10 Questions for Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri reads at Bollingbroke (2)Diane Sahms-Guarnieri is a native Philadelphia poet and currently the poetry editor of The Fox Chase Review. She has served on the Editorial Board of Philadelphia Stories magazine (2006-2008); founded The Center City Poets Workshop (2006-2011); founded and runs The Tenth Muse Poetry Workshop (2012- ); and currently co-hosts The Fox Chase Reading Series at Ryerss Museum and Library. She is a graduate of East Stroudsburg State University and has performed post graduate work at Holy Family University.  Her poetry has been published widely in the small and electronic press.

Interview by: g emil reutter

The Interview: 

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GER: You are the poetry editor of The Fox Chase Review and served on the editorial board of Philadelphia Stories Magazine. Tell us of the experience and what does a poetry editor look for in a submission? DSG:

As Poetry Editor of The Fox Chase Review (2009 – present), and one of several Poetry Editors at Philadelphia Stories Magazine (2006 – 08), I have learned through explication how to detect well-crafted poems.

Crafting is an important factor when a poet submits his/her poem(s) to a magazine for consideration.  Basically, the appearance of the poem on the page is important – Does content match form?   Equally important (or maybe, a notch higher on the review level) – What is the poet writing to the reader, that is, what is the poem doing? Or not doing? Why is it relevant?  Is it informing the reader of something the reader doesn’t know or needs to be reminded of (philosophical); Is it entertaining (comedic); Is it sharing an experience about love, death, hate, misunderstandings, relationships, nature, etc.; Is it using words (language) in a modernistic or post modernistic way; etcetera.

A poem is written to be read.  As an editor of a magazine, I want people to read the poems that are published, so I am looking for any form of poetry that is well crafted and offers the reader something that they will continue to think about after they have read a poet’s poem.

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri where the Lehigh meets the Delaware River

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GER: Your first collection of poetry, Images of Being, was released in 2011. Share with us the development of the collection and your journey from inception to publication.

DSG:I could write a novel about my ten-year- journey from the inception of Images of Being  to its publication, because to me poetry has been the purest art form that has allowed the inner me to express myself through images that have defined my existence as a human being.  It is my “Truth”: the truth that has set me free to be me.  As I grow as a person, I grow as a poet and vice versa.

GER: Although you are a Philadelphia Poet your poems not only reflect the city but extend their reach into the realism and imagery of life. How important is it for a poet not to be geographic centric?

DSG: Hmmm… hard question, because I can write about the human condition, in fact, I have written poems about injustice in North Korea and Afghanistan and poems about being human and the shared experiences that make us human – love and the absence of love; sufferings and the result of sufferings; death and the pain of losing someone; relationships with family, friends, co-workers, strangers, etc.  Life has no limits; and therefore a poet must have no limits and should write about the human condition, which spans the globe, the heavens, and even enters into hell.

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I am not geographic centric; however I write about my city because I know my city and I love my city.  It runs through my veins, is the essence of my existence.  I have an immense respect for the people I have known whom lived, worked, and died in my city, including many of my own family members.   On my paternal side, my father and several of his brothers devoted their entire lives to working in the textile mills of Roxborough and Manayunk, and they died from emphysema.  {One-third of the poems in Images of Being are devoted to my childhood.  It is written  “In Memory” of my father and several poems were written about him, as follows:  “Still Life”; “Another Shirley Temple”;” Snowman”; “Rest Stops”;” Easter”; and “Machine Machines Monstrous Machines.”}   My maternal grandmother (“Madeline”) worked at Freedom Felt, a company that manufactured brake linings using asbestos.  She died from asbestosis.  Lastly, my mother worked as a cleaning lady (“Daisy”) at my elementary school, James Dobson, located in Manayunk.  This is not a trivial matter!  My family has given themselves to my city and that means a lot to me, and I write about them because I respect them and their sacrifices.  They are my connection to my city, the sweat and blood of my family.

Currently, and thinking more globally, Chinese textile workers, unfortunately, are being exposed to the same deadly diseases that caused sufferings and deaths to my family members.  So writing locally about Philadelphia’s Industrial maladies may enlighten the Chinese of potential sufferings, and maybe, the mill owners will protect their workers.  Somehow I doubt it, ‘cause money rules, but there is always hope that others will learn from our mistakes and misfortunes.  (Can anyone translate English into Chinese?)

