Collaborate Artist Interview: Sally Deskins on the female form

IF in a show 2014

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.

common prayer

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.

weeping hawthorn (2)

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.
LFFB

Intimates & Fools: A Collaborative Book with art by Sally Deskins

IntimatesFools

My collaborative book with artist Sally Deskins was released January 1st this year and today is the book’s Half Birthday. Hooray! Happy Half-Birthday Intimates and Fools! I thought I’d post an update on all the fun things and  happenings that have been going on.

Intimates and Fools magnets and candy hearts

The book couples poetry and body art and illustrations by Sally Deskins. 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. The 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. The 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.

even more early work with Intimates and Fools, LFF Books

Sally and I have had the opportunity to talk about Intimates and Fools in recent interviews. With Julie Brooks Barbour Sally talked about the process of adding the text to her art for Connotation Press.

To be honest, each page’s process was different. I didn’t originally start from beginning and go to the end. I selected phrases and sentences I liked, drew images, scanned them into the computer and tried out fonts, but nothing clicked. So I decided to write it myself, first writing the history of the bras in pencil on page one and two. I wasn’t happy with my own handwriting of course, so I erased that, and liked the erased, raw look, and kept some of that in there, as you can see.

early page layouts, LFF books

Forthcoming in AMRI we discussed the entire collaborative process with Kristina Marie Darling. Specifically, I talk about thinking about how a poem might appear in a book when coupled with poetry. Here’s another sneak peak.

Ultimately, Sally decided to handwrite the poems—a decision I loved. When she illustrated the poem, she broke the lines where it made sense from a visual artistic and literary perspective. It was a “changing, shifting, and expanding” moment for me as a poet, because her visual presentation of the poem was not what I had typed into the computer when it was my poem alone. And yet, this was a collaboration. Sally’s art was being transformed to tell a story about bras and suddenly, so was my poetry.

Box of Intimates and Fools

In Mixitini, this super cool journal that focuses solely on collaborations, we discussed the collaborative work we’d done with other artists and writers. Here’s a sneak peak.

My first collaboration felt organic, fun, and playful. I think there’s something fresh and delightful when art and poetry are combined. The interpretation of poetry that happens when paired with art offers a new way of looking at words and art.

Sally Deskins and Laura Madeline Wiseman after WV reading

Editor Mel Shapcott featured Intimates and Fools in Wild Women Rising. Sally talked about making body prints.

So at once, the real feelings of the paint on my body is utterly physical and resounds as the sensations are stamped onto paper or canvas. Too it is a means of working out all of the noise of body image — what I should look like according to magazines, movies, the clothing ads, my mind. In these prints, my body looks beautiful in the various acrylic colors. As I mix and swirl the paint on my body parts, the image comes out skewed and conceptual, and beautiful in this state — various colors, shapes, sizes. It is perhaps sensual, perhaps an object in itself, but not decried or distanced, violent or Photoshopped to some advertiser’s view of perfection. It is stunning in its complexity, simplicity and in definition yet materiality, a peaceful yet spirited view of the female figure.

In Blotterature we talked about our personal history with the bra and the research we did for the book. I discussed reading about the bra in college.

My first intellectual endeavor into bras was in college when I added a second major of women’s studies after taking one women’s literature class. I took scores of classes—sociology of gender, feminist theory, African American women’s literature—and somewhere in there I read The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg, a look at the ways in which girls have worked on improving themselves and how that has shifted from a focus on the personality to a focus on the body. One section on body projects made note of bras and I found it fascinating that all women didn’t always wear bras.

box of Intimates and Fools art

We talked about the collaborative composition in Storyacious. Sally discussed her creative process.

After reading Madeline’s poem, I decided to let it sit, scratch down visions and ideas, and make dozens of body prints in preparation. Instead of the larger torso body prints I had been doing for the gallery shows, I did smaller, page-sized prints of various body parts to allow closer focus and more pause and insight for each word.

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Beyond written interviews, we gave radio interviews in It’s the Beat! (mp3 starts at 8:05-15:04), KIOS-FM, Omaha Public Radio, and The Joy Factor.

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Our book has also been featured in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Painters & PoetsBest Dressed Wardrobe, Z-Composition,Luciferous, Daily Dose of Lit, Certain Circuits, and Miracle Ezine.

radioGroup

Intimates and Fools has been reviewed in [Pank], Busting and Droning Magazine, Ivory Owl Reviews, Broad Blogs, Underrated ReadsLuna Luna, and Connotation Press.

“Poet Laura Madeline Wiseman takes what every girl and woman has thought about her breasts and adds a imaginative twist.  Artist Sally Deskins fun, contemporary-styled illustrations take it even further.”- Underrated Reads

 

“…for me what Intimates and Fools is aiming to get to the heart of, and often does quite handily: the struggle against both nature and the commodification of women, a struggle that is defined with and against sexuality, and a struggle that is far more complex than it at first seems. Wiseman and Deskins have created a deceptively pleasant collaboration here, one that is both arch and light-hearted, and which deepens the more it is read and pondered. There are few bra-wearers who won’t see themselves in these clever poems and illustrations; there are few readers who won’t look at bras, and the world, a bit differently after reading this book.” – Luna Luna

 

Intimates and Fools is a visually stunning book. This insightful collaboration between poet Laura Madeline Wiseman and artist Sally Deskins gives us not only a look into the bras that hold women’s breasts, but uncovers the history and honesty of what women wear beneath their garments… Throughout, we never leave what holds up the breasts, what women desire in a bra, what women might do without them, even how these intimate garments are cared for over time. This is a book about the female body and what adorns it, what is bought and given away in so many forms.” – Connotation Press

“What we wear under our clothes tells a quiet story, as playfully and artfully explored in the book “Intimates and Fools,” with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman and artwork by Sally Deskins… The concept of having a book of illustrated poems dedicated to breasts and undergarments is charming and yet sweetly simple… The artwork of Deskins is so vibrant, with playful poems surrounding their form… the overall feeling from the collection is that of simple joys in these sacred garments we hold close.” – Busting and Droning Magazine

“Deskins’s own art, colorful sketches and body prints, unapologetically splash across the page in bright strokes while Wiseman’s handwritten prose snakes up and around, balancing and accompanying the art… It made me want to linger, to touch the page, run my hands across the color and script. It was more of an experience than just interpretation… it’s what’s just under the busy surface that’s most appealing: the wildly complex social constructs of female body, and the symbol of the bra as the ultimate carrier of all things female: shame, sexuality, strength.” – [Pank] Magazine

Intimates and Fools is a cheeky, fun read…Laura Madeline Wiseman’s poetry will have you conspiratorially chuckling and each page of Sally Deskins’ painted illustrations are frame-worthy.” – Ivory Owl Reviews

“Women can be mistaken for their sexuality. Or, women can make their sexuality work for them. Intimates and Fools, with poetry by Laura Madeline Wiseman and illustrations by Sally Deskins, is a thought-provoking, conversation-starting coffee table book…Here, brassieres emerge as the main characters…In this love-hate relationship, bras just want a little appreciation. Don’t we all?”- Broad Blogs.

In March, I traveled to West Virginia where my collaborator currently lives. We had super fun reading together at a local art center there. In April, my collaborator traveled to Nebraska where I live. We gave two readings. At the Apollon, we read collaboratively.

Intimates and Fools has also been to readings in Chicago, South Dakota, and elsewhere. I will be giving a reading at MMLA in Detroit, MI about the collaborative process in the Fabricating the Body panel in November. Other recent readings are on our YourTube playlist.

Beautiful pages from Intimates and Fools with Sally’s original art have appeared in shows in galleries in Ohio and West Virginia, and will be featured in Sally’s series “What Will Her Kids Think?” in an exhibit at Future Tenant Gallery, August 8-24 in Pittsburgh. Pieces from that series also appeared at the Ohio University Eastern Campus, in St. Claireville, Ohio in February.

IF in a show 2014

“Les Femmes Folles: WV” had a group exhibit at the Monongalia Art Center, Morgantown, West Virginia in March.

LLF and IF in WV march 2014

Intimates and Fools is available on Amazon and at readings and events. Check out Intimates and Fools from the library – Chattanooga Public Library,Chattanooga in TN; Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture at Duke University Library, The Jane Pope Geske Heritage Room of Nebraska Authors and Lincoln City Libraries in Lincoln, NE, Des Moines Public Library in IA. Or enter for a chance to win a copy in the Goodreads Book Giveaway .

