1. The Orange Suitcase is your second book, the first being Do Something! Do Something! Do Something!, published last year with Ampersand. How did your work change from one book to the next?
Well, first let me say thanks for having me in your digital space for this conversation! I’m excited to spend some time with your questions.
The differences between the work on the first and the second: I think the work changed in as many ways as I have changed. The Orange Suitcase is more personal, [more] intimate, more confident in tone, more sure of itself. DSDSDS is quite a bit sadder, confused, twisted, and overall just much more concerned with philosophical, existential questions.
Writing DSDSDS was a whiskey-fueled wrestling match. Writing The Orange Suitcase was a conversation over coffee.
2. Your stories are often very short—less than a page, three pages at the most—all seemingly disparate snatches of the narrator’s life. What ties them together thematically and philosophically?
The pieces were written in a very short span of time, from a very specific narrative place, and I think they’re linked by that reflective voice—that watchful, remembering person, whatever his philosophy might be. Their brevity has to do with that too, I think. Most of the stories didn’t get written down until I had it complete in my head. The first drafts were fairly complete thoughts—the dozens and dozens of revisions were more about language than content.
3. In “Something About Poetry” you say, “A structure that will not hold water / is not, / and should never be confused with / a waterfall.” In your opinion, what makes a story a waterfall?
It’s easy to justify writing that doesn’t work very hard by convincing yourself that it’s doing something better than what you’d intended. In this context, a waterfall is simply a story that works, that doesn’t leak or whine or flop or break down.
4. You’re in your last semester at City College right now, completing your MFA in fiction. What has been your experience in an MFA program?
Actually, not quite at my last semester yet. But this is the end of year four, so you’d think I’d have finished. The MFA has been a good experience for me. It established readers and an audience (the workshop) that I didn’t have when I started, and I think are necessary to learn what you don’t know. Two of the chapters of DSDSDS were originally workshop pieces. The MFA also introduced me to other writer types, many of whom were doing crazy kinds of writing it never occurred to me to do. Figuring out how other people go about the whole writing struggle has been the biggest benefit. Writers (broadly speaking) are weirdoes, and it’s nice to meet and spend time with other weirdoes, to talk about the super-weirdoes whose weirdosity inspires you.
5. You often refer to other artists in your work—Elliott Smith, Salinger, Franzen, Pollock—how has the work of your predecessors shaped your own?
I really don’t mean to refer to them that much. In these instances the mentions are more about characterization, setting, tone. Of those in The Orange Suitcase, Elliott Smith is the only one that really holds a place of sentiment in my heart—and the piece “Something About The Zombies” centers around hearing of his death for the first time because of that. The rest serve more as adjectives than anything else. Franzen and Pollock’s appearances serve to illustrate how the Cedar Tavern changed over time (from Pollock’s banning, to Franzen’s use in The Corrections) not because of any indebtedness to their work. Salinger is in the book because that opening scene in “Something About My Blood and Yours” is more or less a true story and, well, I felt like Salinger fit. (This explanation is all more about avoiding the actual question you asked, because I’m not really sure how to answer how the work of “my predecessors” has shaped mine. To be honest, the writer whose work has most influenced me in my life is probably Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin and Hobbes. More recently, I’ve been reading a lot of Diane Williams and Roy Kesey, both of whom I’m enjoying quite a bit.)
6. The “orange suitcase” is a recurring image in this book, appearing first in a monologue spoken by the narrator’s grandmother and last in the hands of a fiancee, who has filled it with photographs for an anniversary present. When did you first start exploring this prop in your writing? How has it changed over time?
The title story mentions a Lego orange suitcase that the narrator dreams about as a boy. That was the image that first made me think, “I want to write a book of short memories,“ and the suitcase existed solely for the purposes of the book. I haven’t really thought of using it elsewhere. It’s not so much a prop to me as an image I explored in these pieces until it felt done.
7. You reference Moby Dick more than once. I love hearing writers talk about this book. What does it mean to you?
Well, Moby Dick is that monster novel I keep trying to write and keep failing at. I pick it up often just to read the sermon to the sharks, or that wonderful final scene with Tashtego’s fist grasping at the bird, or the chapter that’s basically a Wikipedia entry of the color white and its cultural and historical meanings, or, or, or…It’s the American Crime and Punishment. I want to go read it right now.
8. What is the relationship of prose to poetry in your writing?
I don’t distinguish the two. “Something About Rings” is a somewhat loose Petrarchan sonnet because that’s how I wanted to write that scene, and some reviewers have referred to different “stories” as being more “prose poems” than stories, but fail to really give a rationale. Writing is writing, words are words. The distinction between prose and poetry is something like distinguishing a Pollock drip painting from a Leyendecker oil illustration. Painting is painting. There are lots of ways to do it, but let’s not argue over broad categorizations.
9. Where can someone get their hands on the orange suitcase?
The book’s being distributed by Small Press Distribution (SPD), so that‘s a good spot (www.spdbooks.org). Amazon is out of stock as of this writing, but for the time being, while some stores are still waiting for shipments and whatnot, you can order through my website and Paypal. I’ve got a limited supply of copies I‘ll sign and inscribe and all that (www.josephriippi.com).
Q: Leslie, you are the author of five books, including The Resurrection Trade, Eat Quite Everything You See, Yesterday Had a Man in It, Ungodliness and Staying Up For Love.
You’ve also published two chapbooks and are awaiting an upcoming 2012 book release, Y, on Graywolf Press. How have you changed over time as a poet and a thinker?
A: I’m certain that change has occurred, but I don’t think I’m the best person to chronicle or evaluate that change. Probably the most important agent of change is one’s reading diet, what we were reading when we wrote a particular poem or book—and what we read in general. Keeping that net as wide as possible has been a particular goal of mine. And wouldn’t I love it if my university asked me, every year, instead of the usual final report, to simply chronicle my reading influences for the year! I’m sure I’d be a better writer for it, and probably a better teacher too.
Q: In your collection, The Resurrection Trade, your work points toward some philosophical and historical notions of feminism, humanity and the meaning of beauty. You are able to weave important discussion points throughout your work. How important or conscious, to you, is it to create poetry that urges the reader to think about the way we see the world?
I can't imagine any serious poet who doesn't think consciously and constantly about the necessity of working toward this goal. It's essential, both in its gesture toward the reader and in its massive challenge for the writer.
Q: Your upcoming work, Y, is set to be released by Graywolf Press. What are the elements that have inspired that collection?
The forthcoming book is a poetic study of the y chromosome's portrayal in popular and medical texts, as well as an exploration of several famous cases of feral children, the historical and medical arts of reading the human face, and technical and popular accounts of vocal development in young boys, Y is ultimately an exploration in poetry, sometimes playful, sometimes deadly serious, of male developmental issues in biological, social, cultural, scientific and theological conceptions of male childhood (which is to say: meditations on toilets, toys, children's books and music, circus performers and other significant subjects in the contemporary male child's field of experience).
Q: Your aesthetic is grounded in beauty, including your descriptions, ideas and stories. Even while discussing topics of macabre or gruesome nature, your language doesn’t fail to shimmer. This is difficult for some poets. Many people hold the belief that poetry must be beautiful, while some modern trends show poetry that is so concise and experimental that it appears devoid of sincerity. A poet once told me that poets today are afraid of being beautiful. Do you think this is so?
