the chapbook interview: Greg Kosmicki on death, work, and the writing life

greg

In The Poet’s Companion, Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux write, “Each of us has our own relationship to death, a relationship that starts in childhood with our first awareness of it. And throughout our lives, we experience the grief and loss that another death brings,” offering that writing about death can “offer some solace” (39). They also cite poets like Marie Howe, Tess Gallagher, Sharon Olds, Mark Doty, and others who’ve written about death in fascinating ways. I’ve been reading your new book Sheep Can Recognize Individual Human Faces (Stephen F. Austin State University Press, 2014) and your chapbook The Patron Saint of Lost and Found (Lone Willow Press, 2003). Talk about the themes of death and grief in your work.

It’s Saturday night, or well, now it’s Sunday Morning. this is the day that the time changes to daylight savings time, so I’ve already lost an hour out of my life without even trying. I have been spending the last couple hours talking to my baby sister about how our father died, about her experiences with death and dying people, which is a lot of experiences, maybe hundreds, she can’t even count them, and I tell her that the only experience that I have with someone actually dying in my presence is with our father. Technically, legally, I am drunk. I’ve had about 6 or maybe seven shots of Jim Beam, and she’s had several shots of Bacardi. Even though we grew up in the same family and share all the same genetic material we hardly know each other and we’re just starting to know each other. She’s ten or twelve years younger than I am. She’s a nurse who has lots of experience with dying people (she’s the nurse in the poem “Nope” in the Sheep book) and can tell me how I should go about the process of offing myself (take plenty of anti-emetics—you don’t want to wake up in the morning and be embarrassed) and tells me the way to do it to make the least traumatic experience for the people I love. We talk about bridges, guns, pills et cetera. Death isn’t a parenthesis to me, though she thinks that when you die you go someplace, because she is a “spiritualist,” which is what people call themselves who believe in life after death but not in organized religions. They believe that people who are dead are spirits and can talk to the living through mediums. I think that’s all bullshit and have told her and a lot of people that I’m ashamed of myself for having perpetuated the stories that religions foist off on the general populace onto my children. Still, I am a weak man, and afraid of all that lies ahead, and I have come to realize since my parents died that I am mortal. First, my brother was killed in a car wreck when I was 16, and that made me into a poet. Many of my poems, if not all, have mortality in the background of them, even if I am being funny, or smart-assed, or even comical in the poem. Death is the driving force behind poetry, whether all the happy poets admit it or not. In my poems I try to deal with that force when it comes up, which seems to me to be all the time, and to tell death that I know It’s there, give it its nod, and then to say to death that I don’t care, I am going to love the people I love and live the life I live, and do whatever I can this day, and basically to say “fuck you death.” I know that death wins in the end, whatever Jesus purportedly said, and that is a painful thing to admit, but before it does, I want to say the things that were important to me, and cry out the things that made me have pain, and say the names of the people who loved me and who I loved, and tell what we did, and to live those brief moments in a poem as if we were all shining, every second, every day, even in our shitty lives, as if we would never die.

greg books

I’ve been reading your chapbooks For My Son in a Motel Room (Sandhills Press). I find myself returning to the title poem and to the penultimate stanza that reflects on patience in parenting and how long it takes to learn that lesson. One thing that strikes me about your poetry is the patience, the way something small like a dripping faucet in The Patron Saint of Lost and Found, becomes an opportunity to reflect on the large. Talk about your writing process and the ways you make time and have made time to write. Does patience play part of this process? After all, you’re a fairly prolific poet who continues to put out new books and chapbooks year after year and it would seem that to create so much means you must lie in wait for poems, often.

I hate to quote myself, but a poem from two years ago “When You Get to be an Old Man” talks about this in the last few lines:

like being tangled in a spider web,

like being the spider on the back porch, in the fall,

her web woven, for all to see and admire,

to wait with her,

to know something stumbles by,

to know you’ll take it.

That’s pretty much how I write, or part of the physical process of how I write. To be a writer with the discipline to write every day is the key for me. Now that I am older, I am lazier, and right now I am not writing every day, and my writing is suffering for it. I don’t force myself to sit down each night and write something. Now that I am older, I am more tired at night, or I guess I should say that I feel the effects of being tired, whereas when I was younger, (30’s, 40’s, 50’s,) I would stay up late, get up early, stoke up on coffee, go another day. Now I can’t do that without suffering consequences that are noticeable in my job that I go to every day where they actually pay me money to do the job. I used to be angry at working for pay about 85% of the time; now I know that if I don’t do it there, there won’t be time for anything else because my job is what keeps me alive. Poetry (only) keeps my soul alive, but if I don’t have a body that’s working the soul will go away soon too. So right now I am working to remove all the “clutter” in my life so that I can spend the time I have spent lately on the clutter, on writing poems.

When I was a young poet I would wait until I “got inspired” but that happened all the time, so it wasn’t difficult to wait—it was usually only a couple hours or a day anyway. In those days, all it would take to spark off a writing spree was to sit down and start writing about whatever crossed my mind. In those day, my mind was on fire, and I was reading a lot of poems—which I think is essential to do to be a poet—and something about reading poems would touch off a spark. It was like my mind was a forest filled with tinder, awaiting only a careless poet to come along and toss his burning cigarette. Later, when I graduated from college and (unwillingly) got out into the workaday world, I did not have the luxury of sitting around and reading and writing for hours and hours at a time, and some jobs I had I was so tired at the end of the day all I did was collapse after doing all the family stuff, then reading a bit in the evening. One of those jobs, delivering bread back in 1979, I’d get up at 4 a.m. and not get home until 6 or 7 at night. I’d read a few poems and crash, but I was compelled to write, so once I tried to tape record as I was driving and ran my bread truck off into the ditch driving up the gravel road to a country restaurant, so I quit doing that!