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Intimates and Fools by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Intimates and Fools

by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Giveaway ends September 17, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

More information about the book is available at:
http://www.lauramadelinewiseman.com/writing/books/intimates-and-fools/
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20104018-itimates-and-fools
http://www.amazon.com/Intimates-Fools-Laura-Madeline-Wiseman/dp/0615947492/
http://femmesfollesnebraska.tumblr.com/LFFBooks

framed pages of Intimates and Fools for Ohio show 2013

 

 

Lavender Ink releases Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience

My book Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience was released this spring from Lavender Ink. I thought I’d post an update about what’s been happening since it’s release. Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience is a campy, contemporary retelling of the Bluebeard myth, that charts the love of three sisters who each marry the same man upon the demise of the sister who preceded her. Bluebeard is usually framed as a story of blood and gore, but this telling focuses on the love each of his unfortunate wives felt, the first blush of romance and young marriage, the complicated turns of mature desire and the past we bring into our present affections.

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I’ve given readings from my new book in West Virginia, Nebraska, Illinois, and elsewhere, including at the Nebraska Book Festival in April. There’s a YouTube playlist of poems from the book.

Recently, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with sister poet Sara Henning about her Lavender Ink title A Sweeter Water in The Sundress Blog. I was able to talk about reading and researching the bluebeard myth, as well as her own smart, lovely book.

My mother had a baby blue hardback edition of the Grimm fairy tales, one with gold embossed lettering on the cover and edge gilding. Sometimes at bedtime we were allowed to crawl into her queen-sized bed and she would read us a story from those pages of onion skin, those tiny words, under that soft glow of her bedside light. I’m not sure if she read the versions of the bluebeard story from Grimm to us, but it was a story I recognized later while I was working on my masters degree in women’s studies at the University of Arizona.

I also spoke with sibling poet Megan Burns about her Lavender Ink title Sound and Basin in Pank. I discussed the interconnectiveness of desire and violence within the bluebeard myth.

If fairy tales and myths are meant to be didactic, even if we no longer live in the time of their original construction, I wrote Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience because I was curious to know what it offered us today. I kept coming back to a line from Charles Dickens’ version: “But the fair twin loved him, and the dark twin hated him, so he chose the fair one.” I thought about hate and resentment and marriage and why we might stay with someone, sensing the threat of bodily harm towards us, even if that violence isn’t manifested until our murder. I also was working within the bluebeard frame and the ways in which each of the sisters may have been aware of plot—a meta-awareness of the larger story their small place fit into—much as any of us may reflect on our place in plot (e.g. marriage, American Dream, keeping up with Jones’, etc.) even as we may (or may not) think of them as story lines, narratives, fiction. The sister in “Self-Portrait” chose to desire a violent man. Or perhaps he chose her. Or perhaps, she was framed and so thus framed, was made to be what she became.

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I also talked about Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience on KIOS-FM, Omaha Public Radio and read from the book on air. Here are a few mp3s from that reading and more.

Fruits

Widower’s Insomnia

Our Sister Cared

The Blue Funeral

apollon-books-2

Right after the book’s release, I featured the cover artist Lauren Rindaldi about her gorgeous cover art. Here’s Lauren’s artist description of the piece:

Desire’s Conquest and Demise
The Nightmare, which depicts an incubus, a horse and a sleeping woman. In my painting, the incubus is replaced by my deceased cat. The woman takes a position believed to encourage nightmares, and the horse (or mare), in my piece, is replaced by another woman. It is meant to simultaneously show a woman dreaming and the contents of her dream or fantasy. This painting is part of my most recent series of works exploring ideas about the pursuit of fantasies resulting in deterioration, decay or even death.

fatal effects in the hands of artist Lauren Rinaldi

Here’s some praise about my new book.

Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience is an ingenious narrative of poems that transposes the Bluebeard myth to our contemporary lives with a chilling authenticity. The juxtapositions of desire and danger, trust and betrayal, innocence and cunning all seem absolutely modern, as if they could be happening down the street or in our own lives, even as we recognize their ancient, terrible truths. Laura Madeline Wiseman’s command of the language and balance between irony and dead seriousness is pitch-perfect and this is a haunting book. – Ellen Bass

 

What happens when a woman dares to enter forbidden spaces? Tucked into legend, the poems in this collection shift from sensual to sexy and from enchanting to haunting, as they explore the question. Laura Madeline Wiseman is both poet and storyteller, deftly moving back and forth through time, weaving breathtaking parts into a heart-stopping whole. – Tania Rochelle

 

Predicated on the Bluebeard tale, Wiseman weaves a contemporary mythology that reaches more deeply and pervasively into the very human psychology and psychosis we name love. These poems traverse a dark storm of sexuality—the forbidden, the cruel, the guilty-pleasures. Lunacy and denial pulse mysteriously as mating ritual, as in these lines from “Solo Artist, Another Late Wife”: “…and she pretends for a moment / that this cheap condo is Carnegie Hall and his hands / that rain down on her are applause…” Control and conviction are knives bladed as sharply as the key to truth. Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience is erotic, disturbing, and utterly compelling. This collection, the stuff of nightmarish transformations, may cause you to see an altered face when you gaze in your day-lit mirror. – Lana Hechtman Ayers

 

Wiseman’s imagination is expansive, sultry, and wild. Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience is a masterpiece of antonyms. Wiseman’s speaker first appears to be a traditional woman: married, want of secrets, but curious and complex. Like many women, she wrestles with society’s fetters, which is easily identifiable and sympathetic. It is in this way she acts as a great literary heroine; the reader, perhaps lost themselves, roots for her to find her footing. Just as we think we have her understood, the book quickly transforms from a biography of a marriage into a lesson in the subversive. Wiseman’s speaker does reference work in the taboo. She struggles with the direction of her sexuality, fidelity, even marrying her late sister’s dangerous husband seems to be out of her control. She has simultaneous desires: to be dominant, to be taken, to be voyeur/watched, to be pursued/left alone, to be safe, to be killed.  Ultimately, this book begs the question: how well can we ever know those closest to us? And perhaps more importantly, how well can we ever know ourselves? – Danielle Sellers

 

Drawing from Bluebeard and other renderings of misogynistic myth, Wiseman captures the universal experience of love skewed by an imbalance of power. Seduction, eroticism, betrayal, self-knowledge in the aftermath—it’s all here in this beautiful book, in fierce, aching lines chiseled with elegance and compression. – Rebecca Foust

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What’s next? I’ll be on the local radio on The Joy Factor next week.

Interview on The Joy Factor with Shelia Stratton
6:00-6:30 pm, June 24th, 2014
89.3, KZUM FM & HD  (radio)
Lincoln, NE’s community radio

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I’ll also be reading from this book and more soon. I hope to see you there!

Reading in the Wit Rabbit Reading Series
with Lavender Ink Poets Sara Henning & Megan Burns
7 pm, Tuesday September 2, 2014
Quencher’s Saloon
2401 N. Western, Ave.
Chicago, IL

Reading in the Smoking Glue Gun‘s Sunchild Austin Summer Readings
with Christopher Klingbeil, Jerrod Bohn, Kendra Fortmeyer, & Kelly Luce
Sundown, Friday, September 26, 2014
SSG House, 2845 B San Gabriel St.
Austin, Texas

Poetry & Pints Reading
with Lavender Ink Poets Megan Burns & Sara Henning
8 pm, Sunday, November 16, 2014
Harmony Brewing Company
1551 Lake Drive Southeast
Grand Rapids, MI 49506

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Matilda Fletcher Wiseman as Queen of the Platform

QUEEN OF THE PLATFORM first copies

My dissertation that became the book Queen of the Platform has been out just over six months. Hooray! I thought it’s time to write an update about my second full-length collection of poetry published in December 2013 by Anaphora Literary Press. The poems in Queen of the Platform are based on the life of my great-great-great-grandmother, the nineteenth century lecturer, suffragist, and poet, Matilda Fletcher Wiseman (1842-1909). I first learned of Matilda when my father and grandparents suggested I look up my great-great-great-grandmother “who spoke at Chautauquas while her stepchildren sang and danced.” They didn’t know much about Matilda, but they did know a bit about her second husband, William Albert Wiseman, who started the Grace Methodist Church in Des Moines, Iowa.

The tent church were William Albert Wiseman spoke.

(The tent church where William Albert Wiseman spoke.)

GM Church, Des Moines, IA 1902.

(GM Church, Des Moines, IA 1902.)

It started as a tent, became a wooden building, and then was rebuilt a few years later in brick. It still stands today on the corner of Crocker Street in Des Moines.

GM Church, Des Moines, IA 2009

(GM Church, Des Moines, IA 2009.)