A: Well, beauty is a mental construct, so many artists find absolute notions about it suspect, myself included. Fear of it is a different matter, perhaps, but we all should certainly be open to questions about it, and I try to stay conscious of the constructed aspects of the beautiful in language even as I am also very attracted to it. It is an essential part of the poet’s job to remain open to new and evolving conceptions of beauty both in language and in life, and I am always trying for that as well as trying to resist a kind of mourning for former conceptions of beauty.
Anyone who reads much poetry of the past will be caught sometimes in this mourning process, but I have to say that I admire a lot of new, young poets who seem quite a bit more free of nostalgias than I am, and can read and use poets of the past without feeling quite so attached to certain notions about them as I am. One “beauty” I really can’t give up, though, is my love of a gorgeous sentence: I love hypotactic unraveling of an idea, and I can’t quite get, in my own work, to what I think of as full complexity without that elaborate syntax. That’s not, however, to say that other poets can’t arrive at conceptions of beauty in other ways, elliptical ways particularly, and as we see more good poets working with a variety of elliptical styles, we will surely reach a point (if we have not already) where it becomes as conventional as a conception of stylistic beauty as any other.
Q: Who are some of the poets and writers that have inspired your work? Where do you find inspiration?
A: I’m not even going to attempt to answer this one because there are too many, and at any given moment, the sources of inspiration are different, often having less to do with what I "like" reading than what I need to be reading. My mind has an uncanny way of gravitating toward what it needs, and I might sample half a dozen different books before I find one that drives me (hence the great piles of partially read books all over my house just waiting for some moment when my mind shifts directions). A great deal of what has inspired my work has probably been outside the realm of poetry; even inside poetry, inspiration comes from odd places, as easily from reading uninspired work as from reading those pieces that take off the top of your head.
Q: What can you attribute to your successes and prolific nature? The path to becoming an established poet is always questioned, by emerging poets, students in M.F.A. programs and those whose poetic careers seem to have lulled out. How can one consistently work being seen in the poetry field?
A: It’s funny you should ask that question because I was just this morning thinking that my output has been much less prolific than that of many others my age, and though I sometimes fret about that, I like to remember poets like Elizabeth Bishop who made their reputations on a relatively small output which left us all with a taste for more. Public readings of poetry are often like that too. A wonderful poet who yammers on and on past the allotted time will certainly wear out his audience’s welcome, whereas the one who gets up and delivers several real gems and leaves the audience wanting more is the one I’d rather be.
I was lucky enough to publish my first book early on, but I write more and more slowly with each book now. I put a lot more poems in the “dead” pile than I used to, and that’s partly because I have the freedom to do that. I don’t feel compelled to publish everything I write, and in fact, I think a lot of successful poets probably publish too much. Even when the work is fully competent, putting too much of it out in the public tends to dilute it, but so many of us who teach are under great pressure to publish constantly. I think it’s better to publish a few strong pieces in a few well regarded journals than to blast dozens of poems out into the internet just to get noticed. For a poet, working under the radar of great notice is actually a blessing many of us don’t value enough.
In a world where we’ve all given up so much privacy with our presence on Facebook, Twitter and personal websites, there is something to be said for being hard to find! It might hurt our sales, but it might also keep us more honest, more focused on what’s important. Nobody gets into writing poetry for the fame of it, or at least nobody should. I love repeating poet Bill Matthews’ quip that “famous poet is an oxymoron,” and I think we will find, in retrospect that many of the finest poets of our time were working quietly behind the scenes, some even running from the limelight and the scourge of rampant careerism.
Q: What do you think are some of the ways poets can take their work from being interesting to being extraordinary? What are some key ideas you keep in mind when writing and editing your work?
A: There are probably as many ways of doing this as there are people writing, and so any answer I might give would be a bit ludicrous. There are the usual bits of advice, to take risks, to ask questions, to fight against your own strengths, but I think there is still probably no better advice than to read a great deal, and particularly to read and to teach, if you are lucky enough to have poetry classes, work that you don’t completely like, but which seems to be doing something interesting anyway.
My students are often incredulous when I admit to them, usually at the end of the semester, that I chose a text for the class I didn’t really love. They assume that we teachers are always picking our favorites for them, but if I did that, I wouldn’t be learning anything myself, and teaching situations in which we aren’t learning anything are also teaching situations in which our students aren’t learning anything. So I teach different books every semester and try to mix books I admire from the get go with books that operate under aesthetics very different from my own, and I work together with my students to find the value there.
Leslie Adrienne Miller’s sixth collection of poems, Y, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in 2012. Her previous collections include The Resurrection Trade (Graywolf, 2007), Eat Quite Everything You See (Graywolf, 2002), Yesterday Had a Man In It (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1998), Ungodliness (CMU, 1994) and Staying Up For Love (CMU, 1990), as well as several chapbooks of poems: No River, chosen by William Stafford as the winner of the Stanley Hanks Chapbook Award from St. Louis Poetry Center, and Hanging on the Sunburned Arm of Some Homeboy, (Domino Impressions Press 1982).
She has been the recipient of a number of prizes and awards including the Loft McKnight Award of Distinction, judged by Alice Fulton, two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, the PEN Southwest Discovery Award, two Writers-at-Work Fellowships, a Pushcart Prize, the Billee Murray Denny Award in Poetry, and a number of prizes from literary magazines, including the Anne Stanford Poetry Prize, the Strousse Award from Prairie Schooner, and the Nebraska Review Poetry Award.
She has also held residencies and fellowships with Le Château de Lavigny in Morges, Switzerland; Fundación Valparaíso in Mojácar, Spain; Literarisches Colloquium, Berlin, Germany; the Hawthornden Castle International Writers Retreat in Lasswade, Scotland; the NALL Art Association Vence, France; and with Arts International in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Leslie Adrienne Miller’s poems have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Best American Poetry 2007, American Poetry Review, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, Georgia Review, Ploughshares, and Crazyhorse. A Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, since 1991, she holds degrees in creative writing and English from Stephens College (B.A. 1978), the University of Missouri (M.A. 1980), the Iowa Writers Workshop (M.F.A., 1982), and the University of Houston (Ph.D., 1991).
Q) Tell us a little about what you do, Robert. You seem very busy – putting together the Writers Market books for each year in addition to blogging for Writer’s Digest (Poetic Asides) as well as writing and publishing your own poetry. What is a day in your life as a poet and editor?
A) I actually spend a lot of time on database-related projects. I usually try to blog a few times each week, and I write poems almost every day (I keep pen and paper close at all times). I try to read a lot each day, and my job involves a lot of communication, via e-mail, phone, social media, etc.
Q) In putting together the Writers Market books, it seems you have an inherent love for the literary world. How important is it for writers to continue submitting and writing although it may be sometimes become stressful. Writers complain of a lack of pay, painful rejections and editors sometimes remark upon a thankless job. Writers Market proves that in the literary world, there is still a need for journals and magazines.
A) Perseverance is one of the most important traits a writer can have. Successful writers are usually the ones who did not give up the first, second, or fifty-third time. And to have that perseverance, I think writers need two things: a great passion for writing and friends who will keep them motivated.
Q) You have been publishing poetry (most recently) in Ghost Ocean Magazine, Hobble Creek Review, Otoliths, The Smoking Poet and MiPoesias. Do you plan on releasing a published collection?
A) It’s one of the things I’ve been working on the past year. I’m pretty passionate about what I’m doing, and I have confidence that when the time is right it’ll happen. And it’ll rock!
