Monday, June 22, 2015

Chatbook Chat: Nandini Dhar Discusses Lullabies are Barbed Wire Nations

Lullabies are Barbed Wire Nations, finalist in the 2014 Two of Cups Press chapbook contest

Author: Nandini Dhar

Publisher: Two of Cups Press

Publication date: 2015

When We’re Free, We’re Free by Nandini Dhar

A moment is an old aluminum bowl, squatting down to eat. A volunteer in a relief-camp. Scooping up a spoonful of khichuri. Consistency like water. Yellow like shit. A fly in the bowl. Dip your fingers. Catch the fly in between them. Toss it out. Now continue to eat whatever is left.

Survival: cutting such moments into two, shoving them under the bed. Arrive at a moment by treading on many more moments. Home is a wall closing on another wall. Home is a disease. Home is a stamped passport. Home is a denied visa. Home is a chronic ailment. Memories of unrecorded famines, a fishbone sucked dry. Broken between old men’s teeth – the last remnants of nourishment. Re-draw the map of a nation. Make a list of its diseases. A historical geography of its ailments, afflictions and non-cures. A human body is an archive. Of stories, memories. And diseases. Re-draw the map of a nation through its diseases.

My sister Tombur and I were born into the knowledge that every bit of our skins preserve the memories of past afflictions, and we start sucking each others’ thumbs. Only if we could spit-erase the maps of past maladies that way. When we wouldn’t stop even when we reached the age of four, our mother began to dip our fingers in bottlefuls of kalmegh. We stopped. Because kalmegh was bitter. More bitter than neem leaves. More bitter than bitter gourd. More bitter than our mother’s wrath. We soon invented other strategies – chewing our own hair, biting nails, throwing water on cats – to try her patience. But we were forever cut off from the legacy of chronic diarrhea which plagues almost everyone else in our family and neighborhood. We are the citizens of a free and brimming nation. One that has bypassed the two and half generations before us.

(first published in [PANK])

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Nandini Dhar is the author of the chapbook, Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations (Two of Cups Press, 2014). Her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Potomac Review, [PANK], Los Angeles Review, Whiskey Island, Cream City Review, and elsewhere. She is the co-editor of the journal, Elsewhere. Nandini hails from Kolkata, India, and divides her time between her hometown and Miami, Florida, where she works as an Assistant Professor of English at Florida International University.

Author blog

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[This interview was conducted via email in June 2015.]

NCL: Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations.

ND: I see my chapbook as one hybrid long poem comprising primarily of prose-poems. There are a few line-based poems that provide a kind of contrast to the block paragraphs of the prose-poems. At the center of this long poem are two little girls. They are sisters. Twins, to be more precise. Their names are Toi and Tombur. They are growing up in the Kolkata of 1980s. I see my poem as a poetic reflection on their gradual politicization, on the space where they are beginning to figure out the complex histories that have shaped the world they have inherited. To that end, the poem makes references to crucial elements of Bengal's history – Partition, Naxalbari, the left movement as a whole.

NCL: How did you arrive at the title?

ND: The phrase “Lullabies Are Barbed Wire Nations” has been torn from one of the lines in a poem that appears in the chapbook. The line is: Lullabies are barbed wire nations whose boundaries no little girl would ever cross. I didn't think too much about the title. This phrase somehow seemed right. What I wanted the title to convey is the fact that this is a book about childhood. And a lullaby is a poetic genre irrevocably associated with childhood. I also wanted to make it clear in the very title that this is not a book about childhood nostalgia per se. This is, in nutshell, a book about how childhood is implicated within structures of systemic social violence. And then there is the little fact that a lot of the lullabies – and this is definitely true in Bengali – deliver a community's understanding of social and historical violences in and under the guise of trivial, in and under the guise of the figure of a child in the middle of the act of falling asleep.

NCL: Please discuss the choice for a chapbook. For example, why did you choose the chapbook as the vehicle for your poems rather than a book-length manuscript or a section in a book? When you started, did you intend to create a chapbook? How long did it take to write this chapbook (or, alternatively, how did you know it was time to stop writing)?