So knowing these two small bits about Matilda – she was a lecturer and her second husband was a minister in Des Moines – I began talking to relatives who had interests in genealogical work, examining family artifacts and letters, and researching historical documents to find out who Matilda was, where she spoke, why she gave a lecture to over seven thousand in Indiana accompanied by what the newspapers called a “heart chart,” and why one of her popular talks and one of her published poems was entitled “The Heart of a Man.” One Wiseman cousin allowed me to look at a scrapbook Matilda kept during the first years of her lecture career.

One of the first pages in Matilda Fletcher Wiseman's scrapbook, 1869-1874.

(One of the first pages in Matilda Fletcher Wiseman’s scrapbook, 1869-1874.)

Some of what Matilda wrote has survived–some of her letters to the editors, poems in full or excerpted—however much of Matilda’s work remains in fragments as quoted in historic newspapers, and even more remains in announcements only, such as the lecture “Are You for Sale?”

The American Literary Bureau's renouncement for Matilda Fletcher, "The Popular Young Iowa Poetess" early 1880s

(The American Literary Bureau’s announcement for Matilda Fletcher, “The Popular Young Iowa Poetess” early 1870s)

A photograph of Matilda has yet to be found.

A newspaper clipping from Matilda Fletcher's talk, February 28, 1870

(A newspaper clipping from Matilda Fletcher’s talk, February 28, 1870)

My research allowed me to find out where Matilda was born and some information about her early life. Matilda (Felts) Fletcher Wiseman was the fifth of fourteen children from abolitionist parents, who had fled the South. She was born in Winnebago County, Illinois, and raised on a farm in Durand. All seven of her brothers served in the Civil War. In the late 1960s, Matilda married her school teacher, John A. Fletcher (1837-1875). John served in the Civil War where he contracted tuberculosis, a disease that made him increasing ill. They moved to Council Bluffs where he was a school teacher and a lawyer. They had one child together, Alice “Allie” Fletcher, a child that didn’t live beyond the age of two. The disease continued to ravage John’s health. After the death of their child, Matilda joined the lecture circuit to support herself and her frail husband. She wrote about her daughter. Two published hymns about Allie appear in Song Echo. 

Matilda Fletcher's hymn "Beautiful Voices" in The Song Echo

(Matilda Fletcher’s hymn “Snow Angel” in Song Echo, by H.S. Perkins)

Matilda Fletcher's hymn "Beautiful Voices" in The Song Echo

(Matilda Fletcher’s hymn “Beautiful Voices” in Song Echo, by H.S. Perkins)

Matilda was a popular lecturer and she quickly began speaking with other lecturers of her time like Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Francis Willard. She spoke on suffragist, education, and reform. She also stumped for a presidential candidate, even though she didn’t live long enough to have the right to vote. She wrote and had three books published. The first book, Farmers’ Wives and Daughters, was both published in 1873 by the Lincoln Journal Company, State Printers in Nebraska after she gave the address at the Nebraska State Fair.

Farmers Wives and Daughters, by Matlida Fletcher

(Farmers’ Wives and Daughters, by Matilda Fletcher)

Two years later, her first husband died of tuberculosis in the summer of 1875. That same year, her second book was released, Practical Ethics and published by A.S. Barnes & Company in New York, Chicago, and New Orleans.

Practical Ethics by Matilda Fletcher

(Practical Ethics by Matilda Fletcher)

I’ve always admired that the illustrated heart chart inside the book.

Interior illustration in Practical Ethics by Matilda Fletcher.

(Interior illustration in Practical Ethics by Matilda Fletcher.)

Despite the loss of her child and her husband, Matilda continued to write and speak to earn a living and make a career. She patented a design for traveling trunks for women and wrote bills on educational reform that were passed into law. Eleven years later, she remarried a Methodist minister, my great-great-great-grandfather, William Albert Wiseman (1850-1911), and became stepmother to his three small children, all under the age of ten.

William Albert Wiseman

(William Albert Wiseman, Matilda Fletcher’s second husband.)

Albert became her agent and according to family legend, the family toured the country and the children sang and danced to Civil War Songs whenever Matilda took the stage. (Full disclosure: I’ve yet to find evidence about the children’s onstage presence, but family legend also says that the reason why Albert’s namesake ate dessert first at meals was due to his childhood rearing on the road. Whenever the family arrived via train in another town where Matilda would speak, they headed first to the hotel restaurant and while they waited for their dinner to be prepared, they had dessert.) What followed was many productive years of lecturing and life. For a brief time, the family even moved from Iowa to Texas where Matilda served as assistant minister in a church where Albert was the minister.

Geo Felts, Matilda Fletcher's younger brother who was charged with murder.

(Geo Felts, Matilda Fletcher’s younger brother who was charged with murder.)

After moving back to Des Moines and to their home in Sherman Hills, Matilda’s brother needed her assistance. In 1905, her brother, George W. Felts (1843-1921), a civil war solider, was charged with murder and sentenced to life in the state prison in Joliet. Matilda writes that Geo was jumped at a saloon. Somehow one of the men involved and a friend of Geo’s, was stabbed. The injury hit the man’s femoral artery. He bled to death. Between 1905 and 1909, with the help of her husband, Albert, Matilda challenged the Illinois court’s ruling, a task that culminated in the publication of her third book, The Trial and Imprisonment of Geo E. Felts: A Deaf Old Solider Robbed of his Rights (1905) and her early death in a hospital in Rockford, IL. Beyond her insistence of his innocence, her contention with his sentencing concerned the court’s failure to accommodate her brother’s disability. Geo was deaf due to his service in the Civil War, a combined result of cannon fire and measles. Throughout the trial, no one provided Geo with a written account of the proceedings, nor did anyone speak directly into his ear-tube, a device through which he could hear imperfectly. In short, Matilda argued that his trial wasn’t legal because Geo neither heard nor understood the charges. All attempts failed. She died at the age of sixty-six and is buried in Des Moines in Woodland Cemetery beside her daughter and two husbands. What became of Geo is unknown. He is buried in Durand Cemetery. This series of poems in Queen of the Platform, partly fact and partly imagination, is where all this research took me.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk about this research in WomenArts Quarterly Journal and the Country Dog Review.

She started lecturing in 1869, shortly after Allie died. John died in 1875. During those brief six years, Matilda lectured hundreds of times, all over the country, and even in Canada. She wrote and published three books. She was an editor and writer for the Iowa State Register (which was renamed as The Des Moines Register in 1903) where she describes her travels, her lectures, and her experiences on the train.

I was able to talk about research and fact and the use of found poetry in Compose Journal.

I wanted poems in Queen of the Platform to offer up a taste of the linguistic phrasings of nineteenth-century newspapers, especially how they recapitulated and paraphrased her two hour lectures. To savor that language, I employed the ghazal, the sestina, and the acrostic.

Reviews of Queen of the Platform are in Weave, Broad Blogs, and The Volta.

With her graceful rhythmic flare, and real and imagined homey narrative, she presents upended views of the meaning of equality via the men around her suffragist ancestor in the time before women could vote…With Queen of the Platform, Wiseman suggests that there is a great man behind–and moreover, beside–each great woman…Wiseman challenges perceptions of feminism and justice, with her poignant and heartfelt writing via the perspective of the inspiring Matilda and the men around her…. -Weave Magazine

 

Imagine having a great-great-great-grandmother who fought for ‘votes for women’ alongside Susan B Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Poet, Laura Madeline Wiseman’s great-great-great-grandmother, Matilda Fletcher Wiseman did just that. Collected letters and newspaper clippings inspired a book of poetry that Ms. Wiseman calls, Queen of the Platform. -Broad Blogs

 

What makes Queen of the Platform, Laura Madeline Wiseman’s eleventh collection of poetry so different from these other books is that the protagonist of this historical research already had a voice. A loud and influential voice. This book is less the powerful contemporary writer reaching into history to unearth something lost, and more the writer allowing herself to be lost in the rich and varied experiences of a powerful woman who has much to teach a contemporary readership about the nuances of power, gender, and the importance of language. – The Volta

Finally, there’s a YouTube Playlist of readings of poems from Queen of the Platform.

What’s next for my work on Matilda Fletcher and for Queen of the Platform? There’s a Goodreads giveaway for two signed copies going on through the first of August.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Queen of the Platform by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Queen of the Platform

by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Giveaway ends August 01, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

There are also copies of the book in my hometown public library, Des Moines Public Library, and my local library, Lincoln City Libraries. Later this year, I’m presenting a paper about my research at MMLA in Detroit.