Q) What do you think about the poet who publishes across a wide spectrum of online literary journals ? Does this somehow suggest that the bigger name, print magazines aren’t the only publishing goal for a modern writer?
A) Yes, I don’t think the bigger name, print magazines are a right fit for many writers, especially those who are still new to publishing or who are doing some really groundbreaking work. That doesn’t mean all poets shouldn’t try to get into the bigger journals, but I do think it’s good to have a diversified portfolio.
Q) You connect with hundreds of people through Writers Digest’ Poetic Asides. I subscribe to it and read it when I’m not editing. What is something important you’ve gleaned from working with so many writers?
A) One thing I’ve learned is that writers are often game to do about anything if you only think to ask them. Most writers are very passionate and happy to help other writers.
Q) What are some of the best ways that writers can promote their work and their name?
First, get an account with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Second, start a blog. Third, be polite and helpful and relevant. Fourth, submit your work regularly. Nobody will care about your writing if you don’t get it out there.
Q) What do you look for in a good poem? Some people say a poem requires feeling. Others say a good poem is built by tight knowledge of the craft. A middle ground, for me, is perfect. What are your ideas? You recently selected poems for the Caper Literary Journal anthology– after reading all of the 2010 poems published in our journal up until this Fall. Why made the poems you selected stand out to you?
A) For me, it could be any of the above: craft, language, humor, seriousness, layered meanings, otherworldly, unique, and so on. I think mainly what I love in poetry is something that’s unique to me--even if it’s a poem using a familiar form or covering familiar subject matter. A poem that surprises and delights me in an authentic way is always something I crave.
Q) What is coming up in the life of Robert Lee Brewer for the year of 2011?
A) The main thing right now is that I’m working on the 2012 editions of Writer’s Market and Poet’s Market. I’m overhauling both and trying--as usual--to make them the best editions ever. I already have a long list of 2011 goals which I’ll release on my personal blog(http://robertleebrewer.blogspot.com) around the end of 2010 or beginning of 2011.
Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of the Writer’s Market books, Poet’s Market and WritersMarket.com, in addition to maintaining the Poetic Asides blog for Writer's Digest. Brewer has published poems in several print and online publications.
Visit Robert's blog.
Caper Literary Journal is proud to present an interview with the talented poet Christine Korfhage, whose work reveals the true power of poetic verse. Her debut book, We Aren't Who We Are and This World Isn't Either (CavenKerry Press) was given critical acclaim, prompting poet Liz Rosenberg to say Korfhage's work is "unabashedly autobiographical . . . Her language is deliberately colloquial, like the marvelous poets Marie Howe and Sharon Olds. It is elegant and achingly honest . . . always forging her own way."
Indeed, Korfhage has all the power of the poets that preceded her, but it is in her delicate attention to delivering her version of the human condition that she stands on her own. We Aren't Who We Are and This World Isn't Either is really the wild tale of a unique life filled with sorrows and beautiful things. Korfhage is able to transport you right into the moment, standing there with her next to a casket, where her grandfather sleeps with a White Owl Cigar in his breast pocket (Joe II) — or in Manila where she, at fifteen, walks with her love Paqui around the American Military Cemetary (On The Outskirts of Manila). Above all, her work makes you think about life — not just hers, but your own, along with all of the little things within that make it real.
Editors' Choice Read
We Aren't Who We Are — And This World Isn't EitherRead Christine Korfhage's Divorce, reprinted with permission by CavanKerry Press.
Your full-length poetry book We Aren't Who We Are — And This World Isn't Either (CavanKerry Press, 2007), what was your goal when writing the book? Did you intend to tell the story of your life, or did it bloom in that direction as you wrote it?
We Aren't Who We Are tells the story of my childhood spent traveling around the world, my mother's illness, my father's frequent absences, an intense first love—and how all of this affected my adult life. The poems also deal with a search for meaning, and the healing power of both therapy and poetry.
I didn't have a goal for the book because I didn't set out to write a book. From the moment when the lines in my journal began to break (the poem “Rhyme” describes this moment) my only goal was to write that poem. And then another. And another. I was on a language quest. No matter how long it took, I wanted to find the initiating phrase or image, then follow it, losing and finding, writing and rewriting, immersing myself in the work of getting at and telling the truth, until the words on the page no longer needed me and could stand their own. A poem. Only after writing many many poems did I begin to see that I was writing the story of my life.
You were born in Albany, NY – but grew up in different countries. Your poetry certainly reveals this, with poems like “Divorce,” where you tell the reader you lived in Manila. Location, to me is another character in your poetry. How does geography inspire you?
When I was eight years old my father's job required that we move from Albany to a small village on the coast of Spain. Of course I missed my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends back home, but I loved the adventure of living in a different country, and I embraced the people, culture, and language wholeheartedly. Learning to speak in a “foreign tongue”--the way those words felt in my mouth—was thrilling to me, not to mention how it felt to be understood when I let those words out. The sights, smells, food, customs (bull fights!), so unlike anything I'd known, made a huge and lasting impression on me. It was the same wherever we lived. Perhaps as a way of orienting myself to each new place, it became my habit to observe the world around me in a way that made it part of who I am. It's only natural that this would come out in my writing.
It's interesting that you mention the poem “Divorce.” It took me years to write it. Early on I had written a very minor poem praising Srta. Martinez, my high school Spanish teacher in Manila. That little poem was the best I could do at the time. Yet I knew that there was a much deeper and more complex story under that poem—if only I could get to it. The idea of the larger poem gnawed at me and from time to time I'd try to write it, but I always failed. I was sure that poem existed inside me, and it hurt to think that it was beyond my reach. Finally, just before We Aren't Who We Are was accepted for publication, I tried again, and this time the larger poem yielded. The experience confirmed to me that artistic and psychological readiness go hand in hand, and where they intersect determines the poem I'm capable of writing.
When reading your poetry, I can't help but feel like a lucky fly on the wall, listening in to the secrets of a life that isn't mine. You give the reader a true sense of who you are—everything you remember and feel is placed before us, big and wide. It seems you are very able to confront your ghosts. Can you elaborate on how you execute your vivid method of writing?
We all have “iconic” memories—images and bits of conversations from the past that bubble up again and again. One of the reasons they stay with us, I think, is that they're loaded with meaning. As a writer, I try to mine those memories. Often, I fail. But when I'm successful, what they yield is gold. Once a poem is underway, it's a 24 hour thing--a labor of love. I may not always be at the computer or sitting with pen and paper, but wherever I go, that poem is with me. Little by little it takes shape. When I get stuck, I look forward to going to sleep at night so I can give my conscious mind a rest and let my unconscious take over. As I immerse myself in this creative act, details surface, connections, leaps to the unexpected are made. The poem unfolds. The heart opens. For me, poems can't be rushed. They have to be dug for and this takes time.
The late poet, Stanley Kunitz, spoke about making our stories important, turning them into legends. He said, “The truth's a great adventure. Might as well tell it.” Kunitz was talking about emotional truth, not necessarily literal truth, though my poems do tend to stay close to the actual narrative. There are poems in We Aren't Who We Are that contain material which at first I shied away from using (“oh, no, not that!”), but then I'd remind myself that what matters is the poem. If something works, it stays in. If not, it comes out. The poem knows best. Writing poems is part of my effort to heed the message of the Oracle of Delphi: “Know Thyself.” And reading and writing poetry has taught me that on the deepest level what is true for one human being is often true for all.
