example of how the octopus attempts to understand itself in the face of separation from the other, and of how the octopus world intertwines with human mundanities in the poems to tell a skewed kind of story.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I was trying to cope with the dissolution of my marriage. I’d gotten engaged at 19 years old, married at 21. Now I was 39 and mourning a love and routine and projected future that had been essential to who I knew I was. I went from being a full-time stay-at-home dad to a split-custody parent who saw his kids three or four nights a week. I was pushing 40 and had never been an independent adult. In the early, raw days of the marriage coming undone, I had written obsessively about it in a first-person confessional voice that made me skeptical – I worried it was getting maudlin. Imagining my situation from the point-of-view of an octopus helped me sidestep that voice for a while, and afforded me a battery of metaphorical associations to help make sense of what I was doing.

What’s your chapbook about?

Our protagonist, the octopus, is a sad cephalopod who is working through a marital separation from its former partner, the other. The octopus gets an apartment, sees a therapist, researches octopuses online, writes an online dating profile, quibbles with Robert Frost and Ringo Starr, and does its best to make its way in the absence of the other.

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 first octopus poem I wrote is the second poem in the chapbook: “the octopus makes unaccustomed shapes during the TNT halftime show.” I don’t remember deciding to write about an octopus, but once I slipped into the voice and form, it felt like an easy skin to wear. I could put it back on for an hour or so each day and travel a small arc toward sense. I didn’t know if they’d make sense to anyone else, but they felt like steps forward to me. After I had a handful, I read some at a gig in Ann Arbor, and the poet Shira Erlichmann (who is a brilliant badass) suggested there ought to be a book of them. So I kept the poems going.

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

Each poem contains a shard of narrative, and I tried to arrange them into a coherent (if not necessarily linear) chronological arc. I wouldn’t say there’s a plot, per se, but the characters should show growth. The title is straightforward. I thought about jazzing it up, making it a sentence like most of the poem titles, but ultimately I opted to avoid letting the title steer too much.

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

The last poem, “Not Another Octopus Poem,” breaks from the form and voice of the collection. It’s still in its way an octopus poem, and it picks up threads from earlier moments in the chapbook, but it offers a sharper bite. I hope it both amplifies and interrogates the impression of the chapbook’s narrative.

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

I got a lot of mileage out of research: each tidbit I discovered about octopuses gave me a new lens for my experience and a new spark for a poem. An octopus has three hearts. Each of its arms has an independent nervous system. Its esophagus wraps around its brain. There’s an almost inexhaustible supply of ways into a poem when you’re translating human experience into the biology and behavior of another animal.

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?

Very little, actually. They preferred to handle it all themselves. I looked over proofs before it went to press; that’s it. I didn’t even see the cover until I got my author copies in the mail. I had felt a little apprehensive when they told me the cover art would be done in blue ballpoint. When I opened the box and saw this rich blue winding arm with hints of red, I was stunned. It’s a lush and gorgeous drawing by a Toronto-based artist named Ray Cicin, and I couldn’t be happier with how it represents the chapbook. And the people at Gertrude Press are kind and lovely, and put great care into the work they do.

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

Would you sell us movie rights to The Octopus for the enclosed six-figure sum? Yes, yes I would.

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

The two utterly stunning chapbooks that immediately come to mind are Naming the No-Name Woman by Jasmine An (Two Sylvias Press, 2016) and Mammoth by Rachel McKibbens (Organic Weapon Arts, 2014).  Jasmine’s chapbook is a brilliant study of Chinese-American and queer female identity, and Rachel’s is a devastating vessel of grief at a beloved child’s death. I also love Crixa by Megan Hudgins (Two of Cups Press, 2014), whose fierce and vulnerable poems riff on Watership Down and Eduardo Kac’s bioluminescent rabbit.

I also appreciate the DIY possibilities afforded by the chapbook, and I love my collection of staple-bound, homemade chapbooks picked up from friends and traveling poets. I once went ten years without getting a poem accepted for publication, and wondered if I ever would again. When I saw people come through town slinging stacks of chapbooks they’d printed at Kinko’s for $5 a pop, I appreciated the audacity of such faith in one’s own work without waiting for a press’s approval. I ended up putting together a couple of DIY chapbooks myself, including a set about gender identity called Pink Parts. That process helped me see my own work in new ways that ultimately taught me how to put together my full-length collection, Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems.

