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

Friday, August 11, 2017

Four Questions for Madeleine Barnes

Madeleine Barnes is a poet and visual artist from Pittsburgh. She is the author of the chapbook The Mark My Body Draws in Light (Finishing Line Press, 2014), and her poems have recently appeared in places such as Pleiades, Fields Magazine, Jai-Alai Magazine, The Rattling Wall, The Literary Nest, and Pittsburgh Poetry Review. She earned a BHA from Carnegie Mellon University, a Master’s of Philosophy in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin, and an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University.

She is the recipient of a New York State Summer Writers Institute Fellowship, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the Princeton Poetry Prize. She loves animals, her two weird sisters, and cheese.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

MB: My mother is a poet, so I was familiar with her poems and her passion for poetry at an early age. As I grew up, I’d occasionally sneak books from the shelves of her study, and in this way I secretly encountered the work of poets like Yusef Komunyakaa (with whom she and I both eventually studied!), Rilke, Lorca, Franz and James Wright, Keats, Plath, Kim Addonizio, Jorie Graham, Louise Gl├╝ck, Li-Young Lee, Jan Beatty, many Irish poets, and so on. I have always loved my mom’s poetry; it is sonically familiar and deeply comforting to me. From this starting point, I expanded outward and built my own mini-library. Then I began to write and never looked back.

I felt (and currently feel) that reading and writing poetry are the only things that keep me from going mad. If I’m not writing, I am not engaging with the realities of life. For me, reading is the surest way to get close to the important truths of living—and it arms me with the compassion I need to reflect on trauma, grief, loss, political strife, and the subject that levels and unifies us: death.

Poetry is also a way for me to understand my family history. My grandparents worked in steel mills shoveling zinc or building railroad ties; they were carpenters and teaching artists—members of the working class. Through poetry, I’m trying to examine and preserve their stories with a lens that is simultaneously personal and objective, and filled with tenderness. I write poems because life seems unbearable when I stop wondering about the truth of other people’s experiences.

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

MB: This changes and evolves over time; I have recently encountered some surprising losses, so in other people’s poems, I look for solace. I have really, really loved rereading the U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars. “When the storm // kicks up and nothing is ours, we go chasing // after all we’re certain to lose, so alive— // faces radiant with panic.” Thank god she is our poet laureate during this terrifying political time!

I search for poems that cut straight to the bone; poems with lines that you want to write down again and again until grief reconfigures. I’m looking for poems that will see us out of this time with their hard truths and compassion. I love the raw, egoless work of very young poets and the poems of the very old. The work of my friends is staggering, and I love the courage and ferocity of what they create.

Sometimes I read 6-7 books in a week and find only one line that gives me an answer to my questions, but that is enough to keep me going.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

MB: I'm fighting hard to finish and send out the full-length manuscript I've been working on for seven years. People I trust have told me that it's done, but I feel there is a section about my family’s working-class roots and experiences missing, so I'm hammering that out slowly and with patience. I’m interested in the ways they suffered and what it took for them to survive—there are threads of addiction, grudges, domestic violence, and mental illness, but also strains of resilience and love. Steel and Pittsburgh, my hometown, are everywhere in this manuscript.

I am also working on a chapbook of visual poetry—something like poetry comics in the style of Bianca Stone layered in with some Matthea Harvey-style cutouts and possibly embroidery. Still mulling this over and experimenting, but it has been a lot of fun to work on.

Finally, I help read poetry for Cordella Magazine with the creative director Cate Clother, and this has been a wonderful project that helps me look outside myself.

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

MB: I hope that poetry outlives us all. I hope it becomes a little less insular—maybe people who wouldn’t normally read poetry will engage with it and find some relief in it, as I have. I hope that young people write fiercely and in their own styles. I hope that society starts to value poets a bit more and starts paying them and taking the work they do seriously—society is obsessed with “what you do,” but somehow you get the occasional eyebrow raise when you say, “I’m a poet.” I hope future poets protect their creativity and value it with all their hearts. I hope poetry preserves the names of things that seem to be disappearing. I recently read that the words “acorn” and “blackberry” have been removed from the Oxford Junior Dictionary, and that botany is a dying science, so please, poets, help us remember the names of things.