You started writing in your late 40's—after having kept journals. What sparked the necessity for poetry? Did you always have the urge to write.
Journal writing allowed me to make contact with myself and to reflect on my thoughts. After I entered therapy I'd often start a session by reading an entry, and then sometimes my therapist would read a poem from one of the many books he kept in his office. Once he encouraged me to try writing a poem, but I resisted. Like many people, I thought poets were people born with poetry genes, and I didn't have them. Then in spite of myself, one day while writing in my journal, I began a poem. Perhaps, like Maxine Kumin said, I didn't start writing poems because I wanted to, but because I had to.
Those first poems were urgent and very poorly made. It didn't matter. As my attention turned to this practice there were moments when I felt unified. Most remarkably, as scenes, images, and bits of conversations that had haunted me since childhood found their way into my work, they no longer invaded my thoughts. I think the reason for this is that poetry goes deeper than journal writing. And the finished poem is a made object that exists outside the poet.
Liz Rosenberg said your writing is colloquial, like the great writers Sharon Olds and Marie Howe. When you started writing poetry, did you write what felt natural or did you study the form and style of other poets?
My early poems were vague. I tried to be poetic. I often rushed to the end. It took a lot of reading and writing for me to be able to sustain my focus--to hang in there and let the poem lead me rather than run away from it. Gradually, I began to sound like myself.
Reading and writing, reading and writing--it's the only way, I think. And it's important to read not just contemporary poets, but poets from the past. At first I was intimidated to go to the past, but once I learned to let my favorite modern poets lead me back it was easier and I enjoyed it. For instance, I love Jane Kenyon's work. Through her poetry I learned that she loved Keats, so I read Keats. Jane also loved Akhmatova, who loved Pushkin, so I followed those threads, too. Similarly, Marie Howe's poems led me to Stanley Kunitz, who held my hand while I read Baudelaire and William Blake. On and on.
We can see your life blossom throughout your book. What is the one thing that life has taught you, or what is it that has made you strong through the years, despite struggles and darkness.
I've learned that life is full of possibilities. And out of the darkest times can come unexpected beauty and self-renewal. Therapy has been a great help to me. And poetry.
Robert Bly has said:
My feeling is that poetry is also a healing process, and then when a
person tries to write poetry with depth or beauty, he will find himself
guided along paths which will heal him, and this is more important,
actually, than any of the poetry he writes.
What is your advice for emerging writers, or for writers who haven't yet found their own voice?
Don't be in a hurry to send your poems out. Getting poems published won't improve your life, at least not on a deep level. It won't help you “Know yourself.” But writing will. So read and write, and read and write, and read and write. It's hard work, but good hard--one of the most valuable things that you can do. Please don't cheat yourself by trying to enter the marketplace too soon. What's the hurry? Wait. Wait until you have a strong body of work. You're worth it.
Martin, you have had a prolific career in writing. With nearly a dozen publications of chapbooks and poetry collections, what keeps you inspired?
I would like to think that many things inspire me. I have a very active imagination with an artistic background (painter, musician, paper cutout artist, and storyteller). I work in many libraries as a Children’s Librarian, Adult Librarian, Reference Librarian, Law Librarian, Library Director, winning many awards in libraries--- and my experiences in libraries brings me in contact with so many people with so many interests, that I tend to pick up so many ideas. I am not associated with a workshop, college program, or other places, so I do not have a lot of poetry contacts and I do not get too many opportunities to talk to other writers. Can you tell us a little about Van Gogh's Sunflowers For Cezanne? What do you offer your readers with this collection?
The chapbook is from a large collection of poems about art and the lives of artists. I once interviewed for study at the Chicago Institute of Art! These poems appeared in a full length book “Hummingbird” (March Street Press, 2009), and more are forthcoming in “True Simplicity” (Poets Wear Prada Press, 2010), “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for Cezanne” (Finishing Line Press, 2010), and “Art Is Always an Impression of What an Artist Sees” (Muse Café, 2010). These poems combine erkphrasis poetry with persona poems.
In the case of “Van Gogh’s Sunflowers for Cezanne” they are poems that use his art, life, and letters as springboards into the imagery of depression, isolation, insanity, religious fever, and other things Van Gogh experienced. He waited for Cezanne to arrive, and their relationship was volatile and ended tragically. These were not easy poems to write. I had to stop writing them after awhile. During these poems my own health was at a low point (COPD and a minor heart attack). How has your writing changed from when you began publishing poetry? What do you think happens to our writing during our journey in both writing and life?
In 1972, I started off influenced by Confessional poets and the writings of Carl Jung. I wrote about my “father” in a way that was really not about my real father but about a large concept of the spiritual father and how he was not listening to us and why. At the same time I wrote a lot of humorous poems about Jesse James the outlaw as if he was still alive but had aliases like Ed Sullivan, Richard Nixon, a person in the welfare line, an old woman stealing shopping carts, etc. I wrote other poems during this time, but through my life I have written many poems around a theme.
I stopped writing from 1984-2001. When I was contacted by an editor in 2001 to write about 9/11, they asked me if I was still alive. I thought it was a strange question since they were talking to me when they asked it. I still think it was a funny, ironic question.
In 2007, my first wife died of cancer and I wrote a lot about death and cancer which became “Lowering Nets of Light” (Pudding House Publications, 2007). This made me think of my own mortality. I started writing faster and more. When I had my own minor heart attack last year, I became even more obsessed about writing and publishing. I felt I had something to say before I died; I just do not know what it is. Now I am trying to do as much as I can, as if every day might be my last day. I think this is what happens to our writing over time--- we have some experiences and we try to share them with other people in a way they say to themselves “they could have been writing about me.” As a poet who has seen life change through the decades, what do you think about modern poetry? What do you think about poetic trends or "schools" over the years?
I have read poems from many countries and many time periods. I like the poets from Frost to contemporary the most. I was thrilled when I had a poem put side-by-side with a Wallace Stevens poem http://www.nycbigcitylit.com/apr2003/contents/twelve12.html. I met Charles Olsen and Ezra Pound which represent two different poetry “schools” and I was able to hire Alan Ginsberg for a poetry reading. I love Robert Bly’s ideas or Pablo Neruda’s poems. I was lucky to have met briefly some writers along the way. What I like best is all the different voices out there. I read so much from both print and internet that it amazes me that so many different styles exist and not one dominates the other. According to an interview you've done, you've had several jobs: an oral storyteller, jazz mandolin musician, puppeteer, and “Science Magician." Not many writers can make writing a full-time job easily. How do you balance life and writing - and more so, how do you think the sometimes ordinary lives we lead can be conducive to inspired poetry?
I have not made much money from poetry. I could not do this for a living and support a family. I do not teach poetry at a college and it is not easy to teach poetry at a college if you do not have a MFA. I am not writing for the money. I am writing because I stopped once and now I can’t stop.
I sometimes wake up and write, or I have to stop driving so I can write, or rush out of the shower to write still dripping wet onto the paper, or I am making supper and the freshly-made soup remains me of a poem. How can I stop? I can write 15-20 poems all at once, and then fall back into silence for a period.
I do not always write about the ordinary life, but I have written about the extraordinary lives or the simple lives of people you do not always see. You nominated my poem “The Peddler” for a Best of the Net Award. This poem is the type of person I saw when I was younger, and he was the kind of person who had an ordinary job which made him almost invisible. They would say things, outrageous things, to get your attention. We had people with carts that would sell fresh vegetables, or bakery, or sharpen knives, or sold milk. You do not see this in my area anymore.
