Women Write Resistance reading at the Indiana Writers’ Consortium’s 2014 Creative Writing Conference and Book Fair

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Women Write Resistance Poets read at IWC

Reading of Women Write Resistance
with Shevaun Brannigan, Sara Henning, Laura Madeline Wiseman, Larissa Shmailo, Jill Khoury, Meg Day, & Mary Stone Dockery
Indiana Writers’ Consortium’s 2014 Creative Writing Conference and Book Fair
4:00-5:10 PM, Saturday, October 11, 2014
Salon A, Hilton Garden Inn, 7775 Mississippi Street
Merrillville, Indiana

Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013), edited by Laura Madeline Wiseman, views poetry as a transformative art. By deploying techniques to challenge narratives about violence against women and making alternatives to that violence visible.  Poetry of resistance distinguishes itself by a persuasive rhetoric that asks readers to act. The anthology’s stance believes poetry can compel action using both rhetoric and poetic techniques to motivate readers. In their deployment of these techniques, poets of resistance claim the power to name and talk about gender violence in and on their own terms. Indeed, these poets resist for change by revising justice and framing poetry as action. This IWC Conference reading will include an introduction by the editor and feature Women Write Resistance poets who will read their poems and others from Women Write Resistance.

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The featured Women Write Resistance poets

“When you sit down to write a poem, I think you’re making a really brave and bold statement that is at once insistent upon your own existence and also wildly generous in the sacrificing of that existence to the possibility of a reader. To be a person—to insist on personhood—is a right we see refused to the majority of the people in this country (and other countries, with our country’s help) on a daily basis, even when we aren’t hearing about it on the news or social media.” – Meg Day, Blotterature

Meg Day, selected for Best New Poets of 2013, is a 2013 recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Poetry and the author of Last Psalm at Sea Level, winner of the Barrow Street Press Poetry Prize (forthcoming 2014), When All You Have Is a Hammer (winner of the 2012 Gertrude Press Chapbook Contest) and We Can’t Read This (winner of the 2013 Gazing Grain Chapbook Contest). A 2012 AWP Intro Journals Award Winner, she has also received awards and fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, Hedgebrook, Squaw Valley Writers, the Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Humanities, and the International Queer Arts Festival. Meg is currently a PhD candidate, Steffensen-Cannon Fellow, & Point Foundation Scholar in Poetry & Disability Poetics at the University of Utah. www.megday.com

“I also do not think of poems or poets as static—just because someone writes poetry, does not mean they cannot be an activist. In fact, poetry, which is a vital form of connecting with others, may predispose someone to be more in tune with the world’s injustices.” – Shevaun Brannigan, Blotterature

Shevaun Brannigan is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars, as well as The Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House at The University of Maryland. She has had poems appear in such journals as Best New Poets 2012, Lumina, Rhino, Court Green, and Free State Review. She has been an Arts & Letters Poetry Prize finalist, received an honorable mention in So to Speak’s 2012 Poetry Contest, as well as a Pushcart nomination by Rattle.

“Sometimes, the attempt at truth is all that one can muster, and that is its own truth.” – Sara Henning, The Conversant

Sara Henning is the author of A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink, 2013)as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press, 2012).  Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review.  Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

“Poetry has been revolutionary and transformative for me since I became interested in poetry.” – Jill Khoury, Blotterature

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.

“Poetry transformed me… into a powerful woman…Poetry continues to mold and shape my life by offering new possibilities each day.” – Larissa Shmailo, Blotterature

Larissa Shmailo is the editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark restaging of the multimedia opera and has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the American Bible Society. Her books of poetry are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew).

“There have been times in my life where poetry gave me all the answers about myself and about the world and about what it means to be a woman.” – Mary Stone Dockery, Blotterature

Mary Stone Dockery is the author of One Last Cigarette and Mythology of Touch, and two chapbooks, Blink Finch and Aching Buttons. Her poetry and prose have appeared in many fine journals, including Mid-American Review, Gargoyle, South Dakota Review, Arts & Letters.

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“As I wrote in the critical introduction to Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence, I believe poetry is power. Poetry is action.” – Laura Madeline Wiseman, Blotterature

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her recent books are American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

More recent interviews with poets from Women Write Resistance:

An Interview with Poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence,” Blotterature, October 2014

“‘To make a new whole of the fragments’: A Roundtable Discussion with poets in Women Write Resistance,The Conversant, October 2014

“‘We invent the forms of resistance we wish to see‘: A Roundtable Discussion with Poets in Women Write Resistance,” Les Femmes FollesSeptember 2014

“Blot Lit Reviews: An Interview with Writers from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence,Blotterature Literary Magazine, by Julie Demoff-Larson with Sarah Chavez, Tyler Mills, Jennifer Perrine, Carly Sachs, Monica Wendel, and Margo Taft Stever, May 2014, Part I & Part II

“‘their words make this possible‘: A Roundtable Discussion of Poetics of Emplacement with Poets from Women Write Resistance,” Spoon River Poetry Review, April 2014

Women Write Resistance: Poets to read at Purdue University Calumet

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Women Write Resistance: Poets to read at Purdue University Calumet Press Release

Women Write Resistance Poets Reading Event at Purdue University Calumet
with Sara Henning, Mary Stone Dockery,  Laura Madeline Wiseman, Larissa Shamilo, Sarah Chavez, & Rosemary Winslow
2200 173rd Street, Hammond, IN 46322
October 10, 2014 at 6:00 p.m.
Contact: Indiana Writers’ Consortium at 219-750-1200 ext. 203
indianawritersconsortium@gmail.com

Hammond, INSeptember 19, 2014— Indiana Writers’ Consortium, in conjunction with Purdue University Calumet’s Department of English and Philosophy and student organization First Friday Wordsmiths, are hosting six nationally known poets featured in the anthology Women Write Resistance: Poets Against Gender Violence. The six featured readers are: Laura Madeline Wiseman, Sara Henning, Mary Stone Dockery, Larissa Shamilo, Rosemary Winslow, and Sarah Chavez. The event, which is free of charge and open to the public, will take place in YJean Chambers Theater in the Student Union Library Building directly north of the 173rd Street parking lot. The reading will begin at 6:00 p.m. and there will be a book signing in the Founders’ Study after the reading. Free refreshments will also be available during the signing.

Indiana Writers’ Consortium inspires and builds a community of creative writers. We are the premier group in Northwest Indiana dedicated to educating writers from the ground up through speakers, seminars, and children’s programs. IWC provides educational and networking opportunities for writers in all stages of their careers. We also sponsor an annual children’s project, where we partner with local schools to bring poetry into the classroom. For more information please visit our website indianawritersconsortium.org or contact the IWC at 219-750-1200 ext. 203. The Indiana Writers’ Consortium is located at 5209 Hohman Ave., Hammond, IN 46320.

Featured poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence

Sarah Chavez

“As much as possible, I try to allow my poetry to embrace and inhabit conflict and conflicting truths…” – Sarah Chavez, The Conversant

Sarah A. Chavez is a mestíza born and raised in the California Central Valley completing her PhD in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found in various publications such as Not Somewhere Else But Here: A Contemporary Anthology of Women and Place, the journals North American Review, The Fourth River, and others. Her chapbook All Day, Talking has just been released from dancing girl press.

“The knowledge expressed in poetry has infinite organizing power on a subconscious as well as conscious level.” – Larissa Shamilo, Blotterature

Larissa Shmailo is the editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry, poetry editor for MadHat Annual, and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark restaging of the multimedia opera and has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the American Bible Society. Her books of poetry are #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books), In Paran (BlazeVOX [books]), A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew).