I’ve got probably a hundred notebooks I’ve written stuff in and then abandoned, because usually when I first write something I don’t like it at all. If I get a chance to go back to it, then sometimes I find something that I can keep, and type it up. I think maybe it’s probably better I let it stay there in the notebooks, but I plan to go back through those just for fun when I retire to find scraps that might be good. This practice established my way of writing for forty-plus years: write something, write anything, just write—about the day, the bugs, the flowers, the faces, the houses, the stars, the flies, the people at the store, the stuff we had for dinner, the way I felt about work, something my boss said, my feelings about work, the kids, my neighbors, the trash, the walls, the trees, my wife, the moon—just anything—and then follow where it leads. When I write that way I get into a zone, if I’m lucky, and keep my big crappy censoring self out of it—if I don’t have intellectual control over the words that are coming to me they more or less just happen. Somehow the poem gets into those “large” issues just because it’s busy associating. Looking at that roach running across the floor sometimes makes me realize, though I usually don’t say it directly in the poem, that I am not all that much different than that animal that’s carrying around a very high percentage of my DNA. Seeing the sunset through the trees, sometimes I realize that hundreds of millions of others have seen it too, and many of those have been killed for some stupid reasons. I think it’s something like that drawing technique where you try to shut off the mocking, censorious, judgmental, socially impaired (because inspired by social correctness) part of the brain, and when you get to that point, you do your work by associational leaps. I hate it when I’m writing and the “Boss” side of my brain kicks back in and starts to tell me what I should be writing. Later on when I’m reading back through the poem, I will realize (if I’m reading with my real writing mind) that’s the place the poem ended, and I’ll chop it off right there. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about this because it seems like it’s better to let it run by itself than to try to dissect it, as though a poem or the writing of a poem were an embalmed frog in high school biology, and make myself so self-conscious about it that I can’t write anything at all. The short answer is: write something every day, write anything, don’t be judgmental of it, keep it, come back to it—maybe you will find a poem in amongst all the cat litter and the smashed tomato cans and the baby diapers you put out on the curb.

I’ve also been reading your chapbooks when there wasn’t any war (The Backwaters Press, 1987), tables, chairs, wall, window (Sandhills Press, 2000), and Greatest Hits 1975-2000 (Pudding House Publications, 2001). You’re the author of seven chapbooks and several full-length books as well. In terms of genre, what’s the difference for you in terms of putting together a chapbook compared to putting together a book? How do you organize, sequence, and explore themes in a chapbook verse a book? Is it the same or different and in what ways?

A person I count as a poetry-friend of mine, Lola Haskins, wrote a book that The Backwaters Press published called Not Feathers Yet: A Beginner’s Guide to the Writer’s Life. Lola is an amazing poet and an extremely talented poetry craft-person as well. Anyone who wants to get good handbook on “What-it-means to-be-a-poet-and-how-to-do-it” should read this book. It is a book not only about writing poetry but about the Zen of living and writing. In it, she talks in one chapter about constructing your book so that it has an arc, and a story line, so that this poem leads to that one, and these are grouped here to do this and so on. It’s phenomenal, and something that I don’t do and have no inclination to do.

Another brilliant poet, Donald Justice, said somewhere something like: you should just toss all your poems together in any order and because one poet wrote them, they will resonate. I fall more into that camp. Judging by Donald Justice’s poems, and by how careful a poet he was, I guess that I don’t believe that he did that exactly, but maybe he did what to him was something approximating that.

When someone asks me this question, I always say that I just throw them all together in a roughly chronological order of their composition, and the poems will talk amongst themselves and resonate, but I’m probably following some inner process that I don’t recognize and that’s how the manuscripts get arranged. I know that I oftentimes will try to arrange the poems in a full-length book in chronological order of their creation, but I also know that poems get with you and stay with you and that you begin to associate this poem about your daughter picking up a frog with the one about coming home from the war, when they may have been written 35 years apart from each other. Subject matter makes the main difference, and I sometimes realize that I’ve lumped in a poem that I wrote 20 years before with one that was written a year ago because they address the same concern and they feel like they belong together. I know that a friend of mine, Paul Dickey, has poems in the same book that were written years apart, and I think that many do that. People tend to dwell on a few topics and to write about them over and over and over again, although every time you write a poem you usually think that you’re creating this incredible new thing that has never been done before, not by anybody. So that happens.

I do find that when I’m putting a chapbook together that I tend to find all the poems that I can find about one topic/subject and place them together. Because chapbooks are shorter, they force you to leave out the poem about your parents growing old and the one about when Old Shep your dog died if the rest of your chapbook is about all the time you spent in the army smoking dope and lobbing grenades or whatever. A chapbook is more like a short story—you have to have a unified action and everything has to relate to the same theme, all lead to the ending climax, just because it’s short, and you don’t have the space to goof around. In a longer book, you can have a section that’s about your cats and one that’s about your parakeets and it can still be a “collection of poems.” Although nowdays, it appears to me that most poets are following the “story arc” idea that I think Lola talks about (can’t recall if she uses that term), that I think may be emanating out of the writing workshops too—that your poems have a job to do, to get your reader from one place to another, sort of like a novel in a way.