I love the confident braggart, like the one you had in your anthology about Haiti, “Haitian Luck,” in which he was convinced that the earthquake was caused by him and his wife making love.
I had fun as a Science Magician, dressing up like a wizard and doing silly Science projects. I took ordinary physics and made it into humor, then de-bunked the “magic” by telling everyone how it worked. I take an ordinary watermelon and an ordinary deck of cards. I hypnotize the watermelon until it snores, I then toss playing cards at it until one sticks into the watermelon. It is always funny to see the cards bounce harmlessly off while the “magic” does not work, until one finally enters the watermelon, then everyone’s mouth opens with surprise that the “magic” works. I also bounce regular eggs. I turn an ordinary wall into a “giant magnet” (or glue) that if you stand against the wall, you cannot bend over to touch your toes. I had found a way to teach science in a way that children actually learn. What do you think of the current state of literary journals and magazines? How do you select to which journals you send your work?
Literary magazines and journals are always changing. Some tend to focus in a certain direction, while others tend to more open to all types of material. It is hard to keep track of all of them. I read Poets & Writers and Creative Writers Opportunities List email@example.com, and then I look at the magazines. If I find a magazine I like a lot, like Caper, I tend to send to them a lot. Not everything I write gets published. I consider rejection a part of the writing experience. When I am accepted by a magazine, I am always humbled, surprised, pleased, and amazed that anyone would like what I write. What is your chapbook for Poets Wear Prada and how would you describe it?
The chapbook is called “True Simplicity” and it is poems about art and artists in different time periods, including minority artists. The artists include Archibald J. Motley, Winslow Homer, Frida Kahlo, Berthe Morisot, Carl Rakeman, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Edward Hooper, Jean Baptiste Greuze, Jean Baptiste Camile Corot, Johannes Vermeer, Edmund Dulac, William Blake, Girgio de Chirico, Georgia O’Keeffe, Saikh-zada of Khurasan, Hans Baldung Grien, and Soraida Martinez. Most of the poems take place in an older time period of broom-making, egg gathering, harvesting, knitting socks, riding horseback. This is why I call it “True Simplicity” and it also refers to my Quaker beliefs of simplicity. During answering these questions, I found out that this chapbook will be released soon.The Peddler, nominated by Caper for Sundress' Best Of The Net, is a poem with immense, soft beauty yet conciseness. How do you view your writing style and who are your influences?
I love writing long poems in order to explore imagery and images within images, so I do not write too many very short poems. I like the tight lines and I do not think I waste a word. I was thinking of the Spanish poets Lorca, Neruda, and Vallejo when I wrote this poem. The poem is flirting with a crowd of women, both individually and collectively. The speaker is trying to sell more than his peddler items. I am trying to find a publisher for a collection of poems in this style.What would be your advice for a budding writer or poet and who wants to have a prolific life with their craft?
The simplest thing is the write. The second simplest is to read what is being published. I am not all that sure that performance poetry is the same thing, because I like to look at the poem on the page. I hear a good performer and I look at the poem, and quite often the poem is not as good as the performance. I have heard good writers who are terrible at reading their poems.
The third thing I would recommend is to find your own way of writing. Some writers call this their “voice”. I never understood this concept in undergraduate school. I was writing in different voices because I wanted to be a Playwright. As I get older, I realize there is sort-of a Martin Willitts Jr poem. I do not always see it or recognize it, because I write from so many viewpoints and other people’s voices. The better way I can understand a poem that is my voice is my unusual way of seeing things, writing from images and improvising off of those images. An example of strange imagery is from “The Peddler”: “It is a sponge from an ocean of laughter.” I continue with the image of soaping her breasts and finding her husband’s fingerprints.
The fourth thing I would suggest is to continue writing and sending poems, be willing to accept rejection and consider editing or dropping the poem. It is a part of being a writer and growing as both a person and as a writer.
You've written several books, one recently released (This Is How Honey Runs
) with Unbound Content.
Tell us about who you are as a poet and writer?Cassie Preemo Steele:
I introduce myself as "a Pushcart Prize nominated poet, author of seven books, and creativity coach who lives along a beautiful little creek in South Carolina." But it's taken a lifetime to achieve that-- years of turning to the page day after day, being honest with myself over and over, learning to heal the past, claim the present, and let go of the future. Be who I am. And serve others through my writing and coaching out of that solid core of lived wisdom.Q)
Your Co-Creating Workshops debuted this year. What are they like, and what would a writer get from joining in a workshop?Cassie Preemo Steele:
I had been teaching writing workshops in the community and literature and writing courses at the college level for fifteen years-- and in 2004, even opened an office to see clients in what I called "Poetryhealing." All this was based on the research and scholarship I'd done while getting my Ph.D. and writing about the connections between multicultural American women's poetry as a way of healing from our national traumatic histories-- at the personal and collective levels.
But my daughter was four years old at the time, and it was too soon for me to try to juggle everything at once-- motherhood, wifing, teaching, Poetryhealing, and my own writing-- so I pulled back, focused on what I call the 3 B's-- bacon, beans and butter--- so that I could learn to be Balanced and then share this with others.
Bacon: are your basic needs met? what do you need to do to be solid financially?
Beans: are you paying attention to the little ones in your life? including your own little needs?
Butter: are you doing what comes smoothly, naturally, greasing the way toward your goals, or are you banging on locked doors?
These are some of the things that I teach people to ask and answer in the Co-Creating work, both individually and in groups.Q)
As evidenced by your workshops, connecting and networking with writers can be inspiring and useful in this industry. What are your favorite ways to connect with new writers?Cassie Preemo Steele:
I love the Co-Creating work I do, whether clients come to my sunny little studio filled with windows, or phone me, or sit face to face on Skype. I love speaking from my heart, giving writing prompts to journal or write poetry or fiction, teaching them what the writers and researchers have learned about the connections between writing and living a balanced life, and then writing With them. That's why it's called Co-Creating . We're in this together. In the end, we're all equal. When you truly believe that in your heart, your own voice and vision can shine.Q)
What are some of your favorite books or literary journals now, and what has been inspiring you as of late?Cassie Preemo Steele:
I am eternally grateful to Annmarie Lockhart, the editor of the poetry journal, Vox Poetica
and the independent press, Unbound Content
which published my new poetry book. I remember the day I saw her call for "poetry about motherhood" on Literary Mama (where I have a column called "Birthing the Mother Writer") and I thought, any poetry journal that has a beautiful African American girl reading to her cat as the main image has to be cool! So that day I sent in the poem, "The Poemgranate," that ended up being nominated for a Pushcart Prize. We have since become colleagues, friends, and co-creators. I encourage all poets to check out both Vox Poetica and Literary Mama. Read. Submit. Read. Submit again.
My favorite writing book right now is Laraine Herring's The Writing Warrior. Just this morning I dropped my daughter off at school, went to the bank, and then sat in a coffee shop and wrote for an hour in my journal, responding to the essays, questions, and wisdom in that book. Then I went and got a massage. This was all by 9 AM! I think taking care of myself, continuing to journal and take time for self-care, is vitally important in keeping me balanced so I can continue to write and serve others.Q)
Your work as a coach and writer involves healing, kindness and goodness. Do you see a decline in those attributes in the writing and media industry today?Cassie Preemo Steele:
Oh, Lisa, it means so much to me that you say that! I have always tried to be "a good girl," and although I no longer define it the same way I would have when I attended Catholic school, haha, I still make an effort every day to be good, to do good. In fact, the Sisters of Providence who taught me at Immaculata still inspire me-- as they work with immigrants, run an ecojustice center, serve the poor, and find ways to get quiet, contemplate, and listen.