“Poetry taught me how to search for understanding, how to empathize, and how to define myself at different stages throughout my life.” – Mary Stone Dockery, Blotterature

Mary Stone Dockery is the author of One Last Cigarette and Mythology of Touch, and two chapbooks, Blink Finch and Aching Buttons. Her poetry and prose have appeared in many fine journals, including Mid-American Review, Gargoyle, South Dakota Review, Arts & Letters.

“Poetry is suffering, lovemaking, the body at its limits demanding to be heard. Poetry is also a place to exorcise cultural paradoxes.” – Sara Henning, Blotterature

Sara Henning is the author of A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink, 2013)as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press, 2012).  Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review.  Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

“Teaching a junior level course to majors from every discipline at the university last spring, I noted a sea change in greater understanding of the experiences of gendered cultural forces.  The evidence was most marked in responses to Adrienne Rich’s essay, “When We Dead Awaken.”  To my great surprise, and counter to my experiences of previous decades, students understood, with palpable compassion, the violence to the self as Rich considers having no place or voice for a female self.” – Rosemary Winslow, Spoon River Poetry Review

Rosemary Winslow lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches at The Catholic University of America. Her book Green Bodies expressed and grappled with the complexities of love in troubled families, and sought understanding, forgiveness, and compassion for the wide circle of humankind. She has taught in shelters for women, and now enjoys yoga, hiking, swimming, kayaking, and singing in a choir.

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“Early in college I was introduced to writers such as Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and Sandra Cisneros. These writers and others allowed me to explore the rich world that poetry offered, to see how poetry was a work worth doing, and that art could be made from life, that such a writing life was possible.” – Laura Madeline Wiseman, Blotterature

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her recent books are American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

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More recent interviews with poets from Women Write Resistance:

An Interview with Poets from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence,” Blotterature, October 2014

“‘To make a new whole of the fragments’: A Roundtable Discussion with poets in Women Write Resistance,The Conversant, October 2014

“‘We invent the forms of resistance we wish to see‘: A Roundtable Discussion with Poets in Women Write Resistance,” Les Femmes FollesSeptember 2014

“Blot Lit Reviews: An Interview with Writers from Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence,Blotterature Literary Magazine, by Julie Demoff-Larson with Sarah Chavez, Tyler Mills, Jennifer Perrine, Carly Sachs, Monica Wendel, and Margo Taft Stever, May 2014, Part I & Part II

“‘their words make this possible‘: A Roundtable Discussion of Poetics of Emplacement with Poets from Women Write Resistance,” Spoon River Poetry Review, April 2014

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Women Write Resistance at the Omaha Lit Fest

I hope you’ll join us at the (downtown) Omaha Lit Fest for a Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence Anthology Reading with Leslie Adrienne Miller, Sara Henning, Laura Madeline Wiseman, and Jennifer Perrine

SATURDAY NIGHT, September 13, 7 pm
The Apollon, 1801 Vinton St
Omaha, NE 68108

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About the Anthology and Event:

Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013), edited by Laura Madeline Wiseman, views poetry as a transformative art. By deploying techniques to challenge narratives about violence against women and making alternatives to that violence visible, the over one hundred American poets in Women Write Resistance intervene in the ways gender violence is perceived in American culture. Indeed, these poets resist for change by revising justice and framing poetry as action. This Omaha Lit Fest reading will include an introduction by the editor and feature several Women Write Resistance poets who will read their poems and others from Women Write Resistance.

About the Poets:

sara henning

Sara Henning is the author of A Sweeter Water (Lavender Ink, 2013)as well as a chapbook, To Speak of Dahlias (Finishing Line Press, 2012).  Her poetry, fiction, interviews and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as Willow Springs, Bombay Gin and the Crab Orchard Review.  Currently a doctoral student in English and Creative Writing at the University of South Dakota, she serves as Managing Editor for The South Dakota Review.

Jennifer Perrine is the author of The Body Is No Machine (New Issues), winner of the 2008 Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry, and In the Human Zoo (University of Utah Press), recipient of the 2010 Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize. In 2014, she will serve as a member of the U.S. Arts and Culture Delegation to Cuba. Perrine teaches in the English department and directs the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Drake University.

Leslie Adrienne Miller is author of six collections of poetry including Y, The Resurrection Trade and Eat Quite Everything You See from Graywolf Press, and Yesterday Had a Man in It, Ungodliness, and Staying Up For Love from Carnegie Mellon University Press. Professor of English at the University of Saint Thomas in Saint Paul, Minnesota, she holds a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, an M.A. from the University of Missouri, and a B.A. from Stephens College.

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Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). Her recent books are American Galactic (Martian Lit Books, 2014), Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience (Lavender Ink, 2014), Queen of the Platform (Anaphora Literary Press, 2013), Sprung (San Francisco Bay Press, 2012), and the collaborative book Intimates and Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with artist Sally Deskins. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Margie, Mid-American Review, and Feminist Studies. www.lauramadelinewiseman.com

Collaborate Artist Interview: Sally Deskins on the female form

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You grew up in Oregon and Nebraska. What was that like? How did it influence your desire to be an artist?

Well I lived in Oregon twice growing up, and Missouri for a few years as well. Most of my upbringing was in Omaha, perhaps twelve or so homes/apartments total. My upbringing was the foundation for myself and art, so it in fact impacts it quite a lot, in ways I really can’t even express, remember or understand. But perhaps here I can start with this fact—moving frequently—kept me on my toes, taught me to see and understand ways of living differently. I was also raised with foster children and foreign exchange students. My parents are from opposite ends of the United States, and my extended family has always been spread around the states as well, so constantly seeing different ways of living made me recognize and accept different perspectives. I’ve always been an introvert, always listening and seeing. As both of my parents are creative in their own ways, as well, I learned to define “artist” broadly. My brother was often lauded the “talented artist” growing up, drawing clever comic strips and caricatures. I actually fell into theatre and loved it, starting my own “theatre club” in elementary, which I directed for a few years. In high school my shyness took over, I didn’t even want to draw in front of people, but I enjoyed journalism, and sewing, where “coolness” or “being the best” didn’t take precedence. Maybe it was all in my head. Anyway, the actual lands of Oregon, Nebraska and Missouri, I can’t actually articulate their environmental impact on me any more than my traveling anywhere. It has been more the people and direct experiences—perhaps though, the Midwest instilled in me a strong work ethic—which, if you’ve lived anywhere else, you will then appreciate. And, there is nothing like the Oregon beach, the coolness, the breeze, the free feeling it brings and back down to earth.

Wanda and Sally

Who were the artists you admired when you first started making art?