Traveling the Urban Landscape Panel
MMLA
, 56th Annual Convention
November 13-16, 2014
Detroit, MI

And, it’s being taught this coming term in a university classroom. Hooray! (*Dear unknown poetry student, I hope you enjoy my dissertation that was turned into the book Queen of the Platform. I know I certainly was delighted to write about a super cool suffragist ancestor that I didn’t know I had until I began this research. Enjoy!*)

introducing cover artist Lauren Rinaldi for Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience

I’m very excited to have my new book, Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience now available from Lavender Ink. It is a campy, contemporary retelling of the Bluebeard myth, that charts the love of three sisters who each marry the same man upon the demise of the sister who preceded her. Bluebeard is usually framed as a story of blood and gore, but this telling focuses on the love each of his unfortunate wives felt, the first blush of romance and young marriage, the complicated turns of mature desire and the past we bring into our present affections.

bluebeard book arrives

When I went looking for cover art, I asked Les Femme Folles and Les Femme Folles Books editor Sally Deskins if she knew of any artists who had created anything that might make the perfect cover art for a bluebeard retelling. She suggested several artists, some of whom she’d recently featured in her journal and others in the Les Femmes Folles 2014 Calendar,  a calendar that featured art by artists like Wanda Ewing, Bonnie Gloris, Rachel Mindrup, Kristin Pluhacek, Megan Loudon Sanders, and Lauren Rinaldi. I researched these artists and others and then read the interview with Lauren Rinaldi in LFF. Here’s her bio:

Lauren Rinaldi is an artist whose work tells intricate and personal stories exploring the meanings of encountering the unexpected through painting.  Her works depicting the female figure are meant to inhabit the space where the line between sexual empowerment and objectification is blurred. She draws inspiration from children’s books, old Hollywood, art history, meditations, memories, badly written paranormal romance novels, her cat and her surrounding environment. Lauren currently lives and works in Philadelphia with her husband and son, and is represented by Paradigm Gallery + Studio.

The interview featured this beautiful piece:

Desire'sConquestAndDemise

Lauren’s artist description of the piece:

Desire’s Conquest and Demise
The Nightmare, which depicts an incubus, a horse and a sleeping woman. In my painting, the incubus is replaced by my deceased cat. The woman takes a position believed to encourage nightmares, and the horse (or mare), in my piece, is replaced by another woman. It is meant to simultaneously show a woman dreaming and the contents of her dream or fantasy. This painting is part of my most recent series of works exploring ideas about the pursuit of fantasies resulting in deterioration, decay or even death.

I contacted Lauren to see if she’d be interested in having her art on my book. She said, “Yes.” Yay! Check out more of her fabulous work here: http://laurenrinaldi.tumblr.com/ and http://www.laurenrinaldi.com/.

I gave a reading from Some Fatal Effects of Curiosity and Disobedience and more late last month in West Virginia. I’ll be reading from my work soon in Nebraska, as well as talking about my work on the radio. Here’s the information about those events. I hope to see you soon!

Reading and Interview with Michael Lyon & Rachel Mindrup
KIOS-FM, Omaha Public Radio
8:30 am, Monday, April 21, 2014
30th & Leavenworth, Omaha, NE

Reading and Show of Intimates and Fools with Fran Higgins
Les Femmes Folles
6 pm, Monday, April 21, 2014
Apollon, 1801 Vinton St
Omaha, NE 68108

Reading from Intimates & Fools and more with Sally Deskins and Cat Dixon
Noon, Tuesday, April 22, 2014
Connect Gallery, 3901 Leavenworth St
Omaha, NE

Reading of Women Write Resitance and more
Nebraska Book Festival
3:15 pm, Saturday April 26, 2014
Omaha, NE

Interview with Karen Sokolof Jovitch & Jody Vinci
It’s the Beat Radio show, Mighty 1290 KOIL (am)
noon-1pm, Saturday May 3, 2014
9740 Brentwood Rd
Omaha, NE 68411

 

“tales we carry around with us”: The Chapbook Interview with Sally Rosen Kindred

Sally1

Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013) is a retelling that explores aspects of Peter Pan by giving voice to Wendy, Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell. Why retell women’s stories? What is your process when writing poems based on pre-existing texts such as Peter Pan?

My interest in these kinds of retellings began with reading them. Some of my favorite poems do this kind of work—poems by H.D., Anne Sexton, Carol Ann Duffy, Louise Gluck, Rita Dove. I am a narrative thinker; my approach to identity, spirituality, family is narrative. I love story, and I get attached to stories. I think the stories we’re told as children, in particular, take on a special weight, illuminate and shape the rest of our lives. And so when these stories have people in them who don’t speak much but would probably have a lot to say, and there is some opportunity to re-connect with them, to give them new shape to reflect new ways to think about who they, and we, are—well for me, a project like that is irresistible.

I tend to focus on women’s stories because I’m a feminist, and there’s a lot of work still to be done in thinking about how gender and race are constructed in these tales we carry around with us. Peter Pan and Wendy is a rich, compelling tale; it’s also extremely problematic. Little girls still watch Disney’s Peter Pan today and want to be Wendy Darling. Many grown women in our country are walking around with Tinker Bell’s tiny fairy body in their heads. My sons, who are Latino and were very young when I first read Peter Pan aloud to them, wanted to know why there was a football team in the story—and I had to explain what J.M. Barrie meant by “Redskins.” Tiger Lily doesn’t even speak in the original Peter Pan and Wendy. She doesn’t even speak! She does in Darling Hands. The story of Peter Pan isn’t going away, but I can’t see holding onto it without doing this kind of work.

About the process: I start by reading and re-reading the primary text, as well as annotated versions and some criticism for context. Practically, it can be easier to get started each day on a sequence that works from a pre-existing text. I can always begin by returning to the original story. With Darling Hands, I often started my writing time by re-reading some part of Peter Pan and Wendy, copying down a sentence, and using it as a point of departure. I kept many such sentences as epigraphs.

It’s got to be careful work, because the reader already has a stake in the voices at play. If she cares about this story before she picks up the poem, if she believes that she knows the speaker, then I have to give her both something she knows (a voice, a scene, a feeling) and something she doesn’t (some reward for her return to this tale).


The cover art for Darling Hands, Darling Tongue is lovely. Can you talk about it?

The cover art, by the incredibly talented Nashay Jones (www.nyelarebirth.com), is one of my favorite things about the chapbook, and every time I see it, I’m grateful again for the chance to work with Hyacinth Girl Press. Editor Margaret Bashaar suggested several possible artists to work on the cover–artists who had done work for Hyacinth Girl Press before–and when I looked at their work, I was struck by Nashay Jones’s ability to depict girls and women of color in her work, giving them real bodies and convincing presence but also a kind of luminous magic and personality and strength that I just loved. The last thing I wanted on the cover was a pale golden Tinker Bell flying easily with a too-delicate, too-ethereal fairy body. Just as I hoped that my take on the Peter Pan story would not be a Disney echo, I was confident that Nashay Jones’s vision would be her own, and it is, and it’s stunning.

In the November/December 2013 issue of Poets & Writers, Jennifer Ciotta argues that “if you want to be a successful self-published or traditionally published author in today’s market, your mind-set should be: ‘It’s all about the money, honey.’ You have to be the businessperson and the author. Your job is to write a great book and sell it” (69). As an author of two full-length books, an award-winning chapbook, and an additional chapbook, discuss your experiences with publishing and promoting your collections and reaching your readers. 

Well, I have to say, I look at that comment, and I think, “What money?” Anyone who’s signed up for a lifetime of writing poetry is going to need to eat and keep warm somehow, and going to want to do her press proud, but she is unlikely to be “all about the money.” I have similar questions about wanting to be “successful.”  I mean, again, what is the definition of success when a person wants to spend her life with poems?

I’ve never had trouble finding someone else who would be willing to define literary success for me, but I have often been sorry to have gone looking. There will always be people—in MFA programs, in the latest issue of Poets and Writers—who will be happy to set the terms. It makes sense to listen to these folks, because I want to be part of a literary community. It also makes sense to tune them out when I’ve heard enough.

I do think it’s important to promote my work, though, so that I can find the readers who will be most interested in it. I owe it to the wonderful presses who have generously taken a chance on me, and I owe it to my poems. I also think I have to balance that need against my horror at having to “sell” myself, and the realistic limits on my energy—what I, as an introverted person, can reasonably do, and what’s effective, and so worth doing.  I want to spend more time writing than marketing—though I do love the opportunities that promoting a book has given me to visit classrooms and libraries, and meet people who love poems, and talk with people about poems, and share my work.

I feel lucky to be publishing during the era of social networking, because I am so much more comfortable making my first impressions about my writing through writing. I confess, I love the safety of being behind the screen. I feel much less pestery and invasive mentioning I have a new book in a feed someone can scroll on by, rather than walking up to them at…what, a cocktail party?  Do people go to cocktail parties, or is that just on tv? I don’t go to cocktail parties. Even at a poetry reading, I’m the type to sit in the audience, have the amazing auditory experience, and duck out afterwards without mingling.