Do I see a decline in kindness and goodness in the media? I ignore most of the negativity out there (I call it "fear TV" when I see it and we turn the channel or turn the TV off and go outside to play.) I think you eat what you cook. If I'm not cooking fear and hatred and violence in my home, I can't eat it. And I do love to eat, so there better be plenty of good stuff in the kitchen!Q)
Where can we look forward to you this coming year?Cassie Preemo Steele:
I'm so excited-- I am currently on a book tour for my two books that just came out in September: the poetry book, This is how honey runs, based on work with my Co-Creating clients, and Shamrock and Lotus, a novel about globalization, mothering, and the healing memory held in the land. I just went to Asheville, NC, for the first reading, and it was a full house! Next I'll visit Atlanta, GA, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Then in November, I'll come home to Columbia, SC, for an event I'm calling Cassie's Double Book Launch Party, which will feature the wonderful artists whose work graces the covers for the books-- Amy Alley and Philip Mullen. Readers can get details about all the events at my website at Cassie Preemo Steele.
I hope I'll be able to meet you and all the readers of Caper Literary Journal!
Q) So, what is LitSisters?
A) LitSisters is, at its most basic, a support and networking resource. We want to be available to help other writers, novice or experienced. We blog about our interests and areas of expertise, both on the craft side and the business side of writing. We are also available to answer questions, should someone need information that isn’t already on the site.
As we continue to grow we look forward to possibly having local networking get-togethers as well as other types of events, both virtual and physical.Q) How was it initiated? What were its goals?
A) LitSisters is the collaborative brain child of Christine K. Bailey, CL Coons, Terri Weeding and Audrey RL Wyatt, born out of our relationship as members of the same critique group. We take a new approach to our work, viewing ourselves as writerpreneurs™, both writers and entrepreneurs. We work together, using the skills we bring from our non-writing lives, to publish and market our work.Q) Does LitSisters help other authors?
A) We certainly hope so! We are growing and evolving but our goal is to relate our experiences in writing and publishing so that other writers can learn from our successes and our missteps. No one should have to re-invent the wheel. We should all write our own destiny.Q) Tell us about how important it is to be a "writerpreneur™."
A) It is absolutely essential. Whether you’re independently published, going with a small press or a major publishing house, there is likely no marketing budget available for you. It is crucial that you learn everything you can about the state of publishing today and how to get your books into the hands of readers. There are many books available on the subject and you can find our favorites at LitSisters. Q) What are some things you've done—that writers should do—to promote their work?
A) One of the biggest things that we’ve all done is to utilize our personal networks. There’s a popular game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” where people try to determine how far removed they are from this or that person (Audrey is two degrees from Kevin Bacon, by the way). While it’s a funny passtime, it’s also a salient point. We are all connected to lots of people – family, friends, business associates – and they in-turn are connected to loads of other people. We each send out newsie info packets to everyone we know and ask them to pass the info on. These newsie notes have gotten us everything from sales to book club appearances and other events. Q) And, as you've said there is a fine line between social promoting and being a pain in the arse. Where do you think that line is drawn?
A) Yes, it is a tightrope that every marketer walks. We advise against sending out the same info again and again. Everytime you send something out to people it needs to be new information. After that it’s okay to remind them of still-relevant stuff but the point of the note must be new. Also, if someone asks you to take their name off your mailing list, do it – immediately.
Lastly, make sure to thank people. And it never hurts to offer a gesture of appreciation – kind of a “what’s in it for me” type thing. People love to help those they care about. They love it even more if they feel appreciated.Q) LitSisters have talked about e-books. What do you think about authors publishing e-books, and do you think going "spine-less" is a wise publishing decision?
A) We are taking the approach that it’s wise to diversify. E-book sales have seen a triple digit rise each year and the potential is phenomenal. But many people are resisting so, at least for now, a paper book is also a wise move.Q) As four sisters, do you think the literary industry is more geared toward helping men, women or, do you see equality?
A) As women writers, we embrace the creative power of cooperation and collaboration. We aim to develop a community that supports the mutual success of women fiction writers, and to build a platform from which to launch that success.Q) What is coming up for LitSisters?
A) One of the things that we are all experiencing is the frustration of failing to find enough hours in the day. We are all marketing our current publications, actively writing, working on LitSisters, and trying to have personal lives. It’s really difficult but we are determined.
As it evolves, LitSisters looks forward to becoming a resource for all authors who are determined to take their destinies into their own hands.
Meet The LitSisters
Christine K. Bailey is a published author and freelance writer who specializes in crafting compelling stories for individuals, publications, businesses and non-profit organizations.
Whether the “story” is a Web site for a commercial printer or an article about a must-see trail in the desert Southwest, Bailey has the ability to clearly depict the subject, engage the reader and encourage them to take the next step.
Believing whole-heartedly in the power of collaboration and the success of partnering with other strong, successful writers, she is one of three travel writers who comprise Arizona Authors & Adventurers — a group that gives Travel Talks about Arizona and writes the blog Arizona Travel And Adventure. She’s also the director of marketing for LitSisters Publishing and the LitSisters Community — a boutique publishing house and online writers community, respectively that specialize in supporting, promoting and encouraging women writers.
The 2nd edition of Bailey’s travel book: Phoenix, Scottsdale, Sedona & Central Arizona, An Explorer's Guide: is due out December 2010 and her series of iPhone travel apps about Greater Phoenix are due out mid-year 2010. Her Sedona iPhone app launched in May. Find Christine here.
CL Coons (also known as Crystal Coons) is a Canadian-born women’s fiction author. After spending over five years in the fashion industry as a journalist, she decided to follow her passion: writing fiction. During her time as a journalist, her work appeared in various national and international publications, such as: Label horde Fashion, 944 Magazine and New York Time’s online property: About.com.
When she wasn’t writing, CL took an interest in web and graphic arts, work ing as Creative Director at Red Seven Computer Company, as well as an online producer and marketing consultant for various small businesses in and around Arizona.
CL Coons currently resides in Phoenix, Arizona. She is married to a wonderful boy and gets to lis ten to the most adorable pup in the world snore all day as she writes her novels. Find CL here.
Terri Weeding is a writer specializing in outrageous women’s fiction. Terri recently finished her first novel, a dark comedy about a frustrated wife, a sports-obsessed husband, and his armchair. Terri’s hard at work on her second novel featuring a female brewmaster. Terri also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Papua New Guinea. Digs 70’s R & B like Sly and the Family Stone, and Marvin Gaye. Missing a few of the “girl” genes; she despises shopping and decorating. Find out more about Terri here. Audrey RL Wyatt, right-brained to a fault, has worked in various arts – most notably acting, teaching and creating children’s theater curricula. Now a fiction writer, she bases her novels, short stories and even a television sitcom on her experiences and culture. Her stories often feature strong-willed, quirky women. Audrey’s novel, Poles Apart, has been honored with five awards and her essays and short fiction have been published in various forums, both print and online.
