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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.

10 Questions for Vinita Agrawal

va 1Born in Bikaner, India, on August 18th 1965, Vinita Agrawal did her schooling in Kalimpong and Kolkata and college from Baroda. She was is a Gold Medallist in M.A. Political Science from the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda and earned the UGC scholarship in College. She has worked freelance as a writer and researcher ever since but has remained a poet at heart. Her poetry has been published in print and online journals on countless different occasions so far, the prominent publications among them being Asiancha, Constellations, raedleafpoetry, The Fox Chase Review, Spark, The Taj Mahal Review, Open Road Review, CLRI, Kritya.org, Touch- The Journal of healing, Museindia, Everydaypoets.com, Mahmag World Literature, The Criterion, The Brown Critique, Twenty20journal.com, Sketchbook, Poetry 24, Mandala and others which include several international anthologies. Her poem was nominated for the Best of the Net Awards 2011 by CLRI. She received a prize from MuseIndia in 2010. Her poem Thoughts won a prize in the Wordweavers Contest 2013. Her debut collection of poems titled Words Not Spoken published by Sampark/Brown Critique was released in November 2013. http://www.vinitawords.com/

Interview with g emil reutter

The Interview 

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GER: You are a writer of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. What draws you to each of these forms?

VA: I am first and foremost a writer of poetry. I write so much of it that sometimes I think it’s a malaise with me. It’s my first love across all genres of writing. I write fiction occasionally – because some ideas simply cannot be expressed as a poem. They need a longer narrative and only prose will suffice to portray them adequately. Compared to fiction, I enjoy writing non-fiction more. I enjoy writing about spirituality, culture and travel, enjoy researching my subject and creating something that throws more light on it. That gives me great satisfaction.

GER: How did you come to being a poet?

VA: I’ve been writing poems since I was very young – as far back as five. I think my dad has some of my childhood verses saved up somewhere. I was good at English literature in school and received awards regularly in the subject. I contributed to school and college journals and other in house publications. But most of the poetry that I wrote till my early twenties was an outpouring of the angst of growing up and about teenage crushes. It had no literary worth at all. I made a bonfire of those diaries when I re read them at a later stage in life and realized how atrocious they were. 

Then there was a long phase of remaining a closet poet. I wrote regularly but what I considered as reasonably good poetry was rejected by editors as worthless. It was then I realized writing poetry was not merely the outpouring of emotions, rather it was a serious art of conveying the deepest meanings of life and portraying its most profound perspectives using the bare minimum of words. Because of this realization, I started reading poetry seriously. I concluded that if you didn’t know what the art was all about, how were you going to experiment with it? 

I read the classical poets like Byron, Keats, Wordsworth, Whitman and Eliot. I read works of the newer poets like Neruda, Paz and contemporary Indian poets like Jayanta Mahapatra, Nissim Ezekiel and Kamala Das. I have to confess that Neruda and Mahapatra blew me away! ” God!,” I told myself, “That is how I want to write!” I was officially bitten by the bug; writing poetry became a compulsion, an obsession…a desperate need. For me personally, it took the lid off the pressures of existence.

va 3GER: What poets have had an influence on your writing?

VA: As I mentioned in my previous reply, I’ve been majorly influenced by most great poets. There’s something to learn from each one of them. I learnt extravagance of imagery and emotions from Neruda, learnt pinpointed poignant succinctness from Mahapatra and the art of making guileless womanly confessions from Kamala Das.  I’ve also been very inspired by the works of RUMI, Vikram Seth, Jane Hirshfield and Seamus Heaney. 

I must also acknowledge the vast and varied influence that every good poet has on me. Sometimes I read a great piece of contemporary poetry and I don’t even know who’s written it but I want to treasure the experience of reading it.

Rather than a poet in totality, a poem per se has a greater impact on me. In that sense I get influenced by all good work. Reading a well written poem makes me write something worthwhile too. You could say that epiphany is my taskmaster!.

Words-Not-Spoken-by-Vinita-Agrawal

GER: Tell us about Words Not Spoken and how the collection came about?

VA:  Words Not Spoken is my first collection of poems. It is published by Brown Critique/Sampark  India and was released in November 2013. 

The book is a potpourri of poems written over a considerable stretch of time. Some poems go back as far as 1997. I decided to include them in this collection because I could still relate to them emotionally. Besides, this being my first published collection, I did not want to miss any step of my poetic journey. 

The poems represent my perceptions of life with all its highs and lows, troughs and crests… They trace experiences of loss and grief, pride and joy, betrayal and pain from a very personal perspective. Some poems express my awareness of the injustices I see around me but mostly they centre around the intensely peculiar dimensions of womanhood –  its sentimental treasures and curious travails.  

Over the years I have discovered that pain has a penumbra of numbness attached to it. And that sooner or later, we choose this numbness to the acuteness. It is this invisible fine shift towards a state of stillness that inspires me to write. Endurance, in any form, is at the core of my writing.

GER: Please tell us about your work as a freelance writer and researcher?

vinita01VA:  Yes…I’ve changed many cities in the course of my life and therefore was unable to take up a regular job. So I decided to work freelance and work from home. Writing is a profession that allows you that freedom. I relish being able spend time at home and yet be fruitfully engaged with writing. It has its limitations of course but if you’re seeking to balance your personal and professional life than it really is the best option.

As freelance writer I’ve written development based articles, features on gender issues, penned middles for newspapers, written passionately about the Tibet issue, done interviews with prominent personalities in the spiritual/academic field like Robert Thurman, the Official Oracle of the Dalai Lama and even top Defence personnel! God knows how that happened! 

As a researcher, I presented two papers on Buddhism at international conferences in Sri Lanka and Vaishali under the Sakyadhita Banner. I have karmic leanings towards the Buddha and his teachings and have taken up researching his life and thoughts independently but with expert guidance from Geshes and scholars. I have to confess though, that I’m very slow with all this work that I’m doing. It’s born out of passion and an academic thirst. It has no deadlines or consolidate demands for being in the market so I take things easy with this aspect of my work.

The good thing that I see in doing it at all, apart from the fact them I read voraciously because of it, is that it puts me in touch with wonderful people and brilliant scholars. I enjoy interacting with them a lot. Sometimes I get to visit awesome ancient places in the course of my self-sponsored research. Anuradhapura, Vaishali and Sarnath are two places that come to my mind in particular.

va 4GER: What are the benefits of meditation to managing stress?

VA: Scientific case studies carried out at the Emory University, USA, indicate that compassionate meditation enhances our mental and physical well-being. It creates greater connectedness amongst members of the society and thereby reduces the stress levels. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Lobsang Tenzin Negi, director of the Emory-Tibet Partnership at the university when he was on a visit to Delhi. He pointed out that meditation is an antidote to stress. It does the exact opposite of what stress does to your body. Stress aggravates your adrenalin levels, meditation brings it down, stress shoots up your blood pressure, meditation controls it, stress stretches your nerves and meditation calms them. 