I also love reaching people in a personal way through postal mail.  When Darling Hands, Darling Tongue was coming out, my kids and I made collage-and-paint postcards to celebrate—we stuck to fairy-related imagery, in honor of Tinker Bell—and we mailed them out to the first 25 people who said they wanted them. I have no idea if this was a “successful marketing campaign,” but it sure made a few days of summer vacation fly by. I’m pretty much up for any promotional activity that involves finger paints.  I liked that each postcard was different, and we spent time deciding who would get which one. It felt personal.  That’s my favorite kind of  “promotion”—the personal kind, that brings news of a book, without a sense of obligation.

What is inspiring you these days? 

I’m inspired by walking outside and reading field guides. I have a full-length book coming out this month, Book of Asters, that uses the science and lore of the aster family of flowers to talk about human families (and specifically my family). I’m also inspired by Grimm fairy tales—all those bad things that happen to girls in the woods, and how they marked us as children—and I’m excited about paintings, and bodies in paintings: reading Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall and Molly Brodak’s  chapbook The Flood has got me thinking about how our historical and cultural moment teaches us to see and represent bodies.  And right now my brain is crowded with the life of Charles Dickens, whose childhood, city and lexical adventures are finding their way into my work.

How are you trying to get better as a poet?

Mostly I try to get better by reading, and talking to others about reading, poetry. I also read a lot of novels and nonfiction (about those obsessions that feed writing: botany, history, theology, language—thank goodness for the library!). I read books on the other arts, and books on craft. I try to get better by writing, too, of course—which means scrawling on paper but also walking and waiting—and talking with others I trust about what I’m writing.

Your chapbook credo: A chapbook has the chance for concentration and intensity that a full-length book doesn’t always have, so a good chapbook is intimate in the hand and the mind. A great chapbook is bound with a ribbon!

Number of chapbooks you own: Over fifty.

Number of chapbooks you’ve read: Maybe forty? Forty-five? (Still a few in the to-read pile—I subscribe to Hyacinth Girl Press, and they just keep coming! Hooray!)

Ways you promote and serve other chapbook poets: I buy and read chapbooks and talk about them on Facebook and GoodReads. I also write reviews for publication.  My most recent review is of Molly Brodak’s The Flood in The Rumpus.

Where you spend your chapbook earnings: That money (such as it is) goes back into buying books, chapbooks, and the tea I drink while I read them.

Your chapbook wish: To write more and to read more chapbooks…preferably chaps bound with ribbons.

Residence: Columbia, Maryland

Job: I’m lucky to write from home, where I also take care of my children. I taught writing in the classroom for seven years, and then on-line for eight; I still love doing classroom visits and workshops in schools.

Chapbook education:  The first chapbook I read was Bodies of Water by Sarah Lindsay (Unicorn Press). I got it in high school and carried it around in my bookbag. I quoted from it on Mrs. Windham’s chemistry test.  Thus began my chapbook education.

Bio: I’m a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, who lives in Maryland and also has a special love for Pittsburgh. I’ve received fellowships from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. My chapbooks are Garnet Lanterns, winner of the Anabiosis Press Prize (2005) and Darling Hands, Darling Tongue (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2013), and my full-length collections are both from Mayapple Press: No Eden (2011) and Book of Asters (2014).  For more information, see sallyrosenkindred.com

“call me obsessed”: The chapbook interview: Wendy Barker on giving great readings, prose poetry, and sequencing chapbooks

In the July/August 2013 Issue of Poets & Writers, Kevin Samsell coordinator of events at Powell’s books asked several of his favorite readers how they’ve gotten good at readings. Dan Kennedy explains “before I walk into the room every damn nervous tic comes out and I think, especially, that makes for an entertaining evening for folks…I’m from a kind of working-class background where I feel like, you, know, people have lives and a lot to do…keep it interesting  and paced and moving.” (74). I have two questions. First, I’m curious about your sense of your own nervous tics and if they help or hinder you as you approach the stage and/or how have you observed it in other writers? Kennedy also speaks about class and the awareness of how busy we all are. Second, how do your background and the background of the audience influence your sense of how to approach those moments on stage?

I can’t say whether I’ve become “good at readings”—that’s a call for others to make—but I sure can say I enjoy them more than ever! Used to be, back when I first started, around 1981, I’d be so nervous before any reading that I’d descend into what one friend called “Wendy’s Blue Lagoon.” I couldn’t talk or interact with anybody much at all till after the reading. And for years I’d be shakily anxious before any reading, whether for five people or five hundred.

But now, I’ve “performed” enough that usually, and I mean usually, I’m not very nervous. Even still, I always find my nose running before it’s my turn at the podium, at the mic, so I have to fold a tissue into a book before I face an audience. Strangely, after that point, I seldom need the tissue at all. Same with water. I’m obsessively sipping water in the five or ten minutes before I’m “on,” but, once standing before a group of listeners, most often I don’t need anything at all.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not focused. Preparing for a reading takes time. I like to know what kind of audience it will be. Students? And what kind of students? Community college in South Texas, or in Brooklyn? Upper-level and grads at a high-tuition private university? A writers’ group? General community group? What ages? Ethnicities? Region of the country? Of course I can’t always predict, but if I know, for instance, that an audience will consist primarily of people over, say, fifty, I’ll plan a very different reading from one designed mainly for twenty-year-olds who are juggling two part-time jobs and a twelve-credit-hour schedule.

When it comes to planning, I’ve learned enormously from watching and listening to other poets read their work. Readers such as Galway Kinnell, Sandra Gilbert, David Kirby, Denise Duhamel, Alicia Ostriker, and Barbara Hamby are superb models. Although I think some of the best readings I’ve ever heard were given by Ruth Stone, who seldom said a word between reading each of her poems, I seem to do better by giving the audience a little background, a little breather between poems. And I’m enough of a hambone that I like to get a chuckle or two here and there. So I’ll spend as much time planning my between-poem remarks as I do practicing reading poems aloud.

And I time myself over and over. Once, back in the 80s, I gave a reading at a friend’s university where, without realizing it, I went on and on for an hour and a half. The person in charge of the reading was polite, but direct, and I’ve never done that again! I was just having too much fun, and the students were laughing at all my jokes! But that was a serious breach of poetry-reading-etiquette, and I like to think I’ve never goofed in that way since.

Another horrific mistake I once made, one even more disastrous, was to read a poem about my middle-school-aged son while he was in the audience. It was a traumatic experience for him, one for which I’ve had a hard time forgiving myself. So ever since, I’ve been especially careful to make sure that I’m not violating anyone’s privacy. Even before I’m introduced before a reading, I like to check out the audience to see if something I’d planned to read might offend someone for some reason. Sometimes after I’ve launched into a performance, I can tell from audience reactions that I should drop a particular poem from my script, or substitute something else.

But then, I can’t always read an audience accurately. Once I was giving a reading before about five hundred people, standing behind a huge podium on a large stage far above the audience. As I continued with my planned program, I began to notice that many heads in the audience were bent down. “Oh no!” I thought. “I’m bombing.” It was all I could do not to slink off the stage and run to my car in tears. But I soldiered on, and, after I concluded the reading, thanking everyone, I was amazed at the enthusiastic applause, all the heads bent up now, beaming at me. I sold dozens of books afterward, for people who said they were so moved by my poems they began crying, and had to look down at the floor in order not to burst out sobbing. I was reading poems from Let the Ice Speak, the collection published in 1991 with poems that deal with the death of my father.

So I have to be careful—I don’t always know how my words are being received. More recently, on the road with my latest book, Nothing Between Us, a “novel” in prose poems (more accurately, a thinly-disguised memoir) about my years teaching ninth grade in West (read mostly African American) Berkeley in the 60s, with a narrative thread following a passionate affair between a young, white, married (guess who) English teacher and an African American colleague, I have been especially nervous because the subject matter of these poems is racially and sexually explicit. But I’ve found that the people I’ve worried most about, African American listeners, have been the most receptive. Often after reading from this collection, I’ve had African Americans come up to me afterward, tears in their eyes, thanking me for my honesty, wanting to hug (and I’m always up for a good hug), and buying a dozen copies of the book, one for every family member.

One hurdle I have to jump almost as soon as I confront a mic has to do with my appearance. One new poet friend joked, after hearing me read, that she was shocked and delighted at my humor because I “look so proper.” I’m tall, blue-eyed, once blonde but now gray-silver-haired and have been described as “elegant.” So that may be one reason I work in the beginning of a reading to establish myself as a person who doesn’t need—or want—to handle the world with white kid gloves. I have to dispel any prejudices audience members might have based on my appearance. That’s one reason I don’t usually wear pastel colors, but prefer black and strong dark colors, lest I be taken for one of those “ladies who lunch” who don’t want to be shocked out of their comfort zone.