Always one to foster aspiring artists, Audrey founded Southeast Valley Fiction Writers near Phoenix, Arizona, and Bay State Writers in Southeast Massachusetts. She is a founding member of LitSisters. She also teaches Creative Writing in continuing education and Memoir Writing to Seniors.
Audrey’s award-winning novel, Poles Apart, is garnering much praise. You can find it online and at booksellers everywhere. For information on Audrey and her work, go here.
Read more about Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt and "Poems from the Battlefield" here.
Q) What should Caper readers know about yourself as a writer and poet?
A) As soon as I learned to read, I began to write. It seemed to me the world was an interesting place, and when it wasn't, I could always make things up to rid myself of boredom. I pretended I was Harriet the Spy, hiding under a pine tree, recording the meanderings of children and adults walking up and down our little street. I wrote about singing birds, wandering dogs and bugs.
I started writing poetry probably around age 7 when rhyming seemed like a fun thing to do. Poetry hitched a ride in my mind and never let go. In my teens, poetry helped cleanse me of angst, sadness and anger.
Poetry has always served to synthesize my perceptions, feelings and thoughts, especially when I cannot make sense of the world.
In addition to poetry, I write for a newspaper, author a blog and dabble in fiction.Q) Poems from the Battlefield is a collection of poems about the Civil War. Tell us about why you chose to write about this, and what historical investigation you had to do.
Let me start by saying, I am not a historian. In school, I found history difficult. I was never good at memorizing names and dates, and most of the time, I couldn't make connections between historic events. I had no idea how the past affected the present. History just seemed so remote to me that whenever my parents talked about their childhood or I listened to a history teacher, I visualized the events in black and white, as if the world then was stuck in pre-color television or photography.
I moved to Prince William County, VA, in 1999. Having lived most of my life in MA, an area immersed in the Revolutionary War, Virginia's focus on and connection with the Civil War interested me.
Previously, I hadn't considered where the Civil War began. Now, I was living literally on the battlefields, a stone's throw from First Manassas, The Battle of Bull Run, that kicked off the Civil War.
I never realized the full significance of my new home until I started hiking the Manassas battlefields. At first, I was merely thrilled to find a local sanctuary that provided access to nature and solitude. But as I began to read the placards, I thought more and more about the people of the time and who had walked these lands before me.
From there, I explored other historic sites such as Bristoe Station Battlefield and Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center. Manassas Museum provided me with important lessons in history and insight.
Poetry came to me as I explored. The poems were my attempts to understand the people of the time, who lived there, what they were thinking. I couldn't fathom young boys joining a regiment when in fact, most of them didn't think they would be fighting in a real war. Most, at least at the start, thought the war would be a show of bravado or perhaps a skirmish. The general public didn't believe the slaughter would carry on so long.
The events of the Civil War emerged to me as metaphors for our contemporary society and divisive politics. The suffering of the wounded, widows and orphans also became metaphors for my personal struggles and the struggles of all people.
The more I wrote, the more I read. But five years later, by the time the book was completed, I still didn't know enough. I continue my exploration on my website. Q) You say, in your bio on your site, "In some poems, you might recognize relationships between past and present historic struggles with our current domestic climate of fear that prevents us from being our very best selves.” What do you think are some of the things people can do to avoid historical repetition. How can writing help, if it does?
One of the reasons we repeat history is that we don't truly understand it. I am a prime example of that, as I noted in question #2.
Part of the problem is the way history is presented. Children, because they do not have the cognitive development that allows for more abstract thinking, don't connect with the past easily. This is why things like re-enactments, life-like movies and hands-on activities are essential in the classroom.
That said, because most children have difficulty comprehending history, many of us as adults kind of give up on it, especially if we have had to endure classes that focused on names, dates and maps. While these elements are important, they do not communicate the true significance of history, and that is the people.
We can't completely understand the people of the Civil War period or any period, and because of this, it is difficult to empathize. Yet empathy is the only way we will avoid repeating the past, because if we cannot empathize, we can easily ignore history and past suffering. We don't think of our actions as having an impact on the world, even though the actions of those who came before us created what we know of as "today."
So, I think first and foremost, we must teach children empathy. Then, we must bring our dead back to life, make those people of the past real. And then, we must teach children to be able to read, write and think not only critically but creatively.
These efforts must not stop in childhood. We must continue to grow through adulthood, throughout the lifespan.
Writing is one way to connect the dots of the world, to merge our perceptions and experiences with a larger whole. It is a tool for self expression, for emotions, beliefs and thoughts.
Writing can be a powerful way to process what we see and live, and through reflecting on what we write, we can reach higher planes of consciousness which can positively impact our decisions.Q) Some of your proceeds go toward parks and wildlife. Do you think writers can make an impact on our environment?
I absolutely think writers can impact the environment, whether it is through donating proceeds or through the writing itself. For example, people like Henry David Thoreau documented his life with nature, exposing a planet worth preserving. Thoreau's message has survived more than a century, and every writer who has an audience can do the same.Q) What are some points of advice you have for writers?
I can't tell you how many students I have had who are afraid to write. They judge themselves harshly because they have had negative experiences. They have been told they have poor grammar, are bad writers or are just not academically up to par.
This is so sad to me because I believe everyone can write, that it's natural to want to document what is happening in our brains. We all want to communicate, but writing provides more than simple means of communication. In a way, we all seek to have our thoughts last longer than our lifetimes, and writing can do this. Writing is proof that we are, and when we die, that we were.
So my advice is, don't judge yourself. Shut off your internal editor and critic, and just write. Free-write. Write anything that comes into your head. Don't worry about punctuation or grammar or correct wording. This is how you get started.
For more advanced writers, I would say, continue to write. This sounds stupid, but you can't write if you don't write! Write as often as you can, even if you are just writing emails or journal entries. Make time to write. For some people, this means setting a specific time of day. For others, it means carrying around a notebook and writing on the subway or in a taxi. (Don't write while driving, please.)
Finally, don't be afraid to revise and edit. These are two painful processes because they demand we be honest with ourselves. Slash and burn unnecessary words. Replace sentences or lines that don't make sense. Get feedback from readers and reflect on their perceptions. Writing is a kind of communication, so think about what you are communicating. Q) Tell us about your writing influences and inspirations.
I have been powerfully influenced by the Transcendentalists and writers of the mid to late 1800's, especially in the United States.
I mentioned Henry David Thoreau before, and I will mention him again. A Transcendentalist, Thoreau is a curious historic and intellectual figure, both a rebel and conformist at the same time. The Transcendental focus on nature as part of the divine has impacted my writing, and of course, so has the Transcendentalists' thoughts on the Civil War, as communicated by people like Louisa May Alcott.
I also read contemporary poetry whenever I can. I receive poems from The Poetry Foundation
and read blogs and e-zines that publish poetry.
Other reading on topics such as philosophy, current events and spirituality keep me in touch with my own poetic side and feed my imagination, providing me with new ideas.
Finally, there is life itself. Raising children, living with the man I love, caring for pets, going to church and reflecting on my past are all things that turn up in my writing.Q) What's coming up in your literary life?
Fall of 2010, an illustrator friend and I will release Furbily Furld Takes on the World, a children's epic poem of a displaced lizard making peace with a society that needs to learn an important lesson about conservation and responsible development. This all sounds very serious, but it's really lots of fun and we think packs a punch.
And of course, I will continue to write poetry. There is no doubt there will be a second volume of Battlefield poems, but I can't say when, and I wouldn't want to rush the process.Q) What are some of your favorite literary journals, magazines or literary resources?