My first book, nobody lives here who’s seen this sky, is actually more like a really long chapbook in this sense, because generally the poems are based upon my life during the time I was a UPS worker and are a reaction to that work, and a record of my struggle to keep myself being a poet when UPS was trying (I thought) to choke that out of me, and to kill my soul so that I would become a UPS automaton that could deliver packages more efficiently and have absolutely nothing else on my mind. I was young, and I wanted to be a poet more than a UPS driver. I wanted to be a poet more than anything. Although I had two children I didn’t care about money. I did write a poem, years after I left UPS— the last poem in the book—purposely to act as a capstone to that book, so that it would have a sense of being tied up and finished, but all the rest of the poems in that book came from that time period. The experience of working for them is still so raw for me that I could probably write another 40 poems about it if I tried. To this day, I still have nightmares about the job; it’s become my default anxiety dream—whenever something, anything, is bothering me, I dream about being stuck in a UPS package car, delivering, not making it, falling behind, lost, late, night, disoriented, pressured, etc. etc.

A book that came out almost concurrently was How Things Happen that was a hand-set letterpress book on beautiful, fine paper from bradypress, and it was, though shorter, more of a miscellany of poems, because the editor of bradypress, Denise Brady, chose 15 poems from a longer manuscript that she liked and wanted to set. Some of the poems were in both books, but they had a very different feel. Most of my chapbooks were collections of poems that centered around one topic—the kids (For My Son in a Motel Room, Marigolds), my mom’s sickness late in life (tables, chair, wall, window), but then, The Patron Saint of Lost and Found was more or less just a chronological collection like a full-length collection. New Route in the Dream was a hodge-podge of old and new poems. Until my last book, Sheep Can Recognize Individual Human Faces, I never actually determined where a poem should go except by chronology as I could recall it—In that one, dealing mainly with coming to terms with death, I put a poem about my mom dying at the beginning and one about my dad dying at the end, like bookends, but that was also chronological. My only real rule in putting together a manuscript is to not lump all the poems that are on one subject one right after the other so as not to become utterly boring. I’ll scatter them throughout the book. My thought is that since the poems were all by the same poet, and written more or less in the same period of that poet’s life, they’ve got to be talking to each other somehow, and I’ll let the reader figure it out.

On the other hand, if you have hung with me this far, and you are looking for advice on how gather a collection together, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, for all of my publications, I think, have come about by accident, chance, knowing someone, and dumb luck. In the end, I have no advice for any poet serious about his or her career, because in the end, I have no career as a poet. I work as a government functionary, more like Franz Kafka than Billy Collins. Few people have ever heard of my poems outside of a small circle of friends. I am locked out of the mainstream of American poetry (as are most poets) measured by any real measure of success in the poetry-biz: prizes, awards, winning contests, jobs, tours, appointments, speaking engagements, grants, etc.—I’m not complaining, just stating a fact. There are thousands of poets out there doing the same thing that I do. (That you do). I only write because writing poems, plus my family, is what keeps me alive, but I couldn’t win a contest if my life depended upon it. Listen to somebody else, study other poets who have poetry careers, because this poet can win no contests, nor tell you to do anything anywhere nearly as important as what your own spirit can say to you when you are writing a poem.

How do you define chapbook? A short collection usually composed of thematically closely-related poems, (nowdays fiction too) usually about 15 to 25 pages long, usually folded over and stapled, or “saddle stitched,” but not necessarily so. Often hand-made, on more expensive papers, with hand-set type— oftentimes more art-quality printing that a standard paperback. Usually, limited editions of a couple hundred maximum.

What makes a good chapbook? I get it—this is a trick question. Good poems?

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? I still draw inspiration from the chapbook series that Greg Kuzma did back in the 70s at The Best Cellar Press. He did all the typesetting by hand on beautiful papers. He published such poets as Albert Goldbarth, Wayne Dodd, Ted Kooser, Wendell Berry, Richard Shelton (whew! I just noticed—all guys!) and many many others. I still get a kick out of Don Wentworth’s itty bitty Lilliput Review that’s filled with tons of itty bitty poems.

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Barry Macdonald’s The Pink House from the Best Cellar Press.

What do you look for when you put together a chapbook? To have all the poems related to the same subject or theme.

How are you trying to get better as a chapbook poet? I’m stuck in the way I write. I don’t think I’ll ever get better. Maybe by accident. Maybe I’ll fall and hit my head and become a poetry savant.

What’s next for you? Keep writing, mainly. I’m putting together a short collection that will be a short book but too long to be a chapbook, of poems about my brother who was killed in a car wreck when I was 16. These are poems written over the course of 40 years. I guess that his death and my relationship to that is one of the themes that is found in my poems frequently. It’s called The Sun Has Stayed Where it is. I was awaiting for a lost poem from the center of it (center chronologically and psychologically) that my sister, thank you Jesus! had kept for the last 20 years that was the only copy of it I know of. I also have a short collection (but longer than a chapbook) of poems from the last couple years called “It’s as good here as it gets anywhere,” that I have out to a couple presses and contests. Actually, I’m thinking of maybe pulling some poems out of it if the book doesn’t get accepted and publishing the ones that are similar to each other as a chapbook—so there you have it—my chapbook technique!

