Category Archives: interviews

An Interview with Kiriti Sengupta

Global Dimension To Bengali Poetry

Interview by Anit Mukerjea

kiriti 5Kiriti Sengupta, a Dental Surgeon and graduate of the University of North Bengal is also the author of other bestselling titles: My Glass Of Wine, a novelette based on autobiographic poetry, and The Reverse Tree, a nonfictional memoir. His other works include My Dazzling Bards [literary critique], The Reciting Pens [interviews of three published Bengali poets along with translations of their Bengali poems], The Unheard I [literary nonfiction], Desirous Water [contributed as a translator], Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions [contributed as a translator]. Sengupta’s works have received critical acclaim Sengupta has also co-edited three anthologies of poetry; Scaling Heights, Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge, and Epitaphs. His latest creative venture Healing Waters Floating Lamps is a collection of philosophical verses that delves into the magic of healing, complimented by photographs that are eye-catching. While appreciating the book K. Satchidanandan, the renowned poet has stated, “These poems are different from the run-of-the-mill Indian English poems in being far closer to our humdrum daily experiences and their baffling paradoxes and cruel ironies.” Healing Waters has been a bestselling title in the United States [on Amazon]. Here are excerpts from a personal interaction with the poet and translator, Kiriti Sengupta.

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Anit Mukerjea: What inspired you to base your present anthology of poetry on the theme of Healing Waters Floating Lamps?

Kiriti Sengupta: On a recent trip to Varanasi I observed the devotees of Lord Shiva floated tiny lamps in the Ganges. These lamps floated for a long time without extinguishing, the water having a healing effect and the lamps moved on. My present book of verses was first named Crucifixion Is Christ-Filled. This was inspired by one of my poems titled Namesake. However, I was not happy with the title, and I emailed the entire manuscript to Eileen Register, who is a brilliant writer and a poet, living in Florida. It was Eileen who carefully read my manuscript and came up with the title. You know, the title Healing Waters Floating Lamps perfectly compliments the poems that have been included in the book. Now, if you ask me the inspiration behind this anthology of poetry, it was Gopal Lahiri, one of my reviewers who strongly suggested that I must publish an exclusive collection of my poems, for he thought my other books have quite of a few of them woven in nonfictional memoirs. So, this has been the background score. Spirituality and Philosophy have always been an integral part of poetry. The book is all about the philosophies of my life, the way I look at my being!

Anit: You are a Dental Surgeon by profession. What made you choose poetry as your creative canvas?

Kiriti: Does one really enjoy an option of choosing poetry as his/her kiriti 2creative canvas? I don’t think so. Poetry is one of the most condensed form of literature, and it germinates within one’s existence. You don’t have a choice here. Either you have poetry in you, or you don’t. You can’t write poetry just for the sake of writing it. You may learn crafting, but poetry arrives naturally. I must tell you that a few months back I have interviewed the famous Bengali poet Bibhas Roy Chowdhury, and the article [interview] appeared on “Word Riot,” a well-respected, online literary journal published from the United States. In his interview Roy Chowdhury categorically stated, “Poetry involves eternity … I believe, poetry emerges from our lives quite helplessly…”

Anit: What is your take on the flow of ideas in poetry should be spontaneously backed by a stream of consciousness?

Kiriti: Ah! A relevant question indeed. If you ask me what consciousness is I would tell you that it is a larger perspective of your vision. I told you before, my poetry reflects the ways I envision life and its challenges. There is always a stream of consciousness irrespective of the tone, structure, and nuances of the language I use in writing poetry. You know, during the launch of Healing Waters Floating Lamps poet and academic Sharmila Ray read from the poem Evening Varanasi, and she interpreted the title first. She explained, “One must meditate on the title. Sengupta did not write ‘Evening In Varanasi,’ but he wrote Evening Varanasi. Readers have to comprehend the implications of such a title.” Sharmila is one of the prominent Indian English poets of our times, and she has been pretty quick and apt in identifying the ‘streams of consciousness’ in my poems.

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Anit: You have been known to have undertaken translation work of Bengali poetry into English in The Reciting Pens, Desirous Water, and Poem Continuous. What has been the response of these translated poems abroad?

Kiriti: Both The Reciting Pens, and Poem Continuous have been published by Inner Child Press, Limited. This is a small press situated in New Jersey, U.S.A. On the other hand, Desirous Water has been published by The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon. Among them Poem Continuous has been widely appreciated and reviewed both nationally as well as internationally. I think, globalization of Bengali poetry can be achieved through translation work, and I have been considerably successful in my attempts.

Anit: Don’t you think translation work becomes difficult when two different languages with their distinct separate nuances and idioms whose meaning and dimension may be lost in translation?

Kiriti: You are right. Translators do suffer from apprehensions of conveying the exact nuances of the original language to the target audience. But you know, translators are primarily readers, and interpretation of poetry differs from one reader to another. Therefore, I consider “translation” as “transition.” My approach is to follow the original piece as closely as possible, and I seldom include my interpretations in the translated version, for a “faithful” translation is believed to be the best approach.  I make sure my translation hits the right chord of the target audience as I get my works edited by an expert poetry-editor. Unfortunately we don’t have many efficient poetry-editors in India, and poets at large refrain from getting their works edited. They fail to understand that an expert editor would not impose changes forcibly, an editor finely polishes the surface roughness of a work rather.

Anit: Until now you have collaborated with three American editors. Stephen L Wilson, Kate Lantry, and Don Martin. They have given the requisite edge to your works. Any plans to work with them again?

Kiriti: I’m eternally grateful to my editors. Both Kate and Stephen have been instrumental in editing The Reciting Pens, a book of translated long interviews of three published Bengali poets from Calcutta along with their translated poems. They taught me to identify “lazy words,” and helped me to get rid of irrelevant portions from the interviews in order to make them compact and sharper. Long interviews often tire the readers, but in The Reciting Pens my editors made sure that the interviews read smooth and fresh. I can remember while translating From The Crossroads, a Bengali poem by Ranadeb Dasgupta, I wrote: “During daytime the shops resemble lover boys, while under the halogen street-lamps they have conspiring eyes.” Kate aptly edited the line that finally read as: “During daytime the shops resemble libertines, while under the halogen street-lamps they have conspiring eyes.” From lover boys to libertines, you see, how a word-change rendered better perspective to my translation!