Well, way back when I wanted to be a fashion designer, it was Anna Sui. I loved her quirky, dark designs—culturally inspired and beautiful for being edgy. When I read about Marcel Duchamp in high school art history class, I fell in love with the whole Dada art movement (or non-art, effectively). When I switched to being an art major in college, I was really inspired by Jim Dine who is considered part of the “Neo-Dada” movement, but I didn’t think technicalities. I loved his expressive line quality, his personification of robes, hearts and tools. I still do. I also admired Alice Neel, her very real and patchy portraits of her friends and family, not prettified, just existent. I’ve always loved the expressionists, too. Oskar Kokoschka was one of my favorites who played with the female body, as were Gustav Klimt, Henri Matisse. (Of course here I’m talking purely aesthetically, not of their personalities or personal lives.) Different artists impact me now more specifically, but those were the artists I looked to from the start. Quite honestly, since women are notoriously skipped over in art history books I did not learn of many women in art until I began doing the work myself! I never was a huge fan of Georgia O’Keeffe until recently (perhaps because in eighth grade my teacher had us try to draw a flower like her and I was so frustrated mine turned out to look like a pink chewed up piece of gum), or Judy Chicago even. My parents had a “Women in Art” coffee table book, and perhaps a Mary Cassatt print on the wall, growing up, but I didn’t really appreciate that until later. After undergrad and when I came back to drawing, Omaha based artist Wanda Ewing was (and continues to be) a huge inspiration for me artistically and personally (see my writing about her on Les Femmes Folles here).

more early work with Intimates and Fools, LFF Books

How do you start a new series—with a theme, an image, a question or with a material, a technique, a color? Or something else?

With the collaborative work I’m doing with you, that starts with reading the poetry! J I suppose each series is different and depends on what is going on with my life personally, and what art supplies I have on hand. With my self-portrait series I did in college, I don’t know if I knew I was doing that. It just ended up being what I drew over and over, before I was assigned to do one. I was my natural subject since I guess I was also “finding myself” in a matter of speaking. After my hiatus and having babies, I came back drawing my babies over and over.

Yearning to get outside of baby-mode for a bit and try to almost re-find my Self and my Own Body, my next series doing body prints was another form of self-portraits. I came to this after doing some art-modeling and seeing an exhibit of Yves Klein’s “Anthopometries” series. I used my children’s finger paint and whatever paper I had, and went at it. This was also the same time I started my journal Les Femmes Folles, interviewing women in art, as I enjoyed hearing about other women’s work and their finding their way, I began to find my own. With this first series I call “Voice” (after the group exhibit I co-curated with Megan Loudon Sanders) I used some of their quotes and texted them onto my body prints to put another layer on the series. Upon the first exhibit of this series, I found more people querying about my role as mother and how my artwork might impact this, rather than the work itself. Thus was born my next series “What Will Her Kids Think?” again with body prints and text from famous and infamous women artists who are mothers about this very issue.

My children were growing as well. I would color and paint with them. I became interested in their very gendered imagery from their children’s books, as well as their lovely, carefree brush strokes and color choices. Again, I used what I had and began drawing figures on the many “leftover”/ “recycle-pile” pages.

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Most recently with this next collaboration with you for Leave of Absence, I began with your poetry on the topic of trees. I knew I wanted to utilize body prints but in a different way—more twisted and more abstracted parts of the body and maybe some leaf-prints as well. I knew I wanted to also incorporate some of my children’s playful imagery too. So, once again, I began with what I had—taking stock of my paper, paint, and pages from my kids’ “recycle art” pile. I found paper that would work, and laid out the colors of paint I had, and went out in the yard quick to find some interesting leaves with my kids, and just painted and printed the whole pad of 30 pages. With these and with the pile of kids’ art, I sift thru them over and over to see in them—where a figure might lie, or text, or another small illustration to add to it.

I find the “use what I have” helps me focus—as you know, Madeline, I start many works at once, leave them, start others, and keep coming back, changing, many times until they are done. So having just a certain kind of paper and media, helps me focus just a little bit, enough to get an idea formed and out into space. So I suppose, all of that having been said, a new series starts with an image (body) and then with the material.

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You’re starting a masters program in art history at the University of West Virginia with a teaching assistantship, correct? How do you anticipate teaching art history will impact your work?

Tenfold. It will help me with interviews like this, at the very least—ha! As one of the professors said to me, I have all of these ideas and projects, and this will help me understand and articulate them much better. In college, I minored in art history (and English) but really only touched the surface of what I’d really like to dig into—women in art, feminist art movements, modern art, art about the body—and how they did it all (theory/methodology). I am so excited (and nervous!) to dig into the books and inner workings of artists I have never uncovered before, to seek more inspirations and find new ideas and hopefully share them with others as well—continuing the spirit of Les Femmes Folles in a bigger, broader way.

even more early work with Intimates and Fools, LFF Books

How does motherhood inspire your work? Do you create art with your children? What’s that like?

Inevitably. I am so fortunate to have healthy, happy, supportive kids and husband, and I am still alive. I am so lucky to be able to practice my art while being a mother. It helps me make and create by not having time. It makes me appreciate it when I do. It brings me down to earth and around it—further enhancing my understanding and empathy for humanity, I’d like to think (most of the time). It makes me think of the future (with this next series about environment for instance), and stick to the present (process).

Yes, I create art with them, most of it just playful and process-oriented, but sometimes something comes of it, as I discussed above. Basically, it’s on the fly; what should we paint on today? Yesterday we found some rocks to paint on, the other day they painted on every one of their toy trucks and cars and examined each of their tire tracks. Sometimes it’s just coloring books or a piece of scrap paper in my purse. At the park, my daughter likes to gather things and create “sculptures” out of sticks, rocks, leaves, whatever she finds. Sometimes I’ll get out some toys in the corner of my studio so I can get a few things done, or let them work with my pastels on the floor. It works for a few minutes but mostly they like to see what I’m doing!

I am so thankful to be able to practice my art, do what I love, and see it from their point of view. These crazy little monkeys. Too, I hope they see part of what I do intrinsically in a feminist fashion—appreciating and accepting femininity and the female form, and me being a strong (when I can) woman doing what she loves. I recently read this quote by Maya Angelou: “I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” Says it perfectly; I think of this while I work and aspire to it. So yes, motherhood is a constant. It would be hard to separate these living beings I am literally a part of, and am responsible for their well-being’s.

layout in progress

Were you ever scared to experiment in art?

Oh yes, definitely. In college, I only used charcoal for the longest time, as I was afraid color would ruin my work. I would draw and erase for hours the same line with charcoal. Then when a professor “insisted”, I would only use 1-2 colors per piece. Then in another class, we “had” to use our whole palette, and mine turned into a mess, and after that I think I just sort of let it go. That is perhaps why I love the body prints, they’re just (mostly) uncontrolled expressions in paint. I still get that hesitation with drawing though, each stage I get worried I’m going to ruin it if I go further. I still love black and lots of white. With pencil I let it all out, as I love erasing and seeing the lines underneath. But it’s different with pen and paint (when I’m hand painting). Usually when I’m drawing with pen or paintbrush in hand, I just have to take a deep breath and pull it out.

early page layouts, LFF books

What do you think is at stake when people make art that challenges notions about the female form?

Everything and nothing. This is such a big question! Women have been utilizing the female form for eons but only recently (within past 50-60 years) has their work been brought to light (and still not very brightened light). I get asked “why don’t you use the male form in your work?” and right now, I just am not drawn to create work about the male form (but actually perhaps in the near future)—but maybe that is because I have seen so many nude females in art history, the subject is ingrained in us. Maybe, on this same note, I have seen so many nude females depicted in art history by male artists, I want to contribute alongside other women artists, to show our own perspective of our own bodies. Art plays a major role in history and defining and describing our culture, and also by challenging current and past conventions. Thankfully, artists like Lorna Simpson, Judy Chicago, Ana Mendieta, Carolee Schneeman, Yoko Ono, Marina Abramovic, Hanna Wilke, Michalene Thomas and Wanda Ewing have used the nude female form to take on issues of identity, race, sex and class. With all of the negative imagery of the female form in media, add-to, the quieted and cloaked-over women-defined female form, alternative views are necessary to create a feminist, accepting world for women—as we are women by our bodies first.

framed pages of Intimates and Fools for Ohio show 2013

With two young children, is it difficult to balance family life with making art?