I also hope that the kind of hustle/ego that I find in some poetry these days dissolves and leaves the raw, true things behind. I respect the hustle but think it’s sad when the “social scene” of poetry sidetracks writers. Sometimes I just want a cabin in the woods and, like, 10 pugs by my side while I write the truest things I can. I want poems that eradicate prejudice, call attention to and dismantle oppressive systems, and raise hell. I am so grateful for everyone writing and creating today—keep going!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Four Questions for C. Kubasta

C. Kubasta experiments with hybrid forms, excerpted text, and shifting voices – her work has been called claustrophobic and unflinching. Her favorite rejection (so far) noted that one editor loved her work, and the other hated it. A 6-year-old once mistook her for Velma, from Scooby Doo, and was unduly excited. She feels a strong affinity for Skipper, Barbie’s flat-footed cousin. For each major publication, she celebrates with a new tattoo; someday she hopes to be completely sleeved – her skin a labyrinth of signifiers, utterly opaque. She is the author of two chapbooks: A Lovely Box, which won the 2014 Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Chapbook Prize, and &s (both from Finishing Line); and a full-length collection, All Beautiful & Useless (BlazeVOX). She teaches English and Gender Studies at Marian University, in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. She lives with her beloved John, cat Cliff, and dog Ursula. Find her at

DS: Why do you write poetry?

CK: When I was in 6th grade, my Language Arts teacher challenged us each to write a poem – I think it was for Read magazine. That was probably the first time I really thought about poetry, but somehow it stuck. I turn to poetry often when I want to express the fragmentary and evocative: much about our lives seems fragmentary; bits and pieces of language that evoke something about our human experience, without attempting to fully explain or narrativize that experience is what draws me to poetry. Although lately I’ve been writing fiction, and fully planning to immerse myself in that, setting aside poetry for a while, I’ve been unable to do so. Poems call to me to be written. Sharp fragments (the roadkill clustered with crows; the half-toppled Martin house; the formula for a chemical reaction; how denim is riveted) become embedded in my consciousness and want to become poems, and nothing else. Since the election I’ve been thinking of bees and colony collapse. What could that be but a poem?

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

CK: I want poems that occasion a physical reaction. I’m drawn to poems with sharp lines, with intricate & surprising forms. Poems and poets that move me cause excited utterances, usually an expletive, the sort of thing that could be admissible in court even after I’m gone. Recently I was trying to explain to a student what I liked about a poem and I wanted to draw a picture of a screw with a t-handle for extra torque. The good poem affects me like the screw is in my belly, and there are various “turns” throughout the poem, a good quarter turn, that sinks it deeper in. I want poems that are visceral, that cannot be ignored, that demand our emotional, psychological, and mental energy. We are forced to engage with them – poetry, like humor, porn, & horror, should also be a body genre.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

CK: &s, a new chapbook, is just out; the poems in it use the ampersand to construct and deconstruct the poems. My second book of poetry will be out next year from Whitepoint Press. Of Covenants explores linguistic, religious, and legal covenants – these tacit agreements define & articulate our experience. Lately I’ve been thinking about the last idea a bit more, especially in terms of language. There are a number of poems in the book that explore pronouns and their supposed antecedents. Certain pronouns seem to have lost their moorings, a happenstance both troubling and liberating. Additionally, the sentence diagrams that map these relationships seem to need an additional dimension that accounts for who interprets meaning, for who overhears the transactional nature of the naming. Perhaps what I’ve been reconsidering since the election, when we’re arguing whether words mean what they purport to mean, or whether they mean anything at all, is whether the notion of language as a covenant has begun to fray in a very visible way. The poems I’m writing just now are a longer series; I seem to be thinking in moving parts of longer pieces, rather than in individual poems. One series, Percolations, engages (obliquely) with the questions/concerns/issues raised this last summer through the public responses around shootings & protests. Another series, Corpus, utilizes the body and its products as a sort of autobiography: the stapes, the eye, ambergris. I also recently wrote a poem I love about a dear friend who died – it’s a poem about his dying, the days of it, the waiting for it. Each section of the poem is titled “The Present.” His dying was always in the present. 