Meditating on compassion that is, love for all, is enormously beneficial in fighting stress.

Indeed compassion is a basic human value and need not be practiced in the context of any particular religion. Meditation helps us to develop this positive emotion within ourselves

All these positive emotions, reared through regular meditation, have great beneficial impact on our health. Becoming kind from within changes our behavior towards others and this in turn makes others around us kinder in return.

GER: You wrote a piece, Women on the Path: The Transnational Sangha’, Awakening Buddhist Women, share with us your thoughts on the awakening? VA: 

“Free am I, oh so free am I
Being freed
By means of the three crooked things:
The mortar, pestle, and my crooked husband! “
                                                Therigatha 11
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This is one of the verses written by a female disciple of the Buddha more than 2500 years ago. The lines epitomize the sense of freedom which spiritual awakening brings into women’s lives who otherwise find themselves in the suffocating grind of domestic life 24×7. The message is as relevant today as it was all those years ago because basically, nothing has changed.
 
In the quest for enlightenment, men and women are equal. Emancipation is a matter of the heartso why should it matter whether the individual who seeks it is a man or a woman? In reality however, women face many obstacles in their endeavors towards self-realizationmore, perhaps, than in any other area of their lives.
 
 
My paper on Awakening Buddhist Women took an in-depth view of the worldwide efforts being made by women to seek a quality space for themselves. It included case studies of women on the spiritual path from different socio-economic, cultural and geographical backgrounds.
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GER: Tell us about the poetry scene in your home town and in India at this point in time?

VA: Oh it’s rife with creativity and inspired writing! Of course you have the section of bad poets who write mediocre stuff and pass it off as art! But India does have its share of brilliant poets who’ve been published internationally, whose work has been evaluated by editors of world class journals accepted, published and occasionally even glorified.

That is very heartening to all aspiring and upcoming poets! It sets a benchmark of good writing standards and chisels ambitions to a fine tip. 

Most cities organize poetry readings and literary festivals that provide a good platform for poetic interactions and also a good exposure for one’s writing. So many literary journals have mushroomed in the country! I just wish that the better ones amongst them continue to maintain a good standard of writing. 

I must also mention here the amazing strength and depth of regional literature in India. My country has over 700 languages! So you can imagine the range of literature that sprouts from different corners of the country. It’s quite fascinating.

GER: Do you perform your poetry and if so what are the benefits to reading in front of a live audience?

SAARC Literature Festival at DelhiVA: Yes I do. In fact I love doing live readings. It gives you an opportunity to connect with the pulse of your readers. Gives you instant feedback about your work and the joy of seeing your words settle in people’s hearts. The experience is quite matchless!

I’ve had youngsters approach me with endearing trepidation after my readings asking if they could keep in touch with me…I’ve had older, established poets come forth and comment on what they see as strengths in my poetry. These are all the delightful fall outs of live readings!

Also, when you read live, you portray not just your work but the entire ethos to which you belong. The way you dress, the way you carry yourself and the way you interact with fellow poets also helps to convey your sensibilities as a poet. It’s a wholesome experience that goes beyond the scope of mere words.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

VA: As a poet, I have two manuscripts ready for publication. A couple of publishers have approached me but I am yet to make up my mind about how to go about it. I also want to bring out my collection of very short poems. You will probably see a lot of me in 2015 – I hope that’s a good thing! 

I’m also helping one of my very dear colleagues to organize a top quality literary fest in the spring of 2015. Hopefully it will turn out to be one of its kind! 

On the research front, I’m in the process of writing a book about Buddha’s journey from Bodh Gaya to Sarnath i.e. from his place of enlightenment to the place where he gave his very first sermon. The book is titled Two Full Moons. But it’s in its nascent stages as of now because it requires immense and intense research and my avenues are limited. 

In general, poetry keeps me in its grip all the time. Like I said earlier, it’s a malaise…but with a sweet, dervish-like sting to it.

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You can read the poetry of Vinita Agrawal in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.foxchasereview.org/12AW/VinitaAgrawal.html http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/s14vagrawal.html

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2nd-saturday-poets-1-21-12-guarnieri-reutter-readiing-017-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) https://gereutter.wordpress.com/

10 Questions for Joshua Gray

josh 4Joshua Gray was born in the mountains of rural Northern Virginia, outside Washington DC. He grew up in Alexandria VA, two miles from the nation’s capital and spent most of his adult life in the suburbs of the city. He attended Warren Wilson College in the mountains of western North Carolina, where he also spent the first few years of married life. Always in love with the mountains, he spent two years in  Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, India from 2012-2014.  He now lives in the DC area with his wife and two sons. He can be found at: http://joshuagray.co/

Interviewed by: g emil reutter 

GER: You recently returned to the United States from Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, India. What was your experience in India and how has it influenced your writing?

JG: I moved from Washington DC to a rural part of India, and while the town I lived in could be noisy and unpleasant, especially during tourist season, for much of the year it was relatively quiet. I also lived in a wooded and more secluded area. Indian Bison and monkeys were common in my yard. I was 7000 feet up in the mountains. There were calls to prayers several times a day. The quiet beauty, the wildlife and the culture were a collective means to be more creative. During this time I published a chapbook on living in India as well as a book-length poem that I had been working on for a couple decades.

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GER: Tell us about the development of the collection, Beowulf: A Verse adaptation With Young Readers In Mind, how it came about and why?

JG: I first wrote my Beowulf adaptation when my older son was six – he is now almost 18. He was into dragons, knights, monsters and heroes – the Beowulf story was an obvious read; however, I looked everywhere to find not only a children’s adaptation of the epic, but one in verse. I felt this was a crucial piece. The story loses a lot when read as prose. The epic was written in Anglo-Saxon verse, and I felt I needed to read it to him in the same manner. When I found no children’s adaptation written in verse, I decided I had to write one myself. The problem was I had never written in Anglo-Saxon, so I had to research the form as I wrote. I boiled everything down to the action, and was able to come away with a ten-stanza poem.

After the encouragement of family and friends, I decided to try and get it published. The problem was the Internet was still in its infancy, so making connections wasn’t easy, and the children’s publishing industry didn’t like violence in children’s stories, so I had a difficult time finding it a home. But as the Internet became more the force it is today, the poem was accepted in an e-zine, and the e-zine’s guest editor, Alex Cigale, made a bunch of line edits to the poem to better reflect the form.

But I can’t really end this story without mentioning that once I was more confident in looking for a publisher (thanks to its initial publication), the children’s book needed an artist who could turn the stanzas into visual life. I was very lucky to have found the artist I did, Sean Yates, and would not have asked for a better set of images. His art really helped with the publication of the book. 

GER: You grew up in the suburbs of Washington D.C. and attended Warren Wilson College in the hills of North Carolina. How did this effect your view of the world?