Number of chapbooks you own: 150 approximately. Maybe more—they can blend in a bit.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: 150 approximately. Maybe more—they can blend in a bit.

Talk about your commitment to the chapbook writing community. Aw heck, I don’t really have a community. Is there someplace I can retire to where all they do is write and publish chapbooks? Sounds fun—let me know!

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: You are funny!

Your chapbook wish: I wish I had the time to start another chapbook series at The Backwaters Press, but I’m retiring from it so I can spend more time writing so that wouldn’t make sense. I wish that the press had done more with chaps, because they are fun and cool, but one can only do so much.

Residence: Omaha, Nebraska

Job: Human Services

the chapbook interview: Liz Kay on good books, good conversations, and bad girls

The February 2015 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle features Grace Cavalieri’s “The Last Word: The Poet and the Poem from The Library of Congress, Poets Laureate on Public Radio, 1977-2014.” In her piece, she quotes Louise Gluck who held the chair in 2003-2004. Gluck noted, “We have to contend with the idea of mortality: We all, at some point, love, with the risks involved, the vulnerabilities involved, the disappointments and great thrills of passion, so what you use is the self as a laboratory in which to practice, master, what seem to you central dilemmas.” Your chapbook Something to Help Me Sleep (Dancing Girl Press, 2012) and your forthcoming novel that I had the privilege of hearing you read earlier this year at Indigo Bridge Books, are concerned with love, desire, romance, and attraction. Talk about how you contend with love in your work.

What a great question, Madeline. A lot of my work revolves around questions of sexual power, which is to say that I’m interested in love, in questions of desire, but I’m specifically interested in how it plays out when the playing field isn’t level. And of course, in our culture, it never is. Even the most feminist of us (and I consider myself in this group) are informed by our experiences with the patriarchy, and what gets really uncomfortable is when we start to consider how many of those experiences feel positive, how many of those experiences allow us to feel, as women, some kind of power. It’s a limited power, certainly.

I think also, there’s not a lot of nuance available to women when it comes to love and desire. We can be sexual or frigid. Stand-offish or clingy. A doormat or a bitch. And then of course, to navigate the power dynamics, these things become performance. We perform aloofness. We perform sexuality. We perform whatever it is that we think will get us to the place that we want, which is, often, just a place where we can stop fucking performing for once.

And I don’t mean to say that men don’t have similar experiences or feel constrained by expectations of masculinity. I like to talk about the patriarchy (a lot), but in general I’m interested in attacking the system. I feel a great deal of sympathy for the men who have to live in it. In the end though, it’s my job to speak to the experience of being a woman, so that’s where my focus is.

In the chapbook, the character Ella is lovesick, heartsick, and while she’s craving the experience of love, she doesn’t want the vulnerability that comes with it. So she takes these lovers, except that they aren’t really lovers, they are stock characters recruited to play a part, to act it out—the fingers on the wrist, the teeth on the lip. In the morning, she is always, ever, alone. And yet, there’s still a vulnerability there because of the judgment she’s internalized, the ‘dirtiness’ she’s picked up. I’m interested also in how the stories we tell ourselves are versions, usually ugly versions, of stories the world tells, so I very much like subverting gender tropes. Ella is then a fairytale character, but of course her narrative arc is inverted. What kind of girl are you if you don’t run away at midnight? What kind of girl are you if the prince doesn’t follow you home?

I’m teaching in women’s and gender studies this semester. I very much appreciate your response. One of the articles I’m teaching this term explores the dominant heterosexual scripts that limit the ways women engage in heterosexual encounters and quotes Judith Butler’s suggestion “that discourses do actually live in bodies. They lodge in bodies, bodies in fact carry discourses as part of their lifeblood” as a means by which to describe the internalization of gendered stories and the ways those stories playout in women’s lives. I’m interested in resistance and the ways writers resist hegemonic narratives even as they work within discourses that reinscribe oppressions. Talk about writers you admire that are doing the work you seek to do in the chapbook form and in other genres.

Oh, absolutely! I’m always interested in work that explores the margin between expectation and experience. I loved Pamela Erens’ The Virgins, which is such a smart examination of sexuality–it’s limits and demands. I think what I love most about the book, though, is it’s very conscious use of POV, with the narrator a sort of obsessive voyeur who’s building the intimate moments shared by the main characters almost entirely in his imagination. Their sexuality, then, is a projection of both his own desires and broader cultural judgments.

Jenny Offill‘s Dept. of Speculation is this very intimate portrait of a marriage, and it’s exquisitely written.

I also really loved Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, which I think is one of the smartest examinations of gender tropes I’ve read in years. We have these really horrible characters who quite consciously perform “grieving husband,” “precocious daughter,” “rape victim.” It’s a fun read, but it’s also just really, really smart.

On the very opposite end of the spectrum, Veronique Olmi’s Beside the Sea is the most important book I am loathe to recommend.

