The poem is a little myth of man's capacity of making life meaningful. And in the end, the poem is not a thing we see--it is, rather, a light by which we may see--and what we see is life.

Robert Penn Warren

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Four Questions for Meghan Tutolo

Meghan Tutolo lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where she earned her M.F.A. in Poetry from Chatham University and her B.A. in English Writing from the University of Pittsburgh. Skilled in the trade of romancing olives and pasta, Meghan works as writer, editor, and designer for an Italian foods company and also teaches composition at her alma mater. Her work has appeared in journals such as Nerve CowboyChiron ReviewThe Pittsburgh Post GazetteArsenic Lobster and Main Street Rag. Her first chapbook of poems, Little As Living, was published in September 2014.    

DS: Why do you write poetry?

MT: Because I have to. Because from such an early age I felt things so tremendously that I had to get them out. I didn't understand myself and barely had words. That's the magic of poetry for me: it makes all the stuff inside a little more tangible. It really boils down to energy. And though poetry isn't my only outlet, it's the most efficient at helping me to connect with others on that plane, relate.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?

MT: Basically? I'm looking for someone who gets it. I can't be anymore forthright than that. I'm just looking for people with voices and experiences that don't make me feel so damn alone. It's those people I can trust to guide me to new perspectives and understanding. If I read your work and it feels like my guts fell out, then I know I'm on the right page.

DS: Describe your works in progress?

MT: I'm working on another manuscript. I haven't decided whether it's another chapbook or a full length. There is something about a full-length collection that scares the shit out of me. I could barely get through the editing process of my chapbook with the constant changes and rearranging. It's hard to nail those pieces down in time, as everything shifts around them.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

MT: This question reminds me of records. They've made a hell of a comeback. People are paying attention... to some things. You know, I want people to listen again. To open their minds, put down their magic rectangles and pay attention. I sound like an 80 year old, but phones worry me. No one can read a paragraph anymore. Maybe that's why poetry will prevail, the capturing of those small moments, condensation.

Meghan's chapbook: 

Meghan's website: 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Four Questions for Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien is a playwright, poet, and librettist. His play, The Body of an American, will receive an off-Broadway premiere at Primary Stages, in a co-production with Hartford Stage, in 2016. O'Brien's third collection of poetry, New Life, will be published by CB Editions in London in 2015, and by Hanging Loose Press in Brooklyn in 2016. His second collection, Scarsdale, was published by CB Editions in 2014, and in the US by Measure Press in 2015. War Reporter, his debut collection, was published in 2013 by CB Editions, and by Hanging Loose Press in the US. War Reporter received the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Foundation's Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection, both in the UK. 

DS: Why do you write poetry?

DO: I simply always have written them. At least since I was twelve or so. Life almost always feels overwhelming, in terms of the sadness, occasionally the joy, the randomness and incomprehensibility of everything. There’s little else to do with these feelings than to make something of it, at least that’s how it seems to me, and for whatever reason writing is how I like to make things.

I write plays and prose too, but poetry is what I return to when the emotions are most intense, and usually the most private. My first poem was about my brother’s suicide attempt, and now almost thirty years later I’m still essentially writing that poem over and over again. The longer you last, of course, the more traumas you have to live through. So there’s no shortage of material. Clearly I’m a gloomy sort.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?

DO: I hope to find honesty and intimacy. I want to feel honored by what the poet has revealed to me, even if it’s not a so-called narrative or confessional poem, even if I don’t “understand” it. In fact I don’t really want to understand it. I want to feel moved by the poem. I want to feel I know the poet now.

DS: Describe your work in progress.

DO: I’m publishing my second collection of poetry derived from the work of my friend, war reporter Paul Watson, entitled New Life—what I’m describing lately as “poems of  Syria and Hollywood,” as the book deals with Paul’s time covering the war in Syria, and our concurrent, tragicomic attempts to sell an American cable TV drama about journalists covering Syria. I’ve received a Guggenheim Fellowship this year to write a play for Center Theatre Group here in Los Angeles that will be, in many ways, an adaptation of New Life.

I’m also writing a new play for Oregon Shakespeare Festival and the Public Theater in NYC on the history of guns in America, and a new play for Portland Center Stage that may or may not be about Sasquatch, and may or may not involve music and song. My play about Paul Watson, The Body of an American, opens at Hartford Stage this winter before running off-Broadway with Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theater. There are separate productions of this play next spring in Chicago and Washington, DC. And I’ve been chipping away at a short memoir of childhood in Scarsdale, New York.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

DO: I don’t know that I have any hopes. I like poetry just as it is, and I trust that people will always write poetry because they have to, and they enjoy it, and that people will read poetry for the same reasons. I don’t care about styles or fashions, what poetry “is” or “should” be.