And how to decide which poems to read? If a new book has recently been published, of course I’ll want to feature those poems. But I think sometimes I err on the side of reading too much new or recent work, ignoring poems that appeared in past collections. But whether new poems or old, I always think of a reading as a kind of concert. I want to take the audience through a series of experiences, and so I plan with great care the way poems will build on each other. I may alternate, for instance, between a meditative mood, hilarity, and pain. I like to end with a funny poem, if possible.

I love giving readings. It’s a way of reaching out and touching others. Of sharing words that come from my inner self and that, I always hope, reach to the inner core of others. I love the conversations that build after a reading, when people come up and share experiences related to those I’ve spoken about in the poems I’ve just read. It’s a matter of creating threads among people, threads that can weave us closer together.

I taught your collection Between Frames (Pecan Grove Press, 2006) in my advanced poetry workshop on the chapbook last term and one of the things we talked about was your use of the prose form in the poems that focused on film. Your fabulous and smart book Nothing Between Us (Del Sol Press, 2009) also uses the prose poem, flash fiction form. In Michel Deville’s essay “Stranger Tales and Bitter Emergencies: A Few Notes on the Prose Poem in An Exaltation of Forms (2009) edited by Annie Finch and Katherine Varnes, he traces the origin of the form to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons (1914) and notes how the form uses “virtually all the devises of poetry” (262) as it “tends to include or exclude, subscribe to or subvert” (263) the genre. Though he notes the difficulty of such delineation, he divides the form into two camps, the “narrative” and the “language-oriented” trend (262), while noting that it is “a relatively young genre still in the process of self-definition. Moving back and forth between lyrical, narrative, philosophical, and critical material, the prose poem can be seen as part of a more general movement in contemporary literature towards the dissolution of generic boundaries” (266). First, given that the prose form only appears in certain poems in Between Frames, what is your sense of the unction of the form in that chapbook compared to its use in Nothing Between Us, entirely composed of the form? Second, if you had to assign yourself into one of Deville’s campus, which would you assign and why?

First, Madeline, a huge thank you for using Between Frames in your class! And bushels of thanks too for your kind comments about Nothing Between Us.

Yes, prose poems. How I love this form, which is a form between forms, neither prose nor poetry. I adore the fact that the line dividing a prose poem from a work of flash fiction is so slender it’s barely visible. And it’s a joy to find there’s so much interest in this form that can make use of every poetic device we find in lineated verse with the exeption of the line break. As you know, whereas in poems composed in lines, the tension between the the structure of the line and the structure of the sentence create pace, rhythm, and even meaning, in the prose poem it’s the sentence—and the play between sentences—that governs the poem’s rhythm.

Of course, although traditions of poetic prose have existed for centuries (with the Japanese haiban, the Chinese fu, texts transcribed from oral traditions of indigenous peoples, and passages from the King James Bible), it was the publication in 1869 of Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen that constituted the first major attempt by a Western writer to question accepted formal premises with emphases on end rhyme and meter. And recently, as you suggest, prose poems have become a popular sub-genre, with numerous anthologies of their own, including, for instance, Brian Clements and Jamey Dunhan’s An Introduction to the Prose Poem (2009).

I first discovered the prose poem form in Sandra Gilbert’s graduate poetry workshop at UC Davis in the late 70s, when Sandra had us read Robert Bly’s The Morning Glory. Those poems, to paraphrase Emily Dickinson, took the top of my head off. And one of the prose poems I wrote in that workshop, “Grandfather,” appears in my first collection, Winter Chickens (1990). But for years afterward, I’d ignored the form, until the early 90s, when I began a sequence of poems—funny ones, I hoped, and ironic—taking the various parts of male and female reproductive systems and having them speak. I have no idea where this notion came from, but I was on a roll, writing prose poems in the voices of ovaries, sperm, and fallopian tubes. I’d been working on this sequence when in 1994 I was selected to be a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute at Bellagio in Italy.

But once there, high above Lago di Como in June, breathing the scent of jasmine, everything, everything changed. That story, however, belongs in my response to your third question, so for now, I’ll simply say that, perhaps because I’d been writing in that form for months, the poems comprising Nothing Between Us emerged as prose poems from the start. There was no question of tinkering with line breaks and stanzas—the subject matter was too urgent. These pieces had to spring forth like gasps, as utterances so long withheld they could no longer be suppressed. And oh, yes, they’re narrative. They don’t have—didn’t have—the luxury of playing around with syntax. They’re trying to recreate voices I’d almost forgotten, incidents that I’d blocked from memory, but as I wrote, came flooding back. And I hope the poems are lyrical. I rely on metaphor throughout—weaving, threads, fabric work (all of which I was heavily “into” in the 60s) become metaphors for relationships, especially interracial relationships, and candy, sweets, ice cream become metaphors for the love relationship that builds through the book. And throughout, I was always concerned with sounds, with rhythms. Often I was playing with the rhythm of a particular kind of music, as in “Sax.” And even more often, I was playing with the rhythms of different kinds of colloquial speech.

But now to answer your other question, which you actually posed first. Between Frames was one of those rare joys for any poet: Palmer Hall—a beautiful human being, wonderful editor of Pecan Grove Press, and a fine poet greatly missed since his death several months ago—asked me to send him a manuscript for Pecan Grove. Now how many times does a writer, a poet, have that opportunity? I was honored, and used the chance to piece together some poems I’d been working on since around 1998. Most of the poems in the chapbook were written shortly after my divorce from my first husband and my moving in with, joining my life with, Steve Kellman, whom I married in 2005. They’re transitional poems, written during a period of grief over the much needed but still painful divorce and the difficulty of moving on. The collection culminates with the prose poem “Wedding Crashers,” playing with the plot of that movie along with the joy of Steve’s and my wedding.

Steve is not only a brilliant biographer and scholar, but he also serves as a book, film, and theater critic. So until recently, when he began focusing primarily on reviewing books and plays, I would join him for film screenings in San Antonio—sometimes he’d be assigned to review three or four movies a week. And, obsessive poet that I am, I found material for poems in many of the films, as well as in the dynamics involving the various film critics during the screenings. Probably since those pieces were dealing with a movie’s narrative, and since they often dealt with painful subjects, the prose poem form once again felt natural. With these pieces, I didn’t want interruptions other than paragraph breaks. There are only four of them in the chapbook. Quite frankly, although I tried, I couldn’t compose a whole series.

And soon, I was on to another obsession, poems about cloud formations and weather, short, lineated poems that comprised the next chapbook, Things of the Weather (2009)

I still love the prose poem form, and recently have begun using it again, finding it ideal to express complexities involving my mother’s bizarre British background that, I’m only now realizing, influenced me far more than I’d ever thought. So again, as with the poems in Nothing Between Us, material is oozing out, shaped by strange connections. And again, although the voice is conversational, I hope this work is lyrical, that it has a kind of internal music.

And what happened to the prose poems about reproductive parts? Abandoned. Never published. But they led to Nothing Between Us, to the prose poems in Between Frames, and about twenty years later, to the current work in my new manuscript-in-progress.

Obviously, if I had to subscribe to one of Michael Deville’s camps, I’d say all these poems belong squarely in the narrative group, with a hope that they’re also lyrical. But—and I quite realize that this predilection may place me in a “camp” that’s unfashionable—I’m not interested in writing more “language-oriented” poetry. As for using language that is packed, that does double-, triple-duty, I continue to believe that the prose poem can subvert all kinds of things, even when the language appears to be straightforward.

In her interview in the March/April 20013 issue of The Writer’s Chronicle Kim Barnes asks “what is coming of age like for women?” (108) and then cites her female students’ answers of “you start your period, you shave your legs, you get married, and you have babies” (108). Barnes notes that in her novel In the Kingdom of Men she wanted “to tell the difference between the coming-of-age story of men and that of women” (108). Your book Nothing Between Us seems to me to be a coming-of-age story, a maturing, a re-seeing of the world for the narrator. Can you talk about this?

I started writing the prose poems of Nothing Between Us: The Berkeley Years (which originally had been titled simply The Berkeley Years) in 1994, when I was almost fifty-two. I’d been married for thirty-two years.