ND: I love chapbooks as a form – the brevity, the compactness, the physical-material appeal of holding a chapbook in hand. But at the same time, I have a chronic condition that Salman Rushdie calls elephantitis. Everything I try to write tends to be epic length. So, I have always wanted to write a chapbook while being aware of the fact that I am not very good in reproducing the brevity that this form needs. But then, this chapbook somehow felt right. I didn't plan consciously on a chapbook. I wrote the first poem in 2011, and I began to submit in 2014. In fact, Two of Cups was the first place where I submitted my work. I am still writing Toi-Tombur poems. So, obviously, the twins need more than a chapbook. But at that time, the poems I had written felt right as a chapbook. And it feels good to have released the twins out in the world before they attain their adulthood in the form of a full-length or something else.

NCL: The poems in chapbook are rooted in the perspective of Bengali girlhood, What are some of the other themes, metaphors, and other elements of craft that you used to unify your chapbook?

ND: In terms of forms, the block paragraphs of prose-poems play a unifying role. Often times, these blocks are long. In all practical purposes, a lot of these poems could be broken up into more poems. And that kind of breaking up would have allowed the readers more white space, more breathing space. But that's exactly what I didn't want to do. Instead, I wanted to play with breathlessness. I wanted to engage in an aesthetic of density. I mean, modern Bengali history is dense. In the course of one hundred and fifty years or so, we have experienced colonialism, multiple famines, partition, independence, several political upheavals. It is a society where modern life is interspersed by what is precolonial, premodern. In other words, it is where there is a tangible sense of the existence of the feudal past within the contemporary everyday. “History”, in Bengal, didn't begin in 1492. I wanted to recreate that sense of density in my poems.

In terms of themes, I wanted this book to be about an angry little girl, an overtly intellectual little girl. Her anger is the essence of her intellect. She is looking for an art form, but art forms which cannot accommodate either her anger or her intellect will not suffice. But at the same time, this angry little girl is not narrating her own story. Her story is being narrated by her twin, who is a much quieter version of our angry little girl. Who, then, has the ultimate agency in the book? And why? But also, why is it that the narrator, Toi, is so obsessed with her sister. From my perspective, there are the questions that I would love to have my readers think about.

In a completely different note, this is also a book that attempts to write of a girlhood spent in the middle of post-1960s left political despair.

NCL: On your blog, you wrote:
If anything, I want my book to be read by my activist friends in India and United States and elsewhere. If anything, I want my book to be read by my friends who have never wanted to be anything other than activists, but haven’t been able to, given the constraints that are way too complicated to get into in this post. If anything, I want my book to be read by my disoriented, passionately self-destructive, confused, disillusioned, once-upon-a-time activist, now-complete-failures group of friends. It is a book which has been written for my fellow leftists. And, I am not ashamed of that.
As a writer, I am interested in craft. But, I am more interested in the politics of that craft. I like it when someone says what I have written is a good poem. I like it even better when someone wants to talk to me about the politics of that poem. And, that’s why, this book is written for my fellow content-seekers. Those who are not just concerned with how to write a line, but also about what to write in that line, the layers of history, ideology and emotions that might underlie that one line.
Could you speak a little bit more about those two paragraphs, especially about the politics of craft as separate from the politics lifted up by content. 

Could you tell us about one of the poems in the chapbook that exemplifies or speaks to what you are getting at in those two paragraphs? How did the poem come to be?