The premise, if you’re not familiar with it, is that a mother takes her two children for a seaside holiday before she kills them. It’s really an act of psychic violence, reading this book, but it’s a glimpse into both serious psychosis, and at the same time, an exaggeration of both the love and failures we, as mothers, constantly feel.

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Writers and poets often talk about advocating for their work, promoting their work, and supporting the work of other writers by giving back, thereby creating a community where literary endeavors of small presses and the writers they publish is celebrated, discussed, and read. What strategies of advocacy and promotion do you think are most helpful?

I think it’s difficult to find the balance between promotion and engagement, and I think if you’re going to get the balance wrong, err on the side of engagement. The end goal is for the work to get out there, to be read, to be talked about, but there’s that sales aspect along the way that gets uncomfortable. And I’ve seen it handled poorly. I’ve gotten email blasts with “Buy my book!” in the subject line. I’ve also seen writers with new books (I know they have a new book) who never ever breathe a word about it. I don’t think either approach is going to get you there. I recognize that selling is uncomfortable, but what’s never uncomfortable is conversation. I love interviews and essays and blogs. I love to hear writers talking about their own struggles with the work and with publishing, talking about what they’ve learned along the way. And talking about what they’re reading! God, writers are some of the smartest, best readers there are, and I want their recommendations. I also love to hear publishers talking about the books they’re passionate about. I don’t know if you go to AWP, but one of my favorite things about AWP is the book fair. There are basically 3 types of tables in the book fair. There are the unmanned tables–or the may as well be unmanned because the person sitting behind it is never going to look up unless you’re actually trying to put money in their hand. There are the pushy tables, where you almost don’t want to stop: Do you have a subscription? Why don’t you have a subscription? Are you on our email list? And then there are the tables where people are talking, really talking, about books.

Sometimes, when I turn around, Jen (Lambert, my co-editor) is hand-selling a book or journal she just bought from another publisher. She’s like, Look at this cover. Look at this art. And then she’s chasing them away from our table because god, they’d better go buy that book before the other publisher sells out. And, honestly, these are the people who come back day after day. They come to see us the following year. They buy our journals (when they can). They follow the poem of the week series on our blog. Sometimes we overhear these Twitter exchanges between reader and poet, and that’s the end goal–not the sales, but the conversation. So, I think, you do what you can to create those moments of connection. And really, it shouldn’t be that hard–we have this thing right in front of us that we’re all passionate about.

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What makes a good chapbook?

I think what I love about chapbooks is that they tend to be cohesive. They tend to be thematic or narrative projects. They tend to be distilled. This is what I look for too in full-lengths, but I think I find in more in chapbooks. I am drawn to series work, and the chapbook in particular seems to be where that kind of work is thriving these days.


What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? 

The last chapbook I read was yours–threnody. I knew I wanted to read it when I heard you read some of the death poems from it.

Kristy Bowen (who is like the patron saint of chapbooks) has an electronic chapbook I Hate You, James Franco that I’m completely in love with. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it at this point.

What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Kristy Bowen, hands down. I love her work, but I also think that the books she puts in the world through {dancing girl press} are exquisite and sharp and so smartly curated.

What’s next for you? I am deeply enthralled with fiction now. Since my chapbook Something to Help Me Sleep, which is a narrative sequence, I’ve just been moving farthing into narrative and character and then I was like, “dialogue seems fun,” and now I’m hooked. I am, as we speak, finishing some revisions on my forthcoming novel Monsters: A Love Story. And as soon as I send that off, I’ll get back to a novel that’s in progress.

Number of chapbooks you own: Don’t know. Dozens?

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I think one thing I love about chapbooks is that you can buy more of them. I mean, they tend to be 5-7 bucks? And they’re little, and you can carry a whole bunch of them back from AWP. And then you haven’t invested a ton of money, so you can pass them along. I love introducing someone to a new writer, and I think chapbooks are a perfect way to do that.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Ha! You are hilarious.

Bio: Liz Kay is a founding editor of Spark Wheel Press and the journal burntdistrict. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Willow Springs, Sugar House Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal. She is the author of a chapbook, Something to Help Me Sleep (dancing girl press, 2012). Her debut novel Monsters: A Love Story will be published by Putnam in 2016.

 

Writing Ekphrastic poetry

My students have asked me to think of ways we tell stories and where we find inspiration for those stories. One place I’ve turned to and continue to turn to for inspiration, is art. Author Tracey Chevalier discusses the Vermeer painting that was her inspiration for her novel Girl With The Pearl Earring in her TedTalk, “Tracy Chevalier: Finding the story inside the painting.”

Several poets discuss ekphrasis prompts and poems from Diane Lockward in this forum and suggest the following to approach poem writing:

1. Imagine yourself observing the artist at work.
2. Consider the effect of the artwork on your speaker.
3. Observe someone else observing and responding to the artwork.
4. Focus on a limited aspect of the work, e.g., the bottle of wine on a fully laden table.
5. Enter the artwork and become part of the scene.
6. Consider what is left out of the artwork.

Now begin a draft. Bring in your description and list of details. If your artwork is dominated by a particular color, weave that color in and out of your poem. If there are multiple colors, bring them in. Of course, your poem should be rich in imagery. You are painting a picture with words. Let your imagination be stimulated by the artwork. Allow a few enigmatic metaphors to enter the poem. Don’t be excessively literal.

