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, December 23, 2015

Four Questions for T.A. Noonan

T.A. Noonan is the author of several books and chapbooks, most recently The Midway Iterations (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2015), Fall (Lucky Bastard Press, 2016), and The Ep[is]odes: a reformulation of Horace (Noctuary Press, 2016). Her work has appeared in LIT, Menacing Hedge, Ninth Letter, Phoebe, Reunion: The Dallas Review, West Wind Review, and others. A weightlifter, artist, teacher, and priestess, she is an Associate Editor of Sundress Publications and the Development Director for the Sundress Academy
for the Arts.

DS: Why do you write poetry? 

TN: Poems are spells. I write what I want to manifest, banish, bless, curse, invoke, evoke, honor.

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

TN: Magick I haven’t seen before. Or maybe magick I have seen before, but executed in a different way. Ultimately, I want wonder. I want to be swept up in the spell.

 DS: Describe your works in progress.

TN: All of them? Well…

I’m kidding. Kind of.

Right now, I’m bouncing between three major projects. The first and oldest is Extraordinary Claims, a poetry collection exploring the intersections between astrophysics, fashion, and Florida. You’d be surprised at how much they connect to one another. I’ve probably been working on EC for about six years, and every time I think I’m done, I realize I still have a lot more to do. So, the fact that I just said something about it publicly probably means I have to start over.

Then there’s Kraftwerk and Other Euphemisms, a kind of cross-genre monster exploring witchcraft and occultism. Being all weird and shit means it doesn’t lend itself to my usual process.

The last one is Watermamas: A Fable, a novel about gods, manatees, and memory. I’m still in the early-draft stage but really excited about what I’ve got thus far.

I’ve also been picking here and there at a series of poems about Sailor Moon, but I don’t know if that’s a “work in progress” so much as an “occasional obsession with an unsure future.”

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

TN: A lot less fear, a lot more inclusivity. I want a poetry world that isn’t afraid to let marginalized writers step out of those margins; the poetry world’s plenty big enough for all of us. No one should feel “threatened” by diversity. I think the only real “threat” is that those diverse voices may be too fiercely beautiful, that the heat from their awesome words might be too much for us to handle, that we may have to work twice as hard to be half as hot. Of course, this means we need people willing to do that work—editors and publishers determined to make their venues safe for poets from every race, class, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, educational background, career path, etc. Those who are marginalized, though, can’t do that work by themselves. It’s up to those coming from places of privilege to use that privilege responsibly.

I’d also like more handmade books, please. I’m a sucker for them.

T.A.'s Books:

Some of T.A.'s Poems Online:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Four Questions for Sarah A. Chavez

Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook All Day, Talking (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). She holds a Ph.D. in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Her work can be found or is forthcoming in the anthologies Bared: An Anthology on Bras and Breasts and Political Punch: The Politics of Identity, as well as the journals North Dakota Quarterly, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, and The Boiler Journal, among others. Her debut full-length collection, Hands That Break & Scar, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications. She is a proud member of the Macondo Writers Workshop. 

DS: Why do you write poetry? 

SC: As a kid growing up in a mobile home on the west side of Fresno, CA, when I was upset or couldn’t sleep, I read. Mostly prose, novels and the occasional short story; they were about upper class people, romance, things that take place in forests, or vampire/horror – always an escape. When I was done with a book, it felt like I was transported back against my will. My brain a little fuzzy, feeling dissatisfied closing the back cover, unhappy to come back to the life I had. But when I got a little older and was assigned to read poetry for class, all of a sudden, it was reading that didn’t transport me; it grounded me. After reading a poem, I didn’t feel ethereal and torn between realities, I felt solid and clear-eyed. The close attention to detail, the concentrated and highlighted emotions, the care with which lines were broken, and diction chosen: it brought my lived experience into focus. It taught me how to look at my circumstances differently, more closely, with greater compassion and nuance.

I write poetry largely to continue this practice of compassion and the search to understand myself, and my lived experience more mindfully, and in turn hope to understand other forms of human experience. Even now that I teach poetry writing and publish my work, writing it somehow still feels like a secret, selfish act, like it’s always just for me, and the only way I can justify continuing to write poetry is by carrying what I learn with out in the world.

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

SC: I think I freak my poetry students out a little bit when I tell them this, but I want poems to devastate me. I want them to break me in half and make me cry. The tears can be for sadness, desire, or happiness; it doesn't matter which, just something felt strongly.

For me, poetry, like visual art, is about feeling connected to other humans, and I like for that connection to be tangible. It’s why I gravitate – both in my reading and writing habits – toward poetry that is sensory and concrete. While this goes in and out of fashion, I’m always a fan of narrative poetry. I like being told a story and I like stories that work; poetry that shoves its hands in the dirt and rips up weeds, poetry that washes dishes and loads trucks. Not poetry that is practical, per se, but poetry that serves the purpose of diversifying while simultaneously drawing connection to varied human experience. I hope to find poetry that spotlights the import in small moments, sees the people that have been shoved to the margins, but in a way that recognizes the beauty in the steel, in the grease on cracked hands.

DS: Describe your works in progress.

SC: I’m currently working on two projects. One is a series of poems based on the indigenous mythology around the turtle that carried the Earth. That has always been one of my favorite myths, partly because I’ve just always loved turtles; they have those cute, little, tough-skinned faces and sturdy, short bodies. The myth also appeals to me because of the level of sacrifice that Turtle makes in the story. For the rest of the world to exist, all the vegetation and animals, he has to agree to a life of isolation and loneliness. I’ve always wondered about how that would feel. That led me to imagining the kind of life Turtle had before taking on that monumental responsibility and what it might be like if he got to come back to the Earth. I’ll have three of these poems coming out on THEThe Poetry Blog early in 2016.

The second project is an extension of the epistle poems in my chapbook, All Day, Talking, which are letters from a singular speaker to a woman she loves who has died. The manuscript is tentatively titled This Dark Shining Thing.

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

My primary hope for the future of poetry is to once and for all shake this nonsense about it being intimidating. It’s maddening to encounter over and over again people who don’t read poetry or are scared to read it because they think they won’t “get it.” I’m tired of hearing not just students, but even people I encounter out in the world, say that there was some rigid high school teacher who told them that poetry is a puzzle, locked with a key, and only the smartest people can access the deep wells of knowledge that lie therein. Our culture doesn’t treat music that way and it doesn’t treat painting that way (well, maybe a little), both forms of art that are equally as difficult to do well, and equally as enjoyable once you lose yourself in it. And I’m not saying that good poetry isn’t at times difficult to read (though it often isn’t), but that I hope a larger population of people begin to trust that whatever they get from a poem, even if it isn’t the same as what the person next to them felt, is valuable and worth the effort. I want to hear people casually talking on the bus about that new poetry collection that came out last week.

Sarah's Chapbook:

Sarah's Recent Poems Online: 

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 forCider 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