ND: I will go back to the issue of density and white page that I have briefly alluded to before. Let me do this with an example of a poem:
Our uncle lost his job. Began to spend the mornings playing ludo with himself. We were ten and Tombur had just begun to feel jealous of Anne Frank. A girl who looked as small as us, yet shared space with men with beards. My sister was searching – for little girls who have ceased to speak in the language of little girls. Anne Frank proved to be exactly what she was looking for.
We never wanted to be white. But within the stickiness of the chewing gum on our teeth, we made Anne Frank speak in Bengali. Frankfurt was a village near Kumilla. Amsterdam was the name of a little town in East Pakistan. Now, Bangladesh. Pizen was the neighborhood between Kashipur and Baranagar. That's why our uncles spent their youth reciting passages from Julius Fucik. And our grandmother cried and cried while watching Kapo. Her tears a river inside our home. Silt accumulated in the crevices of the couch, fish around the bookshelves and green rice-fields overtook our living room. Grandmother was happy: she rowed a canoe from one room to another, catching koi with her empty hands. This was how it was on the other side.
And then, my skin erupted into rashes. Pink like a girl's ribbon. White like papaya milk. This was nothing new. The smell of the paddy-fields – so much green huddling together – always made me itch. So I climbed onto the bed at the edge of the house. From here, one could not always smell the green. And there was nothing else to do. So I read, switching on a flashlight beneath the bedsheet. Tombur wrote stories about dead crows on ceiling fans, dripping blood on a teacher's sari. I explained to her how mimosa leaves closed when touched.
Tombur told me, you're too nice. You're afraid of hurting others' feelings. That's why you'll always be a loser. Afternoons, we spent tearing up pages from composition books, folding them into cranes. Since I would not leave the bed, Tombur would climb the stairs alone to the terrace, left our paper birds for the rains to erase our fingermarks.
And then I threw up for seventeen hours straight. Grandmother's green flees from the sound of my retching. I climbed down from the bed. Tombur and I began to go to school.

If you read this poem, you'll find that it is a dense, crowded poem. A lot of things are happening here at the same time. A lot of names have been dropped. For all practical purposes, this is a poem that could have been broken down into multiple prose-poems. And with a little bit of tweaking, these prose-poems could also have been line-based poems. Possibly. A lot of my readers who read this poem before publication felt that it needed more white space. This is one of the places where I resisted feedback. Precisely because it is the white space – the breathing space – that I didn't want to provide my readers with. Or, for that matter, myself.

If you read the poem, it begins with the uncle losing his job. Then, it goes on to talk about Anne Frank, alludes to the Czech Communist Julius Fucik who was killed by the Fascists, provides a nod to the Italian filmmaker Gillo Pontecorvo's film Kapo, and refers to the Baranagar-Kashipur massacre in 1971 in the state of West Bengal, India. Other than the Pontecorvo film, which also probably is the most canonical in the list, no footnote or endnote has been provided. In other words, I am not explaining. But at the same time, I am squeezing into this poem, and definitely in this paragraph, a good chunk of global history – the Holocaust, the Partition of India, and Naxalbari.

I have been asked by my readers – American – “Should I know all of this Indian history?” I will use this interview to respond to that question. And my answer is, yes. My answer is, yes, even though I know it is humanly not possible to know the history of every nation in this planet. I don't. Yet, I know, I should have. But then, there is a problem in that very question. It is not at all as innocent as it sounds. That space of not-quite-innocence has a name. Actually, multiple names: Eurocentricism, Americocentrism, First Worldism, imperialism, colonialism, colonial legacies. By that token, the histories of how nations like India and Senegal were implicated within histories of the Second World War, are written out of the First World textbook histories of the world wars. Because that implication is also about the histories of colonial/imperial violence. By the same token, the human sufferings of the Bengal Famine and the Partition of India, which were more or less contemporaneous, are relegated to obscurity within the dominant narratives of global history.

But then, the reverse isn't exactly true. I can't really get away by saying, “Should I really know about those world wars to begin with?” You can insert other things too in place of the world wars. In other words, there is this question of imperial privilege or lack thereof. Then again, the history I am alluding to, isn't really that obscure to everyone in the world. And there are people in this world who would know what I am talking about without any endnotes, footnotes or explanations. So, when I write about the affective hold Holocaust had within the post-independence, post-partition Bengali leftist imagination, I am referring to a world that is internationalist. I am referring to a world that attempted to embrace a form of internationalism in its own flawed way long before transnationalism became a fancy word in American academia. I am also referring to the publishing history of the Bengali leftist world. How certain texts from certain other languages and cultures were translated and circulated amongst activists, intellectuals and artists.