Perhaps I do have one selfish hope: that what I’ve written, and still might write, can be a comfort to people the way I’ve been comforted by other people’s poems. 

Dan's Books:

New Life
War Reporter
The Body of an American

Some of Dan's Poems Online:

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Four Questions for Jessy Randall

Jessy Randall is the author of Injecting Dreams into Cows and other books. She grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where she helped invent a controversial Frisbee game and famously cried at a Dolph Lundgren movie. She is also the guiding force behind the Huge Underpants of Gloom zine series, and she keeps all her secrets hidden in decades' worth of black-and-white composition notebooks. 

DS: Why do you write poetry?

JR: This question was a lot harder to answer than I expected it to be. So I guess the answer is "I don't know" or "I can't explain it." Kenneth Koch says writing poems lets you have your emotions instead of your emotions having you. When I'm writing a poem I feel a way I wish I could feel all the time.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?

JR: My favorite poems are the ones that make me say "yes, that's exactly IT," usually when "it" is something I didn't realize needed to be captured. Sarah Sloat's poem "Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair" is one such poem. She has a million bookmarks and can't find any of them.

I also like poems that make me go Whuhh-huUUHHH? such as Scott Poole's "New York Women."

I want poems to have sly wit. I want them to be about emotions, for me the most important and least understood things in the universe.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

JR: Lately I've been making poems out of illustrations in old books I find at the library where I work. I find these extremely satisfying. Most editors do not.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

JR: I love the virtual salons poets are creating online. We can't all live in hotbeds of poetry (New York, San Francisco, etc.) but we can make our own through electronic journals, Facebook, and email collaboration.

Go to Jessy's website here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Four Questions for Isobel O'Hare

Isobel O'Hare is a poet and essayist who was born in Chicago but did most of her growing up in Ireland. She is the author of Wild Materials from Zoo Cake Press. Her writing can be found in The Account, Dirty Chai Magazine, HOUND, FORTH Magazine, Numero Cinq, The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review, and Cease, Cows, among other publications. She received her MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she was recently awarded a Helene Wurlitzer Fellowship. She lives in Oakland, California.

DS: Why do you write poetry? 

IO: I started writing poetry when I was a kid because I didn't have anyone to talk to about a lot of very traumatic things that were happening in my life. I grew up in various abusive environments where I often felt isolated and unheard. I was already writing short stories about fantastical things like a world-traveling young girl and her pet chimpanzee, a couple of time-traveling elementary school students, as well as some retellings of classic horror stories. Poetry came to me specifically as a form of self-care when I needed someone to talk to and nobody was there but paper and pens.

These days I write poetry for a few different reasons. Self-care is still definitely one of them, but I don't tend to share the things that I write for my own therapeutic purposes, as they tend to be unfinished thoughts that are suspended in liquid anger. These are the pieces I have to write in order to get to a truer place.

Poetry can take the form of magic spells when I start to feel that some form of transformation is needed in me but I don't yet know how to achieve it. I usually end up realizing that the poem wasn't the entire spell itself but just one component of it. Maybe the eye of newt.

I also write poetry in order to translate the world as I see it into something that can be communicated to another person. It is often difficult for me to communicate my experiences of the world via spoken language, and sometimes prose seems too direct in an explicit sense. Poetry offers a form of communication that is more intuitive, and thus paradoxically more direct than saying literally what one is thinking or feeling. It creates a conduit for two minds to read one another without speaking.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people? 

IO: That same conduit. Whenever I connect to a piece in this way, I get so excited. It makes me want to write more myself, to continue communicating in this language that exists in a universe parallel to our own.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

IO: I am (very) slowly putting together a full-length poetry manuscript. Some of the pieces from Wild Materials will be included, as well as some pieces that didn't make it into Wild Materials, but it will mostly be new poems. 

I am also working on a long-form piece on PTSD that connects personal narrative with scientific research out of the desire to further mainstream understanding of the disorder. It is becoming increasingly important that PTSD is understood as a major health concern in the United States.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

IO: With all of the recent scandals in the poetry world, my hope is that we will continue to communicate openly with one another about race, class, gender, disability, and other social issues in order to increase accessibility for all poets who are part of our community. It is consistently distressing to wake up to news of the latest scandals on a weekly basis, but the fact that we can openly recognize and talk about these events as problematic is promising. Social media has given access to so many people who were previously cut off from such conversations, and I look forward to its continued use as a tool for discussion and increased accessibility.

Isobel's Book:

Wild Materials (SOLD OUT!)

