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10 Questions for Robert Milby

Robert Milby 7Robert Milby, of Florida, NY has been reading his poetry in the Hudson Valley and beyond since March, 1995. He hosts 3 Hudson Valley poetry series: Florida Library Poetry Café in Florida, NY, Noble Coffee Roasters in Campbell Hall, NY and Mudd     Poets Poetry series at Mudd Puddle Café, New Paltz, NY. He has been published widely in several dozen magazines and 12 anthologies. He and Carl Welden are the poetry and Theremin duo, Theremin Ghosts! haunting the Hudson Valley each October since 2003. Robert wrote the column Poets Comitatus: Dead Poets of the Hudson Valley, for Heyday Magazine. He was also co-founder and a board member of the Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry workshop series at Seligmann Estate in Sugar Loaf, NY. Robert’s first book of poetry is Ophelia’s Offspring (FoothillsPublishing, 2007). His 2nd book, Victorian House: Ghosts and Gothic Poems—publication…still… pending. He is the author of several chapbooks and cds. Most recent chapbook: Crow Weather (Fierce Grace Press, 2009). http://www.robertmilby.com/

 Interview with g emil reutter 

Robert Milby (1)

The Interview

GER: Will Nixon has said you are the hardest working poet in the Hudson Valley. Tell us about the Hudson Valley poetry scene and how you find the time to host and read at its many venues?

RM: The Hudson Valley poetry scene stretches, from Westchester County, up past Albany, NY. This is excluding the NYC poetry circuit (is far too large and diverse to discuss here).                                                   Albany’s poetry scene is massive as well, but I am more familiar with it.

There is a strange absence of younger poets today.  I began reading my poems and the works of the greats, in public, back in March, 1995, when I was turning 25.  I sought out readings all over the Valley, and found that there was a great variety of poets, yet, there tended to be large and consistent groups of of high school, college, grad students, and in general, young poets in addition to the prevalent middle-aged and elders.

After 6 months of reading at as many poetry open mics as I could(in galleries, coffeehouses, cafes, bookstores, libraries, bars) I began hosting a poetry series with a group of young poets at The Beatnik Hollow in Wappingers Falls, NY. My travelling group (poets I had met around the Valley in spring and summer of ’95), Omniscient Omnibus, gradually became well-known as an official group of poets with aims of publication and featured readings. We decided to look for venues to host readings at.  I found The Beatnik Hollow, having heard about on a radio broadcast.

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The poetry scene itself was rich and exciting in the pre-Internet, and cell phone days. The ‘Net was relatively new back in 1995–many did not have access to it in my region. We drew up fliers by hand; folks did them on computers, and we hung them around the region. There were not as many poetry readings back then in the mid-lower Hudson, but those well-attended readings, were solid. These days, we have more readings in the Hudson Valley–many are excellent, but often, there are no young poets, whatsoever.  This is not only unsettling, but also serving to be a problem now, and a crisis in the future. Without the freshness, innovation, intellect, and passion of the young, poetry readings become too relaxing and dry up. Not to say that older poets are not or can’t be exciting.  But often, in the Hudson Valley region, there is a lack of intensity that is crucial for poetry readings to thrive.  That lack is due to the absence of young poets.

I have hosted 26 poetry series since September, 1995; 27 if I count my current co-hosting of the venerable Calling All Poets series at the Howland Center in Beacon, NY. 4 years ago I was hosting 8 regular series. No young poets were–only middle-aged and geriatric poets. Currently, I host 3, and I co-host the Calling all Poets series. I have the time because I do freelance during the day, and interview people for a small, local arts paper; teach workshops, in addition to hosting readings and setting up readings for myself and many others, all over the Hudson Valley, NYC, and beyond.

I am a grass-roots poet.   I “hold” a library card.  I buy used books at book sales. New books at indie bookstores, when able.    I do not have a Bachelor’s Degree.  Younger poets need to put in their biography which poets have stirred their hearts and minds, taught them how to see the world; venerate Freedom and Love; not where they got the MA, MFA , or PhD, in English.

Why does it matter, when a poet is pouring out her or his heart on stage, which degree they “hold,” or where they went to college to buy the expensive degree(s)? Degrees are more important in secret societies or some job interviews, not to determine a poets’ credibility–only they can do that, by sharing their work in public and with publishers. 

