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10 Questions for Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

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

Interview by: g emil reutter

The Interview: 

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

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

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

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

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri where the Lehigh meets the Delaware River

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

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

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

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

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

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

Third Thursdays Poetry Night Doylestown Bookshop Pennsylvania (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

poet diane sahms-guarnieri reads (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tenth Muse Poetry Workshop 4-21-12 002

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

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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

10 Questions for Christine Klocek-Lim

     An interview with g emil reutter

Christine Klocek-Lim received the 2009 Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in poetry. She has four chapbooks: Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press), Cloud Studies (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), How to photograph the heart (The Lives You Touch Publications), and The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press). Her poems have appeared in Nimrod, OCHO, Diode, Riffing on Strings: Creative Writing Inspired by String Theory and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net anthologies and was a finalist for 3 Quarks Daily’s Prize in Arts & Literature. She is editor of Autumn Sky Poetry and her website is http://www.novembersky.com

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The Interview

GER: How would you describe your poetry and how long have you been crafting your work?

CKL: Describe my poetry? That’s an impossible question for a poet! Whenever I try to think of a pithy description, I stumble over what I’m trying to achieve with my words instead of what I’ve actually written. Every poem I create is a collection of imagery, emotion, and potential. I know what I want to do, but I’m never certain if I’ve achieved it. I aim for a kind of sensible surrealism weaved into a voice that speaks an emotional truth. How’s that for a non-answer?

I tend to try different things with my poetry. I’ve written free verse and sonnets, narrative poems and prose poems. I’ve switched up points-of-view. I’ve written collections about astronomy, ballroom dancing, parenthood, and supernatural visions. I have no idea how to quantify what I write, except to emphasize that I’m always exploring.

There is one concept to which I hold fast: it’s important to me to craft poetry that engages a reader either intellectually, emotionally, or pragmatically. I want my poems to make sense.

How long have I been writing? I began as a child, majored in writing in college (CMU), but I truly began the difficult work of intentional crafting fourteen years or so ago. In 1999 I joined an online workshop and realized very quickly how little I knew. By 2005, I could manage a poem that I wasn’t embarrassed to show someone maybe five percent of the time. By 2008 I’d managed to write poems that worked like I’d intended perhaps half the time.

GER: What poets have influenced you?

CKL: Oh, so many! Too many to name here, although there are a few that I still read over and over again: William Carlos Williams (when I first began writing poems in high school), Erica Jong, Carolyn Forché, and Jack Gilbert among others. I don’t ever put away Jack Gilbert’s poetry. It’s usually out on my desk.

I can’t talk about poets without mentioning individual poems. I have a bulletin board in my office that covers an entire wall and it’s completely filled with poems—I periodically take some down and replace them with new ones. However there are a select few I never remove: Musée des Beaux Arts by W.H. Auden, i carry your heart with me by E.E. Cummings, For the Stranger by Carolyn Forché, and two poems by Stephen Bunch: Arriving and Dying. I’d paste poems by Jack Gilbert up but there are too many favorites from which I’d have to choose.

GER: Your collection The Quantum Archives was a semi-finalist with Black Lawrence Press Black River Chapbook competition and you won the Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize in Poetry in 2009, for your collection, Dark Matter.  Were you surprised and how do you feel about poetry competitions?

CKL: I was very surprised. I thought for certain I’d be adding a new slip of paper to my shrine of rejections.  I’ve sent my Dark Matter manuscript into thirty-four competitions and it has made it to the finals or semi-finals eight times. The ten poems from it that won the Ellen La Forge Memorial Prize were published, but as a full-length collection it’s still hasn’t found a home. I’ve sent poems and other manuscripts to over forty other contests.

If you’re trying to make a name for yourself I think contests can be very helpful. If you’re trying to grow in your craft and explore the world as an artist they’re less than useful. It’s very easy to get caught up in the cycle of publish-or-perish and let contests convince you that they are the final arbiters of what constitutes good poetry. Contests are terribly subjective. Contests are also terribly addictive.

GER: You have written three additional collections. The book of small treasures (Seven Kitchens Press), Cloud Studies: a sonnet sequence (Whale Sound Audio Chapbooks), and of course, Ballroom – a love story (Flutter Press). Please describe your inspirations and how do the collections differ?