Third Thursdays Poetry Night Doylestown Bookshop Pennsylvania (2)

GER: Over the last two years you have toured the poetry circuit in support of your work. Share with us your travels and experiences at the various venues you have read at.

DSG: Travels: Touring has given me an unique opportunity to not only share my work with poets and people in the Philadelphia region, but it also has allowed me to share my work with poets and people in New York, New York; Cambridge, MA; Woodbury & Millville, NJ; Wilmington, De; and in the following places in Pennsylvania: Lancaster, Harrisburg, Wyncote, Radnor, Bryn Mawr, Norristown, New Hope, & Easton.  I have been extremely fortunate to have met so many interesting and inspiring people.

Experiences:  I have actually learned that one will not make money from touring.  Yes, you will sell a few books here, many more there, none there, but you will never make money.  On longer trips (Massachusetts), you most definitely will come out- of- pocket, but you can justify this by telling yourself it coupled as a vacation.  Trips to Harrisburg and New York, well, you may break even depending on the audience.   After reading at “Second Saturday Poets” in Delaware, I was invited to host a well- attended all day workshop.  Thanks Delaware! Lancaster give me a magnet and T-shirt and despite the fact that I had to read in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble with Winnie the Pooh as a backdrop, their sound system allowed me to attract a few non-poet shoppers to listen for a while. For me, the best part of touring was meeting other poets from other places and non-poets who actually appreciated poetry!   

Benefits:   After a year of touring, I actually started to feel more confident reading my poems to an audience.  With confidence, I believe my “reading” performance has been enhanced.  I have come to the conclusion that there are poems that are “page” poems and “audience” poems.  To elaborate, “page” poems are more complicated and/or heady poems and are meant for a reader to read and re-read slowly, calmly, and in the confines of solitude.  “Audience” poems are those poems that are more musical and/or narrative in nature, which make it easier for the listener to follow, as you read with rhythm, feeling, proper breathing, and annunciation.  By reading and re-reading poems aloud, you learn how to accent the poem where you want the listener to really hear and feel what you are reading.  Three poems which have never failed me and fit nicely into this definition of “audience” poems, are “Laundry”;” Machines, Machines, Monstrous Machines”; and “My Lover.” 

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri (2)GER: What poets have influenced you as a poet and how important is it for a poet to be well read in the art?

DSG: The poets who influence me are usually the poets that I am reading at the time I am working on a poem(s), not always the case, but many times it works out that way for me.  In my early days of writing, I read Joel Conarroes, Six American Poets and then his Eight American Poets Anthologies and fell in love with all 14 poets: Whitman, Dickinson, Stevens, Williams, Frost, Hughes, and then Bishop, Merrill, Plath, Ginsberg, Roethke, Berryman, Sexton, and Lowell, respectively.   Although, I had a B.S. from East Stroudsburg University, as an adult and mother of three, I enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) & Holy Family University (HFU) to earn a Secondary Education Teaching Degree in English, coupled with the fact that I wanted desperately to improve my literary skills. I studied American, English and World Literatures (I and II) and an array of literature and poetry  related topics (Creative Writing, Theatre, Public Speaking…), but gravitated toward Sexton, Plath, Frost, Browning, Roethke, Owens, Keats, Blake, and Whitman; and therefore wrote a lot of confessional, narrative, and character-type poems using metaphor (some floral), images, similes, listing, and internal rhyme.  At this time, I felt very connected to my childhood, marriage-gone- wrong, and ultimately love, which literally makes up the three sections of Images of Being, a poetic memoir of my life written from 1998 -2008.

Then I read Lorca, Neruda, & Rilke, and Merwin, Oliver, Olds, Ryan, Kooser, Gluck, and every poet under the sun in the translations set forth in Poems for the Millennium (Volume One) edited by J. Rothenberg and P. Joris.  This anthology contained a plethora of poets/poems from every imaginable school of poetry from all over the globe.  This overwhelming collection opened my mind and broadened my views on the construction of poems.  (Note:  Poems for the Millennium comes in a three volume set.)  Night Sweat, written from 2008-2012, my forthcoming collection, resonates the influence of some of these readings.

poet diane sahms-guarnieri reads (3)

My advice to any poet is to Read. Read. Read. poetry from the defined and undefined schools of poetry to translations of poems from all over the world.

GER: You have written poetry in free verse and a number of forms. How important is it for a poet to be diverse in the presentation of their poems?