Don Martin, on the other hand, is not only an efficient editor, he is a bestselling author as well. I have worked with him for most of my books. Whether it is my translated work, nonfiction, memoir, or poetry Don understands my breaths quite well. I have picked quite a few of editorial skills from him, and Don has been extremely supportive to my literary endeavors. He is a nice gentleman, and we are now good friends.

my glass of wine

Anit: Your older books like My Glass Of Wine, and The Reverse Tree have done remarkably well in the market. MGOW has been a national bestseller while TRT has been a bestselling title in the United States. Both of these titles got you critical acclaim in several literary journals. Do you think marketing goes a long way towards the success of a book?

kiriti 4Kiriti: Marketing is indeed important to secure immediate readership, but it is the work that will speak for itself in future. In MGOW my objective was to bring more readers to poetry, and I proved my point. Poetry can be cherished even by the general readers of literature if it is presented with narratives or relevant nonfictional prose pieces. MGOW has essentially been a work that centers around poetry, written by me in English-language. In an article published in The Statesman [Delhi ed.] on 23rd of April, 2014 it was documented that MGOW has been a bestselling title across the online portals in India.

The Reverse Tree has been a work of nonfictional memoir that included a few poems. It got several interesting chapters on transgender/transsexual issues, scriptural verses and their influences in my life, racism, mimicry, among others. In a nutshell, TRT projected my journey towards understanding the quest of life. It has been appreciated in international journals like Red Fez Magazine, Word Riot, and I am expecting a review in Muse India, one of the most significant literary journals published in India. I’m thankful to my reviewers who have appreciated my works. Having said that I must add I have my share of negative or not-so-positive reviews, but they only made me alert of my limitations as an author.  

Anit: Tell me something about the anthology Jora Sanko – The Joined Bridge.

Kiriti: Jora Sanko has been a diligent effort of compiling and editing English-language poems by the Bengali poets across the globe. I co-edited the anthology along with Dr. Madan Gandhi, President of The Poetry Society of India, Gurgaon. In this book I have had collaborated with the big names and some extremely talented poets like Debjani Chatterjee, Sudeep Sen, Sanjukta Dasgupta, Sharmila Ray, Ranadeb Dasgupta, Ananya S Guha, Gopal Lahiri, Bishnupada Ray, Jaydeep Sarangi, Debasish Lahiri, Sutapa Chaudhuri, Sujan Bhattacharya, among others. Our effort received appreciations in The Hindu Literary Review, Muse India, among other places. Another exciting achievement is Jora Sanko has been placed in the Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall, London. I’m planning to bring out the second edition of Jora Sanko in order to include other Bengali poets who write in English-language.

Anit: What is the response of your present book of poems Healing Waters Floating Lamps? Your reviewers must have been happy with those spectacular verses.

Kiriti: HWFL got published only a few weeks ago. I’m yet to receive reviews, but I’m sure my work would be appreciated by the critics, poets and readers. Let me share the trade facts here: HWFL has been a best-selling poetry title in the United States in Indian Literature, and you know, it ranked first among the “Hot New Releases” in Indian Literature on Amazon [United States].

I don’t know if my verses are “spectacular,” I’ll rather term them “subtle,” or “humble.” You are perhaps aware that I am a spiritual person, and spirituality centers around one’s journey towards realization of the “self.” Spirituality has nothing to do with the so-called “religions.” Religions divide while true spirituality unites. My poems are to deliver certain messages to the readers. Above all, my poems speak about “simple living.”

Anit: When you are penning a Bengali or an English poem is there a subtle difference in the thought processes of those two languages?

Kiriti: Certainly yes. Languages have their characteristic nuances. The way I think when I write a Bengali poem is quite different from the way when I think in English. This is indeed a challenging task for any bilingual poet, but poetry in itself is a cardio-cerebral affair.

Anit: What are the projects you are currently working on?

poem continuous us edition

Kiriti: I’m trying to bring out the second edition of Poem Continuous. The first edition bore only thirty translated poems by Bibhas Roy Chowdhury. And now I would translate another thirty poems of Roy Chowdhury, so the target readers can read more works of this noted Bengali poet. I’m also planning for another book of my verses. I’m yet to finalize the manuscript, though.

– Anit Mukerjea is a poet, writer, and a painter based in Calcutta. He is a columnist with The Statesman for nearly three decades. He has extensively written in other journals and magazines published from Delhi and Mumbai.

An Interview with Karen Stefano

Karen Stefano 1Karen Stefano is Fiction Editor for Connotation Press: An Online Artifact of poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, drama, and book reviews. She’s published her stories in The South Carolina Review, Tampa Review, Santa Fe Literary Review, Epiphany, and elsewhere. Karen was nominated for a 2013 Pushcart Prize. Her collection, The Secret Games of Words, is available in Kindle and paperback formats on Amazon.com

Interview by Robert Hambling Davis 

Secret games of word

RHD: Karen, when I read The Secret Games of Words, I was immediately impressed by two of your many strengths as a fiction writer. I’ll address them separately. The first one, which I call formatting a story, I mentioned in my short review. Did the personality-inventory format of “Undone” come to you with the idea for the story? Or did you write a draft of the story first and then decide on the best format to present the narrative, for the most emotional impact?

KS:  I’ll spare you the details, but in 2007 I began seeing a therapist who would not take a new patient until said patient completed the MMPI. So I got busy with the test and found that the questions delighted me (Would I like to work as a librarian? Hell yes I would!! Do evil spirits possess me? I sure as hell hope not!! Do I hear voices? Yes, but fortunately only when I’m writing!!).  I thought every single question provided an excellent prompt for story-telling. It took me awhile to figure out how to put it all together, to make “Undone” work in terms of “the occasion for telling,” but actually taking the test is how this story came about. Reading the questions also harkened me back to my days as an undergrad at Berkeley, where I was a Psych major, so I suppose the MMPI and other diagnostic tools have always held a place in my heart.  

Generally speaking, format and structure are always difficult for me. I wish I could say I have an organized method for creating short fiction, but I don’t. The shape of my stories seemingly come about on their own, but only after many, many rounds of edits.