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

CK: I want more poetry that challenges us, as readers and human beings. I want less “nice” poetry, fewer “pretty” things. I want poetry that is difficult – and I don’t mean less accessible – I mean poetry that deals with difficult topics, that forces us to picture things we’ve never imagined, that asks us to empathize in ways we haven’t, that asks us to inhabit uncomfortable spaces, that asks us to sit with discomfort and doesn’t let us off the hook. And I want people to not only be willing to read this kind of work, but to seek this out, to seek ways to stretch our humanity. Our humanity is a muscle like any other.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Four Questions for Ruth Awad

Ruth Awad is a Lebanese-American poet and the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Missouri Review Poem of the Week, Sixth Finch, CALYX, Diode, The Adroit Journal, Vinyl Poetry, Drunken Boat, Nashville Review, and elsewhere. Her work has also been anthologized in The Hundred Years' War: Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), New Poetry from the Midwest 2014 (New American Press, 2015), and Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015). She won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest. She has an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her partner, Pomeranians, and bunnies.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

RA: I wonder about that a lot. When I was writing my first book, I had such a clear sense of mission. In the US, we often get a flag-waving and human-erasing narrative of far-off wars waged against and between brown bodies in the Middle East. I wanted to understand and portray that destruction’s civilian price, so I wrote about my father growing up in Lebanon during its civil war. And this answer might speak more to where I am right now (between projects / floating in space), but some days, I just don’t know why I write other than I can’t stop. Strip away the altruistic desire to say something honest, reach people, and change minds, and there’s just me and my nagging want to create. Maybe it gives me some semblance of control in a world ruled by chaos.   

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

RA: I’m always looking for that one line that will sink its teeth in me. That will upend my expectations and make me reassess where I was before I read the poem. That will make me wish I’d thought of it first.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

RA: Right now I’m working on a second collection I affectionately call my “feminist love poems.” I don’t feel very in control of these poems, which is a departure from my last project Set to Music a Wildfire, where I interviewed my father, his friends, and my family, and researched, planned, and obsessively plotted the collection’s narrative arc, etc. So with this new project, I’m forcing myself to be more open to emotional logic, which is a fine enough guide when you’re writing about your fucked up romantic past and what it means to be a woman heavily instructed by patriarchal norms but who’s trying to unlearn it.

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

RA: I hope it keeps evolving. I want inclusion to be business as usual and not exceptional or a selling point. I want more POC editors running big-name journals and presses. I want ableist, sexist, racist poetry to never see the light of day. (I’m surprised this point can even make a wish list in 2016, but here we are.)

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Four Questions for Megan Merchant

Megan Merchant is a resident of Prescott, Arizona, and holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from UNLV. Her second full-length collection, The Dark’s Humming, was the winner of the 2015 Lyrebird Prize (Glass Lyre Press, 2017). She is also the author of four chapbooks: Translucent, sealed. (Dancing Girl Press, 2015), In the Rooms of a Tiny House (ELJ Publications, 2016), Unspeakable Light (Throwback Books, 2016), and A Thousand Paper Cranes (Finishing Line Press, forthcoming). Gravel Ghosts is her debut full-length poetry collection through Glass Lyre Press.  She also has a children’s book forthcoming through Philomel Books. 

DS: Why do you write poetry?

MM: For so many reasons. For one, I write because I love language. I experience it as a pulsing, tangible element: the tools for trying like hell to make sense of what it means to be awake in this world. I write poetry specifically because I have had a long love affair with images and music. I write to give my brain something to do other than limp around and worry without taking action. I write as a form of meditation.  I write so that I can see my breath in a season other than winter. I write to reclaim my agency and to connect with others. I write with the hope of creating something beautiful and worthwhile. I write to connect with people in an intentional way. I write to give my own prayers ink and a spine.