DSG: I believe it is important for a poet to be diverse, but also believe that diversity in a poet’s poems comes with the growth of the poet, i.e., a poet must constantly challenge him/herself in various styles and forms, as the familiarity of various styles and forms will allow the poet an opportunity to place his/her words and/or poem(s) into a finished product, where form and content marry.

With that being said, I have personally challenged myself to convert a poem entitled “Hunger” into a ballad (because the poem wanted to be a ballad).   “Hunger” was written about a time that no longer exists in history, a time of a door- to- door salesman taking advantage of an illiterate mother and her improvised children, a home with no books.  A ballad seemed to sing it best.  I wrote a villanelle, because the form lent itself to my poem, “Narcissus,” about an egoist.  The repetitive lines of a French villanelle fed the subject matter of the egoist.  These poems appear in Images of Being.

In my second/forthcoming collection, Night Sweat, I didn’t use forms; however, I experimented with spacing and in some cases longer lines, concerning myself with how each poem appeared to the eye on the page.  For example, “Labyrinth of Dreams” is designed on the page to look like a labyrinth with dead ends and connective passage ways, so that the speaker’s journey through the poem emulates a labyrinth.  I also experimented with sound.  In “Drum Fire” I have long lines and repetition, as the poem is fantasy and fact; narrative and historical (Native American); and repetitive: “Drumming, drum drum drumming” echoes as a beating drum throughout the four pages of this poem.

Most recently, I wrote a poem a little bit in Spanish, but mostly in English, because the character Señor Rodriguez speaks fluent English, but also reverts in conversation into his native language.  “Unos Zapatos para el Señor Rodriguez,” honors not only Señor Rodriguez, but his father too, who spoke mostly in Spanish.

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri with Poet Jack Veasey at Almost Uptown 2 9 12 014

GER: Your poems have been published in the small and electronic press. Share with us the importance of a poet publishing their work and going through the submission process with magazines.

DSG: I do not enjoy sending my poems out, but enjoy it immensely when they get published.  Every so often I put myself through the agony of sending them out.   Two reasons to torture yourself with sending poems out:

  1.  You need to get “Acknowledgments” for your books.
  2. You hope that you will have a broader audience reading your work, other than the usual suspects, whom tolerate and humor you.

I have discovered that many of the more prestigious magazines (and everyone knows who they are) seem to have “Guest Editors” that invite their own sorority sisters and/or fraternity brothers to be published in these magazines.  I really think (in some cases) that Submishmash is merely a tool to weed out the “unknown” poets from the “known” poets, and that submissions are read (if they are read at all), at best, by graduate students with strict instructions about what not to consider.  And let’s face it, if you’re not one of the “in” crowd members then you are either “deleted,” so not to contaminate their system or thrown into the recycle bin before the letter opener has had a chance to bite the envelope.   It appears that it’s always the same poets being published in these so called erudite magazines.  I believe many times it is who you know, rather than your work that is your ticket into the big-name magazines.

Thank God for Small Press, but Beware, because sometimes fly-by- night small press magazines only publish their school of poetry and are not eclectic.

Poet Diane Sahms-Guarnieri readsGER: There are few poets who make a living at the art of poetry. Stanley Kunitz once said poetry is the last uncorrupted art because there is no money in it. As a poet who works full time how do you strike a balance between working and your creative process?

DSG: I don’t!  It’s a constant internal battle.  The work week takes so much time out of your poetic life: 40+ hours (workweek), the added time getting to and fro, and preparing for it both mentally and physically. However, you have to devise workarounds and manage your time the best way that you can.  You never want to choke out your artistic spirit/creativity/ or the Muse by the bombardment of “work.”  Funny you ask because recently I wrote an “Untitled” poem about this dilemma, as I am constantly faced with the dissatisfaction of not having enough time to write, teetering at cliff’s edge.
Diane Sahms-Guarnieri1GER: You began reading your poetry in the 1990’s at the Summer Breeze Series of the Old Philadelphia Poetry Forum.  How did this initial experience help you as a poet and propel you to read at other venues?

DSG: Summer Breeze 1998? A little background might help here.