Karen Stefano reading at the Tin House Writer’s Workshop

RHD: Of the twenty-three stories in your collection, several are flash fiction. The collection is a mix of short and long, and I enjoyed the changeup. As a fellow fiction writer and editor, I’ve heard other fiction writers express their inability to write flash fiction, saying, “I can’t write short.” You don’t seem to have that problem. Do you read a lot of flash fiction? Do you conceive of a flash fiction piece the same way that you conceive of a longer story? Along these lines, I especially liked “Visitor,” which is a page and a half long, a complete story about a shoplifter who sells counterfeit Ray-Bans on the side of the road, to make enough money to pay her rent. By the end of the story, she’s no longer worrying about her rent as she feels compassion for an abused young girl.

Karen StefanoKS:  I had never written a word of flash before 2013. That year I joined a writing group consisting of myself and the uber-talented Meg Tuite, Len Kuntz, and Robert Vaughan, each of whom are masters of the form. Every week for an entire year we took turns providing the prompt, then we were expected to circulate a draft of a story not exceeding 500 words within the next week, then we had another week in which to critique each other’s work. The experience was immensely productive and satisfying.  “Look!” I could say to myself, “I finished something! I wrote a whole story in just a week!” You have no idea how great this feels when you are working on a novel, when you are a person for whom writing takes a long, long time. “Visitor” stemmed from one of those weekly prompts of 2013. Flash also teaches a writer that every word matters. It’s an incredibly disciplined form and I would encourage anyone who says, “I can’t write short” to give it another try. I am a strong believer that writing flash makes one a better writer overall.

Karen Stefano 4

RHD: You have over twenty years of litigation experience, with a JD/MBA (specializing in law and business administration). How much does your day job inspire you to write fiction?

KS: Yes, and I want to note for the record that I started practicing law when I was just five years old, okay? But to answer your question: So far, very little. I did criminal defense for eight years and to say I met a lot of interesting people would be the understatement of the year. I was thrown into so many situations that touched me deeply. I’ve tried to write about them, but the experiences have just not translated onto the page for me yet. I also worked at a large civil litigation firm that was comically dysfunctional. I hope to make use of that pain on the page some day, but that hasn’t happened yet either. But with all of that being said, smidgeons of my life as a lawyer sometimes come through in my work. The prosecutor in “Undone,” for example, is based on a real life prick I used to encounter all too often in the courtroom.

RHD: Who are some of your favorite short story writers?

KS: Oh, there are too many to list, but I’ll try. Lorrie Moore, Deborah Eisenberg, Flannery O’Connor, Benjamin Percy, Steve Almond, Miranda July. There are also many emerging writers whose work I love. Donna Trump, for example, who we featured recently in Connotation Press, writes beautifully. I hope that in the very near future she gets the wide audience she so richly deserves. Robert P. Kaye (another Connotation Press alum!) is another of my favorites. His work is brilliant and with the right exposure I see him as the next Karen Russell (and no, I’m not overstating it).

Karen Stefano 5RHD: Aside from the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop, you’ve been to the Tin House Workshop twice and to the Breadloaf Conference. What’s your feeling about writing workshops and conferences in general? Do you feel you’ve had stories published that perhaps wouldn’t have been published if you hadn’t workshopped them?

KS: Honestly? In my view, the most beneficial thing about workshops is the people you meet, the relationships that are formed. Take you and me, for example. We met at Squaw, in a workshop, which by definition can be a setting where one can feel pretty vulnerable. You and I connected because we enjoyed one another’s work and we stayed in touch and exchanged work for awhile thereafter. I’ve had similar experiences in other workshops and the results are amazing. I mean, I’ve formed some real friendships, friendships that have gotten me through some pretty rough times in the past year or so. That is a remarkable gift. We need each other. Writing itself is difficult. And the writing life is even more difficult. We need to cheer each other on, to help one another through the days of self doubt. 

And yes, getting edits and critiques from people I’ve connected with has definitely helped shape stories that would otherwise have been “DOA.” But that doesn’t always happen in the workshop itself. The reality is that not every writer in the workshop is going to have useful and productive suggestions for your work. You have to pick and choose what and who you listen to.

rhdavis-1 –Robert Hambling Davis is a fiction editor of The Fox Chase Review. He has been published in The Sun, Antietam Review, Memoir (and), Philadelphia Stories, Santa Monica Review, and elsewhere. He’s been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and received three Delaware Division of the Arts grants, two for fiction and one for creative nonfiction. He was a fiction semifinalist in the William Faulkner Creative Writing Contest in 2002 and 2012, and a creative nonfiction winner in 2013. Robert helps direct the Delaware Literary Connection, a nonprofit serving writers in Delaware and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Delaware Artist Roster, and has given writing workshops and readings in the Mid-Atlantic.

Readers Choice – Top Ten Interviews for 2014

Our list of the top ten interviews at The Fox Chase Review Blog for 2014 based on readership.

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10 Questions for Thaddeus Rutkowski

kimmika

10 Questions for Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon

jane

10 Questions for Jane Lewty

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10 Questions for Stephen Page

Kristina 124 (1)

10 Questions for Kristina Moriconi

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10 Questions for Louise Halvardsson

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10 Questions for Vinita Agrawal

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10 Questions for Philip Dacey

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

10 Questions for Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

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10 Questions for Rebecca Schumejda

 

10 Questions for Rebecca Schumejda

Rebecca Schumejda 2Rebecca Schumejda is the author of Falling Forward, a full-length collection of poems (sunnyoutside, 2009); The Map of Our Garden (verve bath, 2009); Dream Big Work Harder (sunnyoutside press 2006); The Tear Duct of the Storm (Green Bean Press,2001); Cadillac Men (NYQ Books 2013) and the poem “Logic” on a postcard (sunnyoutside). She received her MA in Poetics and Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and her BA in English and Creative Writing from SUNY New Paltz. She lives with her husband and daughter in New York’s Hudson Valley.  http://www.rebeccaschumejda.com/

Interview by: g emil reutter 

Rebecca Schumejda courtesy of words dance

GER: You often speak of your father and his influence in your life. Could you share with us his impact on you and on your poetry?