Robert milby 2GER:  You grew up on Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Matthew Arnold and Alfred Lord Tennyson. How have they influenced you?

RM: The Romantics (English, French, German Russian, Italian) and the Victorians, and Pre-Raphaelites are my chief influences for poetry.

I respect the Dadaists, Avant-Guard, Surrealists, the Beats, the New York School, but do not rely on them, nor do I return that often to them.

Modern poets such as Teasdale, Yeats(who was a late Victorian then, a modernist) Millay, Wallace Stevens, Vachel Lindsay, DH Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Maxwell Bodenheim, Amy Lowell, Robinson Jeffers, Hilda Doolittle, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Heaney, McGuckian, Paul Durcan, Michael Longley, Carl Sandburg, Hart Crane, Harry Crosby, Rilke, TS Eliot, Spender, Milosz Frost, Ransom, C. Day-Lewis, MacLeish, Merrill Moore, Anne Sexton, Lorca, Gottfried Benn,  Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin, Fernando Pessoa, Theodore Roethke, Randall Jarrell, WC Williams, Delmore Schwartz,  Maire Brennan, Harry Chapin, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, and others.

Novelists: Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Wilkie Collins, the Brontes, Anthony Trollope, Jane Austen, George Elliot, Victor Hugo, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky,  and others of the late 18th, and entire 19th century are my chief novelist interests.

Modern Novelists:  Ian McEwan, Arturo Perez Reverte, Hesse, Kafka, Umberto Eco, Tracy Chevalier, Steinbeck, Agatha Christie, Caleb Carr.

GER: There was a recent article asking where the poets have gone on social issues. You consider yourself a political and social writer of social consciousness. Where do you fit in the modern poetry scene and are poets addressing social issues ?

RM: I began, when I started writing poetry ( June, 1987)  and remain a political and social-conscious poet. I feel that my political poetry is effective and often a vanguard for younger poets to heed. No. There are not enough poets writing political and socially-relevant work.  Public schooling, main stream mass-media, and electronics are the reason younger people/poets do not engage.  How ironic!

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GER: Your first full book of poetry Ophelia’s Offspring was released in 2007. Share with us how the collection developed?

RM:Ophelia’s Offspring(Foothills Publishing, June 2007) is a sampling of my diverse interests(Literature, politics, social consciousness, ecology, male-female relationships, family, gothic, ghosts, life and death matters.  I did not write specifically for that manuscript, per se; rather, I compiled older and newer poems, such as one written when Clinton was in his 2nd term, several penned as a result of US politics during and after 9/11, Katrina, a near fatal car accident I suffered while rushing to host a poetry reading series back in November, 1995, a few about ex-girlfriends, one about an ex-fiancé, etc.)

GER: You have said you see a decided lack of originality in a lot of modern poetry. Please expand on this?

RM:  I see a lack of originality in modern poetry for one reason and one reason only:  Younger and older poets are not reading the Classics and contemporary poets to the degree that I hoped they would.  A poet needs to study the classics, and explore contemporary poets.to shape their own vox as a writer.

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GER: As a poet who performs frequently in the Hudson Valley scene and who tours other states what value do you place on performance?

RM: I enjoy reading in states outside of my home state, New York. Performance is vital.  To paraphrase the great Harry Chapin:  “You must seduce the audience over and over.” It is important to keep the crowds’ interest.  A poet can connect with his or her audience in many ways. It is up to the novice and/or younger poet to go to readings and study the poet onstage.  Take notes if need be.

GER: Please share with us your experience as a touring poet?

RM:My experiences as a touring poet, whether each October with Thereminist, Carl Welden performing as Theremin Ghosts! Visiting colleges such as Vassar, SUNY Oneonta, SUNY Oswego, etc.  An alternative community in upstate VT, Boston, Cambridge, Lennox, Mass.  Sites in CT, NJ, NYC, Saratoga Springs, Long Island, Northeastern PA, have all enriched my writing, mind, and purpose as a poet–to show that poetry is crucial to the human condition, now more than ever in America.

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Tell us about the collaboration that brought about the book Ghost Prints?