Oh sure, “how do we do it all?” or whatever. There isn’t really “balance” just being and doing. Sometimes I get obsessed with a project or idea and I can’t focus when I’m present with the kids. Sometimes when I’m blocked artistically I’ll endlessly sit at my studio table looking at pictures of my kids or just play with them in the studio. But I figure, if at least I get one line drawn, one paragraph written or chapter read, I did something. And I try to make moments count with family, as well, sometimes blending the two. Everyone has to balance so we all make those choices, I suppose, though it is different when other’s lives’ are at stake, whether children, elderly or other loved ones. Again, thankfully I have healthy and supportive children and husband. Still, at times, it can be a guilt-game, either way.

experiment with leaves

What is inspiring you these days?

Along with your poetry for this upcoming project, fresh air. Though I don’t think about living in Nebraska necessarily impacting me thru its plains, living in West Virginia seems to thru its hills. When I was growing up, I dreamed of being a fashion designer living in New York with a flat and a garden on the roof. I never thought I’d be living on two acres in the hills of West Virginia with two children and a husband J. But now that I’m here I feel it suits me—I’m a bit rough, gritty (not to mention of course I love my family), and the hills constantly remind me of how small I am in the world. Really, I am still alive; why is that? Why am I so lucky? I am thinking; what artwork am I really supposed to be creating, what projects am I meant to be doing? I look at the trees and breathe in each moment, my kids learning to ride bikes, my husband painting the house, pause, and wonder.

How are you trying to get better as an artist?

Going to graduate school, for one. Visiting art shows, reading about and interviewing other artists, listening to people’s critiques (getting reviewed!) and I suppose, just keeping at it!

Number of art pieces you own: I have no idea! Maybe 20-30 (this does not count my own, and does count small pieces).

Number of art pieces you admire: ? Infinite!

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Ways you promote and serve other artists: All right let’s toot my own horn some more! My journal, of course, Les Femmes Folles, promotes artists of all genre/media (poets, performers, activitsts however you define) and the Les Femmes Folles Books promotes writers and artists via the anthologies, and the series of collaborative books that begun with our collaboration, Intimates and Fools (stay tuned for more!). I curate exhibits, readings and other events. I write reviews and articles for other publications of visual art exhibits, projects and news, and book reviews, exclusively (as of late) art and books by women. I’m constantly pitching story ideas to new publications about art and writing by women. I would like to do more though.

Where you spend your art earnings: That’s a laugh, isn’t it. The money is already spent on its frame! Any art earnings are spent on the gas to get to the gallery, or future art supplies, or lunch for the family, or a cocktail afterwards. As for LFF Books, I do donate a portion of the proceeds to the University of Nebraska-Omaha Wanda Ewing Scholarship Fund, to honor my late friend, mentor, stellar artist and inspiration behind Les Femmes Folles. (Donate at nufoundation.org.)

Your artist wish: Just one? Ha. I don’t know, perhaps that art would be more of a mainstream thing like football—then we can really make a difference—I guess on top of that, that women’s perspectives seen through the art with which is on the front page regularly, would make a major difference with respect to women (and thus men) in everyday life. Could you imagine (most) people reading about (and thus perhaps appreciating/taking part in) non-violent expression every day? Dreamworld.

Residence: West Virginia

Job: Artist, Editor, Writer

Education: BA, University Nebraska-Lincoln; MPA, University Nebraska-Omaha

Bio: Sally Deskins is an artist, writer, mother, wife and feminist enthusiast. She is a Teaching Assistant in the Art History Graduate Program at West Virginia University. Deskins’ art explores womanhood, motherhood and the body via body-prints, drawing and text from her life and others’. Her work has been exhibited in Omaha, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Ohio and Chicago; and published in Certain Circuits, Weave Magazine, and Painters & Poets. She has curated exhibitions, readings and performances centered on women’s perspective and the body. Her writing has been published internationally. She is founding editor of LES FEMMES FOLLES an organization supporting women in art. She has published three LES FEMMES FOLLES anthologies of art and writing. Her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, was published in 2014 by Les Femmes Folles Books. She is currently working on her second collaborative book, Leave of Absence: An Illustrated Guide to Common Garden Affection. She is also currently exhibiting in a group show at Taylor Books’ Annex Gallery in Charleston thru July 31; and will be exhibiting a solo exhibit at Future Tenant Gallery in Pittsburgh in August.
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It’s the Beat! and Tuesday with Writers, plus recent readings in Nebraska

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I’m going to be interviewed on It’s the Beat! this week and I’m reading with Grace Bauer and Michelle Menting next week at Tuesday with Writers. Here’s the information for those upcoming events:

Interview with Karen Sokolof Jovitch & Jody Vinci
It’s the Beat Radio show, Mighty 1290 KOIL (am)
noon-1pm, Saturday May 3, 2014

Reading with Grace Bauer and Michelle Menting
Tuesday with Writers
7 p.m., May 6, 2014
South Mill, 48th & Prescott
Lincoln, Nebraska

I hope you can catch the radio piece if you’re near a radio Saturday. It will also appear on the site’s website and I’ll link to it here. The South Mill reading with Tuesday with Writers should be great fun!

Last week, I read from Women Write Resistance at the Nebraska Book Festival. It was a great turn out! It was such an honor to read from the anthology that I edited. I read from the preface and from a poem by Wendy Barker. I also read from Intimates and Fools and my new book on the bluebeard myth Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience.

Earlier in the week, I read at Connect Gallery with Sally Deskins and Cat Dixon. It was a great turn out, too!

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Finally, Monday I was part of the Bodies of Work: a Collaborative Exhibition and Reading. Sally and I were able to read from Intimates and Fools collaboratively – a real treat!

g. thompson higgins photography did a beautiful job at capturing the event. Thanks, Greg!

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I was graciously interviewed with Rachel Mindrop by Michael Lyon on KIOS-FM early that same morning. It was so much fun! Thanks, Michael!

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If you missed the airing, you can listen to the mp3 of Bodies of Work on KIOS-FM, Omaha Public Radio and Michael Lyon. My poem “The Blue Funeral” is about 3/4ths in.

Bodies of Work: A Collaboration Exhibition & Reading

Tomorrow I’m reading from Intimates & Fools at the Apollon. Here’s a link to the press release, but the full details are also below. I hope to see you there!

a bunch of books

The Apollon & Les Femmes Folles Present:

Bodies of Work: A Collaboration Exhibition & Reading
One-night only: April 21, 2014
Apollon Omaha, 1801 Vinton St., Omaha, NE

Featuring a collaborative art series by figurative artist Rachel Mindrup, body-artist Sally Deskins, and poet Fran Higgins and A live reading featuring Higgins and poet Laura Madeline Wiseman, author of Intimates & Fools (Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014) with body-art by Deskins.