RS: When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked the class to write poems and I eagerly complied. A few days later, my parents were called into a meeting at the school where my teacher, the principal, the Vice-Principal, and the social worker discussed how my assignment was unacceptable and how they were worried about my mental state. After reading my poem, my father sat quiet for what seemed like forever before he looked right at me and said, “This is a great poem, Rebecca!” Then he looked at the teacher and said, “Don’t ask your students to write poetry if you don’t want to hear their truths.” My father, a hardworking roofer, has always been my inspiration.

GER: What poets have influenced your poetry and why?

RS: There are so many, but the one that stands out most is Raymond Carver because of his narrative approach to writing. I love some of the poems that he wrote to his daughter. Lines like, “You’re a beautiful drunk, daughter, but you’re a drunk,” and “She serves me a piece of it a few minutes out of the oven. A little steam rises from the slits on top. Sugar and spice -cinnamon – burned into the crust. But she’s wearing these dark glasses in the kitchen at ten o’clock the morning – everything nice as she watches me break off a piece, bring it to my mouth, and blow on it.” Poems like “To My Daughter” and “My Daughter and Apple Pie” helped shape my earlier work.

 

from seed to sin

dream_big_180map of garden

GER:  You’ve worked with several presses: Bottle of Smoke, Words Dance, sunnyoustide, New York Quarterly, and Bottom Dog Press. Could you share with us the development of the collections and what is like to work with the small press?

RS: I have been very fortunate as I have worked with some really great small press publishers and have grown and learned from each experience. Bill Roberts, from Bottle of Smoke, is an amazing craftsman, who is well-known for his letterpress printing and hand-binding. The quality of his books are phenomenal. Bill published a limited edition chapbook of mine, From Seed to Sin, which includes artwork by Hosho McCreesh. I love what Bill is doing and highly recommend his books. 

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Words Dance published a handmade, limited-edition chapbook for me, The Map of Our Garden. Amanda Oaks did an amazing job and the whole process was intimate. There were so many cool features included such as a map I drew, a picture of me drawn by Hosho McCreesh, glow-in-the-dark fireflies in a jar on the cover and a handmade bookmark that had an actual petal from the sunflowers in my garden. The book sold  out, but Amanda recently released a kindle version. In addition, I still collaborate with Amanda on projects at Words Dance. 

sunnyoutside published my first full-length collection, Falling Forward as well as my chapbook Dream Big, Work Harder and a poem of mine on a postcard. I really enjoyed working with David McNamara, he actually did some editing for my second full-length book, Cadillac Men, published NYQ Books. Most recently, I had the pleasure of working with Bottom Dog Press and being part of their working class series. Larry Smith’s vision for Waiting at the Dead End Diner paralleled with mine and he helped me fine-tune the collection  

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GER: Your collection Cadillac Men was influenced by a pool hall you and your husband owned. Tell us of the people who inspired this collection?

RS: Well, pool players, a dying breed, men like Mikey Meatballs who convinced a kid that he shot like shit because he was using a left-handed pool cue, Dee who went out to buy ice cream for his pregnant wife and came back empty handed and in debt, and Wally the Whale who was once a well-known circuit player who now his toughest opponent is his failing vision.

John Dorsey and Rebecca Schumejda in Fox Chase

GER: You tour in support of your poetry collections. Traveling can be rigorous, can you share with us any stories relating to touring?

RS: I read here and there, but I don’t tour. I work full time and have a young daughter, so I don’t have the ability to go anywhere for more than a day or so. I will be doing some reading this summer for my new book and will be reading in Cleveland, Ohio in October for LevyFest. As far as stories, I read at the Dire Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts with Nathan Graziano and Daniel Crocker and because we are friends and don’t get together that often, we began drinking very early in the day. Somehow, I thought it was alright to take over for the host and introduce Nate, and then all hell broke loose. Dan and Nate, who could barely stand, had people in the audience read parts of their work and it was pretty chaotic. The moral: I don’t drink heavily until after reading.

waiting at the dead end diner

GER: Waiting at the Dead End Diner was recently released. Can you share with us the inspiration behind the development of the book and any reactions you are receiving concerning the collection?

RS: I had to wait tables while putting myself through college, and when I was in graduate school I actually worked in the college cafeteria’s dish room and dining hall. My life was very different from many of my fellow classmates because I did not have the luxury of just being a student. On the flipside, I lived in the real world which greatly impacted my writing. An early version of Waiting at the Dead End Diner was actually my thesis for SFSU that was rejected by my graduate advisor. My advisor told me that no one wanted to read about waiting tables, ha ha. So, I went back to the drawing board and the waitressing poems just played out in my mind for decades. Then after writing Cadillac Men, I decided it was time to go back and explore the restaurant world that consumed a decade of my life. I even went back and waited tables when I was working on the collection

 

Rebecca Schumejda by Keith SpencerGER: Where does the voice of Rebecca Schumejda fit in the poetry world?

RS: I don’t know. I kind of hope it does not fit in. I want to write work for people, everyday people. I hope I can do that.

 

GER: Could you share with us your thoughts on the submission process for publication?

RS: It is a little like gambling, the odds aren’t really on your side unless you pick your game wisely. I would not play money games against Wally the Whale or Mikey Meatballs and I would not submit to The New Yorker. I think you have to really read what is out there and see who may be interested in what you are writing. I also think you have to be persistent if you really want to get into a specific publication. I am a huge fan of Rattle and they rejected my work for over a decade before accepting my work. And for what it is worth, they actually nominated my poem “How to Classify a Reptile” for a pushcart. Ha ha. I did not take the decade of rejections personally and I did not stop being a fan of Rattle. I think that it is important not to lose sight of why you are writing.

Rebecca Schumejda by Dan Wilcox

GER: Do you have any favorite venues to read your poetry and any publications you would recommend to others?

RS: There are so many. I usually enjoy the reading because of group dynamics. I loved the Fox Chase reading because I got to read with John Dorsey and because the audience was receptive and fun. I love reading at the Howland Cultural Center in Beacon, New York because of the acoustics and The Social Justice Center in Albany because of the crowd.

P4171330GER: What are you currently working on and tell us something about Rebecca Schumejda we didn’t already know?