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

MM: I read hoping to fall in love, in every way: with the order and disorder of words, the images that open my own mind and eyes to fragments of this world in which I am both familiar and estranged, with honesty, music, and perspective. I am always hoping to find a part that makes me do that little sucked-in breath of awe and inspiration. But mostly I am hoping to fall in love.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

MM: I have three manuscripts that I wrote over the last eight months. They are nearly complete and radically different. The third manuscript begins with the quote from E.M. Forster: “I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.” It brings into focus the violence and terror of this world from a mother’s perspective—one who grows to become “all mothers” by taking on their sorrow. It’s about interconnectedness and started with a spiritual quest to truly understand the differences between empathy and compassion.

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

MM: I hope that more poems will “go viral” and extend their reach. Also, that the publishing world will continue to grow in an inclusive way, bringing unrecognized voices into the light. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Four Questions for Michael Albright

Michael Albright has published poems in various journals, including Stirring, Rust + Moth, Tar River Poetry, Pembroke Magazine, Cider Press Review, Revolver, Moon City Review, Pretty Owl, Uppagus, and the chapbook In the Hall of Dead Birds and Viking Tools. He also curates the "Under the Sign of the Bear" reading series in Pittsburgh, and is managing editor of the Pittsburgh Poetry Review. He lives on a windy hilltop near Greensburg, PA, with his wife, Lori, and an ever-changing array of children and other animals.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

MA: Well, not to get too cute about it, because I can't paint. Everyone has some kind of creative urge, and if we're lucky, we find out what we have an affinity for, how we can express it. Writing has always been my primary means of expression, even before it was something I took seriously. But why poetry? Because I am not a novelist. Or a song-writer. For me, the concision and heightening of language, the interplay between words written on the page, as they are read, evoke a sort of altered state of consciousness, like listening to King Crimson through headphones on acid. I've always considered poetry the highest form or art, which is why I would never be so hubristic to describe myself as "poet." I try to write poetry; it's for other people to say whether I am a poet, or not.

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

MA: Simply stated, words I can't stop reading, or listening to. I'm less concerned (but not unconcerned) about meaning than I am with the lyric in the poem. In my favorite poems, the words make the music, and in turn, music makes meaning. I don't care if a poem is linear, as long as the words are arranged in the way that makes me want to read it over and over again, just for the pleasure of it, the way I listen to music. The best make me feel something physical; goose bumps, chills, a feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach. Without the lyric, poems are just newspaper articles.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

MA: I have three projects in progress. The first is a chapbook length collection of usually short, somewhat surrealistic, sometimes absurdist, and always dark hybrid-y prose poems. I am also deep into a manuscript of a combination of original and hybrid work dealing with my balance disorder, and the other conditions that contribute to my disability. Then there is my ever-present "gothic novel in verse of forbidden love, murder, and global warming." I am nothing if not ambitious.

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

MA: My hope is that poetry continues to become more and more relevant. Despite charges that it isn't relevant (and when did the non-poetry community ever think it was?), it has emerged as one of the best vehicles for people writing from outside of privilege to find an audience. Despite seeing statistics that fewer people are reading poetry than ever, we have this absolute explosion of independent journals and publishers. I'd be surprised if enrollment in poetry MFA programs isn't at an all-time high, a circumstance often maligned, but you'll never hear that from me; you have to be crazy serious about poetry to choose that as your life's work, and all those people have a vested interest in getting more people to read and write poetry. These people are my heroes. They are the future of our art. Every poet who has published a book, or even published a poem in a journal, has friends and family that will read at least one of their poems if they ask them. Ask them.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Four Questions for Susan Yount

Susan Yount was raised on a farm in southern Indiana where she learned to drive a tractor and hug her beloved goat, Cinnamon. She is editor of Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal, madam of the Chicago Poetry Bordello, and founder of Misty Publications. She also works full time at the Associated Press and teaches online poetry classes at The Poetry Barn. As if all that wasn’t enough, she is mother to a rowdy 9-year-old. She has published two chapbooks, House on Fire and Catastrophe Theory. A third chapbook, Act One, is forthcoming from Saucepot Publishing. In her free time, she works on the Poetry Tarot. You can keep up with her progress here.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

SY: Unfortunately, I only write poetry when I have something burning to say. My muse has never been sweet but has always been a bitter fire demon at the edge of a rotting hole inside my being. When the demon gets too close to the raw edge, when the hole feels threatened, that is when the poems erupt.  I write poetry to keep the hole from consuming me.