And this history is not reducible to one's national or ethnic identity. In other words, this is not a history automatically recognizable to everyone who identifies as Bengali or Indian. It is a history that would be legible in that deep, intimate kind of a way only to those who belong to a particular political subculture. A political subculture that cannot really find its own complex representations in mainstream Indian literature.

Last but not the least, this history is dense. It is complicated. State violences, famines, political upheavals rarely leave any breathing space, any white space, relief or respite. That's exactly what I was trying to reproduce in this poem: the breathlessness of multi-layered histories. The white space might have made this into a “better” poem, but the density, in my opinion, makes it into a more “political” poem. At this point in my life, I prefer the latter.

NCL: What difficulties or challenges did you encounter in writing some of the poems?

ND: How to represent childhood as an adult. I did not want my book to be about “childhood memories” per se. Rather, I wanted to look at childhood politically, aesthetically. I wanted to cast my glance at the seemingly trivial moments of childhood and amplify these moments, read these moments. I was also determined that this would not be a children's book. It was going to be a book for adults about childhood. But the question I had to ask myself again and again was, am I colonizing children and childhood by doing this? How as an adult does one create the visions and imaginations of a decolonized childhood? I kept going back and forth between POVs, for example. I kept writing the story of the twins in a third person voice. I kept going back and forth between Toi and Tombur, trying to decide who should be the narrator. Then, finally, I stuck to Toi, and it felt right. I also had to come to terms with the fact that it is only as an adult that I could have written this book. And there is something to be celebrated about that occurrence.

NCL: Also on your wonderful blog, you wrote a notice to those who would be readers of your chapbook:
I do not have a twin sister. Neither a twin brother. I have never given birth to twins. Everything that I write about in that little book has happened to me. Nothing that I write about in that little book has happened to me. It is a work of pure imagination, except when it is not.
I had to smile when I read it—that idea resonates strongly with me personally. I immediately thought of a 1991 interview in The Paris Review, in which the interviewer asked poet Donald Hall a follow-up question about Hall’s process of discovery through revision: “So there is a sense in which you are touching a deeper Donald Hall in this material.” Hall’s reply was:
I hope so, yes. Not in any boring autobiographical way. In The Happy Man I have a poem in which somebody talks about his time in the detox center. A friend asked me what I was in detox for. Well, I never was. For the poem I made up a character; I talked through a mask I invented, which I do all the time. I love to fool people, even with fake epigraphs—but also I wish they weren’t fooled. Of course my poems use things that have happened to me, but they go beyond the facts. Even when I write about my grandfather, I lie. I don’t believe poets when they say I, and I wish people wouldn’t believe me. Poetic material starts by being personal but the deeper we go inside the more we become everybody.
First, what caused you to write that clarification regarding twins? What are your thoughts about Hall’s response and/or on Hall’s attribution of the qualifier ‘boring’ to autobiographical content? What are thoughts on confessional poetry? on “poetic” truth as function of fact?

ND: I wrote this post kind of playfully. I was asked, quite a few times, in workshops and such, if I am a mother to twins. Or, if I have a twin sister myself. I have no autobiographical writings as such. To be sure, all writings are autobiographical in some way or the other. What I have problems with is the limited notion of what an autobiography is. And the notion that every work a writer produces is autobiographical in a vulgar kind of a way. That's what I was trying to allude to in that post without engaging in a long, theatrical discussion.

I wouldn't at all say that autobiographical content is “boring”. For me, whether it's boring or not, depends upon the specific autobiography itself. In other words, what I am asking here is a more fundamental question: what makes a life interesting? To me, this is a loaded question. There have been literary schools and writers in our shared global literary history who have placed lots of deliberate emphasis on “experience” and leading an “interesting life.” There are obviously questions of class, race, gender, colonial histories to ponder when when we refer to such categories as “experience” and “interesting.” For example, does E.M. Forster's sojourn to India make him a more interesting writer than the Bengali writer Ashapurna Debi, who rarely left the confines of her home in South Calcutta and took to a very meticulous documentation of middle-class Bengali domesticity? I don't think so. To me, an “interesting life” is a life that is committed to self-consciousness, retrospection, criticality and reflection, and last but not the least, a questioning of the power structures within which one is implicated. So, to me, an autobiographical project that aims to think through one's own lived life in critical ways is important. In fact, for the editorial/curatorial work I do for the bi-lingual journal Aainanagar, me and my co-editor are always looking for personal narratives, precisely because we believe in the power of the autobiographical to democratize and radicalize. What, to me, is boring, is an absence of criticality, self-reflection and simplistic attempts to glorify, celebrate and justify oneself through the mode of autobiography.