RS: I am working on a collection of poems about a working-class neighborhood, characters from Cadillac Men and Waiting at the Dead End Diner make appearances.

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You can read the poetry of Rebecca Schumejda in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/w14schumejda.html  http://www.foxchasereview.org/11AW/RSchumejda.html  http://www.foxchasereview.org/10AW/RSchumejda.html

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g emil reutter 2– g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa.

http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

10 Questions for Philip Dacey

philip_dacey_at_SSUPhilip Dacey is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Gimme Five (2013), the winner of the Blue Light Press Book Award. The recipient of three Pushcart Prizes, two NEA grants, and a Fulbright
lectureship for his poetry,  he has written entire collections of poems  about Gerard Manley Hopkins, Thomas  Eakins, and New York City. His work has appeared in the Hudson Review, Partisan Review, Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Esquire, Paris Review, The Nation,
and The American Scholar.  In 2012 he moved from Manhattan’s Upper
West Side to Minneapolis. To learn more about Philip Dacey please visit http://www.philipdacey.com/bio.html

Interview by:  g emil reutter

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GER:There has been much debate about the relevance of poetry and poets in recent years. Your career spans decades. Has this been a consistent presence on the poetry scene or a new argument?

PD: I think it’s inevitable that the question is a perennial one since
poetry is conspicuously both a necessary and a useless art.  “Useless” as in “non-utilitarian.”   We know it’s necessary because of its constancy in human history; we know it’s useless because that same history was, and remains, “a vale of tears,” unchanged by the poets. Dr. Williams famously said, “You can’t get the news from poetry, but men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” It so happens I’ve been reading the new book of essays about the work of Stephen Dunn, The Room and the World, where the issue you raised is much explored.  A consistent theme there is that poetry serves by shining a light on the limitations of language and human perception, and therefore the limitations of itself, and in the process of doing so points the way toward what truly is as opposed to comfortable illusions about what is.

GER:  Your poems have been set to various musical genres. How has this
impacted your poetry and how has the added exposure aided you in your
pursuit of the art?

PD: I’ve always thought that the poet envies the musician, as the musician can make pure music while the poet has to make music through the medium of language, with all its varied baggage.  Words as means to an end; the end as music.  Maybe I’m a frustrated musician and why I became a Juilliard junkie during my eight years living in Manhattan. Maybe I shouldn’t have quit piano lessons in grade school when it came time to give a recital and I panicked.  I’d like to think that musicians’ interest in my work has confirmed my tendency to see poetry as fundamentally a musical art, with words substituting for notes. I’ll call Frost as my witness: “The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.” (An interesting coincidence: after answering your second question, I picked up Eliot’s Four Quartets to do some re-reading and the first line I flipped the book open to was “Words move, music moves.”)  Poetry as music versus poetry–back to question #1–as tool for accurately describing the self and world seem to conflict, but I’d simply say that Poetry as a Platonic absolute does not exist and instead there are poetries plural; no Chairness but lots of chairs of all sorts.

p3GER: During your career you have received a number of fellowships and residences. How important is it for a poet to pursue these types of programs?

PD: As with poetry itself, important and not important.  Clearly important for a career as poet, maybe too for building self-confidence, but in terms of actually impacting on the poetry and its strength I don’t see how there can be a connection.  How many fellowships did Dickinson get?  There can be a danger, too, in careerism, where “making it” takes precedence over “making the poems.”  And maybe the emphasis should be even more on the making than on the poems themselves; the process as the goal; the journey as destination.  It’s easy to forget, given the star-quality of so many poets, that only a small percentage of them will be read by posterity.  Yeats when asked to comment on his poet-ontemporaries said, “One thing is certain: there are too many of us.”  The many disappear, and the few remain.  My way of dealing with that fact is to be grateful for the life that poetry has given me, a life I couldn’t have predicted when I was younger

GER: Tell us of your New York experience, how it impacted your work and about your return to Minnesota?

PD: I don’t think it changed my work–my aesthetic, my work habits–at all but it did me give me some new material for poems. The result was my book of postcard sonnets.  I went there simply to learn what it was like to be a resident of that great city.  I’d been there many times over the years, starting with summers when my mother and I took a Greyhound bus from St. Louis to visit relatives in New York, where my mother was born.  I trained there one summer for the Peace Corps, in 1963.  I had been there to give readings.  I always knew it as an outsider and wanted to know it from the inside.  I discovered, contrary to what many people think, that it is a very livable city.  I must quickly confess, however, my apartment was on the Upper West Side, which is not typical of all New York.  I always said I lived in the greatest neighborhood in the greatest borough in the greatest city in the world.  My reasons for returning to Minnesota were multiple and complicated, involving my partner (her reluctance to live full-time there), my loyalty (sentimental or not) to the Midwest and Minnesota (coming full-circle back to the Mississippi, originally in St. Louis,
now in Minneapolis), the voice of my working-class upbringing guilting me for a certain uppitiness, my having stopped exploring the city and fallen into a pattern of narrowly focussing on my neighborhood (a cornucopian one but still a small part of the whole city), the consideration of where I wanted to spend my last years, and the accomplishment of my three goals (to have a post-retirement adventure, to learn what living in the city was like, and to write a book about New York).  Becoming a permanent resident wasn’t an explicit goal, though the possibility wasn’t initially ruled out either.

mosquitoGER: Your collection, Mosquito Operas, was released in 2010. How did this project come about?

PD: The publisher of that book, Rain Mountain Press, was also the publisher of the earlier book of New York postcard sonnets; at one point they said they wanted to do another book, and after thinking of various options I decided that scattered throughout my work were a lot of short poems that maybe got lost in the crowd of other, longer pieces.  And of course there’s a long tradition of short poems from classical epigrammatists to Basho and company and up to the Imagists. After such big projects of mine as the Hopkins and Eakins books, working with the new and selected short poems felt like a playground to me.

 

gimme-fiveGER: Gimme Five was released in 2013. What was the inspiration for the development of this collection?