JG: Immensely. I grew up in Northern Virginia, and the entire Washington DC area was a blue state. My mother, my step-father and everyone else I knew were Democrats. It was the Reagan era and everyone was pissed off, politically, all the time. I felt a need to understand the conservative point of view, just so I could make educated decisions, but when I joined a Republican group in high school, everyone there was pissed off at all the Democrats. And in Washington DC, people talk politics and little else. When I went to Warren Wilson College in the beautiful mountains of western North Carolina, a big town but not yet a city, it opened up an entire other world. Warren Wilson College is known as a hippie school, and Asheville is known to be liberal, but outside of Asheville, the area was red.

Asheville had a huge flea market every weekend, and I remember how the hippies and the rednecks walked side by side. You could go to one stall and get incense and peace earrings, then go to the next stall over and buy a hunting jacket and a confederate flag. Nobody seemed to care; nobody looked down on anyone else. It was the first time I really saw the people who disagree can still live harmoniously.

I had to move away from Asheville, but one can say I have been searching for that kind of harmonious living ever since.

josh 2GER: What poets have influenced you?

JG: This is actually a hard question to answer. I prefer the term “admire” over the term “influenced by”, but some of the poets I’d put in this list include Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, Ezra Pound’s translations, Homer, and ancient Chinese poetry.

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GER: Your collection, Principles of Belonging, is a mix between modern and ancient poetic forms. How did you come with this unusual concept?

JG: Principles of Belonging started out as a short story, then became a novella, then was scraped altogether, and was finally brought back to life when I thought about writing it as poetry. After I decided to write a book-length poem, my next task was to read book-length poems and get an idea of the style. What I discovered was that there is no set standard of what defines a book-length poem. Each one I read was different from all the others. This allowed me to get creative.

One thing I don’t like about books of poetry is that the poet tends to write in the same style for all the poems in the collection. This structure tends to bore me. I like variety. This was the first reason for the varying forms. Second, when I sit down to write I find the form is often defined by the subject. I was writing four very different characters; to use the same form for all of them didn’t feel right to me, so in the beginning of the book I assigned them each an ancient form. Then for the last part I wanted to highlight some similarities between them, so I employed the sympoe (as well as sonnets), a form I created myself. The middle part was merely a break from the structure of formal verse, a way to take a break so to speak, so I played with free verse.

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GER: Tell us how the Gaiapoetopia Project came about and what direction do you see the project going?

JG: I wish I could say. It came about out of the cultural and global lack of understanding for poetry. Talk shows don’t have poets on as guests ever. Poetry books are seldom if ever reviewed in mainstream media. Poets in oppressive cultures are imprisoned, and no one knows about them. Poetry is added on at the end of the school year as a one or two week unit, rather than teaching it throughout the year. If teachers marginalize poetry, why wouldn’t students? And remember, those teachers were also once students – so they don’t really know how to teach it themselves. On more than one occasion I have been asked to come in and be a guest during poetry units because, in the end, teachers don’t understand poetry either.

There are other sites out there, but their focus is usually more specific, such as geared to local poets, or as only a resource; furthermore, I have an issue with some of them, because they take on a sort of elitist tone.

Gaiapoetopia was founded as a way to change all that. The problem is, I don’t have the time to devote to it. I want it to be a huge resource, a political eye opener, and a cultural game-changer. Gaiapoetopia exists for the masses, for the Everyperson.

 

mera

GER: Mera Bharat was released in 2014 and was developed from a visit to India in 1994 and your later move to the area 18 years later. Tell us of your inspirations for the collection?

JG: This was another collection of poems I have been working on for years. I’ve always felt I had a lot of unique or uncommon experiences in India, and wanted to share them. I married into a family that is Indian on the father’s side, I have done a lot of traveling in India, and I have lived there for a couple years. It was only natural for me to write about them. India is such an intense place. I tell people who go to visit that they will either love it or hate it – there is no in-between.

pots and sticksGER: You were the editor of Pot And Sticks, a collection of poems by Charles A. Poole. How did this project come about?

JG:  My uncle by marriage was a recluse. He was outgoing, but awkwardly so. He used to tell me that he wrote poems, and I would nod, but never really was as interested as I should have been. When he passed away, his friend typed up all his poems in a single document, and when I read them, I was really kind of taken aback. No, he wasn’t a Robert Frost, but he had a style that was at once both humorous and full of pathos. As a tribute to him, I decided to give the works a collective shape and publish them.

GER: After two years in India how are you and your family adapting to your return to the U.S. ?

JG: It’s been difficult. We never intended to come back to the US, at least not so soon, but had to because of medical reasons. We never had a bill to pay, never had a single piece of junk mail, never got caught up in the mass consumerism that exists here. But at the same time, we are American, and there have been some things about coming back that are well-received. We’ve been back for two months now and the power hasn’t gone out once.

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GER: What projects are you currently working on?

JG:  In 2015 I have a chapbook coming out called Steel Cut Oats, which is more or less about food. Half of the book is a collection of short poems, what I like to call ditties, based on the memoir/recipe book Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection (http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/full_moon) by Jessica Prentice. When I first started the project my poems were far too didactic, and I had a hard time writing them, but I wanted to write a sort of poetic companion guide to Prentice’s book. So I stuck with it, and realized that what I needed to do was honor the chapters, not reiterate them. Once I figured that out, the writing was easier. Secondly, food originally played a big part in the story that became Principles Of Belonging, but never really made it into the final manuscript, except in the epilogue. So there was a missing for me, which made me that much more determined to finish Steel Cut Oats.

Right now I am working on my first full-length collection. It will be more autobiographical, or memoire-like, in the sense that it will be poems about me as a child, then as a parent, and as a Melanoma survivor.

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You can read the poetry of Joshua Gray in The Fox Chase Review at these links:     http://www.foxchasereview.org/11June/JoshuaGray.html and http://www.thefoxchasereview.org/w14jgray.html

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g emil reutter 2-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadlephia, Pa. (USA)

http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

 

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/

Wendell Berry – Poet & Prophet

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An interview with Bill Moyers on Oct 4, 2013

http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-wendell-berry-poet-prophet/

10 Questions for Adrian Manning

Adrian 3Adrian Manning is a poet from Leicester, England. He has published 13 chapbooks and broadsides over the last few years and is the editor of Concrete Meat Press.  His poetry has been published in numerous electronic and print publications in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.  You can visit with him at Concrete Meat Press at this link:  http://concretemeatpress.co.uk/index.htm.

Interview by: g emil reutter

GER: What drew you to the Meat Poetry movement and do you find there is still an active audience for this school of poetry?

AM: I became an avid reader of Charles Bukowski about 25 years ago through his novels and then his poetry. I was really attracted by his direct approach to writing – putting down the words in a way that anyone could understand and writing about the real things that happened in his life. Through Bukowski I got into reading poetry by William Wantling and Steve Richmond amongst others. I feel that Meat Poetry is about these real experiences and responses that these poets wrote about no matter how ugly or uncomfortable they may be. Because of this I think there is still a valid place for this type of poetry and I feel that in the poets and publications I read there is definitely an active audience still. There must always be a poetry that deals with this, in my opinion – straight, real and having meaning to the non – academic poetry reader.