CKL:  My first collection was How to photograph the heart (The Lives You Touch Publications). I’ve also written a collection of prose poems titled Glimpse (unpublished) and a new collection of poems that is a sequel to The Quantum Archives. I’ve written a series of haikus about bicycling (also unpublished). As you can see, I don’t lack for inspiration.

There is a secret I learned sometime in the last few years regarding the muse, the zone, the flow, inspiration, whatever you want to call it: it doesn’t exist. Sure, sometimes I get the urge to write and I find myself jotting things down, but more often I sit and just begin typing. I take ideas that interest me and expand on them via poetry: astronomy, science, trauma, dance, meter, rhyme, surrealism, etc.

The book of small treasures was written from my experiences as a parent. I know it’s cliché. I know a thousand other poets have written about their kids, but I don’t care. Becoming a mother was one of the most insane things I’ve ever done. Even now, with my sons in their teens, it still feels like I’ve jumped out of a plane. Will the parachute work? Will I plummet to the ground? No one knows: not me, not my kids.

I wrote Cloud Studies: a sonnet sequence because I wanted to learn how to write sonnets. The only way to learn something is through practice. Artists often do a hundred or more “studies” of a particular thing when they’re learning how to draw. I did that with the sonnet form. I focused on clouds and weather and tried to connect it to some sort of emotional foundation so that the poems would resonate with a reader. I love those poems. I love that the editor, Nic Sebastian, recorded each poem. She’s an incredible reader.

Ballroom — a love story was written last year during April’s National Poetry Month. Actually, most of my collections were written each April during National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). The goal is to write a poem each day. Because my husband and I had been dancing together for a few years, I felt as though I knew enough about ballroom dance to describe what it was like to take those first steps until you learn how to move properly. It’s also a book about love: what it’s like to fall into it and keep falling, over and over.

GER: Many poets believe live readings of their work enhance their ability to create and edit work. Do you enjoy reading to an audience and what benefits is there to live readings?

CKL: Um, no. I don’t like reading to an audience. I kind of hate it, actually, though I force myself to keep trying. I generally do one reading per year, just to prove I can.

I think people who are naturally extroverted or interested in drama are excellent readers. I’ve heard some wonderful poets read their poems: Carolyn Forché, Heather McHugh, James Wright to name a few. I’ve also heard some truly awful readings by wonderful poets. There’s a particular sort of sing-song cadence that a lot of poets fall into that sets my teeth on edge. When I do a reading, I practice with the poems I’d like to read by recording myself and listening to the quality of my vocal expression. I want to be sure that I’m not speaking in a monotone or emphasizing the wrong syllables. I want the reading to be a dynamic oral interpretation of the poem, not a recitation.

Some readings I’ve attended have such good performers that I enjoy their poem all out of proportion to how the poem works as a text on a piece of paper. In other words, the poem comes alive through the poet’s voice. It exists as a verbal poem, an oral piece of art. When I read the poem later, it’s sometimes not nearly as dynamic or interesting. I tend to regard oral poetry as its own separate category.

GER: 23 Issues of Autumn Sky have been published in the last six years. The presentation and quality of work have always been outstanding.  As editor/publisher of Autumn Sky could you describe the benefits of publishing a magazine and comment on interactions with poets who have been published by Autumn Sky?

CKL: Thank you. I appreciate your kind words regarding my journal. The benefits of publishing are mostly personal: I was able to read and publish the poems that I most loved—the ones that made my skin tingle. I was given the opportunity to promote formal poetry in an era where formal poems aren’t read much in the literary world. I met many wonderful artists and poets whose work and friendship I value.

Interacting with the poets I published was always interesting: some were meticulous, some were difficult, some were wildly enthusiastic, some were terse, some were young, and some were old. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Poets are ordinary people who practice an art for which almost no one gets paid. One and all, the poets were incredibly generous for allowing me to publish their poems for free.

GER: Publishing a magazine is time consuming. What effect did producing the magazine have on your own poetry?