PD: I had previously published two chapbooks of such poems, each with five stanzas and five lines per stanza.  It’s a format I fell into early and have frequently returned to over the years.  I decided it was time to make a larger collection of the best of my 5×5 poems that hadn’t yet been included in any of my full-length books.  One chapbook was called Fives, the other Mr. Five-by-Five.  My very first published poem in 1967 in The Beloit Poetry Journal was such a fiver.  For me, a 5×5 poem lets me take a stand on a border between free verse and formalism–thus I call it a format rather than a form–though of course I also like wholly entering the territories on either side of the border and regularly do so.

p2GER: You live with your partner, the poet Alixa Doom by Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis. You are both fine poets in your own right. What is it like to be in love with a fellow poet and do you inspire each other’s work?

PD: I’ve published a chapbook of poems Alixa inspired, The Adventures of Alixa Doom, and have since expanded it into a full-length book, The Complete Adventures of Alixa Doom and Other Love Poems, which has no publisher yet.  I’m happy to say that as two poets under one roof we are not competitive with each other but supportive, in the form of both general encouragement and regular critiquing of each other’s work.  We have significant differences as poets–the term “nature poet” would apply to Alixa but not to me (to my discredit, no doubt)–but they don’t interfere with our teamwork; rather, they provide occasions for affectionate teasing and banter.

GER: What poets inspired you or continue to inspire you and do you consider yourself to have a direct lineage to any of them?

PD: James Dickey was an early influence.  Before reading him, I was mainly interested in writing prose fiction (which I was terrible at).  He seemed to open the door to the possibilities of poetry for me.  Of
course, I was familiar with Hopkins, given my sixteen years of Catholic education, and a book of poems about him was the ultimate result.  My favorite living poet was Seamus Heaney; there are no words for the loss his death represents.  Another living poet?  I’m a fan of  Ashbery although he’s hardly like Heaney.  I’m at the place in my life generally and as a poet that I feel I should definitely read more dead poets than living ones; thus my re-reading of Eliot, as mentioned above.  There’s less time now to “keep up” with new voices than to listen to old ones.   I wouldn’t presume to include myself in any literary lineage; I see my fate as that of compost in the vineyard where great writers have labored, a fate I’m happy to accept.

p4GER: Prior to your university education your received instruction from the Incarnate Word nuns and Jesuit priests. You were a Peace Corps Volunteer and have traveled to such various places as Africa, Asia and Europe. How has this impacted your writing and your life?

PD: I believe I received a good sixteen-year education from the nuns and priests and am grateful to them for that.  Part of my education was Latin; five years of it, and I even taught Latin for a year in Nigeria as part of my Peace Corps stint there (just what developing West Africa needed, right, Latin?).  In fact, I think my years with Latin have been a plus for my writing as a poet.  For a sense of both etymology and syntax.  I tend to be what I call a grammar Nazi.  I owe that to the Jesuits.  As to travel, I’ve written poems about all the continents you mention, so my jaunts have certainly given me material.  It occurs to me, now that you get me thinking about it, that all my travelling connects in some way to my eclecticism, for both as reader and writer I tend to be “all over the map.”   But now after so much  travelling, capped by my eight years in Manhattan, I’m feeling travelled-out..  Time to take stock ?  Time to give considered attention to the needs of the home stretch?

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

PD: I’ve written and published a book’s worth of poems on Walt Whitman and am currently looking for a publisher for that.  Also, the New York publisher who produced my New York poems and the collection of short ones wants to do another collection of mine, and I’m in the process of putting together a book of–unlike my last five books–miscellaneous poems.   The last five all had a special focus: Thomas Eakins, New York, short poems, sonnets, and 5×5 poems.  My last miscellany–The Paramour of the Moving Air, a Quarterly Review of Literature book–was 15 years ago, so my problem has been selecting from among all the poems I published during that time; too many to choose from; maybe a nice problem to have but still a challenge.  I’m something of a factory–I like to joke that the E. P. A. has threatened to shut me down–and always wince to recall Stevie Smith’s crack: “Mediocre poets publish every day of the week and twice on Sunday.”

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The poetry of Philip Dacey is forthcoming in the Winter 2014 edition of The Fox Chase Review. Previous work has appeared at this link in The Fox Chase Review. http://www.foxchasereview.org/11WS/PhilipDacey.html and http://www.foxchasereview.org/11AW/PDacey.html

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g emil reutter bw almost uptown poetry cartel 2g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa.
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10 Questions for Louise Halvardsson

Louise HalvardssonLouise Halvardsson is a Swedish novelist and performance poet who spent 10 years in Brighton, UK. After her latest book Swenglish, a personal study of life in Sweden and England, she moved back to the country of her birth. See www.louisehalvardsson.com

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Interview with: g emil reutter

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GER: Tell us about your Swenglish Project and the documentary related to the project.  

LH: It all started with a midlife crisis. Well, you could argue that I’m too young for such a crisis, but in Swedish there’s a word for it: “the 30-year-old-crisis”. I’d reached a point in my life where I felt fed up with pretty much everything, so I decided to live other peoples’ lives for 30 weeks. One part of the crisis was that I didn’t know which country to live in: Sweden or England. I stayed with 30 different people, half of them in Sweden and half of them in England; for a week I observed their everyday life and took part in their activities – including going to work with them. I also had to eat the same food as my hosts and follow their patterns of sleep. Now I’ve written a book about my journey and there’s also a filmmaker in Brighton who has documented parts of my adventures. The original aim was to focus on cultural differences and similarities between the two countries, but in the end it turned out to be more of a personal story. At the moment I’m in Gothenburg, but the conclusion is that I still don’t know where I really want to live … And I couldn’t decide which language to write the book in, so that has delayed the publishing process.

poindGER: Your latest novel project is “Punk industrial hard rocker with attitude”. Share with us the development of the novel and what was your inspiration?

LH: Punk industrial hard rocker with attitude is my first book and was published a few years ago in Sweden and won an award for best debut young adult novel. It was never meant to be a teen novel; I see it more as a crossover, a coming-of-age-story for anyone who’s ever felt like an outsider. It started with a short story about a girl wanting to become cool and then I just kept on writing, using loads of old diary extracts from when I was a teenager. In a way it’s a fictionalised document of my last few years at school. The title deals with the frustration of not fitting into a box. Being too cool for the geeks, but not cool enough for the rockers. When I grew up I felt that you had to choose, you could not be both a punk and a heavy metal chick. The writing is very honest, I wanted to show what happens in the bedroom as well as in the toilet …

My latest novel project is “Replacing Angel”, a novel set in Brighton with a Swedish girl as the protagonist. It’s about wanting to live somebody else’s life, but realising that your own life isn’t too bad after all.