I started writing poems in 1997/8, after the overwhelming death of my father from emphysema.  My “brand new” poems were about my childhood; the “truth” about my father’s drinking problem and his suffocating death from emphysema.   For me, at that time, it was a huge risk to read not only the first poems that I had ever written, but to share sensitive subject matter.  You see, when I grew up in Roxborough, everyone knew my dad had a drinking problem, but it was accepted and never discussed, a denial-type and enabling environment.  So, it was an extremely difficult decision for me to share not only my poems, but to expose his alcoholism through my poetry, a taboo topic, which was never discussed openly in my extended family.

This leads me to Summer Breeze!  If you start out reading your sensitive poetry to an audience then you need to do it in an environment where you feel safe and accepted.   The following people encouraged me, gave me tips on reading, supported me in my grieving, and more importantly believed in me.  I cannot adequately thank them enough:  Facilitator: Martha Collins, Mike Cohen, Steve Delia, the late Mariam Fine Brown, Frances Faraker, Don Suplee, Richard Gingrinch, the late Dr. Bill Hetznecker, the late Bill Schackner, Barb and Sy Pearlmutter,  and the late Arthur Krasnow, … during summer of 1998.

Their encouragement helped to propel me to learn even more about literature, and was influential in my decision to enroll in Spring 1999, as an adult and mother of three, in post graduate work, as discussed above.  Other students and I screened poems as part of a Student Staff for Limited Editions magazine at CCP (under Dr. Jeffrey Lee) and Folio at HFU (under Dr. Thomas Lombardi).  I was published in these magazines, read at their yearly readings, and won several Judith Stark Poetry Prizes, including first prize, at CCP.  

After earning my teaching certification in 2003, I taught high school English for two years (Council Rock High School and Cheltenham High School) and had very little time to write, so I enrolled in Suppose an Eyes poetry workshop at Kelly Writers House, under the leadership of Pat Green and continued to grow as a poet. We read at Kelly Writers House once a year.  I also enrolled in workshops sponsored by Manayunk Art Center (MAC) with various workshop leaders (J.C. Todd, Paul Martin, and Marj Hahn) and a Mad Poets Society Workshop under the late Len Roberts.  I read at Mad Poets’ venues and events.

The Tenth Muse Poetry Workshop 4-21-12 002

In 2006, I set out on my own and hosted the Center City Poets’ Workshop for five years: its first location was at Voices and Vision Bookstore (the Bourse) and then at Borders, Center City.   For two years (2009 -11),  I hosted an Open Mic at the former Blue Ox, now renamed as the Hop Angel  in N.E. Philly.  Presently, I conduct the Tenth Muse Workshop, upon request, and have hosted two workshops this past year in Delaware and Northeast Philadelphia. I also co-host the Fox Chase Reading Series at the historic Ryerss Museum and Library in Fox Chase.

diane-sahms-guarnieri-signing-books

GER: What current projects are you working on and what can we expect to see from Diane Sahms-Guarnieri in the near future? DSG:

I have submitted for publication my second manuscript, Night Sweat, which is written in four sections: Faces of the Moon over Philadelphia; Drum Fire; Under the Night Forever Falling; & Sunset.

My third manuscript is underway with an array of new focuses.

So far I have readings scheduled for Feb- July 2013.

Finally, I will continue to be the Poetry Editor of the eclectic and international Fox Chase Review; continue to co-host the Fox Chase Reading Series at Ryerss Museum and Library; and host an occasional Tenth Muse Workshop.

You can visit Diane Sahms-Guarnieri on the web at http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/ or http://dianesahmsguarnieri.wordpress.com/

*photographs by g emil reutter

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7 responses to “10 Questions for Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

  1. Michelle Cahill

    It’s refreshing to read Diane speak about editing, publication, the taboos we write about, the risks we take and the edgy balance with society’s norms which we attempt. Enjoyed it. Here’s one of Diane’s poems in Maascara, 12

    http://mascarareview.com/diane-sahms-guarnieri/

  2. Pingback: Interview with Diane Sahms-Guarnieri | BA Insider Magazine Blogs

  3. It is inspiring to read of Diane’s struggle to forge her poems through life experiences. Her biographical notes temper her narratives. As a poet in formation, I take example of her courage and persistence in forming stories that are difficult They read of human existence with faith and compassion.

  4. Patricia Goodman

    So nice to hear of others’ struggles to obtain knowledge and the honor of publication. Diane is an inspiration to all poets.

  5. David P. Kozinski

    Incisive questions and fascinating answers!

  6. Reblogged this on Stephen Page.

  7. Pingback: 10 Questions for Diane Sahms-Guarnieri | BA Insider Magazine Blogs

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