RM:  Ghost Prints.  I am friends with Hudson Valley horror novelist, Jason Gehlert.  I have had him as a featured reader on several occasions headlining my poetry venues, interviewed him for the Delaware and Hudson CANVAS(Bloomingburg, NY) and he thanked me by inviting me to contribute some of my ghost and gothic poems and prose poems to Ghost Prints(Black Bedsheet Books, Antelope, California, 2010)

GER: You currently lead the Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry Workshop. What do you learn as a workshop leader and what are the benefits to poets who attend?

RM:  The Northeast Poetry Center’s College of Poetry workshop and readings series was founded in early 2009 by poet William Seaton, poet and bookstore owner Steven Calitri, and myself, to further the development and celebration of the written and spoken word in the Hudson Valley, NY. We operated out of Calitri’s then-successful/now defunct indie bookstore, Baby Grand Books in downtown Warwick, NY. One of our Board members and major supporter–was peformance poet, educator, fiction writer (and good friend of Musician/Singer-Songwriter, Patti Smith) Janet Hamill. We had a successful run of workshops, famous guest poets such as Ed Sanders(of the Fugs), academic Robert Kelly, Beat and Beat-influenced poet the late Janine Pommy-Vega, poet and owner of the Bowery Poetry Club, Bob Holman, Irish poet, Eamon Grennan, The NPC/College of Poetry has served its purpose and is coming to an end in early December, 2014, after a 5 year run.

Not every poet would enjoy workshops, but I find, after leading many of them since the late 1990’s, that they can be a great resource, inspiration, and motivation for novice and younger poets to develope their crafts, enjoy supportive feedback, and find their voice as a poet. Older poets who may need some brushing up on skills, outreach, and credibility will find this at good workshops. A successful poetry workshops inspires, teaches, and helps to discover courage and encourage freedom in the young, novice, and older poets.

robert milby 6GER: What current poets have influenced you and why?

RM: Current poets:  Seamus Heaney(recently deceased) WS Merwin, and several others of international reknown. Currrent and former NY state poets who consistently inspire and influence:  Skip Leon, Ken Van Rensselear, Carl Welden, Arthur Joseph Kushner, Steve Hirsch, Bonnie Law, William Seaton, Guy Reed, Janet Hamill,  Christopher Wheeling, Adrianna Delgado, Barbara Adams, Irene O’Garden, Christopher P. Gazeent, Ken Holland, Chris Wood, Rebecca Schumejda, Mona Toscano, Haigan Smith, Dominic Melita, Mauro Parisi, Mike Jurkovic, Jim Kenny, Glen River, Jim Eve, Glenn Werner, Raphael Kosek, Will Nixon, Frank Boyer, Marina Mati, Gordon Riggs, Roberta Gould, Teresa Costa,  Donald Lev(of Home Planet News), David Kime, Walter Worden, Cheryl Rice, Wynn Klosky, Led Klosky, Ted Gill, Franklin Schneider, John Douglas.  These local poets and the aforementioned famous poets inspire me with their humanity and courage.

GER: What projects are you currently working on?

RM: Current projects:  Theremin Ghosts!  Poetry and Theremin performance with Carl Welden, who plays Theremin, to support my ghost poems, and Christopher Wheeling–Geist host. We are on the 12th Annual Hudson Valley, NY Tour, October, 2014.  I read the ghost poems, Welden plays Theremin in front of crowds of all sizes.

Working with Calling All Poets, Inc. as a poetry series co-host and Board Member.  The CAPs poetry series, one of the oldest in the Hudson Valley, meets 8pm on First Fridays at Howland Center, Main St. Beacon, NY.  We are over 15 years old, and host at a popular reading site in the Valley, Howland Center (historic landmark, 1872).

 Also, I am working on a novel about French poet, Baudelaire. Hosting my three, regular poetry series at Mudd Puddle Cafe, in New Paltz, NY, The Florida Public Library in Florida, NY, and Noble Coffee Roasters, in Campbell Hall, NY. And daily writing:  journal, poems, fiction.

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The  poetry of Robert Milby is forthcoming in the Autumn 2014 edition of  The Fox Chase Review 

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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) http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

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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.

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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