GER: As an artist can you tell us of the interaction between your poetry and art and how they may influence one another?

AM: I am an artist in a very amateur way! I am totally untrained and some may say of limited skill – I would not disagree. The type of art I like to create is simple, direct and to the point – just like the poetry in many ways, so I guess there is a link there. I also like abstract, collage and mail art – juxtaposing random and unusual bedfellows. In a sense that has a link to my poetry where I like to find interesting uses of description or metaphor – something that would not be the obvious thought. In this way the poems and art may influence each other.

GER: You are the Editor of Concrete Meat Press that publishes chapbooks and broadsides. What do you look for in submissions and do you have a set list of contributors?

AM: The only criteria I look for is that I like the work. I like a poem to hit me and make me think. I like a good turn of phrase and interesting ways of getting a point across that stay with me for a while after I’ve read the poem. I don’t go for rhyming or cliché and I often pass on work that is ‘clever’ for the sake of being ‘clever’. Going back to the idea of Meat Poetry – something that is direct, straight and honest but written in an interesting way will usually be considered for publication. When considering submissions I look at the work. I know a number of poets who always send high quality work consistently and it is always a pleasure to publish something by them. I do also very much enjoy publishing work by poets who may be new or unknown to me. I send out invites to a number of poets I am familiar with, but am always happy to receive submissions from others who I don’t know of.

AdrianManning

GER: As a poet your work has been published widely in print and electronically. The submission process is sometimes daunting, what advice would you give to new poets regarding the process?

AM: First of all, be happy with what you are submitting – be confident that you think it is a good poem. Don’t send it if you aren’t happy with it. Follow submission guidelines! Read what the editor says! If you can, read issues of the publications and consider whether you feel your work fits the publication. Most importantly, be prepared for a knockback or two. It may take a while to be published, but don’t give up! Also if you get accepted, don’t expect to be accepted every time! Keep writing, keep submitting and keep working at it.

these-hands-of-mine-coverGER: Kendra Steiner Editions recently released These Hands of Mine. Share with us the development of the collection and what it is about.

AM: I wrote a poem which was a meditation on my hand – something that I noticed about it. I found myself focusing on my hands and going into this thought process about how important my hands were, what they have been a part of  and what they are capable or incapable of. I then began a process of writing a number of poems about these things – accidents, work, art, love – all aspects of life and eventually thought I had a short collection of poems which I entitled These Hands of Mine. I contacted Bill Shute, the amazing poet and editor at KSE and he liked the so he put the chapbook together.

Wretched Songs For Out of Tune Musicians

GER: Bottle of Smoke Press published three of your chapbooks, Wretched Songs for Out of Tune Musicians, A Tourist a Pilgrim, A Truth, and Repeating The Mantra. What was it like working with Bill Roberts and having the books published on a letter press?

AM: Bill Roberts is incredible! I had published a number of poems in different places when I sent Bill some poems for his consideration having read his first short collection by A D Winans. He wrote back with such enthusiasm and he had a plan including a cover artist, Henry Denander and he was such a professional! I was living in Spain at the time and he was in the USA, but it was a dream. Bill has since published chapbooks and broadsides of my poems and I admire him and his press so much – everything he does is amazing. The letterpress publications have always looked amazing and he is so creative and continues to be so. One of the best presses around!

buk_cover_ericksonGER: Silver Birch Press included your poem, Religion, in their Bukowski Anthology. How did this come about and what can you tell us about the anthology?

AM: I heard that Silver Birch Press were putting together a Bukowski themed anthology with writing  about or influenced by Bukowski so I decided to send them a number of poems I had written. Bukowski is my favourite writer and I have written a number of linked poems and luckily they accepted five poems to go into the anthology. I was very happy when they put Religion up on their blog. I haven’t seen the finished publication yet, as I believe it is out in the very near future. I am looking forward to it as I hear there are going to be some great writers in there including the wonderful David Barker, I believe.

Adrian 2

GER: Who are your favorite poets writing today and how do they influence you?

AM: I constantly find myself to be impressed by and in awe of so many talented and brilliant poets – it could be a long list! The way they influence me is that they write such fine poetry that I just have to sit up, take notice and think – I need to work to achieve something like that. I think I enjoy their poetry because they write in their own unique voice and they address the issues that affect me or those around me. They are also masters of their craft and the way they write their poems, use their words and know when enough is enough is something that continues to be an influence. To name some names I have read over a long period of time – A D Winans, Ronald Baatz, David Barker, John Dorsey, Robert L Penick and Hosho McCreesh have always delivered. Wolf Carstens is someone I happen to be reading at the moment and he is great. If you look at the contributors to Concrete Meat Sheet at the Concrete Meat Press website, you will see so many great poets who I have had the pleasure to be able to read and publish.

adrian-1GER:There has been some debate concerning electronic verse print publication. Do you see a difference or not and why?

AM: If I am totally honest, I prefer print publication. There is nothing to match holding a beautiful piece of work in your hands and being able to feel it between your fingers. The incredible work that so many small press publishers create is so breathtaking that I just want to see it. The aforementioned letter press or signed, illustrated copies of items that I get are a wonder and to see your own work in something like that is fantastic. However, often these are limited in number and it can be a costly business so I see why electronic publication is favourable to many. I had the same dilemma with my Concrete Meat Sheet, which started as a print publication. Due to costs and wanting to be able to share the work more widely, I took the decision to publish it online, but as I say, ideally I prefer print.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

AM: I have just put Concrete Meat Sheet 15 up on line which is a short fiction issue and I’ll be working on issue 16 shortly which will be a poetry issue. I am hoping to publish a small chapbook in the near future which will collect some poems by one of my favourite poets, James Quinton, who sadly passed away last year. My chapbook These Hands of Mine, mentioned in a previous question is no longer available from KSE, but I am going to republish it through Concrete Meat Press. It will have a hand painted cover and will include the poems from the KSE publication plus These Hands of Mine in Dub – a stripped back version of each poem which is how each poem originally started before they were fleshed out. I like the idea of doing something musical, such as a dub version – hey I might even do a remix of some of my poems someday! I would love to put together a publication of a collection of the best poems from all my previous chapbooks, broadsides and magazine publications. If anyone is interested, I’d love to hear from them!

You can read the poetry of Adrian Manning in The Fox Chase Review at this link: http://www.foxchasereview.org/11WS/AdrianManning.html  and

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

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

http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

10 Questions for Michelle Cahill

michellecahill-copyMichelle Cahill is a Sydney poet who was born in Kenya and spent her childhood in the UK. Her most recent collection Vishvarūpa was shortlisted in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. She received the Val Vallis Award and was highly commended in the Blake Poetry Prize. In 2013 she is the CAL/UOW Poetry Fellow at Kingston University, London. She is a co-editor of Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (Puncher and Wattmann) and she edits Mascara Literary Review

Interview by: g emil reutter

The Interview:

michelle cahill 3

GER: You have written, “Poetry and poetics are being shaped increasingly by theoretical perspectives, tutored by academia. This signals a potential for innovation and transgression of established conventions.”  Can you expand on this statement?