As I mention in my response to your Question 2, the poems began while I was a resident at the Rockefeller Center in Bellagio. Surrounded by the lush foliage and blooms of its 18th-Century gardens and perched above all three branches of Lago di Como while looking toward the Alps, Bellagio’s Villa Serbelloni is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The landscape must have reminded me of the Berkeley hills, also lush with flowering shrubs and high over glimmering water. But what began the poems had much to do with a conversation one evening after dinner with another fellow at the Villa, a distinguished economist who reminded me of my father. Our group been engaged in a lively discussion about whether poems should tackle political sensitive subjects, and Pierre Crosson and I had kept on talking together after the rest of the residents had scattered to other corners of the room. Somehow I found myself telling Pierre about my experiences in the late sixties while a young, white, married middle-school English teacher in a primarily black West Berkeley neighborhood a few blocks from the newly established Black Panthers’ headquarters. He seemed spell-bound, and burst out, “You must write about this!” What I hadn’t told him was that, during those years, I became involved in an intense affair with an African American colleague. I simply said that I couldn’t write about those years because the subject matter was politically incorrect and besides, I had a husband whose feelings I needed to consider. Pierre’s response was stunning: “Oh, hang incorrectness, and hang husbands!” he cried. “When,” he went on, his voice raised above the group’s conversational hum, “have male artists ever considered the feelings of their women? You’ve got to start writing about all this!”

I did. The next morning, high in my 11th-Century tower room, I wrote a draft of what became the final poem in Nothing Between Us. “After” is really a summary of the whole book. As if the events of that period came pouring out in one gasp, one small paragraph. And from that point on, for four years, the poems burbled forth.

The book could definitely be seen as a “coming of age” story. A story of a young woman in an environment that often feels (and is) hostile, even dangerous. Of a young woman who, although she had wept at Martin Luther King’s famous speech, and saw herself as a passionate supporter of civil rights, nevertheless encounters hatred because of her whiteness and unfamiliarity with the backgrounds of many of her students.

But the narrator of the “novel” is also not prepared for the “bullshit” of many of her male colleagues, and, having never thought of herself as attractive, is surprised and thrilled, rather than offended, at finding herself a target of sexual attention. Partly because her husband is immersed in his own work and is so often critical of her, Ty’s ” invitations” ultimately persuade the narrator to become involved with him, even though, as she says in “Eugene Thompson, The Hall Monitor,” she’d never thought about “going to bed with more than one person.” So the book is definitely a coming-of-age story in terms of a sexual awakening.

And of course, it’s an awakening into the realities of what it meant at that time to be black and to be white in the United States. The narrator learns much more than bedroom knowledge throughout the book. And in the end, it’s a “sadder but wiser” person we’re left with. Interracial marriages at that time were not only outlawed but often just plain dangerous in many parts of the U.S. As Ty warns the speaker in the poem “Bullshit,” when she pleads with him to marry her, she doesn’t “know how hard it could get.” In Berkeley, okay—there were, as the first poem in the book suggests, a number of mixed-race marriages. But other parts of country? You could be killed. (I still think of Obama’s mother’s courage.)

But Ty isn’t the marrying type, and since, as the narrator says in “Couple,” I couldn’t imagine not being married to somebody,” she returns to her white husband, to her marriage, although it feels like “going dead,” “clos[ing] down shop,” and “mov[ing] back to the desert,” as she laments in “Last.”

Sadder but wiser? Oh yes. And with a painful sense of what has been lost. Of the poignancy of what could have been. Of a missed chance.

The collection, however, was also a “coming of age” in another sense for me as a writer. For decades I’d buried memories of this period of my life deep underground, but once I tapped the vein, the material flowed out like a gushing oil well. And in reliving that period in my earlier life, I found myself at a turning point in the present. Although my marriage had been rich in many ways, there were underlying rifts growing so large that, on my own at Bellagio, I began to realize they could never be closed. This is not the place to describe the problems of the marriage, but to say that the writing of the “novel” (which is really a memoir) empowered me finally to leave that marriage and to begin life anew in my middle-fifties. It was as T.S. Eliot said, a “use of memory” for “liberation / From the future as well as the past.”

In love the conceit of Poems’ Progress (Absey and Co., 2002) and the ways you talk about the changes your poems go through as they’re revised—it’s such an important book for writers, for students, for scholars. I’m wondering if you can talk about the movement of poems into books and chapbooks. How important is it for you to craft and develop the individual poem, and then craft those individual poems into a chapbook, as opposed to simply having a chapbook length collection of poems? Do you write poems towards a series/book with that idea of the book propelling each new poem into creation? Do your poems change radically when they’re placed into a series?

I’m so glad you like the way Poems’ Progress is organized! That book is the product of a dream relationship between author and editor. The encouragement, patience, and expertise of Ed Wilson at Absey & Co. did much to create that book, which includes several poems I hadn’t been able to fit in earlier collections.

Though my first two books, Winter Chickens (1990) and Let the Ice Speak (1991) don’t contain poems consciously written as parts of a sequence, individual sections include poems following certain themes. The second section of Let the Ice Speak, for instance, is composed of poems that revise fairy tales or myths, and the first section includes poems about family memories. The second section of Winter Chickens includes poems about travel. Those two collections were a nightmare to organize! I’d removed a number of poems from the manuscript I’d been organizing, until Sandra Gilbert said I’d been too ruthless. So I pulled out all the poems I’d deep-sixed, and made two piles, one of more kitchen-, home-centered poems written in the late 70s and early 80s, and one of the more family-oriented poems that had been written mostly in the late 80s, around the time of my father’s death. The first pile became Winter Chickens, and the second, Let the Ice Speak. Amazingly, only a couple of months after I began to circulate the two manuscripts, both were accepted, Winter Chickens by David Bowen of Corona Publishing Company, and Let the Speak by Joe Bruchac of Ithaca House Press.

And like those two earlier collections, the poems in Way of Whiteness (Wings Press, 2000) were written poem by poem, ultimately organized to follow—albeit loosely—an emotional arc, if not a narrative one. Most of those poems were composed in the early 90s, around the time I was turning fifty.

It was in 1994, as I mention in my response to your second question, that I began consciously writing in sequences. And, with a few exceptions, since then I’ve composed most of my poems as parts of a series.

But you asked how important it is for me to craft the individual poem and then work it into a chapbook or collection. And of course, the writing and rewriting (and rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting) of each poem is crucial. But more and more, since Nothing Between Us and Poems from Paradise (Word Tech, 2005), I’ve thought in sequences. Like the Berkeley poems of Nothing Between Us, Poems from Paradise also began at Bellagio. The little poems included in that book also deal with the subject of a love relationship, but in a very different way. I’d been working with a Bengali collaborator, Saranindranath Tagore (a descendant of the Nobel-Prize-winning Indian poet) translating the final poems of Rabindranath Tagore, and had been immersed in Eastern thought and poetry. So the pieces in Poems from Paradise speak of a human love relationship as a movement toward a sacred union. Throughout, I was also trying to revise the story of Adam and Eve—a sort of “why did they have to leave the garden” over-arching question that also seemed to ask “Why did they have to be separated”? The poems first appeared as a chapbook called Eve Remembers, published by Sudeep Sen’s fine Aark Aarts Press. But the poems wouldn’t stop, so eventually they grew into a book.

You asked if poems change when they’re positioned in a series. With the Berkeley poems, I made many changes as I began to work them into a book manuscript. I realized that I had to change names of various characters and also combine qualities of characters, so that a reader would follow  certain students and teachers throughout, along with following the love story between the speaker and the character Ty. I went back and forth looking for images that worked as controlling metaphors—like candy, sweets, weaving, threads, birds, and intensified those. I had to make sure the chronology worked in terms of the narrative arc. So, many of those prose poems did change, and change radically, after I began organizing the book. I wrote the last of those poems in 1998, but continued to tinker with the manuscript right up until 2008, when Michael Neff accepted it for Del Sol Press.

Since 1998, I’ve followed several other themes. Around 2000, I became fascinated by phenomena having to do with weather—the names of cloud formations, for instance. I read everything I could find about weather, even annoyed my patient husband by wanting to watch the Weather Channel. Those poems resulted in the chapbook Things of the Weather (2009), thanks to Pudding House Press.

After the obsession with the landscape above and beyond us, in the atmosphere, left me, I became interested in more earthly subjects, like colors, and where they come from, how paint is made, for instance. Several of these poems morphed into ekphrastic poems having to do with colors and their effects on us. But I only managed to complete around a dozen of these before becoming gripped by another obsession. Actually, come to think about it, there might be enough for a chapbook! Which, by the way, I see as a wonderful format—one that can include a series of related poems that often can be relished in one sitting, and then, of course, reread and reread.

In 2006, after dealing with the death of my mother in 2004 and some health problems of my own, I was seized by impulses to write about teaching. I began teaching in 1966, at first in a high school, then junior high, and then, of course, college, so at that point, I’d been teaching for forty years. The teaching poems burst out one after the other in torrents, although, especially because each poem followed a particular spatial form, finishing one often took many months and hundreds of revisions. These were poems about the intersections of literary texts, students’ comments, reactions, their lives, realities, and mine. Most have seen publication in journals, and one of them, “Books, Bath Towels, and Beyond,” which originally appeared in The Southern Review, is included in Best American Poetry 2013. The book manuscript is—I think—about finished, and I’m hoping for a good publisher.