As I mentioned before, The Poetry Foundation is one of my favorites. The Foundation's daily poems are accessible, meaningful and artistic.
I also receive Poetry in the journal format which helps me stay up-to-date on what's going on in the larger world of poetry. Honestly, though, I find many of these poems more academic and less accessible.
I also enjoy reading poetry in The New Yorker
and in journals I submit my work to. I never submit my work to venues I don't enjoy reading.
Finally, I constantly search for websites and blogs that publish poetry. Many of these sites give voice to new and emerging poets which I always appreciate.Q) Tell us something you think every writer and reader should know about you.
I want the world to know I am the proud mother of two gorgeous girls and wife to an amazing husband.
I would also mention that my life has not been easy and that my poetry reflects some of my personal challenges which include some minor disabilities and trauma.
Fortunately, I have worked through these challenges and am happy to say I won't write any more in this section because I lead a rather unexciting life. I wouldn't want to bore people : )
Visit Aaron Middlepoet Jackson's website here
, and the non-profit organization, United Divas, with which here works here.
Aaron Middle Poet Jackson also contributed to Vwa: Poems for Haiti
, a Caper Literary Journal anthology of work.
Q) You call yourself an interesting name: Middlepoet. You use the definitions of 'Middle' and 'Poet.' What makes you a Middlepoet?
A) Middlepoet comes from a feeling that I have always had of being in the middle or in between an experience or situation that I am in. My father is African-American and my mother is Caucasian, I think that is where the sense of middleness first began. Since then, I have lived in rural Vermont and the New York City Area, I have gone from metro New York to Los Angeles and back. I was a not so wealthy kid at a very wealthy university and so on and so on, I guess I have always felt in the middle of two different perspectives, whatever those perspectives are. Q) You were the Poet Laureate of Jersey City, NJ. Tell us about how you were awarded the title and what you did.
A) This was a few years ago, at the time, I was working with a guy named Lex Leonard who was the head of The Waterbug Hotel, which was a motley collection of artists who worked in various mediums while residing in Jersey City. I was the host of the “Bug’s” poetry night. My girlfriend (now wife) was the DJ. We had done a show in Jersey City City Hall and when they asked us to do a second show, Lex suggested they make me the Poet Laureate and they agreed. At this time, I was hosting the open mic for the Waterbug, conducting a writer’s workshop, going into Jersey City high schools to perform and work with the area students on poetry as well as performing any and everywhere I could in Jersey City. It was a blast because we were able to bring attention to the incredible poetic scene that exists in Jersey City, NJ. Q) Writers are always interested in attaining prestigious awards. You were awarded the UCLA/Pen Fellowship. Tell us what that experience was like.
A) Actually I didn’t win the award, which turned out to be a blessing. I was a semi-finalist, I believe I finished in the top ten but did not win. Had I won, I think my ego would have caused my head to explode. Up until that point I had been on a crazy role, two grants from the Puffin Foundation, Poet Laureate, A National Anti-Smoking Ad Campaign. I needed to be rejected, it forced me to work harder and write more. For a writer rejection is ultimately a recurring theme. Q) What are some points of advice you have for writers?
A) WRITE! Everyday write something, anything, a haiku, a cool thought, a character sketch, a plot outline, anything. Many people talk about what they are going to write as opposed to writing something.
After writing then submit! Submit to everything, try and get rejected by as many places as possible. Anticipate rejection and be pleasantly surprised if you get accepted. Q) Tell us about your writing influences and inspirations?
A) I am influenced greatly by the people around me, my wife Lady Jay, my parents who are both published authors. For my performance poetry I look no further than my hometown of Jersey City. Poets like Broken English, Rescue, SkryptD, Christine Goodman, Justin Woo, St. Patrick, Sean V and
Just Putt to name but a few.Q) What's coming up in the life of Middlepoet?
A) Right now, I am promoting my single "I'm Tired" which is available on Itunes and the video is out which I am very proud of. The video is a great view of my town Jersey City. As for the future, the easy answer is that I have no idea. But, to be fair, I hope to bring forth one if not two collections of poems in the next year, I am in the process of finding the right publisher and platform for my collections. Also, stay tuned for a bit of visual Middle. I am working on a follow up single to my track, and, I hope to help expand the United Divas Creative Scholarship. United Divas is a non-profit 501c3 organization that I have the honor of serving as a board member. Q) What are some of your favorite literary journals?
A) I read “Poetry” and I really dig “Granta”. I find Poets and Writers
magazine as well as their website to be enormously valuable resources when looking for publishing opportunities. I also read all kinds of literary blogs for inspiration and education. Finally, the poem a day from poets.org
is the truth!Q) Wild card: tell us something you think every writer and reader should know.
A) I have spent years working in bookstores, and I have learned that if a writer decides to go the self-publishing route it will be incredibly hard to get that book carried in a bookstore. Unless it is a super independent bookstore and the writer is friends with the owner. The best bet is to hold out until the writer can get the best publishing deal possible. People don’t realize that creating the work is only about forty percent of the task. The other sixty percent is getting the work in the hands of people who will enjoy it and hopefully pay for the experience.
To read Caper Literary Journal's excerpt of "Langata Rules," click here.
Interview provided by Ken Miller.
Q) What’s Langata Rules about? Not the plot, but the driving themes?
A) I think of it as a progressive thriller. The story recognizes that social conditions affect what people do with their lives. Sort of “zip code as destiny.” Once we understand the conditions on the Somali coast, for example, it’s easier to see why young men become pirates.
The second sense of progressive is more philosophic. Nobody in the book knows everything that’s going on. No character understands all the motives or cross-currents. And that’s how I see reality, as a collection of perceptions and experiences, rather than a single, absolute and correct version. Like Robbe-Grillet, but not so good.
Q) Is this a "guy book?"
A) Depends on the guy. A lead characters is a woman with weapons, but she cries, so is that gender ambiguity? But yeah, not to be defensive, the book is heavy to plot, and people die violently, and that’s probably near the guy end of the spectrum.
Characters show a little emotion, and there is larger meaning in some of the action, so it’s not all the way to the end of the spectrum. And while I mention brand names for binoculars and pistols, this isn’t a techno-thriller.
A woman’s book club read LR recently, and liked it pretty well. Or at least was polite enough to say so. One member was concerned about the violence, and I do describe how people get hurt. But there’s pain in Twilight too.
Q) What is next for you?
I’ve finished the second book in the series and have the third in rough draft. I’m liking the “arc” of a series because I get to deepen the continuing characters - Drew, Vivienne, Harry - in the context of self-contained adventures. In the second book, set in New Orleans and Central America, we learn about Drew’s lost love, for example.
Q) Can you tell Caper readers a little about the second book?
A) Competition for lithium, which is used for electric car batteries. And the third book is about traffic in women. I put the books at the nexus of business, politics and crime. A lot of interesting stuff happens when the three combine.
Ken Miller has been in business for 30 years, most of the time with a Fortune 100 multi-national, where he saw first hand the intersection of corporate interest and public policy. He’s active in politics and civic life, and has been a frequent contributor to the trade press on topics including strategy and reputation. He presents on these issues at conferences and seminars in North America and Europe. Langata Rules is his first novel, and begins a series featuring Drew Alexander, trouble-shooter for a sketchy British shipping firm. Ken has two adult children and lives in Tacoma WA with his partner, Janet Thiessen.