CKL: It squashed it like a bug. No, really. Before I started publishing Autumn Sky Poetry I wrote all year round. I had some prolific years and some when I didn’t write much, but I still wrote almost every month. Publishing a poetry journal meant that I spent a lot of time reading submissions. I didn’t have as much time to write. I mostly wrote in April.

GER: As a poet/editor/publisher what advice can you give to poets on submitting work to magazines or publishing houses?

CKL:  You’re going to get the same old advice from me every other editor gives! Read the guidelines. I wish I was joking but I’m not. It’s incredibly annoying to receive submissions that didn’t follow the guidelines. Eventually I just started rejecting those without even reading the poems.

As a poet, my advice is to keep trying. I had to let some poems go not because they weren’t gorgeous, but because they didn’t fit in with the rest I’d already accepted for any given issue.

Last, please don’t use any fancy typefaces, flashing backgrounds, dancing bananas, or other gimmicks when sending in your work. The poem is the point.

GER: Six years is a long run for a literary magazine. Do you have any plans to bring on a new issue in the future?

CKL: I told myself to take an entire year off and then reconsider. I was seriously burnt out from reading submissions. It’s hard work. Next January I will let you know if I’m going to jump in the water again.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

CKL:  I’m working on a novel that grew out of The Quantum Archives (I’m revising it as we speak). It’s the first in a literary sci-fi trilogy set in the near future. I plan on publishing the first one in late summer, with the next two to follow several months later, respectively. The first novel contains the speculative poems I wrote for The Quantum Archives, one for each chapter. It tells the story of Eve and her sister Sarah who has invented a quantum imager, a device that allows her to mentally eavesdrop inside the mind of someone living in the past. Unfortunately, an obsession with the trauma of their parents’ deaths fractures Sarah’s emotional stability and spurs an unexpected enemy into fanaticism. Eve grapples her sister and the outcry surrounding the imager’s invention until her survival becomes more important than her need for self-denial.

I also plan on publishing another sci-fi novel in the near future: Who Saw the Deep. This manuscript was a semi-finalist in this year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Publishers Weekly reviewed it:

“This novel is well written, original, and clever. Noah Heath has just completed his doctorate in computer science and his father suggests he give himself a break and help a local senior citizen with some handyman chores. Amelia is a woman that Jaime Heath has known since childhood. On Noah’s first day of work, he notices a flash in the sky, a silver needle, but Amelia denies seeing it. Even so, he hears her call her daughter, Leah, saying, “it’s happening again.” When he returns home, his father starts telling him about the family “artifacts,” a few chunks of old metal. Noah starts to question, and more importantly, believe his father and Amelia’s tales of centuries old invasion and the part their forebears played in it. That the power of computers is limited only by our imaginations makes the tale convincing; the lack of little green men and the highly plausible abilities of the villains make it wonderful reading. It’s a pity to classify this book as science fiction; it reads more like the ancient myths, or even fairy tales. The author really knows his characters and uses them beautifully. Perhaps he’s had centuries to develop them.”

[Disclaimer: Publishers Weekly is an independent organization and the review was written based on a manuscript version of the book and not a published version.]

You can read the poetry of Christine Klocek-Lim in The Fox Chase Review at this link: 2012 SU

10 Questions for Jack Veasey

An interview with g emil reutter.

Jack Veasey is a Philadelphia native who has been living in Hummelstown, PA for over 20 years. He is the author of ten published collections of poetry, most recently “The Sonnets” and “5-7-5” (both from Small Hours Press, 2007). He is a member of Harrisburg’s Almost uptown Poetry Cartel.
His poems have also appeared in many periodicals including Christopher Street, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Harbinger: A Journal Of Social Ecology, The Philadelphia Daily News, The Painted Bride Quarterly, Fledgling Rag, Oxalis, The Blue Guitar, Bone And Flesh, Zone: A Feminist Journal For Women And Men, Film Library Quarterly (Museum of Modern Art, NYC), Experimental Forest, Tabula Rasa, Wild Onions, Mouth Of The Dragon, Asphodel, Insight, The Irish Edition, The Harrisburg Patriot-News, The Harrisburg Review, The Princeton Spectrum, The Little Word Machine (U.K.), and The Body Politic (Canada), among others. His poems have also appeared in a number of anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets On Pennsylvania (Penn State University Press), Sweet Jesus: Poems About The Ultimate Icon (Anthology Press, Los Angeles), and A Loving Testimony: Remembering Loved Ones Lost To AIDS (The Crossing Press, Freedom, CA) and most recently in Assaracus.