Art exhibit opens: 6pm (free)
Reading: 6:30pm (free)

SPECIAL EVENT: Drink n Draw, 8-10pm ($5)

We will also be collecting new bras/undergarments, and/or gently used women’s clothing for Heartland Family Service! Heartland Family Service, founded in Omaha in 1875, is a non-profit, non-sectarian social work agency. We help parents who struggle; couples who want to save their relationship; children who are removed from unsafe homes; teens who made the wrong decisions about alcohol, drugs or crime; survivors of family violence; low-income families–mostly women and children–who fall into homelessness; and many, many more who need a helping hand to get back on track. Annually we serve 35,000 to 40,000 people in twelve counties. heartlandfamilyservice.org

Collaborative Series (above: “Grammar Man”): Poet Fran Higgins, body-artist Sally Deskins and figurative artist Rachel Mindrup come together to create a series of mixed-media work that explores body image, art history, womanhood and motherhood, furthering their “Mother-Artist” project originally debuted Feb. 2013. The trio of artists started with Deskins’ acrylic body-painting; “Inspired by Yves’ Klein’s Anthropometries, I take a feminist approach, as artist, model and director, examining how our outside selves both hides and radiates our mind,” describes Deskins of her approach.  Thereafter, Mindrup was given the twenty large works to draw on at her discretion; “Usually I spend so much time painting figures, paying attention to every resolute detail; with this series, I wanted to draw quickly to echo Sally’s swift body-printing method, and I kept seeing these mythological characters, coming in and out of the body parts like the bodies represented a whole world,” describes Mindrup. Mindrup then passed the work onto  Higgins who, penned ekphrastic poetry on each, based on her own perspective, displaying irony, hilarity, and sometimes raw truth on the female, motherhood, and human experience.

Intimates & Fools: Coupling body art and poetry, ‘Intimates and Fools‘ intimates the complicating pairing of the female form and cultural notions of beauty while playfully seeking to bare and bear such burdens of their weight. Laura Madeline Wiseman’s poetry explores notions of the bra and its place near the hearts of women, while contemplating literary and pop cultural allusions and illusions of such intimate apparel. Sally Deskins’ body art and illustrations make vivid and bright the female form while calling into question the cultural narratives on such various shapes we hold dear, be they natural, consumer, or whimsy. The book is published by Les Femmes Folles Books, 2014 and is available on amazon.com.

Les Femmes Folles is a completely volunteer run organization founded by Sally Deskins in 2011 with the mission to support and promote women in all forms, styles and levels of art with the online journal, books and public events; originally inspired by artist Wanda Ewing and her curated exhibit by the name Les Femmes Folles (Wild Women).  Les Femmes Folles Books is a micro feminist press that publishes 1-2 titles a year by invitation. Other books include Les Femmes Folles: The Women, 2011, 2012 and 2013, also available at this event and at blurb.com. femmesfollesnebraska.tumblr.com

The Apollon is Omaha’s multi-genre arts and entertainment hub where all are welcome to indulge their tastes in a place of welcome and warmth. The Apollon experience is co-created by a vibrant, well-supported arts community and an equally vibrant, well-rewarded audience. apollonomaha.com

Fran Higgins earned her BFA, graduate certificate in Advanced Writing, and a Masters in English from the University of Nebraska Omaha. Her work has appeared in Plains Song Review, Celebrate, SlipTongue, NEBRASKAland magazine, and The Untidy Season: An Anthology of Nebraska Women Poets.

Rachel Mindrup is a professional artist and art educator. Her current painting practice is about the study of the figure and portraiture in contemporary art and its relation to medicine. Mindrup’s client list includes: Kiewit Corporation, Boys Town, Creighton University, Boys Town National Research Hospital, and the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences. Her artwork is held in many private collections including those of Primatologist Jane Goodall and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Rmindrup.com

Laura Madeline Wiseman is the author of more than a dozen books and chapbooks and the editor of Women Write Resistance: Poets Resist Gender Violence (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013). She holds a doctorate from the University of Nebraska and has received an Academy of American Poets Award and the Wurlitzer Foundation Fellowship. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Margie, and Feminist Studies.

Sally Deskins is an artist and writer, focusing on women and feminist writers and artists, including herself. Her art has been exhibited in galleries in Omaha, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago; and has been published in publications such as Certain Circuits, Weave Magazine, and Painters & 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 edits the online journal Les Femmes Folles, has published three anthologies of art and writing and her first illustrated book Intimates & Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman, was published in Jan. 2014. Femmesfollesnebraska.tumblr.com, Sallydeskins.tumblr.com

SPECIAL EVENT: DRINK N DRAW, 8-10pm, 19+

Drink n Draw Omaha is a socially creative event inviting artists (painting, sculpting or drawing) to come and practice their craft inspired by two professional art models. Cost is just $5 for artists 19+. Bring your own supplies and take advantage of APOLLON’s beverage service.  No photography permitted. (Photo above by Drink n Draw photographer g thompson higgins.)

More information at facebook.com/drinkndrawomaha

the chapbook interview: Margo Taft Stever on publishing and mentoring chapbook poets

In Ordering the Storm Liz Rosenberg writes in her essay a “Journey without a Map” that she likes collections of poetry “to open outward. The more personal and particular poems tend to come at the beginning of my books, and the more public and larger poems toward the end” (17). I’m curious about the personal and confession in poetry and why there is a tendency to talk about poetry and poems as “truth,” fact, and/or autobiography and not as fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or creative exploration. I think of how often I hear interviewers ask interviewees—Sherman Alexie and Li-Young Lee visited here this past spring at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and I asked my students to read/listen to several recent interviews they’d given; likewise, Richard Blanco was interviewed by Terry Gross on “Fresh Air” after he gave the inaugural poem—to talk about their personal life and especially their childhood as they way to talk about their poetry. Why is that? Does the audience for poetry interviews expect “truth” as a way to understand poets? Is craft a too difficult topic to address in such interviews? As the editor of the oldest chapbook press, how do you approach the truth/persona aspect of presenting a chapbook you’re publishing?

With all due respect to Liz Rosenberg’s essay, I do not believe that following any particular recipe or dictum can lead to a good collection of poetry. At Slapering Hol Press, the editors search for the most compelling work based on a holistic vision which includes meaning, spirit, and art.

In the history of the English language, the words “shaper” and “maker” stand in for the word “poet.” What the poet shapes or makes is a container for a refined linguistic expression of the truth, very different from prose narrative or dramatic literature. All poetry tells a truth—about the spiritual world, dreams, visitations, the souls of the dead, enlightened communion with nature.

Craft—the shaping and making of the creative container—is critical. At poetry conferences, poets may attend endless talks about craft, but craft and artifice are useless if the poet has no truth to communicate. The poet must have something to say. The poet must write out of passion and necessity rather than an attempt to showcase the latest craft trend.

Often, the poet’s childhood provides the key generative force for creativity. As one of our editors, Peggy Ellsberg says, “Literature does not exist in an existential void—it is an organic manifestation from an organic creator.” In my view, the greatest poets work from childhood memories and experiences generally inaccessible to most people. Many poets use these memories as a springboard to assist them in transcending the purely “confessional,” to write about more than themselves alone, linking their vision to the broader world.

Poetry should inhabit a wider field accessible to general humanity as it has through most of human history. Many poets today, relegated to the university and coteries, become like twins talking to themselves in artisanal languages comprehensible only to themselves.

As the founding editor of Slapering Hol Press, the oldest chapbook press in America, I can state that there is no easy formula to determine what makes the best chapbook. In my experience, a body of poetry, well-shaped and well-made, which communicates something fresh and true deserves the attention of the widest possible audience.