MC: I guess I mean that theoretical approaches to writing poetry are frequently informed by philosophical and discursive awareness that shapes the poetics and complicates the poet’s natural voice. This can be dense and awkward; little more than a series of writing exercises that feels as if it’s tutored by curriculum and derivative. But at its best the poetry can be beautifully challenging of conventions, undoing the poet’s own previously held assumptions and voicing intrepid manifestos.

So I guess I am referencing the potential for intersections between poetic practice and philosophical or ethical discourses.

ACCov (1)GER: Your first poetry collection, The Accidental Cage, was written over a ten year period.  Share with us the journey from its inception to publication.

MC: It was about living my life, responding to nature, experience,whilst being quite remote from a poetry ‘scene’ as such although a few conferences that I attended did inspire and shape the poems in their later stages.  It was partly about my experience of Buddhism, which shifted my perspectives on understanding death, suffering, freedom. There are several poems about asylum which respond to the repressive politics Australia holds towards refugees and more generally misplaced people. There are also poems about motherhood and the difficult negotiation of domestic spaces that women frequently experience.

 I received quite a lot of editorial support from the publishers Interactive Press  and that helped to refine the book. I love that it is an unmediated response to these concerns and experiences, confident with its free verse forms.

GER: You have received a number of grants and residencies over the years. How important have they been to your development as a writer/poet?

MC: I’ve felt privileged to receive grants for writing; they have enabled me to take time out from the routine of a day job and fall into deeper rhythms of writing. Residencies are also marvellous opportunities to focus on writing and less on daily interruptions. The best residencies provide meals and room cleaning or laundry services so that you don’t need to waste precious time on the mundane tasks.

The other vital aspect is taking that journey elsewhere, meeting other artists/writers and being inspired by those conversations. Residencies may become a starting point for creative collaborations, for lasting friendships; a residency tends to open up my imagination to new possibilities and challenges. Sometimes it alters the direction of my work.

Vishvarupa

GER: Your second collection of poetry, Vishvarupa is a more recent full length collection. How does this collection differ from the The Accidental Cage?

MC: It’s less experiential and more deeply embedded in mythic and imaginative space where arguments about identity, power,  love, death, and representation take place. The poems are more formal in structure, though I don’t necessarily think they are more disciplined. The poems in Vishvarupa concern a partially real and partially imagined self, and the multiple layers are satisfying in deeper ways.

But even still, there is something fresh and unrehearsed about a poet’s first collection and nothing can quite replace that quality.

GER: As a writer of short fiction and poetry do you use different methods in the development of the two genres?

MC: Mostly it’s trial and error as with all writing. The more you write the more skilled you become in using language to achieve sometimes tricky outcomes. Fiction is painstaking and complex; it’s technically the most challenging genre to write , I think.

But the outstanding poems require one to live an uncompromising, often difficult life. Poetry is a way of life, really.

mascara

GER: You are the editor of The Mascara Literary Review. As an editor what do you look for in work submitted to the review that inclines you to publish the work?

MC: Good writing is what I look for, meaning that the poem, story or essay is confident, of a high quality, and risk-taking in terms of content or style. As editor of a journal  one can shape it to not merely reflect but also investigate one’s perspectives on diversity, on cultural and literary representation. It’s a two way process: I mediate MascaraMascara mediates me.

michelle cahill 2GER: How valuable has internet publishing been to your development as a writer/poet?

MC: It’s been hugely valuable and has far exceeded my expectations. It connects me to an international community. The ability to read and cross-reference writing over the internet is in my view, marvellous.

GER: What poets have inspired you over the years and how important is it for a poet to be well read regarding the work of other poets?

MC: Brigit Pegeen-Kelly, Robin Robertson, Dîpti Saravanamuttu, Judith Beveridge, Peter Boyle, Louise Glück, Seamus Heaney, Lucy Brock-Broido,  Sujatta Bhatt, Meena Kandasamy—

These are just about my favourite contemporary poets writing in English.

michelle cahill - steve sharpe

GER: You have lived on several continents during your lifetime.  How has this affected your writing and sense of place?

MC: It deepened my inner life and made me very independent as a writer since there was little external stability. It familiarised me with losses at an early age since leaving a country is a huge upheaval. It made the Australian landscape at first seem strange and hostile, though now I love it. There is a vivid connection to place in my writing, (often more than one place), and a sense of the journeys between them.

GER: How would you describe Michelle Cahill?

MC: Private. Sensitive. A lover of words.

You can read the poetry of Michelle Cahill in The Fox Chase Review at 2011 SU and vist her on the net at http://michellecahill.com/

*photographs from various internet publications

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: 

FCRMasthead2011-RGB-for PRINT docs

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

images_being

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.

diane sahms-guarnieri 2

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

10 Questions for Russell Streur

russell-streur1 (1)Russell Streur is a born-again dissident residing in Johns Creek, Georgia.  His work has been published in Europe, certain islands and the United States.  He operates the world’s original on-line poetry bar, The Camel Saloon, catering to dromedaries, malcontents and jewels of the world at http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.com/; and the curator of The Bactrian Room, a journal for bactrians, ghosts and travelers on the Long Silk Road with a story to tell at http://bactrianroom.blogspot.com/.  He co-founded Poets Democracy in 2010 with Christi Kochifos Caceres and is the author of The Muse of Many Names, The Petition to Free Zhu Yufu, and other works.

Interview by: g emil reutter

The Interview: 

GER: Why are you a poet? 

RS: That’s a term I duck and dodge, poet, because I’m not very prolific and I don’t work on it as a craft on a daily basis.  I looked up definitions for the word today and none seemed to really fit.  For myself, writing poetry doesn’t make me a poet.  What I’m missing and why I’m not comfortable with the word is a vocabulary of the natural world.  I can’t hear a bird’s chirp and say that is a finch; I don’t know the difference between one pine and the next; I can’t read the constellations in the night sky.  It seems to me, in today’s world, that some of those skills should be a requirement for using the term.  So I have hesitation there.  I easily confess to a life-long affection for poetry and a continual involvement with it.  I was ten years old in 1964 when poetry first bit me, a poem by Robert Frost, On Looking up by Chance at the Constellations, it begins

You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much

To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud

And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.

And I was hooked.  Pretty soon came Chinese poetry and another whole dimension and I was gone and across the border.  Two books I’ve carried with me through everything in life, like 45 years, The White Pony and The Jade Mountain, both anthologies of Chinese poetry, the pages yellowing and brittle now, never have let them go.

I am less a poet than a believer in the Muse.  So in answer to why am I poet, I’ll say because the Muse swept down on me at an early age and staked a claim.  My longtime friend and muse, Christi Kochifos Caceres, is at the heart of a lot of the stuff I do.  I wouldn’t be doing any of this without the inspirations she brings me.