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GER: You are a performance poet as well as a page poet. You have said, “If it wasn’t for the poetry I would tear my hair and slit my wrists. Poetry keeps me on track”. Tell us how poetry keeps you on track?

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LH: I didn’t use to take poetry seriously. It was something I did for fun and to release emotions. For many years I saw it as my hobby, something I did that wasn’t related to “writing work”. You never hear about someone hating their hobby or being fed up with their hobby, if that’s the case they quit. And that’s how I found a freezone: poetry was just a hobby, and through the performance poetry scene I made loads of friends and could forget the woes of novel writing. I do like novel writing but it’s such a long and lonely process that it can make you go mad. A couple of years ago something changed though. I started winning poetry slam competitions and all of a sudden poetry became more than a hobby. Funnily enough I’ve made more money from poetry than novel writing lately … I have to remind myself not to take it too seriously. I want to keep the fun bit in. What really helps when I’m stuck in my novel writing is to write a poem, find an open mic and go for it. Instant publication.

GER: You write short fiction as well as poetry. Do you have a preference and why? 

LH: Poetry! It works better when I have a feeling or a thought that I need to process. I’m not always up for crafting full sentences and thinking of a structure and a story. My poems have always been free from rules. I find it really hard to write short fiction that works. It’s something I have to force myself to do, but in 2010 I think it was, I decided to dedicate a whole year to short fiction and it paid off with quite a few publications and performances.

GER: What poets/writers have inspired you to a life in the literary arts?

 LH: Many! I’m a big fan of J.D. Salinger. He didn’t publish very much, but the work he did publish has had a big impact on the world. I much prefer authors who publish three books in their lifetime to authors who write a book a year. I also have romantic visions of the beat poets and their lifestyle. But there are two Swedish authors, Linda Skugge and Unni Drougge, who have meant more to me than anyone else. They’re both very strong and outspoken and inspired me to go my own way. The UK poet Bernadette Cremin is another amazing person and writer who has encouraged me to write and perform.

L7GER: How important is it to you to have your poems and stories appear on line and in print?

LH: Very important. Today I received Stand magazine where one my stories is included and it made my day, reminding me that I’m a writer for real, not just a dreamer. And seeing my work in Fox Chase is equally important; it’s nice to have something to show the world. As it has been a long time since my first novel was out, it’s good that other things are happening while I’m waiting for the next big publication. It’s all about the journey. Every single publication is an encouragement to keep on writing and it makes it easier to deal with rejections. Even though it’s not much money – or sometimes no money – in it, it’s worth a lot to see your work in print and online; it confirms my identity as a writer. Publication of shorter work works better online than in print nowadays – it’s great to be able to share links on social media. I don’t know anyone who goes out to buy a literary magazine unless they’re a very dedicated writer.

L2GER: You participate in poetry and story slams. Tell us how the slam concept works and how your team interacts with each other?

LH: You’ve got three minutes to perform a poem without any props. People in the audience volunteer as judges and give you points between 0,0 and 10. There are usually different rounds and you count up the points at the end. Sometimes there are team competitions and up to four people perform a poem together and you compete with other teams based on the same rules as in an individual slam. At national competitions, different districts compete against each other and individual scores and team piece scores are added together.

I love poetry slam because anyone can take part. You don’t need any education, you don’t have to be good at spelling, you actually don’t need to be good at all: you just have to brave enough to step up on a stage. As anyone can judge the competition the scoring is very subjective and therefore you shouldn’t take it too seriously. The point is not the point – the point is the poetry as they say.

GER: Recently you have participated in workshops. How important is it to your development as a writer to attend workshops and how does it feel to be metaphor wrestler?
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LH: In order to develop both as a person and a writer you need to try new things. I think workshops are great for learning new skills or brush up on old skills you’ve forgotten about. I decided to take part in a metaphor wrestling workshop last year and it was fantastic. I don’t use metaphors that much in my writing so it was a great challenge and the fact that you had to improvise a lot forced me to let go and come up with some crazy things. You create an alter ego character and then you go up on stage and are only allowed to speak in metaphor as you battle against another character, trying to come up with more and more hilarious things. I now feel much more confident about using metaphors in my novel writing as well, but using it with care.

GER: Shake the Dust is a project run by Apples & Snakes. Tell us of your involvement in the project and how you see the project influencing poetry.

IMG_4656 (2)LH: It was a project that was linked with the Olympics in London. Experienced poetry coaches travelled round to schools all over England to make teenagers write poetry and join poetry slam teams. I was assisting the poetry coach Michael Parker and we had great fun, playing creative games and getting the teenagers to write without it feeling like writing. I think it was a very important project because a lot of young people realised that poetry can be cool! It’s not just about reading the old classics: poetry can be about your life here and now. The team we coached made it to the national finals and seeing how the young people we’d worked with had developed was amazing. In the beginning they were very worried about spelling and writing the right thing, but they found their own voices and some of them said they would carry on writing after the project because it made them feel so good.

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GER: Tell us five things we should know about you and why?

LH:  

  1. I find it very boring to go to the toilet. But this is also where I get a lot of ideas and I can’t help sneaking toilet scenes into my writing.
  2. I don’t use much make-up, but I always paint my nails. It makes me happy to see my coloured nails move over the keyboard.
  3. I wish that my mother tongue were English. It’s the world language and even though I master English quite well, I’ll never be as good as a native speaker.
  4. I once broke into London Zoo. You’ll get to read about it one day …
  5. I dream about milking a cow and driving a moped. Sometimes it’s important to do something that is completely unrelated to writing.