In a recent issue of Poets & Writers in his article “The DIY Author Tour: How to Sell a book in America,” Ron Tanner describes his process in managing his CNF book tour, that included hiring an assistant, buying and outfitting a camper van, sending queries, networking, publicly and developing “a comic monologue” because as his subtitle notes “readings aren’t sexy” (80). He asks “Do people go to readings anymore?” and “the question we must ask ourselves is, How many people do I need at my event to make it worth my time?” a question he follows up with “How many books did I sell?” (81). Certainly memoirs are different genres than poetry collections and chapbooks, but I wonder if chapbook poets ask (or should be asking) the same questions as they give readings. Sherman Alexie spoke/read here at UNL in late January at a free event at the Mary Ross Theater. It was snowing. It was cold. At one point the event was listed to take place in the student union. At some other point it was moved. It was a Tuesday night. The tickets were free, but the theater filled up so quickly people were turned away and half the audience was quarantined in a second theater where the talk that was happening a few hundred feet away was projected onto the movie screen. I was in that theater—it was live, sort of. People obviously go to see/watch Sherman Alexie. Did he consider the readings successful? Likely. Did he sell books? Certainly the campus bookstore had a table there with books and merchandise. But for an author whose primary “ware” is chapbooks, how many people have to attend an event for the event to be successful? How many chapbooks must the poet sell? Or are these the wrong sort of questions? Is a chapbook poet’s goal something other than attendance and sales? Isn’t reading aloud enough? Isn’t sharing poems enough? Isn’t the microphone (or bull horn) and stage (or music stand) enough? If as Bryan Bower says in his American Book Review article “Articles of Chap” that “the chapbook is simply a tool for the poet, which ultimately becomes inconsequential if the poet fails,” what counts as failure (and success) for a chapbook poet—audience, sales, a following? As the editor of a very important chapbook press, what do you tell your poets?

With all due deference to Ron Tanner and his ideas on how to promote his memoir, I am concerned that this kind of commercialization of the poetry chapbook would portend its death. If poets are not visionaries, seers, makers, shapers, then they are nothing; they should not be salespeople. Centuries ago, itinerants in Scotland, England, and later in America, carried the first chapbooks filled with stories and news of the day from place to place by horseback. Building on Tanner’s model, harkening back to the chapbook’s past, and ratcheting up opportunities for collaboration, I would suggest that chapbook poets form small groups with musicians and tour the country or the world as modern troubadours. Performances would be pre-arranged, and to create greater potential for connection with audience, I would also recommend teaming up with local poets.

Po biz, the celebrity poet, the poet as promoter—all this mimicry of a larger, meaner society—can add only to the meaninglessness of poetry. Rather than viewing the chapbook as a commodity, I would suggest envisioning it as a gift. In the late 60s, when I took a poetry workshop at MIT with the great poet Denise Levertov, she published a poem about each of the workshop participants in her chapbook, A New Year’s Garland.

On first holding that chapbook, and others that Denise shared with us, I understood the tactile sensation of the paper and type and the potential for shared textual and visual artistic expression. The chapbook of today remains an object of art transcending the quick fix of the convenient e-book. In our high tech world, the chapbook is quirky and “high touch,” often with embellishments such as hand-stitching and letter press printing. This is the anti-mass market where print runs typically number only in the hundreds. The most compelling element of the chapbook is that it is not bound by strict definition. More than anything, the form is defined by its length, resulting in structural requirements that can produce a work more concisely wrought and more crisply to the point than a longer collection; the compressed form encourages innovation.

Most poets in America do not make a profit from book sales. For better or worse, they make a living through teaching, or like William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and uncounted others, they earn their keep from professions and write poetry at the same time. If books sales and profits comprise our highest expectations, then the airport novel would be a better risk. I would suggest that rather than scoring sales, the point of a chapbook reading is to hear the poet’s voice, to meet the poet, and to appreciate the chapbook. Poetry readings, with some notable exceptions, are generally small gatherings. For many years, poet and former NEA head Dana Gioia, Bob Holman, and others have suggested including music to enhance audiences’ appreciation.

Of all the many cities where I have lived over the years, perhaps, the most exciting one for poets was Washington, D.C., during the late 70s and early 80s, when the poetry community was open to and interested in new voices. My own involvement with the Bethesda Writers’ Center, at that time located in a dilapidated amusement park, and my yearning to create a similar community, inspired me in 1983 to found the Sleepy Hollow Poetry Series; in 1988, The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center; and in 1990, Slapering Hol Press, the Center’s own small press imprint.

From its inception in the 1990s, the mission of Slapering Hol Press has been to publish emerging poets and to provide them with as much knowledge as possible about how to develop an audience for their work. We encourage chapbook authors to become engaged in the process of getting their chapbooks out in the world through poetry readings, conferences, and reviews. This creates a balance between the inner and outer world, sharing wonder and delight in the ordinary and extraordinary.

Your chapbook Reading the Night Sky—winner of the 1996 Riverstone Poetry Chapbook Contest—and your chapbook The Hudson Line (Main Street Rag, 2012) both give readers a vision of motherhood, the latter Denise Duhamel calls a poetry that is “brutal and tender” and the former, the late Denise Levertov notes is from a “gifted and serious” poet. I’m wondering if you can talk about mothering, about care. How does caring for those in your life translate into nurturing your own poetry, supporting The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and Slapering Hol Press, and guiding young poets into the wider world of poetry? You write in your poem “Stepmother” that “a stepmother is always evil” (Hudson, 29) and in the poem “The Cello” you write, “How everyone is looking for love” (Reading, 17)—I want to know about that balance—the evilness of certain mothering and the lovingness of other mothering and how the poet goes about loving well what is important to her.

Denise Levertov and Denise Duhamel for different reasons have exerted powerful forces on my life as a poet. When I entered Harvard as an undergraduate, in keeping with the national trend, I was an alienated, idealistic adolescent with rebellious and semi-feral instincts. After cross-registering at MIT and getting accepted into Denise Levertov’s workshop, I encountered a set of paradigms that would change the course of my life. While I had served as co-editor of my high school newspaper, president of my senior class, and mainly expressed myself artistically through photography, I had never thought of myself as a poet.

My own mother, a beautiful, intelligent manic depressive, had managed to accumulate six of her own children and after my father and a stepfather died in a space of six years, and she married a third husband, she added a total of nine additional stepchildren. Her last husband, Robert Taft, was my father’s cousin and a U.S senator. By everyone’s account, my mother was not a “good” mother, and she was an even worse stepmother. Throughout my adolescence, I lived in a laboratory of bad mothering. Nonetheless, since she was my mother, my observations were necessarily subjective. Multiple factors propelled me to write about my experiences as a backdrop for commenting on the broader issues of humanity. My youngest brother would later die of a drug overdose, and all fifteen children and stepchildren moved out of Cincinnati at their earliest possible convenience.

Denise Levertov mothered her own son, Nick Goodman, and also embodied a powerful mentor and role model for me and others in the MIT workshop. If I had not taken that workshop with Denise, I would never have become a poet. She instilled in me the belief that I could write a poem. I was also involved in the anti-war movement, attended many demonstrations, and got arrested during the Harvard Strike. Visiting us in Maine and staying with us when we lived in D.C., Denise remained a close friend and corresponded with me until her death. Her views on the life of a poet, the poet as witness, the poem as prayer, all combined with her boundless energy and sense of wonder, her anger at injustice, her light and airy humor indelibly etched her spirit upon my own life. She is the rare kind of person who can never truly die, so strong are her power and abiding presence. Denise read for The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and she served as a contest judge for one of our Slapering Hol Press chapbooks.