What are you working on now?

I’m finalizing a full-length manuscript of poems that respond to divorce and post-divorce identity, relationships, and parenthood. There are no octopuses in it, but there are insects, dinosaurs, snakes, polar bears, Ghost Rider, Indiana Jones, and assorted other creatures.

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

I miss being in a punk band. But it’s hard to hang onto drummers.

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

I used to rail against sentimentality. Now I’ve become a sap. Partly I changed as a writer (vis-à-vis changing as a human being) when I became a parent, and empathy became a newly dynamic practical presence in everyday life. And partly I learned from certain writers I had the privilege of teaching with in the 2000s – Patrick Rosal and Aracelis Girmay in particular – about how to use poetry as a tool for building compassion, both within oneself and out in the world. I suspect anyone could become a better artist and a better person by having a half-hour conversation in a car with Patrick or across a table from Aracelis. But we can also do it by reading their books, which you should start on right now if you haven’t already.

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

If I tell you, I probably won’t write it.

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

Once I told a friend that the chapbook I was working on (Pink Parts) was about “femulinity.” I went to say “femininity and masculinity,” and my tongue got tied up. But I decided I like that word, that that’s the right word. And whatever new thing I work on, an uneasy concern with gender and power, and a nagging urge toward femulinity as an ideal, never seems far from the center.

Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook? What inspires you? What gets you to the page?

One book that probably helped me is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by Tao Lin, which I first heard about through a review by Ray McDaniel at The Constant Critic. I wasn’t thinking of Tao Lin directly when I started writing octopus poems, but it’s likely that his hamster poems helped trigger the possibility in my imagination of using an animal avatar to cope with human despair.

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

Wanna swap chapbooks with me?


Scott Beal is the author of the full-length collection Wait ‘Til You Have Real Problems (Dzanc Books, 2014) and one previous chapbook, Two Shakespearean Madwomen Vs. the Detroit Red Wings (White Eagle Coffee Store Press, 1999). He teaches full-time in the Sweetland Center for Writing at the University of Michigan and serves as Dzanc Writer-in-Residence for Ann Arbor Open School. He curates and co-hosts the Skazat! monthly poetry series in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he lives with his two children.



Megan Giddings

“Be patient and learn to enjoy the work, not just the praise.”


Arcade Seventeen  (TAR –The Atlas Review’s Chapbook Series, 2017)

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

Why did you choose this story?

I think I chose this story because it blends a lot of the elements of the collection: dream-like circumstances, thinking about social issues, imagery, and although it feels weird to describe myself this way, playfulness.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

I started this during a class about creative writing and the tarot. It was taught by Cathy Bowman. And I ended up getting really involved with the cards for a while. I mean I still am into reading the cards, but it’s nowhere near what it was like during that time. I was making my own decks, I was writing associatively inside and outside of class using pulled cards from different decks (Rider-Waite, Thoth, Pagan Cats, The Wild Unknown, among others). I use the word involved because it felt like I was building a deep relationship. I was learning how to use them, and I found it deeply interesting. I was even occasionally dreaming about the cards. Reading them. Speaking to them. Walking one like a dog.  I think what really appeals to me about the tarot is how much an image can resonant and tell its own story.

I think a lot of prose writers can get in a habit of using images as decoration on a story rather than another way to convey story, character, or emotion. A great image can do at least one of those things.

What’s your chapbook about?

I think it’s about transformations. To be alive, especially today where I think more people–if they’re willing to engage with others–have more access to different points of view than ever before, is to be changed in very small ways every single day. I think I just tried to say in a roundabout way, it’s about life, man. And I guess it is if you have room in your life for going to horse heaven, wanting to move away to live with cranes, and falling in love with a dream centaur.

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

The oldest story in this chapbook is “The Tragic Jet Ski Accident of 2011.” It’s actually the first story I ever had accepted for publication (in the lovely, but now defunct >kill author). I wrote it initially as an exercise: write a story where every paragraph was a line. I’m always going to love this story–even though I do think I’ve become a much better writer since–because it was the first story I had confidence in to actually send out and it was the first one to ever get accepted.