The Interview:

GER: You have a long history both in the Philadelphia and Harrisburg poetry communities. Are there differences and similarities?

JV: Harrisburg doesn’t have nearly as much activity. I think in terms of the degree and range of talent, the two scenes are pretty similar.

GER: What poets inspired you as a young man to become a poet, and did any have a lasting impact on your work?

JV: I started writing seriously as a teenager, and my favorite poet at the time was Sylvia Plath. I still love her work, and reading it has often given me the energy to write.Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets had a big impact on me, and got me interested in writing formal poetry – I’ve done quite a bit of that, though I write free verse a lot, too. Edward Field’s poems opened me up in terms of feeling like I could write about ANY subject matter, including things most people would be embarrassed to write about. Jared Carter got me interested in the narrative aspect.  I know Edward and Jared personally, and other poets I’ve known personally have had a big impact on me. I got a lot of encouragement to do readings from Maralyn Lois Polak early on in the Philly scene, and the lateNew   York poet Barbara A. Holland was a mentor who was instrumental in getting my first chapbook published when I was twenty. Some poets I’ve studied with had a big impact – Alexandra Grilikhes and Etheridge Knight, particularly, both of whom I studied with in Philly. Sadly, Etheridge, Alexandra and Barbara are no longer with us.

GER: The Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia  has greatly changed since you grew up there at a time when it was a working class neighborhood. How did that environment inspire your poetry?

JV: I had plenty to struggle against in Fishtown. The neighborhood’s old atmosphere – when it was industrial, before it became gentrified — still pervades a lot of my work. My poems are often set in gritty urban locales. I was oppressed as a kid in Fishtown –  I was a target for bullies – and that gave me an outsider’s perspective, and made me identify  with the underdog, which I still do. That colors a lot of my choices of subjects, and the viewpoints from which I write, when they aren’t my own.

Everybody in Fishtown in the old days had a story to tell if you let them – and I went through a period where I re-told a lot of those stories in my poetry, particularly in my book “No Time For Miracles,” which came out at the end of the eighties. The impulse to tell stories  in general is still a driving force in a great many of my poems, maybe even most of them.

GER: How would you describe your poetry?

JV: A lot of it is narrative. It tends to be pretty plain-spoken and accessible. I’m usually telling a story, even if I do it in the form of a dramatic first-person monologue, or in a lyrical form. I try to place the reader in a situation that gives them a specific perspective – to make them see things for themselves, to make them have the same epiphany I did. Clarity is important to me, but I’d rather the story led my readers to the same conclusion I reached without my directly coming out and telling them what to think (though I may do that if it suits the viewpoint from which I’m writing). I don’t buy the prevalent notion that “didactic” is always bad, but I do try to provoke a particular experience that will lead to a specific insight rather than to preach at people. I like to have a certain amount of subtlety and resonance, but I also try to avoid vagueness. If a poem fails to hold my attention, it’s usually because it’s vague.

GER: Your career as a poet, journalist and advocate spans four decades. How has your focus changed during this time?

JV: I started out as a teenager writing what most people would call “confessional” poems (I hate that term, by the way– it’s usually used to dismiss all first-person writing from women and other minorities who make the speaker — usually a white male academic —  uncomfortable). Then I went through what I would now call my “pretentious” period, when I was strongly influenced by surrealism and Theater Of  The Absurd, which didn’t last long. Then journalism got me interested in telling third-person stories about things I’d witnessed, stories about other people. Then I got ”infected” with the impulse to play with forms, which are useful if you need to distance yourself from something in order to free yourself to write about it. Now, depending on what obsesses me currently, I may do any of the above – except I tend to leave the pretentious stuff alone.

GER: Why do you continue to write?