Denise Duhamel is a friend whom I met at the Sarah Lawrence College MFA program in the early 80s. I watched her persistence and hard work take her from a graduate student to a well regarded poet. Her desire to be a poet was so great that I remember when she lived in the Lower East Side, when it was quite dangerous, and she put a neon sign—POET—in her window. Denise was the first employee of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, and we would work on grants together in my family’s attic. When the phone rang, we would try to intuit when to say “Hudson Valley Writers’ Center,” and an important funder was calling, or when it was the school nurse calling about one of my children. For many years, Denise helped run the HVWC reading series, and years later, she was the second master poet whom Slapering Hol Press published in the “Conversation” series. In this, a well-known woman poet chooses an emerging woman poet to appear in the same chapbook with poems in conversation and a conversational interview at the end.

These two poets exemplify for me the nurturing feminine spirit in that they have served as mentors for many people, and they have had the courage to shine a beacon on the path of poetry, which is often shrouded, a place difficult to otherwise find for poets living in America’s consumer and celebrity-driven society.

Throughout my life, one of my principal endeavors has been riding horses in the hunter division of competitive horse shows. So many principles apply to the disciplines of riding and writing such as “less is more,” “seeing a distance,” or “getting into the zone.” When jumping a course of fences, the possibilities abound for losing balance through lack of vision, inadequate collaboration with the horse, and/or allowing external stimuli to interfere. When a rider and horse are perfectly balanced, the sense of union, of being one with the horse, offers the same kind of exhilaration as writing a good poem.

Just as a rider can become as one with the horse, so a poet can become one with the poem. But as Denise Levertov pointed out, the poet must be the medium through which the poem comes forth; he or she must also allow the poem to take on a life of its own. Creating a balance in the process of mothering so that the child is supported but has the freedom to become an independent being in this sense is similar to the writing of a poem, or the bringing of a poem into the world. The poet must nurture the poem, but must also allow the poem to stand and breathe on its own.

In my poem, “Stepmother,” I engage the various mythologies that have described the pitfalls of a fraught relationship in which the stepmother must begin as a failure, since she will never be the real mother; but to become a good stepmother, she must eventually evolve out of the failed state, or she will remain in the mythological abyss. “The Cello” was written about my first son when he began to study the cello, and it is an allegory for creativity.

After experiencing what it is like to live the poet’s life in America, to understand how few people read, comprehend, or have any interest in poetry, and how difficult it is to get one’s poetry published by any kind of press, I developed a desire to provide publishing opportunities for emerging poets. My first intention was to found a press, but I never discovered any grants for small, small presses. In 1983, a grant of $3000 from Arts Westchester (then named Westchester Arts Council) allowed for the beginning of the Sleepy Hollow Poetry Series which later morphed into The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. It would take ten years of planning before it was possible to found Slapering Hol Press, the Center’s small press imprint.

The main way that I have attempted to find a balance in my artistic life is to alternate writing poetry, which is solitary, with engagement in creating collaborations through readings, workshops, special events, and the Slapering Hol Press. Balance, which is an illusory goal, provides a mirage of hope. To my surprise, more times than I anticipated, the effort to find such equilibrium brings out the instinctual energy of that person who first fell in love with poetry, to whom Denise Levertov first provided a place for validation, where Denise Duhamel brought insight and humor to persevere in making a place for writers out of a family attic.

 

Slapering Hol Press produces beautifully made and varied chapbooks. In my short stack are Katie Phillip’s lonely and reflective Driving Montana, Alone, (2010), Mary Armstrong’s honest and working conscious Burn Pit (2011), Michele Poulos’ lyrical and mystic A Disturbance in the Air (2012), and Lynn McGee’s fierce and narrative Bonanza (1996), though I’ve also interviewed other SHP poets here—Susana H. Case and Liz Ahl. I’m wondering if you could talk about the materiality of these chapbooks. Size, shape, layout, design, binding, paper, cover art—there is nothing cookie cutter, nothing a reader could point to and say, “Ah, this is a SHP chap,” unless of course that is what makes SHP titles so unique—the individual, material creation of each book. Though I run the risk of asking what you’ve likely been asked before, I’m going to ask it: Why recreate the template with each new chapbook that SHP publishes?

The main challenge for Slapering Hol Press is to publish the best, most artistic chapbooks. As an undergraduate at Harvard, I concentrated in Visual and Environmental Studies, and the visual part of chapbook publishing has always been of interest, riding just behind the meaning and music of the text. Over the years, the literary leanings of the co-editors have been eclectic, and SHP contest winners are sometimes traditional and other times experimental.

Several years into the Slapering Hol Press publication cycle, I invited Robert Creeley to serve as a member of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center Advisory Board. Having met Creeley through mutual friends in Cambridge during the 60s, I reconnected with him when I invited him to give a reading for the Writers’ Center. In our consultation, he eloquently stressed the importance of choosing type and design to showcase the text, the poetry, without creating distraction with what I have termed “ornamentalism.” While Creeley was not opposed to using visual elements or experimenting with different design or designers, he strenuously emphasized the text as the most significant element of the chapbook. After our discussions which spanned 1999-2001, we changed from stapled to hand-stitched chapbooks; we started using more vivid visuals; and we moved to a different designer.

Another consultancy in 2000 which changed the course of Slapering Hol Press was one that Stephanie Strickland and I initiated (through the Council on Literary Magazines and Presses) with Coffee House Press. Before that, SHP had invited guest editors including Denise Levertov, Billy Collins, and Dennis Nurkse to choose the winning chapbook. To create more identity for SHP rather than having the winner reflect a totally different aesthetic each year, the co-editors decided to become the final judges.

The choice of the designer is critical, and during the entire history of SHP, the press has contracted with only four: Dean Bornstein, the late James Laird, Dave Wofford of Horse and Buggy Press, and Ed Rayher of Swamp Press. For the annual Slapering Hol Press chapbook contest, the design element that has represented the greatest continuity is its standard chapbook size of 6” by 9”. Because 2010 represented SHP’s twentieth anniversary and because Katie Philips had shot exceptional photographs of her trip through Montana (alone), we decided to deviate from the usual format to create a photo diary to accompany the poems.

For The Scottish Café, by Susana Case, Dave Wofford chose the visual of a composition book for the cover to represent the very kind of notebook in which the mathematicians who met at the Scottish Café wrote their theorems which they buried during World War II to save their intellectual property from the Nazis. About SHP chapbook design, Lynn McGee, SHP’s 1996 chapbook contest winner stated, “Bonanza looks like a book that a publisher took really seriously. It looks richer, with that contrasting matte and foil cover, than many perfect-bound volumes out of big publishing companies.”

Our designers or co-editors have researched the visual element for the cover of SHP chapbooks, but in one exceptional case, our most recent SHP contest winner, Michele Poulos, author of A Disturbance in the Air, suggested the stunning photograph by the well-known photographer, Kiki Smith, and Poulos obtained permission for its use.

The artist we chose for the cover of the second “Conversation” chapbook, Enjoy Hot or Iced, is the late Kentaro Fujioka, a brilliant young Japanese-American artist whom I had met while working with him on a photographic exhibition. His painting, “Elements,” provided the perfect backdrop for the collection. The designer Ed Rayher featured the painting through die cuts, several windows and layers unfolding, which brought textural quality and a sense of mystery to the narrative course of the poems.

For our special chapbook series, we have published two “Conversation” chapbooks and one chapbook, Hudson River Haiku, to celebrate the Hudson River Quadricentennial. For this project, we disbanded restriction and have published chapbooks with widely divergent sizes. One of the main ways to create a unique chapbook is to find the right visual for the cover, which can often end up as a treasure hunt. For instance, after receiving the manuscript from the first “Conversation” chapbook by Elizabeth Alexander and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, I went to the library and checked out a book of paintings and prints by Romare Bearden and with a tremendous amount of effort, tracked down how to gain permission to reprint “Reclining Nude,” which is also one the titles of the poems.