And now? I’m working on poems about my mother’s bizarre British heritage, with the effects of her family and their past on the present. Hawthorne’s character Holgrave cries out in The House of the Seven Gables, “Shall we never, never get rid of this Past”? But as Faulkner famously said, “The past is never past.” So I’m playing with the notion of past influences on the present along with an acute sense of the ways our behaviors—and possessions—past and present—affect each other as humans and, although this may sound grandiose, also the planet and its amazing flora and fauna. It’s a big subject, requiring much research, but once again, I can’t seem to stop.

So, in brief (finally!), ever since somewhere around 1994, I sure do think in sequences. You can just call me obsessed!

Your chapbook Eve Remembers (Aarak Arts, 1996), which has a super funky cover that I adore, became part of your full collection Poems for Paradise (WordTech, 2005), a book published nine years after the chapbook. Sometimes poets have published poems they never collect into books/chapbooks, poems in chapbooks never folded into books, or sometimes whole chapbooks that are never folded into books. I’m always curious about what poets abandon or uncollect as well as what we decide to transport from a chapbook into a book, especially when there is a gap of several years. Can you talk about that process for these two collections and/or others? Is there, for example, a future book place for the lovely, fun, and smart poems in your Pudding House chapbook Things of the Weather (2008), perhaps nine years from it’s publication date, in say 2017?

I’m so glad you like the cover of Eve Remembers! I love it too—it looks rather like a richly embroidered fabric. As I mention in my answer to Question 4, Sudeep Sen, a fine Bengali poet who was visiting San Antonio in—1995?—designed and brought out the chapbook through his press Aark Arts. I was thrilled, because I wasn’t sure those little poems added up to anything at all.

And then, they just kept on coming. I couldn’t stop them. All the poems that grew out of Eve Remembers and are included in Poems from Paradise were written during the same period I was working on Nothing Between Us, between 1994 and 1998. During those years I was painfully examining love relationships on many levels, aware of attempting to revision that primal love story set in the Garden of Eden. Not surprisingly, it was in 1998 that I divorced my then husband of thirty-six years. Shortly after, I joined my life with Steve Kellman, whom I married in 2005. The last poem in Poems from Paradise, “If a God,” was really written for Steve, and is the only poem in the sequence for which I had him in mind.

Now as for the poems in Things of the Weather (and again, Madeline, I’m thrilled you like the collection), I wished I could have kept the series going! As I explained in my response to Question 4, those poems were written around 2000-2004, but then my interests shifted to earth and its colors—where various colors originate, how they’re manufactured for our use, what they suggest. During that time I also wrote a group of ekphrastic poems. My recent poems, begun around 2007, about teaching, literary texts, and my experiences in the classroom, obsessed me for about six years. I’m currently circuating a book-length manuscript of poems on those subjects.

What is inspiring you these days?

And what is inspiring me these days, other than reading so many marvelous poets, too many to name here? I subscribe to numerous journals, and try to follow the work of poets whose work I particularly admire.

How are you trying to get better as a poet?

As for how I try to become a better poet, I would simply say I work at it. I read and read and write and revise and send my stuff to other poets whose advice I trust and revise and rewrite some more. Over and over I ask my patient husband’s advice. The process is never-ending! And it’s rich, it’s what keeps me going. I adore exchanging poems with other writers—it’s one of my favorite things to do in life.

Number of chapbooks you own and number of chapbooks you’ve read: I’m not sure how many chapbooks I own. Among my two or three thousand books of poems by British and American poets, collections of translations from languages other than English, and anthologies of poetry, I’d say only about a hundred are chapbooks. It’s a wonderful format—perfect for a long series, with a length perfect for reading at one sitting.

Ways you promote other poets: I hope I promote other poets in several ways, including my eagerness to exchange poems with other writers and my propensity to purchase collections of poetry. Here at the University of Texas at San Antonio, I’ve been active in bringing poets to our campus (and raising the funds to do so) since 1983. I also make sure that, for every poetry workshop I teach, the students buy at least seven or eight poetry collections published within the past few years. And in my position as poetry editor of Persimmon Tree: An Online Journal of the Arts for Women Over Sixty (edited by Sue Leonard), I orchestrate twice-yearly contests judged by other poets whom I select. The journal is a quarterly—so the other two annual issues feature a well-known poet of my choosing. I have a large correspondence with poets from all over the United States and beyond, and I cherish those friendships, even though many of those folks I seldom see outside of—thank goodness for the conference—AWP.

Where you spend your poetry earnings: Poetry earnings? What a question! The occasional $50 or $100 for a poem, or an honorarium for a reading, simply contributes to the “general fund.” Maybe I should put those modest earnings aside, but so far, they’ve simply gone to help keep life going.

Inspirations and influences: As for inspiration and influences, they are too many to name. But I must start with the brilliant poet, teacher, and critic Sandra M. Gilbert, who, at the University of California at Davis (where I received my Ph.D. in English), mentored me and supported my work in ways I can never repay. And Ruth Stone was a terrific poetry grandma to me. It was Ruth who said to me after I’d asked her if my early poems were any good: “Well, Honey Baby, can you stop?” That was the most important question of all, and of course, my answer was and continues to be “No.” Alicia Ostriker has been a giant support and inspiration also—I think of her as my “Poetry Auntie”—and I am deeply grateful for her own marvelous work and wisdom. These three women have, at different times and in very different ways, through their mentoring, their writing, and their examples, all been giant influences and have provided major inspiration.

My readings have changed, of course, over the years. I know the poems in the collection currently circulating, The Teaching Poems, were influenced by the work of David Kirby. Poems I’m writing now about my mother’s family have been energized by the work of Martha Collins and perhaps also by Kevin Young’s poems. But again, there are too many great poets to mention—past and present—whose work has fed me and continues to

Your own chapbooks, for instance, which I’ve just received, are a delight, and are serving to get the juices going in new, exciting ways. My colleagues Catherine Kasper and David Ray Vance provide support and inspiration in ways too numerous to name. The ongoing work of the poet-friends with whom I regularly exchange poems proves highly influential even if indirectly—friends Ralph Black, Kevin Clark, Jackie Kolosov, and Hannah Stein all provide not only encouragement and necessary valuable feedback on my own poems but also much food for new work. And I must add that I show every piece I write to Steve, whose advice is always spot on.

Residence and Job: I live in Shavano Park, northwest of San Antonio. Steve and I relish our two acres of live oak, mesquite, juniper, Mexican persimmon, and sumac, where we are visited by dozens of species of birds, and, often, by deer. I moved to San Antonio in 1982, to accept a teaching position at the University of Texas at San Antonio where I’m now poet-in-residence and the Pearl LeWinn Endowed Professor of Creative Writing.

Bio: Here’s an “official” bio much longer than you ever wanted: My poems have appeared in Poetry, Southern Review, Gettysburg Review, Boulevard, Mid-American Review, among other journals. A poem of mine is included in Best American Poetry 2013, and two have been reprinted on www.versedaily.com, as well as in numerous print anthologies, including, I’m thrilled to say, Women Write Resistence (2013), your fabulous collection. My books of poetry include Nothing Between Us: The Berkeley Years (runner-up for the Del Sol Prize, Del Sol Press, 2009), Poems from Paradise (WordTech, 2005), Way of Whiteness (Wings Press, 2000), Let the Ice Speak (Ithaca House, 1991), and Winter Chickens (Corona Publishing Co., 1990). Chapbooks include Eve Remembers (Aark Arts, 1996), Between Frames (Pecan Grove, 2005), and Things of the Weather (Pudding House, 2009). I’ve also published a selection of poems accompanied by autobiographical essays, Poems’ Progress (Absey & Co., 2002). My translations (with Saranindranath Tagore) from the Bengali of India’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore: Final Poems (George Braziller, 2001), received the Sourette Diehl Fraser Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. I’m the author of Lunacy of Light: Emily Dickinson and the Experience of Metaphor (Southern Illinois University Press, 1987) as well as co-editor (with Sandra M. Gilbert) of The House is Made of Poetry: The Art of Ruth Stone (Southern Illinois University Press, 1996). Recipient of an NEA fellowship, a Rockefeller residency fellowship at Bellagio and the Mary Elinore Smith Poetry Prize from The American Scholar, I serve as poetry editor of Persimmon Tree, An Online Journal of the Arts for Women Over Sixty. My work has been translated into Hindi, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Bulgarian.