Robert Frost, by the way.  We have the same date of birth—March 26.

Drink up.

the muse of many names

GER: Your latest collection is The Muse of Many Names, share with us how the collection was developed and the inspiration for the poetry. 

RS: Robert Graves in his Foreword to The White Goddess says “The function of poetry is religious invocation of the Muse; its use is the exaltation and horror that her presence excites.”   I relate to that, and the book develops from that theme, inspired by the joy and terror of the Muse, a homage to her, both in her ethereal and her physical forms, especially the last poem, “The Ten Commandments,” which in my testament translates as:

And the High One spoke these words saying, I am thy Sole Adored, who raised you from the grave and gave you breath when you were dead and voice to sing when you could not even speak; who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the House of Bondage:

Thou shall have no other Brides before me.

Thou shall not be deceived by hollow charms; for I am a jealous and green-eyed wonder: neither shall false spells beguile you; and neither shall you serve them; lest my anger rise against you and topple you from the face of the earth.

Thou shall sound the truth and truth alone like the bellow of the thunder upon a winter sea; for I will not hold him guiltless who takes my love and word in vain.

Thou shall honor the serpent.

Thou shall honor the vine.

Thou shall wield a Radiant Sword and slay my enemies with Abandon and Glee.

Thou shall play with fire.

Thou shall sow the whirlwind.

Thou shall remember the auburn hours of my outstretched arms and the mighty hammer of my fist upon the gloom of dawn. 

Thou shall kneel down before no one save for me.

For I am thy Fury, thy Grace, thy Muse, who favors you beyond compare and above all others.  Defy me not.

GER:Your poetry appears widely in the electronic small press. With corporate and academic control of the major presses many have described the internet movement as similar to the mimeograph movement of the 60’s and early 70’s. Can you describe how the internet has opened doors to both emerging and established poets to seek an audience for their work? 

RS: I’m glad the hard questions are over.

I’m old enough to remember those days, and I agree that there’s a lot of similarity.  I think one big difference between the eras is that many of the mimeos were geographically contained within a specific city, and sometimes even within a certain neighborhood, and often to a small number of coffeehouses and independently minded bookstores.   If a blog can be considered a mimeo, then the reach now is international with an equal increase in the size and depth of the supporting environment—readership, small publishers, electronic editions, and clearing houses of information—New Pages and Duotrope to name just two.

For emerging poets, the internet is full of tremendous opportunity: knowledge of where the markets and outlets, the ease of communication (it used to be we had to send letters out and wait weeks and months for a response from a small press), more publishers, all the communities to join.   It’s amazing what there is now compared to then.

I’m not so sure about established poets.  Established academic poets, established popular poets, established  counter-culture poets, who are these established poets anyway?  If we could label them the mainstream, then I think that those poets still stick to mainstream ways, which is fine with me, because it leaves the big, deep waters to the rest of us.

A huge benefit of the internet are the vast libraries that are now available to us at a couple clicks:  the myths and chants and prayers and poems among the sacred texts at http://www.sacred-texts.com/;the centuries of poetry that are archived at places like  http://www.public-domain-poetry.com/; and national archives of poetry at http://www.rampantscotland.com/poetry/blpoems_index.htm as an example.  What wealth to have.

Drink up.

the bar keep

GER: You are the editor of The Camel Saloon  that has been described as the world’s original online poetry bar catering to dromedaries, malcontents, and the jewels of the world. How did you develop the concept?

RS:  I was sitting three stools from the end of the bar at the local joint one afternoon in the early spring of 2010 when a number of thoughts came together.   I had gotten a lot of my work published in the preceding couple of years and I felt that it was time for me to move on into something else.  I was also becoming more and more personally interested in global free speech and self-expression issues and principles.  And with the next sip, reminiscing about my friend Danny Harmon, rest in peace, and how he and I would go to one particular bar and work on poems together and try out lines not only on each other but to other customers and the staff sometimes, a very social place it was and it all felt, safe, to write there, in all the noise with the ball game on and the jukebox playing and all the bustle of the place.  I was also in appreciation of some editors I had gotten to know to one degree or another, especially Chloe Caldwell at Sleep Snort Fuck for the courage it took her to create and run that space and Ross Vassilev of Asphodel Madness and Opium Poetry, for just the sheer energies of those sites and how much time he must’ve put it into it.

So out of all that came the resolution to start giving back, to start standing, and to do that in a social environment, and it felt like a bar would be a fine place to do all that in, especially since I was in one in the first place, online though.  So I went to the Barnes and Noble and bought Google Blogger for Dummies, tried out some things, figured I had the technical bent to become good at the process, and opened the joint from the same barstool a couple weeks later.

Why the Camel?  I was reading Persian poetry at the time, and camels appeared here and there in the poems, and there was an unrelated article I read on the value given the camel in Bedouin poetry, and it seemed fitting for a journey to have a mode of transportation, and so the Camel, which is real interesting animal in the first place as it turns out.

World’s Original Online Poetry Bar?  Far as I can tell, it’s the one and only.  Catchy phrase, ain’t it?

Dromedaries, malcontents and jewels of the world?  Dromedaries because they can carry a load on their backs, the only beast of burden that beat the wheel at the transportation game, they know how to spit when offended, at the same time totally useful and adapted to a harsh environment.  Malcontents, naturally poets.   Raphaelle O’Neil of New Orleans is the original Jewel of the World, jewels of the world all of her tribal sisters.  Invitations along the way are extended to ghosts, travelers and exiles.

And G. Tod Slone of The American Dissident also was in the mix of the Saloon, how he refuses to compromise his ideals and has given a forum to so many people who might not have otherwise found a place in the world for their voice.  I wanted to make something that could redeem that same promise, to create a space in the world for voices.

GER: Books on Blog  is an interesting venture in that you publish ebooks without using the standard formats such as kindle or nook. The presentation is simply outstanding within the confines of a blog format. How did this project come to fruition?

RS: A friend of the Saloon, Michael H. Brownstein, spent a recent summer in Viet Nam teaching English to university students.  One of the lessons Michael taught revolved around the poems “In Bed” by Jeff Flemming and “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams.   Then he had the students write their own poems, in English.  Afterwards he asked me if the Saloon would be interested in publishing the poems.  The results and the whole story were way too big and fun for a post, and deserved something more permanent.   The Saloon at the time included a concept for special editions titled The Eye of the Needle, and that’s where the collection was placed, First Poems from Viet Nam at http://theeyeoftheneedlevietnam.blogspot.com/

Something in producing First Poems with Michael reminded me of a couple collections issued by City Lights in the Pocket Poets series, Red Cats (1968) and Nine Dutch Poets (1982).    So I was sitting three stools from the end of the bar at the local joint one afternoon with my son Morgen and I brought up the subject of publishing electronic chapbooks at the Saloon in a serial mode.  His encouragement tipped me from the consideration of the series into the actual doing of it.  Darryl Price was the first Saloonatic to take the Saloon up on the project.  The newest issue, Number 42 in the series, is authored by that remarkable woman who runs Propaganda Press, Leah Angstman.  The whole series is linked here: http://booksonblogtm.blogspot.com/

During his time in Viet Nam, Michael became aware of the terrible environmental and human damage done by the US military’s Agent Orange bombings.  He’s committed to helping right those wrongs and has a couple sites highlighting the issue.  The home of his effort can be found here: http://www.projectagentorange.com/ and there is a companion poetry site here:  http://projectagentorange.com/wordpress/.