Some of Isobel's Poems Online: 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Four Questions for W. Todd Kaneko

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of the Dead Wrestler Elegies (Curbside Splendor, 2014). His poems, essays, and stories have appeared in Bellingham ReviewLos Angeles ReviewSoutheast Review, Barrelhouse, NANO Fiction, The Collagist and many other journals and anthologies. A recipient of fellowships from Kundiman and the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop, he co-edits Waxwing and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where he is an assistant professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

TK: I write poetry because I want to write poetry. To me, poetry is the closest thing to rock and roll a person can do without strapping on a guitar and windmilling their arms for dear life. The poet sits down and creates this beautiful, irreverent creature out of words and language, a creature that can make an audience feel anything the poet wants them to feel. It’s so thrilling to see a poem come to life on the page, and doubly so to see it come to life for a reader. I’m one of the lucky ones—there is this thing I want to do, and I’m privileged enough to be able to do it. Really though, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to write poetry.

But I also write poems because I have to, as corny as that sounds. If I go for any extended period of time without writing, I become short tempered and feel like my insides are made of sandpaper. I can be a real jerk when I’m not writing, and I don’t like being a jerk. It’s not good for my marriage or my job or keeping me out of car accidents.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?

TK: When I read poems by other people, I hope to experience the world in a way I haven’t experienced it before. I hope to find a poem that lodges in my stomach or slithers beneath my breastbone, a poem that makes me want to throw up my fists and bang my head. I hope a poem will surprise me, not in that guy with a knife hiding behind the door kind of way, but in that Aristotelian surprising yet inevitable kind of way. I hope for poems that turn into a robot or an airplane or a cemetery plot. Maybe it seduces me or maybe it smooth talks its way into my boudoir. I hope a poem will grab me by the ears and make me believe that what it has to tell me is so urgent, I have to drop everything to hear it sing. A poem has to matter to someone, and I hope it makes me understand that it matters to me on a physical, emotional, or even spiritual level. And I also hope for standard punctuation.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

TK: I’m the kind of writer who is always working on too many projects at any one time. I am currently working on a chapbook of flash fictions I’m calling Bang Your Head, a series of 300-word stories about this teenage loser named Metalhead and his best friend Rockgod who are growing up together in the 1980s. Some of these pieces are also part of a larger work-in-process, a book length manuscript of poems that play with Heavy Metal songs and tropes.

I’m also being drawn back into a project I put back in the drawer a few years ago. It’s a book of poems about my family’s incarceration in Idaho during World War II along with many other Japanese-American families. My family, like many, has never wanted to talk about that experience, so the book is about the silence, how that silence is handed down from generation to generation, and how we fill those silences with other stuff. It’s kind of a painful book and quite exhausting to work on.

And on the back burner, outside of poetry, I have this series of lyric essays about professional wrestling, staged masculinity, and race that I hope I will figure out how to make it into a book one day.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

TK: When I look at poetry, I see a lot of lines being drawn, territories being carved out by groups on the basis of race, gender, sexuality—of course, they must be carved out and claimed lest they be overtaken by other more dominant territories, nations who have long since dominated the world. I think my main hope for the future of poetry is a healing of the map so that poets don’t feel like they have to compete with other groups, so that poets don’t unconsciously (or consciously) shut down voices that they don’t recognize as their own, so that poets can look at publishing markets and not feel unsafe when submitting to them. I know this is like wishing for world peace, and I don’t think I’m likely to ever see this come about.

Also, I think that for so long, people have looked at poetry as this arcane, obscure thing that is too brainy or highbrow or too chock full of feelings for most audiences. I hope for more poems that connect with the everyday culture that surrounds us in our modern world. This is a fancy way of calling for more poems about the ordinary things like popular culture, which is something that I think a lot of writers consider to be beneath their notice. But popular culture is a reflection of its audience, isn’t it? When we are horrified at Miley Cyrus wagging her tongue on a television awards show, or watching the Avengers battle a cosmic menace on a movie screen, or cheering on our favorite pro wrestlers (Brock Lesnar) as they clash with our less favorite sports figures (anyone not named Brock Lesnar), we are reacting to reflections of ourselves as a culture and how we orient ourselves to that reflection. To me, this is something worth writing about.

So, I think I just said that I hope for world peace via poems about pro wrestling. I’m good with that.

Todd's Book:

Some of Todd's Poems Online:

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Four Questions for Ruth Foley

Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts,
where she teaches English for
Wheaton College. Her work
appears in numerous web and
print journals, including 
The Bellingham Review
and Sou’wester.
She is the author of two chapbooks,
Dear Turquoise (dancing girl press)
Creature Feature (ELJ Publications),
and serves as Managing Editor for
Cider Press ReviewYou can find her
online at her blog 
Five Things, or on Twitter or Facebook.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

RF: This seemed like such an easy question to answer until I tried to answer it. The shortest version (which isn’t terribly short, I’m afraid) is that poetry is the art form that addresses most of the things that make me tick. It’s the most condensed form of humanity I’ve found. Also, I trained as a classical vocalist when I was younger and studied a lot of music, and poetry carries a lot of music within it, for obvious reasons. I love its sonic qualities, its rhythms, and its obsessive, glorious attention to detail. Poetry is also a bit of a chameleon—my favorite poems look and sound effortless but are in fact intricately crafted.