Personally, I am not committed to the notion of truth as a function of facts. That does not mean I believe in the deliberate distortion of facts. Neither am I blind to the possibilities of the hurt that such distortions can cause, both in an individual and a collective sense. But even in our everyday social lives, I think facts can conceal a lot, even when they are not deliberately distorted. So, obviously, I don't necessarily care about facts in poetry. I prefer to read them as complex texts. I am more interested in representations, figurations and ideologies.

I think, “confessional poetry” has played an important role in democratizing the American poetry sphere. It has led (white) women or even a man as privileged as Robert Lowell to speak of certain forms of social taboos, marginalizations. But even as I acknowledge this, I have to ask, is the face of American confessional poetry still too white? Too upper-class? And why is that? But where I have serious problems with, is the use of the word “confession.” To me, this is a word that reeks of a kind of association with Christianity – the closed box, the priest as the authority figure on the other side. One might even say, during our times, the figure of the priest has been replaced by the shrink. But that's another story. I refuse to give that kind of power and authority to either, for one thing. But for another, the word “confession” invokes a sense of guilt. Am I supposed to feel guilty because I am writing of my own violation? I think not. Consequently, I have nothing to confess. I have a lot to observe, analyze and reflect upon. I have nothing to confess. But I have a lot to tear apart.

NCL: What has been the reader response to your chapbook? Have you encountered anything you were not expecting?

ND: I don't think it has been formally reviewed anywhere. So, I am not sure if informal responses count. Of course, my publisher Leigh Anne Hornfeldt liked it enough to publish it. To me, that counts as a form of reader's response. My friend and co-editor Dena Afrasiabi, who is a gorgeous fiction writer herself, said, how surprised she was to see the similarities in our writing voices, although we are such different people. My workshop buddies at Rooster Moans Poetry Co-operative, where most of these poems have been workshopped, were rigorous in their critique. But, at the same time, it is their overwhelmingly positive feedback that had encouraged me to submit this chapbook manuscript for publication in the first place. But, no, I have not yet come across any response that's unexpected.

NCL: What else would you like readers to know about you or your chapbook?

ND: I think of this chapbook as a text where I have tried to weave in allusions to other writers, artistic traditions, political traditions, and histories. In this book, I am conversing with other writers. For example, one of the reasons why I chose to write about twins in the first place, is because I wanted to nod – in my own feeble way – to the twins in Arundhati Roy's God of Small Things. A book which, in my opinion, pretty much changed the primary political and ideological direction of Indian Anglophone literature. These are the kinds of things I would like my readers to pay attention to, rather than trying to figure out if this book is autobiographical or not. I would also love to have my American readers to question the politics of their own knowledge about India/South Asia/the subcontinent, as they read these poems.

NCL: What are you working on now?

ND: I am still writing about the twins. Which means, I now have a full-length collection on my hands to work on. I am also working on another full-length collection in my native language Bengali and a short story.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Merie Kirby Discusses The Dog Runs On

The Dog Runs On

Author: Merie Kirby

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

Publication date: 2014

When the kind girl grows up by Merie Kirby

There were the fairy tales, of courses, the fire-hot
shoes, the pecked out eyes, the sliced off
tongue, the horrifying stew, the finger flying
through the air – that world where sweet words
are rewarded and bullies end up with a mouth
full of burning ashes, a world made more make-believe
by the headlines that she can now read
over my shoulder, or in line at the grocery store.
It began, I think, with last December’s news stories
about the shootings – children her age, teachers,
and her questions about what happened
to the man who killed them – and then
about the children harassed for who they were,
who they loved, desperate for escape.
She asks, in the car, at night, in the dark
between restaurant and home,
Have any kids died or killed themselves this week?
and later her worried father draws me aside
Where did that come from?
I remember what it was like trying to make
peace with the unkind world, trying to resist
knowing it, confronted continually with evidence
that fair may only be another word for pretty.