JV: For pretty much the same reason as I continue to breathe. I need to. It’s my primary way of processing my experiences and my perceptions, for one thing. It’s how I make sense of being in the world. It does seem to happen cyclically – sometimes I’m very prolific, other times I write in fragments, on the run, and don’t finish anything for awhile. I don’t like periods like that (I’m in one now). I feel healthier when I’m producing results, though I try to focus on the process rather than on the product. If it’s really inspired, the product has a mind of its own, and it surrenders itself to you when it’s damn good and ready!

GER: What advice do you have for new poets on the scene?

JV: Write and read as much as you can. Pursue what you are genuinely drawn to – don’t subscribe to anything because someone else tells that you “should.“ Originality comes from being true to your own real perspective.

GER: What is the value of publication of work and public performance of poetry?

JV: Largely that they enable you to finish the act of communication. If you write because you have things to say, that’s essential. Otherwise, you’re just talking to yourself.

As far as getting reactions and feedback go – that really isn’t the reason you do it. And you have to be happy with it by your own standards regardless of whatever reaction it gets, or doesn’t get. You don’t do it for the reaction, but you do create the work, most of the time, in order to be able to share it. Then it’s out of your hands.

GER: Are you working on any new projects?

JV: I’ve written the lyrics and book for a musical, and I’m looking for a composer/arranger to work with me on it. It involves a gay man who time-travels back to his youth to fulfill an ambition he never pursued – it’s sort of like a gay “Damn Yankees,” only the ambition is musical rather than having to do with sports. The value of the experience for him, of course, is the new perspective it gives him on his current actual life situation, to which he has to struggle to return. It’s both funny and serious.

I’m also looking for publishers for two full-length book manuscripts. One is a book of fairly straightforward free-verse poems, many of them narrative, dealing with my life as an openly gay man.  Another is a large selection of poems written in forms over a period of many years, about a wide variety of subjects.

GER: When all is said and done, how will Jack Veasey be remembered?

JV: I have no idea. I hope people will see me as a person who had empathy and compassion, in spite of the fact that my experience of oppression evoked anger that I had to express. But I’ve often found myself the object of people’s projections – sometimes people will tell me that I’ve said things that I actually haven’t said at all. What other people make of you often has much more to do with them than it does with you. You learn that pretty quickly when you’re a member of a minority that’s the object of prejudices. Maybe I’ll ultimately be understood, from what I leave behind, a lot better than I ever was in life. I hope so.

On May 20th Jack Veasey will read in Fox Chase with poets Christine O’Leary Rockey and Marty Esworthy

10 Questions for A.D. Winans

A.D. Winans is a native San Francisco poet whose work has appeared internationally. In 2002, a song poem of his was performed at Alice Tully Hall. In 2005 he was awarded a PEN National Josephine Miles Award for excellence in literature. In 2009 he was presented with a PEN Oakland Lifetime Achievement Award. His latest book, Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine was recently published by BOS Press.  www.bospress.net

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The Interview:

 FCR:  You have written two collections of prose and numerous essays standing in  contrast to over fifty collections of poetry. Why are you a poet?

ADW: That’s like asking me why I breathe.  It’s in my blood!  Like the late William Wantling said, “I’d carry a lunchbox just like the rest of them, if only these strange voices would leave me alone.”   I write because I’m at the mercy of the demons inside me.  I’m just a caretaker for their voices.

FCR: For seventeen years you edited Second Coming Magazine. Can you highlight events and those published, is Second Coming Magazine archived?  

ADW:  I published well known poets alongside relatively unknown poets.  S.C. was not a Beat publication, although I published many Beat poets like Kaufman, Micheline, William Everson, Ferlinghetti, Harold Norse, Ruth Weiss, Charles Plymell, and countless others.  I began publishing in 1972, during the post-Beat seventies, and Charles Bukowski was a regular contributor to the magazine. I published many of the so called “Meat” poets, and poets of the post-beat era; poets like Wayne Miller, Kell Roberton, George Tsongas, Gene Ruggles, Kaye McDonough, Neeli Cherkovski, and Dan Propper. I also published a few academic poets like Philip Levine and Josephine Miles.  The only criteria I had was the poem had to make me feel something inside that made me want to publish it.