GER: Why are you a born again dissident?

RS:  I mean dissident in two ways.  First, how wiki describes it as people “who write and distribute non-censored, non-conformist samizdat literature.”  That’s not a bad description for the denizens of the Saloon in general.  Second, as someone who takes a stand against violations of human rights.  One of the Saloon’s stands is support for the imprisoned Chinese poet Zhu Yufu.  The petition can be signed here:  http://freezhuyufu.blogspot.com/

Speaking of dissidents, G. Tod Slone of The American Dissident was permanently banned from his local library for no apparent reason last summer.  Permanently banned.  From a library.  Unbelievable.  The Saloon has been active in that affair too.  More on that here:  http://sturgisbansdissident.blogspot.com/

Born-again as a new commitment to principles and ideals that I had neglected for a number of years and as a public statement of personal belief in the Muse.

GER: Tell us about Poets Democracy.

RS: Christi Kochifos Caceres invented Poets Democracy.  In one form, it’s the spiritual nation for the individuals Plato excluded from his Republic and a place of sanctuary for exiles.  In another form, it serves as a small publisher (http://poetsdemocracy.com/).   It’s a river, a bar at night, wine, a tone of light, a bamboo grove and a thing to come.   And best thing yet, it’s the home of A Cup of Storm:  Love Letters from a Sinner, the first book of poems by Taufiq bin Abdul Khalid, who is the 21st Century incarnation of Rumi, hands down.

Drink up.

GER: What poets have inspired you over the years?

RS:  These days Woeser inspires me the most.  She’s a Tibetan dissident and the book I like is A.E. Clark’s translation and selection of her work called Tibet’s True Heart.  Rimbaud I have always liked a lot.  Then the traditional Chinese poets.  Russian poets, especially Bella Ahkmadulina, especially her Volcanoes, especially the verse W.H. Auden translated as:

What future did you assume,

What were you thinking of and whom

When you leaned your elbow thus

Thoughtlessly on Vesuvius?

I like women poets in general.   Early on, the beats, go figure.

the camel saloon

GER: Your photographs appear on the masthead of The Camel Saloon. Is there any interaction between your art of photography and your poetry?

RS: I am using the camera to get at nature that I can’t get to through words.  So it’s less interaction than a substitution.  I’m still new to lens work, but I am carrying the idea that the camera is a prosthetic voice for me, if a picture is worth a thousand words.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

RS: I am working on publishing a collection of poems by Russell Jaffe, from Iowa City.  He’s got this dangerous concept of making poetry interactive, of having the audience or the reader fill in predetermined blanks in poems.  For instance, the reader selects his or her own adverb to fill in a line here, or a childhood memory to fill in a blank here.  I saw him perform in early summer of 2012 at the Midwest Small Press Festival in Milwaukee and just went wow.  Then later I happened to be in the Windy City when he was doing a reading at The Beauty Bar on West Chicago Avenue and he just had the crowd in his palm.  Three stools from the end of the bar I asked him if he’d like to join Poets Democracy and he said yes.  Coming soon, his This Super Doom I Aver.   After that, I need to find another bar because I don’t have a’s next yet.

Drink up.

10 Questions for Jane Lewty

   

An interview with g emil reutter

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Jane Lewty is s professor of English Literature and creative writing at the University of Amsterdam and holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her poems have have appeared, or are forthcoming, in Volt, The Boston Review, The Literary Review, La Petite Zine, Word/for Word, Versal, and others. Her first poetry collection, Bravura Cool, will be published by 1913 Press in 2012

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The Interview:

GER: Your poems are extremely well crafted blending the abstract with a core of realism. An example would be, (A Piece from We Mills, We Miles) 1, published in the June 2012 edition of The Fox Chase Review. How would you describe your poetry and your method for crafting your poems?

JL:  I think my poems change all the time and I don’t really have a concrete term to describe them. What seemed cerebral at first becomes less indefinite when I read it back, or a poem that began lyrically can evolve into something more opaque and condensed. I’m one of those people who think that a poem isn’t ever completed. You can say that you’ve ‘finished’ a poem, but for me it’s a case of setting them aside—they still contain potentialities. I think it’s important to observe the immediate world, I mean the momentary and recognizable things, such as a tree or the act of crossing the road because that’s what generates the longer, surreal and more contemplative moments. Like Literary Impressionism–how life seems to be a series of logical happenings but, mentally you’re always in an entirely different place to the one you stand in. Someone once told me that I construct a poem from the outside-in, that I write ‘ideas-based’ poetry. I used to always theorize a bit before starting out and would consider the overall impact of the poem and its purpose. Usually manifested through vagaries and hints. Now I’m more instinctive and don’t focus so much on topic. I’m doing what I can to explore the possibilities of the lyric self, and trying to make that evident through the permutations of language—its circuitous nature, elisions, abstractions, and of course silence. I’ve included other languages in my book: semaphore, code, data. It’s likely that some readers might find the poems disturbing or menacing, who knows. I can’t confess to having a method as such. Often, lines come at me out of blankness, or they’re adapted from a line I wrote ages ago. Or they’re galvanized by the work of another poet. I don’t do anything new or revolutionary!

GER: Why are you a poet and what poets are major influences on your work?

JL: Such a difficult question! I can’t answer why. All I know is that when I solely wrote critical work I felt a bit gagged. I’m influenced by many, many writers: sound poets and avant-garde poets of the modernist era, plus Pound, Beckett, Inger Christensen. More recently Caroline Bergvall, Gillian Conoley, Joseph Ceravolo. A variety of (very different) prose writers such as Jean Rhys and Gary Lutz. Many essayists. I could exchange each name here with another who has inspired me just as much.

GER: Your book reviews have been published widely. How does a literary critique differ from crafting your own poetry and is there any cross pollination?

JL: It’s a similar level of concentration insofar that I have to absorb myself in someone’s poetry and be willing to respond to its subconscious workings. As a reviewer, I feel as though you’re temporarily entrusted with the task of becoming the writer’s ideal reader. They’re trying to get you in the loop of their thoughts. I occupy a position that is quite alarming because I realize how often I don’t read with such intensity and that makes me ask, why don’t I? Reviewing a poem makes me slow down and reflect on not just what is being said but how is the what being said. Also, does the poem fulfill its implicit, original, purpose and meaning—not in its manifestation as a printed poem, but in the act of its being crafted. In terms of writing, reviewing allows me to see the intricacies of poetry that sometimes doesn’t resemble mine. That really prevents me from becoming too interiorized.