Through use of the same designer and through keeping the contest’s winning manuscripts to the standard 6” by 9” chapbook size, the editors have attempted to create continuity. Beyond that consistency, to which we do not adhere for the special chapbook series, we view each chapbook as unique with distinct possibilities for visual expression. SHP chapbook contest winner David Tucker said about SHP, “Slapering Hol Press has a national reputation for doing it right. The editing of manuscripts is as professional as that by big publishing houses…, the presentation is elegant and meticulous, and the advice and support for writers are extraordinary…,

 

I love the idea of poets talking about their work, perhaps that’s why I love Lofty Dogmas: Poets on Poetics, Menacing Hedge’s Poet-on-Poet interviews, and interview features in other literary journals. So of course I adore the SHP series “poems in conversation and a conversation,” especially Enjoy Hot or Iced (2011) by Denise Duhamel and Amy Lemmon and the inaugural chapbook by Elizabeth Alexander and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon in 2008, chapbooks where Clief-Stefanon says she’s trying to “write towards mystery” (26) and Lemmon talks about writing “with my students” and the importance of “deadlines” and of “being in a poetry group for several years” (28). Why did SHP decide to inaugurate such a series, a series that makes real for writers the writing life and how poets make time and space to make their poems.

When I first proposed the idea of the “Conversation” series, I already had Elizabeth Alexander in mind for the first “master” poet who would choose an “emerging” poet for the same chapbook with an interview at the end. Alexander was clearly a good choice since President Barak Obama, following our lead, picked Alexander soon after the chapbook publication for his first inaugural poet. Alexander and Van Clief-Stefanon decided on the title, “Poems in Conversation and a Conversation,” which became the title for the series.

Rather than imposing our own standard for what comprises an “emerging” poet, the SHP co-editors decided to allow the master poet to create her own definition. Because we believe that opportunities for women poets still lag behind that of our male counterparts, we decided to create the series only for women poets. This is a women’s own series, one to provide space and time for women to show how valuable their relationships are to each other as poets.

One of the current SHP co-editors, B.K. Fischer, has said about the first “Conversation” chapbook, “When Alexander and Stefanon scrutinize the variegated surfaces of Romare Bearden’s art, the intensity of their gazes give way to speech. In the blues of “Reclining Nudes,” Stefanon’s speaker discovers, ‘I could hear / her breath.’ Alexander finds images that transmute into sounds: ‘Flowered dresses. / A woman’s holler. River of guitar.’ In the hands of these poets, ekphrasis is an act of inquiry, a mode of poetic transformation as well as cultural analysis. For both, lacunae inherent in acts of reading and looking are openings for empathy, uncertainty, discourse.”

For Enjoy Hot or Iced: Poems in Conversation and a Conversation,” Denise Duhamel, instrumental in the early Writers’ Center history, proved an exciting choice for the second “master” poet, and she selected the poetry of the talented Amy Lemmon to publish in the same chapbook. Duhamel said of their “Conversation” chapbook, “At the humble beginnings of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, before the train station restoration, before Slapering Hol Press and the chapbook series, before the workshops, and before email, when the Writers’ Center was located in a small attic room, I was one of the first workers for what has become one of the amazing art centers of America. Now, after so many years, I am delighted to be one of the first in the Slapering Hol Press Conversation Series for a small, small press that has accomplished much more than its size belies.”

Second to none, the most exciting aspect of serving as the SHP founding editor is the possibility of providing a small stepping stone for young and/or emerging poets, and to mark the growth of their careers after the publication of their chapbooks. The “Conversation” series has allowed us to broaden SHP’s impact by sticking within our mission of encouraging emerging poets, but providing another avenue for discovering and showcasing the mentor/mentee relationship for women poets. For this series, the poems themselves, and the interview at the end, give the opportunity for the reader to understand the poets’ writing processes and some of the issues inherent in their writing.

 

What is inspiring you these days?

What inspires me the most is the bravery of animals who live in the face of human predation and cruelty; and humans who support animal and plant lives. In general, I am in deep mourning because of the rapaciously destructive role of humans against nature.

How are you trying to get better as a poet?

After studying with Denise Levertov at MIT and Sidney Goldfarb at Harvard University, I had the opportunity in the early 80s to earn an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and to study with many inspiring poets such as Brooks Haxton, Jane Cooper, Jean Valentine, Kate Knapp Johnson, Thomas Lux, and Michael Burkard. I also became friends with many fine poets such as Anneliese Wagner and Stephanie Strickland who were instrumental in helping to found The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center and Slapering Hol Press.

Other ways that I work as a poet involve attempting to observe the world around me and figuring out ways to write about what I see.

Since Sarah Lawrence Days, I have had the opportunity to study with many excellent poets at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center, including Vijay Seshadri, Li-Young Lee, and Eamon Grennan. At the current time, I am fortunate to be in a writing workshop with Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Jo Ann Clark, Peggy Ellsberg, Joan Falk, and Jennifer Franklin, all talented poets and critics. Writers benefit greatly when gifted readers hear and critique their work while it is in process.

Number of chapbooks you own: Probably around 500.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: If you include the chapbook manuscripts submitted to Slapering Hol Press over the years, I could have read 10,000, but I don’t know the actual number.

Ways you promote other poets: The prize for Slapering Hol Press is $1,000 and a reading at The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center. While the SHP author is in town, we also arrange a reading at Cornelia Street Café in Greenwich Village and at other venues, if possible. During the publication year, we work with the poet to assist in arranging readings in their home and places where they intend to visit. We send out the winning chapbook to an extensive list of literary magazines for review. Our editors and HVWC/SHP staff also attend book fairs and AWP during the year where we promote new and old chapbooks. SHP chapbooks are also sold at HVWC readings throughout the year.

Where do you spend your poetry earnings: I spend my annual poetry earnings on a few subway tickets and at the candy counter on Opera Cremes.

Inspirations and influences: James Wright, Denise Levertov, Hayden Carruth, Robert Creeley, Maxine Kumin, Archibald MacLeish, Sylvia Plath, Theodore Roethke

Residence: Sleepy Hollow, New York

Job: My current job is co-editor of Slapering Hol Press. I am also co-chair of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center benefit. We are celebrating our 25th Silver Anniversary on October 3, 2013. I am working on finding a publisher for the English language version of LOOKING EAST: William Howard Taft and the 1905 U.S. Diplomatic Mission to Asia (Zhejiang University Press, 2012), which I co-authored with my son, James Taft Stever, and which includes a forward by Professor Hong Shen. I am also looking for a publisher for my most recent poetry manuscript, THE CRACKED PIANO, and I am writing new poetry.

Education:

Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, New York. M.F.A. in Poetry, 1988.

Harvard Graduate School of Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ed.M. Degree.  Reading and Human Development, 1974.

Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. A.B. Degree, 1972. Cum Laude.

Biographical Statement: Margo Taft Stever’s chapbook, The Hudson Line, was a 2012 editor’s choice for Main Street Review. Her full-length book, Frozen Spring (2002), was the winner of the Mid-List Press First Series Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Reading the Night Sky (Introduction by Denise Levertov), won the 1996 Riverstone Poetry Chapbook Competition. She is the founder of The Hudson Valley Writers’ Center (www.writerscenter.org) and the founding editor of the Slapering Hol Press. Ms. Stever has read at numerous locations, including the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival, the Blacksmith House, and the Shanghai International Studies University.

Read two of Margo’s poems here.