Other places for prompts and discussions of ekphrastic include the Lantern Review and the Ploughshares blog. As we’re getting ready for April’s month of poetry, perhaps my students and I will will try our hand at writing poems and stories to these paintings from artists’ work I’ve recently come to adore.

Lee Price, Jelly Doughnuts, Oil on Linen, 40″ x 64″

Courtney Kenny Porto, Mirror, Acrylic, 15″x19″, 2014

Amy Kollar Anderson, What the Dormouse Said, acrylic on canvas : 10″ x 16″ : 2012

Art + Poetry: A Les Femmes Folles Salon, 7 pm, March 23

box of Intimates and Fools art

Art + Poetry: A Les Femmes Folles Salon
with Sally Deskins, Jill Khoury, Sarah A. Chavez, Michelle Furlong, Hillary Leach, & Lisa Giuliani
7-9 pm, Monday, March 23, 2015
Sally Deskins Studio
Morgantown, WV 26508

Hillary Leach is an artist, painter, and free-thinker living and working in Morgantown, WV. She is originally from Jacksonville, FL but has spent most of her life living in the Northeastern U.S. Currently she makes her home in the mountains of West Virginia. Hillary received her BFA in painting from West Virginia University in May of 2014. Hillary graduated from WVU cum laude and was named to the Dean’s List with a 4.0 GPA. She was a recipient of the National Merit Scholarship, the Johnston Scholarship, and the Promise Scholarship. In the summer of 2010, Hillary traveled to Paris, Lichtenstein, Munich, and Switzerland to explore the art and culture of these places, and these travels have since informed her work and ignited her heart. In the fall of 2015, Hillary’s work will be published as part of the International Painting Annual, an annual ehibition-in-print curated by Manifest Gallery of Cincinnati, OH. Her paintings have also been featured in a group exhibition juried by Carol Hummel, along with various other exhibitions around Morgantown and the surrounding areas. http://hillaryleach.carbonmade.com/

Jill Khoury earned her Masters of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University. She teaches writing and literature in high school, university, and enrichment environments. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Bone Bouquet, RHINO, Inter|rupture, and Stone Highway Review. She has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net award. Her chapbook Borrowed Bodies was released from Pudding House Press. You can find her at jillkhoury.com.

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press). Her recent books are Drink (BlazeVOX Books), Wake (Aldrich Press), The Bottle Opener (Red Dashboard), and the collaborative book The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters (Les Femmes Folles) with artist Lauren Rinaldi. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies.

Lisa Giuliani is the owner of Lock House Studio.

Michelle Furlong, the artist behind One Peace at a Time Art, focuses on positive message pieces. She finds her experiences, good and bad, have been an inspiration in her life. She believes that the way she chooses to live is a form of art. She uses mixed mediums to create and repurposes items for her pieces. Michelle compares her life to a bracelet and those moments when she has profound human connections are the charms. She creates from those charm moments. She lives in Morgantown, West Virginia with her Australian husband. She has raised money for local charities by donating pieces to be auctioned. She has exhibited at Mon Arts, and was a featured artist in the publication, Appalachian Jamwich where she was referred to as the “Mother of Positivity”.

Sally Deskins is an artist and writer. Currently a Teaching Assistant in the Art History Graduate Program at West Virginia University, her work challenges society’s definitions of femininity, exploring womanhood and motherhood in her life and others’. Her art has been exhibited in galleries in Omaha, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago; and featured in publications such as Certain Circuits, Weave Magazine, andPainters & Poets. She has curated various solo and group exhibitions, readings and performances centered on women’s perspective and the body. Her writing has been published internationally in journals such as Stirring, Prick of the Spindle, Bookslut and Bitch. She is founding editor of LES FEMMES FOLLES. She has published four LES FEMMES FOLLES anthologies of art, poetry and interview excerpts can be found on blurb.com. Her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, came out in 2014.
http://sallydeskins.tumblr.com/

Sarah A. Chavez earned a PhD in English with a focus in Creative Writing (poetry) and an interdisciplinary specialization in Ethnic Studies, with a focus on Chican@/Latin@ & Native American literature and culture, from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her poetry can be found or is forthcoming in the anthologies Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place, and In Gilded Frame: An Anthology of Ekphrastic Poetry, as well as the journals Third Wednesday, LunaLuna Magazine, The Fourth River, North American Review & The Acentos Review among others. Her chapbook, All Day, Talking, was published by Dancing Girl Press in September 2014.

the chapbook interview: Cat Dixon on writing Eva Braun, wife of Hitler

How did you become fascinated with Eva Braun?

About 15 years ago I read The Fuhrer’s Bunker by W.D. Snodgrass. This collection contains poems from the point-of-view of every person who was in the bunker during the last days of World War II. Snodgrass is one of my favorite poets–I admire him greatly, but I wasn’t thrilled with the way Eva was portrayed: a woman concerned with singing catchy songs and cowering to Hitler’s twisted sexual needs. As the years passed, I researched Eva and found that there are only a handful of books devoted to her, but hundreds written about Hitler.  I wondered why she would love this man, why she would die with him. Something in him must have been lovable or at least worthy enough of her attention and devotion. I am fascinated with WWII especially the appeasement that England and France tried by allowing Hitler to take without conflict the Rhineland, Austria, etc. I am intrigued that Hitler laid out his plans in his book Mein Kampf, but people did not take the work seriously enough to see him as a major threat until it was too late and a war world started.   I considered that perhaps that is how Eva came to be with Hitler. I assume that he tested his power in their relationship and when he found that she wasn’t on the defensive, he continued the manipulation until it was too late. Eva was a working class girl and she did not have many options. She chose to stay and be able to live comfortably rather than go home to her parents. Then she chose to die with her lover rather than leave the bunker. What she knew of the death and destruction that Hitler created one cannot really say for sure, but she had to have known as did many of Hitler’s adjutants and generals that Germany was moving in the wrong direction.