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

SY: My favorite poems are honest and filled with the gruesome imagery of the human condition. They reveal something about humanity that we mask in our everyday lives. I’m currently reading Notes for My Body Double by Paul Guest – WHOA! Now that is THE SHIT I’ve been looking for.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

SY: This is the year I want to work on the Minor Arcana of the Poetry Tarot I started in 2011.

I’ve finished the Major Arcana which utilizes images of dead poets, their handwriting (whenever it has been available in the public domain) and often an image of their childhood home – or some other important place of writing. You can view some samples here. These are not haphazard images and ideas thrown together. I have meditated, worked myself into frenzy, and even dared the demon to the middle of the hole in order to provide the best representation of the card and the poet.

The true challenge for me is the Minor Arcana and will consist of living poets (at least at the time of creation), a sample of their handwriting and some essence of the poet they are within the imagery of the card itself. I’m currently seeking volunteers – details on how to query me can be found at my tumblr page.

Once all the graphic work is completed, the final goal is to edit a book which interprets the cards and includes a poem from each poet.

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

SY: I hope I don’t lose it. I hope it finds me furious, thirsty, and crying. I hope it fights me in the middle of the night. I hope it buries me alive.

Susan’s Work Online:

Susan’s Chapbooks:
Catastrophe Theory (Hyacinth Girl Press)
House on Fire (Blood Pudding Press)
Act One (forthcoming, Saucepot Publishing)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Four Questions for Sarah J. Sloat

Sarah J. Sloat has lived in Germany for many years, where she works as an editor for a news organization. She is usually found at her desk at home or her desk at work; otherwise she is stuck on the subway between them. Sarah’s poems and prose have appeared in The Offing, Beloit Poetry Journal, Verse Daily, and many other journals and anthologies. She blogs occasionally at The Rain in My Purse.

DS: Why do you write poetry?

SS: Because I love language, mostly, and the phrases, juxtapositions and sounds that ask to be made more of. There are words that need fondling, and poor lost little ideas that need a parade. Also, as someone who’s lived in a foreign country for more than two decades, poetry is a way for me to be at home. I come as much from English as from America, but in the case of the former I still dwell there every day.

And also, what is there to do? When you’re charged with making a life and meaning for yourself, what’s better than making art with what confronts you every day? Keeping up with the new TV shows?

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

SS: My favorite poems articulate something I know or feel but never found the words for, like Cesar Vallejo’s “Prayer on the Road,” which begins with the arresting ... “I don’t even know who this bitterness is for!”

I like energy and daring and surprise, like the wild red-white-and-blue laughter in Colleen O’Brien’s “In the Democracy.”

I like poems that show me some truth I vaguely sensed but never pursued, whether in thought or articulation, like Marie Howe’s “My Dead Friends.”

“I have begun,
when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question
to ask my dead friends for their opinion”

I am also in love with funny poems. They do so much work and are difficult to do well. Like Jessy Randall’s “Forgetting Simon Perchik.” 

DS: Describe your works in progress.

SS: Like everypoet I could tell you about my manuscript-in-progress. With five chapbooks, I’ve got the poems. But that’s boring.

Poem-wise, I’m working on what I call sentence and fragment poems, some of which have been published recently, like “Inebriate of Air” and “Deluxe Moments.” I’ve always loved aphorisms so such poems satisfy my inner pithiness.

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

SS: I wish more people would read it. It’s not hard. It’s kind of wonderful. It doesn’t take long.

Or did you mean the future of my poetry? I hope it becomes wildly successful! I hope it lands a multimillion-dollar deal!
Sarah's Work Online:

Sarah's Chapbooks:

Heiress to a Small Ruin (Dancing Girl Press)
Inksuite (Dancing Girl Press)
Homebodies (Hyacinth Girl Press)
Excuse me while I wring this long swim out of my hair (Dancing Girl Press)
In the Voice of a Minor Saint (Doubleback Books)