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

I printed all the stories out and put them on the ground. I looked for images and moments that felt like they were in conversation with each other. I also looked for stories/images/ideas that felt like twins and made sure to put those farther apart. I get really bugged (with my work and when reading other’s collections) when I notice a lot of unconsidered repetition. Usually I’m writing multiple stories at once (drafting, revising, etc.) and there are times where I’m trying out sentences and a similar construction or image ends up in both stories. I am fairly good at catching this. But every once in a while–especially if I feel like one is done much sooner than the other–things slip through. I can’t tell if this is over the top hard on myself or necessary perfectionism, but I still wince sometimes when I think of the stories I have in Best Small Fictions 2016. I’m honored and glad that I had two stories in the collection. But they have lines that mirror each other in style and image, and it’s so obvious to me that I was writing them at the same time and let it slide.

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

The final piece I wrote and significantly revised was “Again and Again and Again.” I wrote it while I was feeling miserable about Philandro Castile and his murder. I kept coming back to the fact that his four-year-old daughter was in the car. She saw the whole thing. There are times where I feel like I have the “right” reaction to these things: I call legislatures, I give money, I protest, I encourage my friends who might be less willing to think about these things to think, talk, react (and hopefully they spread it on to their friends). And there are times where I have a get me the fuck off this planet reaction. That’s what I had while reading and thinking about Philandro Castile, his girlfriend, and daughter.

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?

Natalie Eilbert has been my main contact for TAR. And she has been incredible. Natalie is one of the best sentence-level editors I’ve worked with. She’s someone who can take a story that feels a little dingy from time, distance, and a word or two too many in a sentence, and make it feel brand-new and beautiful.

Natalie did all the interior design, let me weigh in (the extent of my comments was basically !!!!! I love it!!!!!). Emily Raw did the exterior. I skyped with the two of them after Emily had read and thought about my book. It will probably be one of the most flattering meetings of my entire life. Emily came in with a vision board of ideas (geometric shapes, exciting colors, and talked to me about the way the book made her feel. She wanted to make a cover that mimicked the “eye coffee” feel of the book. I love that phrase: eye coffee.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently (with the supervision/cheerleading/coaching/friendship of my agent, Taylor Templeton) finishing a polished draft of my first novel. I’m excited.

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

I would be in a band where I got to wear very expensive, very dark sunglasses. I would hit the buttons on a drum machine and smoke a cigarette. I would do a lot of staring while the rest of the band did all the work. I would demand at minimum five thousand dollars for each performance. Sick beats deserve sick pay.

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

There are two things, when I taught, that I feel like I always told my students who I knew were talented and would keep writing: Be patient and learn to enjoy the work, not just the praise. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve learned to love the work of it, but I’m still working on the patience part of it. Patience is sometimes needed to fully understand a story or character. Patience is also needed when you’re finally writing that book. And I think patience is definitely needed when you decide to publish that first book. There are a lot of writers who I think are so, I think the polite way to put it is, eager to have that first full-length. And I mean I want to be there too. It’s a big accomplishment, I get it. But there are times where I think really great writers are only putting out good (rather than the great books they’re capable) because they want it now rather than be willing to wait and work with an editor and press who fit well with them.


Megan Giddings is co-Fiction Editor of The Offing. Her short stories have been recently published or are forthcoming in Arts & Letters, Best Small Fictions 2016, Black Warrior Review, and Pleiades.



Ting Gou

“What role does the imagination play in survival?”


The Other House (Blue Lyra Press, 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?


Hello, Heaven. You are a tunnel lined with yellow lights.

                           -from “Yayo” by Lana Del Rey

I’m wading through the grass again,
trying to remember how I got here

and why I’m shivering.
It’s raining. My mother is inside

hanging laundry over the bathtub.
The heavy stalks, burdened with new mud,

sink and fold toward each other
over soil involuting

from how my mother’s feet struck
the ground as she ran,

our clothes kept dry.
Some time ago, I decided

that this was not
the way to heaven,

though there are yellow lights here too:
rusted gutters blinking white

with lightning,
the neighbor’s two-door clunker

screaming in alarm.
Everything oversaturated. No use

for subtle dreams.
The house: a peacock green.