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The fiction of Louise Halvardsson is forthcoming in the Winter 2014 edition of The Fox Chase Review. Previous work has appeared at this link in The Fox Chase Review. http://www.foxchasereview.org/11June/LouiseHalvardsson.html

You can watch and listen to Louise on YOUTUBE at this link: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Louise+Halvardsson+&sm=3

Sanna HellbergSome photographs appearing in this article courtesy of : Sanna Hellberg- 

http://www.sannahellberg.com/

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g emil reutter bw almost uptown poetry cartel 2g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa.
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10 Questions for John Dorsey

John_Dorsey.John Dorsey is the author of several collections of poetry, including “Teaching the Dead to Sing: The Outlaw’s Prayer” (Rose of Sharon Press, 2006), “Sodomy is a City in New Jersey” (American Mettle Books, 2010), “Leaves of Ass” (Unadorned Press,2011). and, most recently, “Tombstone Factory” (Epic Rites Press, 2013). He may be reached at archerevans@yahoo.com and http://paladinmusic.com/johndorsey.html.

Interview by: g emil reutter.

GER: You graduated from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Did your stay in Philadelphia influence your poetry and the presentation of your poetry during readings?

JD: Well, when I lived in Philadelphia I spent the majority of my time working on screenplays, and didn’t really return to poetry full-time until after graduation, though I did read at the Painted Bride Arts Center a bit back in those days, and yeah, I was deeply influenced by my time in the city after the fact. I can still feel the corner of 12th & Spruce in every step I take. I first found the work of Ted Berrigan and Charles Olson there and for that I am forever grateful. 

GER: As a screenwriter, playwright and poet do you find each of the genres influence the other when you are writing?

JD: That’s an interesting question. I do think that poetics plays a role in every form of writing I take on. The connection between play writing and screenwriting is much clearer, but the poetry is in there too. It’s always been a real push and pull for me, in terms of which one gets my attention, I can’t really do all of them at the same time, so I will end up taking breaks from one or the other every few years

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GER: You write a column for the Toledo Free Press, Glass City Muse in addition to working as a staff reporter. Share with us what you write about and how you develop a column and article.

JD: I got into newspaper journalism by accident a number of years ago, all of the articles I write are arts based, gallery openings, theater reviews, ballet, concert previews, film openings, celebrity interviews, they come my way through friends, contacts, social networking sites, and I approach it very much like a business, very by the numbers who, what, where, when, how much, and get a few great quotes. The column is strictly literature themed, mostly poetry, about books, readings, my experiences, anything I feel like talking about and is much more organic and emotional. 

GER: You have said that Berrigan and Corso have influenced your poetry. Are there any other poets you would add to the list as of today?

JD: As you said, Berrigan and Corso are the big ones for me, but yeah, S.A. Griffin, Kell Robertson, Ann Menebroker, D.R. Wagner, Scott Wannberg, they’re all wonderful. 

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GER: Tell us about Tombstone Factory and how the collection came about.

JD: Sure, Tombstone Factory came about because I had done a number of small chapbooks after the 2010 release of my full-length collection Sodomy is a City in New Jersey that had, in many cases, very small press runs and I really felt like a lot of my work was falling between the cracks, so I contacted Wolfgang Carstens, the founder of Epic Rites Press,  at the beginning of the year and told him I wanted to put together a selected works that covered 2010-2012, as well as about 20 pages of new work and he agreed immediately. It really was one of the great working experiences of my life.

book-dorsey-boxcar-poems-512GER: Lead Graffiti recently published Boxcar Poems, a collection of 12 poems printed via letterpress and available in limited editions.  How did this project come about?

JD: On Boxcar Poems 1-12, that book came about through my longstanding friendship with Bottle of Smoke Press founder Bill Roberts, who first took me to meet Ray and Jill at Lead Graffiti after my Fox Chase reading with Rebecca Schumejda in 2011, prior to that they had printed a broadside for me and had expressed interest in doing a book together.  A few years passed, just because people get busy, and then they approached me again in March of this year and I wrote the whole book in my friend’s Missouri farmhouse in about 2 hours and was as shocked as anyone when it turned out to be something I’m very proud of, and the book itself just looks amazing.

GER: You hit the road from time to time on the poetry circuit. How valuable is it for a poet to tour and read their works and do you find inspiration while on the road?

JD: I travel constantly. As far as how important it is, that really depends on why you’re out there. Do you want to sell books? Are you attempting to build lifelong friendships? Unless you have really bad social anxiety, I think everyone should try to get out there. I myself need the book sales to eat more often than not, but the friendships that I’ve made outweigh $10 here, $20 there  or some silly idea of fame, when 99 percent of people could care less about poetry anyway.

John Dorsey and Rebecca Schumedja

GER: You have lived in an artist community in Toledo. How has this impacted your writing and what type of interaction occurs between artists of different genres?

JD: Yeah, I lived at the Collingwood Arts Center in Toledo, OH from 2003-2012. In my last two years there I also served as their Marketing Director and then their Program Director. I also spent several years on their Review Board, selecting incoming artists. To answer your question, we did have bi-annual resident shows that the artists were/are required to take part in. Outside of that people would work together from time to time, but mostly it was a very isolated experience, I did collaborate with a few filmmakers there, as well as the painter and graphic artist Terry A. Burton. I’m currently looking for another residency, if anyone is interested contact me at archerevans@yahoo.com 

DorseyJohnwMooreToddPhotobySAGriffinGER: How would you describe your poetry?

JD: Honest.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

JD: I have a book coming out of Hydeout Press titled Twenty Poems about Girls, which is due in October, I’m working on pieces for a three poet collection Dog On a Chain Press with Mat Gould and James H. Duncan, I’m working on pieces for another collection with Lead Graffiti, a split collection for next year with Adrian Manning on his Concrete Meat Press, which will be dedicated to our late friend James D. Quinton, another book for Hydeout with D.R. Wagner called Dorsey/Wagner: 24 Poems, a book about my friendship with Gregory Corso on 48th Press, a book on Spartan Press with Jason Ryberg, Jason Hardung and Seth Elikns, titled Motel, Diner, Liquor and a collection of my early works due on Kilmog Press in New Zealand. I’m always trying to keep busy.  

You can read the poetry of John Dorsey in The Fox Chase Review at this link http://www.foxchasereview.org/10su/JohnDorsey.html and

http://www.foxchasereview.org/13AW/Dorsey.html

g emil reutter

g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa.

http://gereutter.wordpress.com/