Some of the highlights included the special issue on Charles Bukowski, the 1976 California Bi-centennial Poets Anthology, and the 1980 Poets and Music Festival honoring poet Josephine Miles and the legendary blues musician John Lee Hooker.  The festival took in three Bay Area counties and lasted for seven days.

In 1987, two years before I ceased publishing, Brown University bought the Second Coming archives along with my own archives.

FCR: Bottle of Smoke Press recently released Drowning like Li Po in a River of Red Wine. This collection spans the years 1970 to 2010. How did the project come about? 

ADW:  I was the first poet Bill Roberts published.  Over the years he has published two additional chapbooks of mine, a booklet, and has included me in broadside projects.  In late 2009 he approached me about doing a book of my poems, which would include poems from all fifty-plus books and chapbooks of mine that I have published from 1970 to the present.   I agreed and the rest is history.  The hardback sold out before the book was officially released, but paperback copies are still available.  I deeply appreciate the loving care Bill Roberts put into this book, as he does with every book he publishes.

FCR: Some poets starting out seem enthralled with the history of The Beat Poets. Many shoot across the sky and burn out quickly; do you have any advice for new poets?

ADW:   I’m not much on giving out advice.  I’d say just be yourself and don’t be afraid of taking chances, and for Christ Sake, quit trying to imitate Bukowski.  Ezra Pound offered some good advise when he said, “CHOP.  CHOP.  CHOP.”  Some poets today just don’t know when to stop, just like some oral poets don’t know when to get off the stage.

FCR: What effect has the Internet had on poetry?

ADW:  It has made it much easier to get your work published, although I’m not sure that is always a good thing.  There seems to be thousands of literary web sites in existence, with a good number publishing their friends. However, there are also many very good ones; web Zines like Pedestal and Big Bridge, where being a friend won’t get you published.  I’d prefer print publications use the internet as a compliment to their print magazine, and not have web Zines replace print publications.

FCR: You will soon be seventy-five years old. You continue to create, what is your motivation?

ADW:  A driving need to write, nothing more or less.  If you expect to make a living out of poetry you’re panning for fool’s gold.   If you don’t have a gnawing hunger inside you then you’re better off working a nine-to-five job and stowing away some money in the bank.

FCR: Who was a major influence on you as a writer?

ADW:  Early on, I wanted to be a Novelist, and was moved by the writings of Jack London, Hemingway and Steinbeck.  And music has always been an influence on me.  My political poetry came about from listening to folk singers like Woody Guthrie and early Bob Dylan, and that one moving song on what this country has done to the American Indian, by Buffy Saint Marie.  Poetry wise, Jack Micheline, Bob Kaufman, William Wantling, and Bukowski were early influences on me.

FCR: You have been published in over 1,500 magazines. Does it mean anything?

ADW:  In retrospect, there are some magazines I wish I had never been published in.  I don’t know what if anything it means.  I mean if I had only been published in a handful of magazines, I’d still be writing.  I don’t write per-see for publication although my publication record might make this seem hard to believe.  A good number of my publications came as a result of an editor or publisher writing and asking me to send them work. This is particularly true of published books of mine.

FCR: If you had it to over again, would anything be different?

ADW:  I can’t imagine it would be. I sometimes reflect on what it would have been like to have a wife and children, but we all look back on life and wonder, what if?  I am satisfied with the direction my life took.

FCR: When it is all said and done, what will A.D. Winans be remembered for?

ADW: I suppose some people will remember me as an editor and publisher, others will remember me as a poet and writer, and still others will remember me for both. 

I’d like to be remembered as well for the literary and political battles I fought and as a poet of the people, a poet who cared for the downtrodden and dispossessed who get the shit end of the stick.  I’d like to be remembered as some one who never compromised or sold out.  I’d like to be remembered as a man who valued integrity over a lottery chance at fame.

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For all things A.D. Winans please visit: http://www.adwinans.mysite.com/

You can read the poetry of A.D. Winans in The Fox Chase Review at these links: 2009 WS; 2010 SU

This interview was conducted on December 28, 2010 via email by g emil reutter .

More From The West Chester Poetry Conference

An Encounter with Russell Goings  Interview with Frank Wilson posted at Books Inq. Blog