The atmosphere: extraterrestrial.
In this yard where every object

is turning into something alien,
I am being beamed

into a spaceship and I am glad,
think, This is a good thing.

How we can make anything a heaven
by naming it:

Hello, tunnel lined with municipal light.
Hello, house with snakes

in the crawlspace.
And the thought:

had it not been for my father’s hand
pulling me back that day

from the hissing coils,
I would still carry the puncture wounds

from a dead animal’s teeth.
I’d say I often dream about this house

but that’s a lie: there are some things
we resurrect by force.

The lifespan of a house
is the sum of the lifespans

of all its inhabitants.
The aliens, with their technologies,

understand:  they know what it takes
to keep from dying.

After a time, we approach
their planet of ice.

The ship starts a mechanical beeping.
Some distant god lifts it dark head

out of the snow.
How close we are all to heaven.

(“Alien” first appeared in Ghost Ocean Magazine)

Why did you choose this poem (or excerpt)?

The narrator in this poem has a strange vision or memory or dream of a childhood house, gets abducted by aliens, and afterwards comes to a realization about the house that involves some measure of forgiveness.  For me, “What role does the imagination play in survival?” is the most important question in the collection, and it’s a question that all of the poems in The Other House ask to some extent, but I think “Alien” asks it most directly.

What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?

One obsession is the idea of the “other.”  When I was an undergrad at Princeton, I had also titled my senior thesis for the creative writing department The Other House.  I was a molecular biology major who was minoring in poetry.  Revising poems and dissecting fruit fly ovaries were two skills I worked on side-by-side, and since my actual major was biology, poetry became “the other house” I inhabited outside of the lab.  At the same time, I was becoming obsessed with memories of a house I grew up in in Mobile, Alabama, and so “the other house” took on a literal, physical form as well.

The chapbook is divided into halves.  The first half, “The Other House,” is set in Mobile, Alabama, and the second half, “How to Survive the Winter,” is set in Michigan, where I have lived for the past four years.  The first half addresses the literal house, while the second half addresses the metaphorical one.  In both, though, is my obsession with myths, because I’ve learned through putting together this collection that I view poetry as the ultimate survival tool against what could harm you, whether it is a series of memories about a particular place, or the humidity, or snow.

What is your chapbook about?

The Other House is an attempt to understand my relationship with my parents through my memories of a house we lived in in Mobile, Alabama.  It’s an exploration of memory and myth, about the role imagination plays in shaping the self-narrative.  It’s also about extreme weather conditions in Alabama and Michigan.

Can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?

The title poem, “The Other House,” started out in my undergraduate senior thesis about six years ago.  At its heart was the idea of transformation.  At its core was a fire, which I made more prominent in the later version.  The idea of thinking about the house years later while driving home to a different house, of imagining the vegetation in the yard as smoke evaporating and leaving the scene of a fire, was there before I revised it.  I just needed to realize that this was the central idea of the poem.  When I did, the other images in the poem fell into place around it.

Since The Other House refers to an actual house in Mobile, Alabama, do you consider this collection to be a collection about a particular place? Some of the poems in the second half also refer to a specific city.

The house in Mobile, Alabama is a physical house, but over the years it has taken on its own mythology.  It’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s imagined.  It’s exciting to approach an exploration of place with memories that are as vivid as they are unreliable, but of course it’s also dangerous.  This focus of the memories on a particular house is also probably too specific for the collection to be about the town of Mobile itself.  But the poems do draw heavily on imagery that, while not unique to Mobile, are common in the south during summer, especially the insects and the miles of burnt grass.

I could say the same about the snow and ice when talking about the second half of the chapbook, which is set in Michigan.

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

When I started to put together a collection, I realized that I had many poems that were strange narratives that dealt with myths.  Either they referred to a myth or story, questioned the validity of a memory, or told myths themselves.  A recurring theme was the power of the imagination to transform memories into narratives that could heal.  I thought about the title All the Beautiful Myths, but The Other House began to make sense as a title after I wrote more poems that specifically addressed memories of the house in Mobile.

I realized that the other poems that were not about the house also had recurring imagery, specifically of the forest.  After stumbling upon a dead bird in my laundry room one cold day and writing the poem “How to Survive the Winter,” I felt that I had a section that was a good companion to the poems about the house.  They formed a group of poems that explores how imagination could be “another house” in which to reside, maybe one that was warmer than reality.  I titled this other section “How to Survive the Winter.”