Genocide of any sort is wrong, but has been allowed to occur in our world even after the Holocaust. I believe we need to discuss these atrocities to raise awareness because it seems history likes to repeat itself. As I examine Eva’s life and death, I hope to present her as a human being—flawed, ignorant, creative—a woman who went down the wrong path.

I love research and work that is generative to the writing process—as Snodgrass was for your own thinking and writing. I’m especially admiring of the work writers do to rewrite and re-represent women writers in the historical and/or literary record as a way to reimagine their lives. I’m thinking, for example, of the work by Carole Oles’ Waking Stone, Natasha Trethewey’s Bellocq’s Ophelia, Anne Sexton’s Transformation, Jennifer Franklin’s Persephone’s Ransom, as well as work by Alyse Knorr, J. Hope Stein, Sally Rosen Kindred, Julie Brooks Barbour, and many others. In the February 2015 The Writer’s Chronicle feature on pedagogy asks, Who has time to read? How do you make time to read, especially work that is generative to your own creative process? Were there particular texts that you turned to in writing Our End Has Brought the Spring?

One can get lost in the vortex of research, that’s for sure. I have spent years reading books about WWII, Eva and Hitler. The first poems came about in 2009, but it wasn’t until 2013 and 2014 that the other poems were written. I let the history and information fester until I felt that I was ready to write. The Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt was instrumental to my thought process as I finished the manuscript.

Here are some other books that were helpful:

Gold, Alison. The Devil’s Mistress. Winchester, MA: Faber and Faber. 1997.

Gortemaker, Heike. Eva Braun. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2011.

Lambert, Angela. The Lost Life of Eva Braun. New York: St. Martin’s Press. 2006.

Historical books about the war were important to me, but there are only a handful that actually focus on Eva Braun.

Regarding finding time: I don’t watch TV. I haven’t had cable since 2008 and I don’t miss it. I do work full time, teach part time, parent two kids, so I may work slower than some writers, but I believe eliminating unnecessary time drains has raised my productivity level. Plus, if you are fascinated with a topic, it doesn’t feel like a challenge to research and to read as much as you can.

 

You write in free verse, as well as in received forms. Our End Has Brought the Spring includes prose poems, often as dreams. Talk about the use of forms in your work.

Denise Levertov’s essay “Some Notes on Organic Form” explores how form grows out of an experience.  She challenges the poet to discover the form in the process of writing. Most of my pieces begin with a phrase or an image as is the case with the sonnet “Heaven” in this chapbook. I didn’t intentionally begin that poem in form; instead, I was imagining Eva locked out of heaven, watching others gain admittance, and I wondered how she would react, and what heaven’s gates would feel like on her fingers as she strolls past. I think most poets work this way—beginning with a sound or an image and then deciding later if the piece calls for a form.

You are very observant. As in my other book, I tend to reserve prose poems for dreams and strange surreal scenes.  The lack of line breaks tends to convey a feeling of a never-ending nightmare or a continuous magical quality. In my poem “Hell,” Eva is a hunted bird who is shot down over and over. There is no escape from the hunters. I wanted to convey that even though she may have been removed from the atrocities her lover committed against humanity that she, too, would have to pay for eternity.

For the most part I work in free verse. I like the juxtaposition, the swinging from line to line, and the forward momentum that lineated poetry offers.

How do you define chapbook? A collection of 20-30 poems that flow together well and hinge on a single persona or theme.

What makes a good chapbook? Revision requires that the writer find the best word and eliminate clutter in her lines. The chapbook does that on a larger scale–narrowing down the collection to the strongest pieces. When every poem is effective and the last line of one poem swings to the first line of the next, I find the verse lively. I like the brevity of chapbooks.

What chapbooks are inspiring you these days? One of my favorite poets right now is Dan Nowak. His chapbooks the hows and whys of my failures (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2014) and we were never built for warmth, but for finding (Yellow Flag Press, 2014) are intriguing. I have been following his career for a few years now and I am always pleased when I read a new Nowak piece.


What chapbooks or chapbook poets have impacted your writing the most? Shanan Ballam’s chapbook The Red Riding Hood Papers published by Finishing Line Press in 2010 resonated with me. Shanan and I studied together in our MFA program and I read many of the poems in workshop and had the chance to see the pieces evolve. When the book arrived in my mailbox, I read it in one sitting, and have returned to it many times. I was impressed with her retelling, personalizing and modernizing of the story. Shanan inspired me to start work on a chapbook of my own.

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What’s next for you? Even though I completed the chapbook, I do not feel finished with Eva Braun yet. I am revising and writing more poems and hope to find the manuscript a home in the future. I’m also working on poems about my full-time position at the church. Because of the location of the church, I meet many people who are struggling from homeless veterans to mothers who do not have money for food and diapers.