DS: What do you hope to find in poems written by other people?

RF: Stuff to steal. Moves that make me lose my breath. Some piece of language that I would never have thought of in a million years but which feels perfect. Illumination. Shadow. The occasional sex scene.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

RF: I’m in the final-for-now stages of putting together a manuscript that mixes my old obsessions with my new ones. It’s a watery manuscript—I grew up spending my summers on the Rhode Island coast, and the ocean is such an essential aspect of my nature that I can’t escape it. And don’t particularly want to. I’m fascinated with human failings and human fears, and I’m obsessed with the idea of place and space, and those interests are all there. I’ve also started moving into exploring ways to include my belief in the essential value of life. I’m a feminist and a humanist, and I also believe very strongly in the importance of the natural world. I love the fuzzy and sweet, but I also love the creepy and crawly and the creatures that make a lot of people recoil. I want to advocate for the deep, deep beauty of the world while simultaneously exploring hopelessness and loneliness. But, you know. No pressure.

DS: What are your hopes for the future of poetry?

RF: World peace? Or maybe just continual exploration of the human condition. When I say that, I mean all humans, with as diverse a swath of backgrounds as there are poets. I make an effort to read poets from as varied a group as I can think of—varied in terms of sex, sexual orientation, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic background...whatever I can do. Some of the poetry speaks to me and some of it doesn’t and all of it helps me understand myself as a poet just a bit more. I see it as part of my responsibility and privilege as an editor to do so, but it’s also opened up my writing in ways I couldn’t have anticipated and may not be able to explain. My hope for the future of poetry is that more and more writers and editors open themselves up to experiences that don’t align with their own. There’s no downside to doing so—nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Ruth's Chapbooks:

Some of Ruth's Poems Online:

Three poems from Creature Feature
Poems (with audio) at The Poetry Storehouse
 Three poems at Front Porch

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Next Big Thing Interview

The fabulous Carol Guess has tagged me for the Next Big Thing Series, in which writers give brief interviews about their forthcoming books. (I'm looking forward to reading the interviews of the people I've tagged at the bottom of this post.) Here goes:

What is the working title of the book? 

How the Potato Chip Was Invented; there’s a poem in the book with that name. It was inspired by a visit to the Utz factory in Pennsylvania Dutch country. I remember watching a short video there about the history of the chip. Basically, I took the real story, forgot large sections of it, and replaced the forgotten sections with references to Lionel Richie. It seemed like the right thing to do.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I had been writing a bunch of mock-history prose poems. Some of these took historical figures and placed them in impossible contexts (e.g., Fred Astaire performing with the Black Eyed Peas), while other poems were aimed at righting wrongs; certain celebrities received long-overdue comeuppance. The idea to focus the book solely on these celebrity poems came from the editors, David McNamara and Brian Mihok.

What genre does your book fall under?

Prose poems, mini teleplay, standardized test portion, etc.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

Some of the characters in the book are movie actors: Christopher Walken and Max von Sydow, for example. I would want them to play each other.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

These poems about celebrities are occasionally creepy and loosely research-based—Wikipedia, basically.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

I sat in my basement a couple of Aprils ago and thought up dozens of “what if” scenarios involving famous people—Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon. Then I turned these into longish prose poems that had to be pared down. It took a couple of months to revise and turn the poems into a manuscript.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I was a journalist and advertising copywriter before I became a poet. Some of the ideas in the book probably come from my brain’s inability to differentiate among these disparate media. I sometimes distort facts and serve up a poem as a tweaked biography. Anyhow, the writers who inspired me most were David Wojahn—who wrote several brilliant, celebrity-oriented poems in his book Mystery Train—and my heroes of prose poetry: Russell Edson and James Tate

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I blaspheme mainstream darlings such as Thomas Kinkade and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Somehow, even Julie Andrews winds up under the proverbial bus. I also profess my decades-long love for Rosanna Arquette.

 Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It will be published in summer 2013 by sunnyoutside press, which makes beautiful books. I am so fortunate to be able to work with David and Brian.


My tagged writers for next week are:

Mary Lou Buschi 
Sarah Carson
Matt Hart 
Shannon Hozinec 
Jessy Randall 
Daniel Romo