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

I had been trying to revise a seven-page-long poem called “Narcissa” from my undergraduate thesis for months.  The first four stanzas were the only ones I liked, but they couldn’t stand alone as a poem.  Walking home one day, I saw red berries clustered on the bare tips of a tree.  They reminded me of petechiae, tiny bruises that are usually signs of some aggressive underlying illness.  I jotted down a line about “red berries erupting from nailbeds.”  While I was revising “Narcissa,” I tried the line on at the end, and the result was the poem “A Natural History,” the first poem in the chapbook.

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

“How to Survive the Winter” was the final poem I wrote for the chapbook.  I wrote it in March last year, in the dead of winter in Michigan.  A tree had fallen into the stream by my apartment under the weight of snow, and its trailing branches in the water looked like the fingers of someone panning for gold.  The idea of looking within the winter landscape for sustenance stuck with me.  After my encounter with the dead bird in the laundry room, I figured out a way to make the poem work.  The poem ended up being about the rituals we perform to sustain ourselves.  It felt like a good metaphor for writing itself.

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

I jot down thoughts or phrases into a journal throughout the day.  When writing a new poem, I handwrite in that same journal.  Often, a poem gets stuck for weeks or months as a series of inane, hardly legible phrases.  I work on several poems at once.  As I gather more images and lines in the journal, I try them out on the poems.  When I get stuck, I like flipping through the journal for interesting things I’ve jotted down.   This is one way I make leaps in a poem.

When I feel that a poem is taking shape, I would type it out for the first time to see how long the lines look on the page.  Often I would start typing before knowing all the lines in the poem.  If I get stuck again, I would go back to handwriting the stanzas.

If a poem ends up falling short after much revision, I don’t hesitate to dismantle it for parts.

You wrote The Other House in medical school. Coming from a non-traditional writing background, what was it like putting together a chapbook?

As an undergrad, I was a creative writing minor at Princeton, which meant that I had access to everything that the Lewis Center for the Arts had to offer, including weekly individual sessions as a senior with my thesis advisors Meghan O’Rourke and Michael Dickman.  That’s some serious training!  I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I received at the Lewis Center.

After graduating college, I taught middle school for two years, and for the past four years, I have been in medical school at Michigan.  As someone who’s not in a graduate writing program, I have to reach out to other poets.  I emailed the MFA program at Michigan, attended the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam, applied to writing workshops.  It was surprisingly difficult to find a writing group.  I eventually found one after attending the Bear River Writers Conference, which I was only able to attend after receiving a scholarship and after composing a three-page email to my clerkship director explaining why attending the workshop was helpful to my development as a writer and physician.

I’m very happy with the poetry communities that have accepted and embraced me.  However, I think it should be easier for someone in a non-literary field to get access to mentorship, feedback, and community.  I hope that workshops and residencies will recognize this and provide more opportunities to non-traditional writers in the future.

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

The Delphi Series at Blue Lyra Press publishes three separate chapbooks by three different poets as a single perfect-bound volume.  It was risky letting someone else decide which two other collections my chapbook was going to join, but it was a risk I was personally willing to take.  The Other House, Claire Zoghb’s Boundaries, and Erin Redfern’s Spellbreaking and Other Life Skills complement each other.  At the same time, each chapbook is its own separate collection.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a collection of poems based on my interactions with patients with dementia.  I’m also working on a collection of poems about amusement parks, among other things.

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

Read a lot.  Keep a journal and pen with you at all times.  Find a good writing group so you can get a more objective view of your work.  Go to readings if you can.  Don’t get discouraged, but don’t beat yourself up if you do.  It’s normal.  Your voice is important.  Just write.


Ting Gou is an M.D. candidate at the University of Michigan Medical School, interested in psychiatry and the relationship between memory and identity.  Her poems can be found in Arcturus (Chicago Review of Books), Bellevue Literary Review, Best of the Net, decomP, Ghost Ocean Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, r.kv.r.y., Superstition Review, Word Riot, and elsewhere.  She is the recipient of an artist’s grant and work-exchange award from the Vermont Studio Center.  The Other House is her first chapbook.