Number of chapbooks you own: Somewhere around 40

 

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I attend as many readings as I can in Omaha. Since I work on the board of The Backwaters Press, I help organize and promote its quarterly reading series and also assist a couple of other reading series–creating flyers, Facebook events, etc. I think it’s important to help promote poets especially chapbook authors.


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Where you spend your chapbook earnings: Buying more books of course!

Residence: Omaha

Chapbook Bio: Cat Dixon works full-time as a church administrator and teaches creative writing part-time at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She is the board secretary of The Backwaters Press, a nonprofit publishing house in Omaha. Her work has appeared in Sugar House Review, Midwest Quarterly Review, Coe Review, Eclectica among others. Her full length poetry book Too Heavy to Carry was published in 2014 by Stephen F. Austin University Press, and her chapbook Our End Has Brought the Spring will be published in June from Finishing Line Press.

Book Reading and Art: The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters, Paradigm Gallery + Studio, March 22, 3 pm

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The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters Book Reading & Art presents a themed reading on girlhood, coming of age, and the female body with Lauren Rindaldi, Dawn Lonsinger, Laura Madeline Wiseman, Kimberly Rinaldi, Elizabeth Akin Stelling, Shevaun Brannigan, Marion Cohen, and Elliott batTzedek, 3-5 pm, Sunday March 22nd, 2015, at Paradigm Gallery + Studio, located 746 South 4th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147.

 

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Elliott batTzedek holds an MFA in Poetry and Poetry in Translation from Drew University; her translation manuscript of “Dance of the Lunatic” by the Israeli Jewish lesbian writer Shez won the 2012 Robert Bly Translation prize, judged by Martha Collins. She is the events coordinator for Big Blue Marble Bookstore, cofounder of QuillsEdge Press, and founder of Poetry Business Manager. Her work appears or is forthcoming in the journals: American Poetry Review, Massachusetts Review, Naugatuck River Review, Lambda Literary Online, and Sinister Wisdom, and in the anthologies: Passageways: the 2012 Two Lines Translation Anthology, and Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence. She blogs about poetry and translation at thisfrenzy.com.

 

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Shevaun Brannigan is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, as well as The Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House at The University of Maryland. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in such journals as Best New Poets 2012, Rhino, Court Green, and Crab Orchard Review. She is the first place recipient of the 2015 Jan-ai Scholarship through the Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway. Her favorite poetry gig is the workshop she leads at her local Domestic Violence Shelter, and her work can be found at shevaunbrannigan.wordpress.com.

 

Marion Cohen

Marion Deutsche Cohen‘s latest poetry book is “Lights I Have Loved” (Red Dashboard Press). Her books total 24, including “Still the End: Memoir of a Nursing Home Wife” (Unlimited Publishing) and its prequel memoir, “Dirty Details: The Days and Nights of a Well Spouse” (Temple University Press), as well as “Crossing the Equal Sign” (Plain View Press), poetry about the experience of mathematics. She teaches math and writing at Arcadia University in Glenside PA, where she has developed the course, Truth and Beauty: Mathematics in Literature.

 

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dawn lonsinger is the author of Whelm (winner of the 2012 Idaho Prize in Poetry). Her poems and lyric essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Colorado Review, Best New Poets 2010, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Cornell University, a PhD from the University of Utah, and is Assistant Professor at Muhlenberg College where she teaches courses in Creative Writing and Literature & Film of Apocalypse and Monstrosity. She, like other organisms, has a thing for light.

 

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Kimberly Rinaldi is an animal lover, fit model, and local art supporter who lives and works in Philadelphia PA.

 

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Lauren Rindaldi is originally from Brooklyn, New York. She received her BFA in Painting from Tyler School of Art in 2006. She is a painter, illustrator and has worked on various projects with The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Her most recent visual works have been exhibited at Paradigm Gallery + Studio in Philadelphia and Scope Miami Beach – International Contemporary Art Show in Miami. She currently resides in Philadelphia with her husband and son.

 

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Born in Fort Worth, and raised in Carrollton, Texas, on Stockyard Rodeos and Pioneer Days in the 60-70s—Elizabeth Akin Stelling is a wife, mother, chef, a writer, activist for CHD and grief counselling, after losing her daughter to heart disease in 2000. She is also the brain child behind dis*or*der, Mental Illness and its Affects, a yearly anthology published by RedD, and is dedicated to her deceased mother who sufffered from various mental disorders. Elizabeth is managing editor of Red Dashboard LLC, Z-composition, Annapurna and Cowboy Poetry, and has works published in The Texas Observer, vox poetica, Referential Magazine, Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Curio Poetry, Wordgathering, River Review, Tuck Magazine, CrazyLitMag, 2014-San Angelo College Anthology, Literary Mamma, and various culinary trade magazines. Chef E’s food poetry has been heard on CroptoCuisine Radio, out of Boulder, CO. She is also studies Southwestern history for her wild west revivalist writing/poetry, and is a current member of Texas State Historical Association.

 

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Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of twenty books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press). Her recent books are Drink (BlazeVOX Books), Wake (Aldrich Press), American Galactic (Martian Lit Books), and the collaborative book The Hunger of the Cheeky Sisters (Les Femmes Folles) with artist Lauren Rinaldi. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. Currently, she teaches English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com