GER: You have read your poetry at venues in Europe from local venues to The Prague Poetry Festival. Most recently you shared your work at AWP in the United States. How important is it to you as a poet to share your work with a live audience?

JL: I’m glad to speak the poems and hear how they sound in a larger auditory space rather than mumbled in front of the computer screen, but I’m always nervous. Some of my poems have visual quirks that can’t be relayed.

GER: You received your MFA from The Iowa Writers Workshop and Ph.D from the University of Glasgow. Your academic career has included a stint as an Assistant Professor at the University of Northern Iowa, a Postdoctoral Fellowship at University College London and you are currently on the faculty of the University of Amsterdam. How has your academic career influenced your writing and view of the world?

JL: It’s the bureaucracy of academia that makes a university teaching job feel like the polar opposite of writing poetry, but scholarship is largely about fact-finding, truth-finding, trying to relay what someone else thought/felt/heard/said. There’s a lot of supposition and therefore so much scope for creativity. Anne Carson said in an interview that in pursuing scholarship she “never found it possible to think without thinking about myself thinking” which is a beautifully apt phrase. However, she then pointed out that such over-analysis is a characteristic of being human in general, not just an individual locked in academic questioning. She opted to “just go ahead with the project of thinking of me as if it were a legitimate human enterprise and would be enlightening to other humans”. I’m really glad she said that. I’m becoming involved in practice-based criticism at the moment; that which first and foremost establishes itself as a creative act. In terms of writing poetry, I find I’m utilizing—both deliberately and by accident—many of the areas I dealt with before. Warping the ideas and discoveries into something less ordered.

GER: You served as an editor on two collections, Broadcasting Modernism , and Pornotopias: Image, Apocalypse, Desire. Please tell us about the collections and what it was like to interact with the other editors on the projects?

JL: Broadcasting Modernism was a great project and I learned a lot from the other editors, how to make a book cohere and flow even though it has distinct components. We covered the social history of radio broadcasting in the US and the UK, which was a necessary foundation for what came later: essays on how radio affected textual and generic form of modernist literature; work that was meant to be heard as well as read. Pornotopias was a slightly different experience insofar that the contributors weren’t just literature scholars but visual and performance artists, photographers, media theorists. It’s such a diverse volume; on the back cover we stated that “the body is the site [of] technicity and catatonia, the sublime and the grotesque” and the essays certainly prove it. My own piece was on telephone sex. That was fun to write.

GER: Your next release Bravura Cool is slated for release this year from 1913 Press. Tell us about the collection and when it will be available for purchase.

JL: I tried to write, or sense, the various dimensions of shock—from extreme heat or cold, from disappointment, loss, violence, obsession, empty spaces in every sense, spirituality or the lack of it. It began as a different project but the more I worked into it, I realized it was/is a strange cross-section of my first years in America, or not mine specifically, but other voices/ideas I derived from being there. Imagined scenes and reinterpretations of events. It’s a mind dismantling itself; a variety of plots from different scopes, angles and trajectories and some of them are not nice. Above all, I suppose, the book is about communication breakdown (transmissions, misunderstood events) that naturally extends to the poem itself. The syntax occasionally fragments; there’s at least one poem where the subject and speaker don’t correlate which engenders a kind of uneasiness. There’s a séance in the form of a radio broadcast; the scientist Kurt Godel turns up, as do the Furies in the embodiment of a weather front. There’s a mass-murderer, the history of glass and a lot of American dream. I suppose the collection is quite varied. In terms of narrative, I wanted certain voices to feature in a poem and then return later. Repetition and echoing is really important to me. As is a wrapping-up of things–a coda (which might be part of an academic tendency to conclude, not sure if that’s a good thing or not). There’s a lot of journeying in the book, and it does end in a place of quietude. The overall effect I wanted was the slow burn of ice, if that’s possible to imagine, which I imply in the title. I believe it’ll be out in the next couple of months.

GER: You have been successful in placing your poetry and book reviews in publications. What advice do you have for aspiring critics and poets who struggle to get their work published?

JL: There are so many outlets to publish in—new magazines start up all the time. It can be daunting but also quite energizing when you see how many people are invested in contemporary poetry. For me, it became easier when I streamlined submissions. What I generally do is send poems to journals I highly regard, usually for their aesthetic and back catalogue that often corresponds with my own ideas. It’s an entirely personal thing. Established journals or new ones, it doesn’t matter. Reading an online magazine that contains six or seven poets I admire is one way to get me submitting. That being said, you never know who’s going to like or dislike your work. Editors aren’t faceless entities, and they’re as unpredictable as everyone else. I’d say just try to focus on what you like reading and not what you think other people will like about you—never try to ‘fit’ your writing to a journal. Also, decide where you want to be. Many journals revolve around a certain community, writers who interact and collaborate with one another for the simple reason they share the same ideas about poetry. I’m uncertain about factionalizing, or a territorial/’micro-positioning’ stance in anything but the poetry world isn’t completely like that. It can be so encouraging to get an acceptance letter from an editor who wants to take you into the fold. What I do know is that many journals are short on reviewers, and editors are pleased when you approach them with a book you’d like to write about or simply offer your services.

GER: Are you currently working on any new projects?

JL: I just finished a chapbook of very short poems, ‘We Mills, We Miles,’ currently in circulation. You’ve kindly published one of the pieces. On reflection, I think I’m going to make it a longer project. The poems turned out to be snapshots or snap-sounds of where I grew up, which was quite startling as the collection took shape. It made me consider how my accent has evolved, how it contains a mixture of inflections and hybrid emphasis, inconsistent vowel sounds—it’s like that in my head as well. I don’t speak or think in the register I used to. And by way of connection, I always say I’m anAmerican poet; I’m immersed in American poetry but I’m actually from the north of England which was quite a grim place in the ‘80s under Margaret Thatcher—a lot of unemployment and discontent. We got bits of America through television programs like Charles in Charge or The Cosby Show, and Dynasty for a real treat. What I remember so vividly is Saturday afternoon soccer (football I should say) games interspersed with the A-Team during half time. I definitely wasn’t reading Melville or William Carlos Williams. There’s some associative process going on, though, and I’m curious to investigate why I ended up writing like I do—the clash of speech, cultures, memory, acoustics, the visual. Living in Amsterdam I always say I miss home but I’m not sure which one. I’ve also got an idea for a book on numerology and that works across media, but it’s definitely on the back burner.

GER: When you are not writing poetry, editing and teaching what does Jane Lewty do for fun?

JL: Watch a lot of animal shows.

You can read the poetry of Jane Lewty in The Fox Chase Review at these links: http://www.foxchasereview.org/10SU/JaneLewty.html  and http://www.foxchasereview.org/12SU/JaneLewty.html#2