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Merie Kirby is the author of The Dog Runs On (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and The Thumbelina Poems (forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks). Her poems have been published in Willow Review, Midwest Poetry Review, and Avocet, and in September 2014 she participated in the 30/30 Project for Tupelo Press.

Her writing in collaboration with composers has been performed at various venues in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota. In 2014 she was the recipient of a North Dakota Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant. She teaches at the University of North Dakota. Merie's website:

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[This interview was conducted via email in May 2015.]

NCL: Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook The Dog Runs On.

MK: I think it is fair to say the collection is concerned with innocence and experience (which felt very present during my introduction to parenting), how they seep into each other, how to confront the harsh world without losing wonder, and without denying the harshness or ignoring it. In fact, the first poem includes an allusion to William Blake, where the speaker thinks about how she and her child are “crawling on the floor being nice tigers looking for socks / but one day we will be burning in the forest of the night / burning with questions about all that is harsh in the green world” (“How she came to know the animals”). I have found that being a parent gives you plenty of opportunities to contemplate thorny questions like whether it is mean for birds to eat worms, and whether it is awful or wondrous that a worm can break in half to survive the bird’s attack…which later seem so easy in comparison to questions about school shootings and child suicides.

NCL: How did you arrive at the title?

MK: The poem that gives the chapbook its title is “The dog bolts into traffic,” one of the oldest poems in the collection - the poem is itself a dog that has kept running! In the poem, the speaker observes a dog so determined to continue its trajectory that it runs right into a busy street, suffers a very near miss, and then continues on course. On a concrete level, that dog breaks my heart. But on a metaphorical level, I want to be like that dog, to keep running.

NCL: The bulk of poems in the chapbook are themed around motherhood/daughterhood, raising children in contemporary American society. What are some of the other themes, metaphors, and other elements of craft that you used to unify your chapbook? What is your favorite poem in the book or one that is important to you?

MK:It’s safe to say that my poems largely fit snugly into the lyric tradition, whether in free verse or prose poem format. Motherhood, daughterhood, and parenting are definitely strong themes in the book. Other prominent themes would be story and fairy tales, the animal world and our intersections with it, persistence, and witnessing/remembering - from watching a child soldier recount something horrifying to sharing a friend’s grief.

It’s hard to pick a favorite poem, isn’t it? One is definitely “When the kind girl grows up,” but another poem in the chapbook that is important to me is “5am tattoo.” For me, this poem captures the way I find it possible to maintain my kindness, to not lose my footing in worry and fear.

5am tattoo

It is early. I’ve risen from the little wooden boat
that floated me through darkness.

Two weeks before the solstice
daylight continues to expand,

filling the world minute by minute with more sun.
Now, five am, the birds sing the promise of the day.

Their calls trill through trees,
like brooks in the mountains just at the tree line.

Two more white poppies
have opened their taffeta skirts in the night.

More leaves have been stuffed into the birdhouse
now occupied by squirrels, squatters who gnawed the opening larger.

Mosquitoes navigate their crooked, blurred flights.
The fridge burrs on, a plane rumbles over the neighborhood,

the man next door opens, closes, locks his door
and thuds down his steps to the sidewalk.

Some mornings it seems the boat
has been moored to the same dock all night.

Other mornings it is as if our boat, left unpiloted,
has run aground on unfamiliar sand. Climbing out

I find everything is known but unfamiliar.
A landscape I know from the map, the journals of others,

the visions that came while I rocked
in the bottom of the boat on dark currents.

18th century sailors got tattoos in Tahiti, to prove
they had been there, that island paradise

the only place they could get that kind of mark.
I want to show that I have been here,

to this island of morning.
How will I be marked?

NCL: Are some of these poems about your own child? Who is your favorite author who has written about his or her children and/or your favorite book or poem?

MK: I think perhaps it might be most true to say that my own child is a catalyst for some of these poems. Like most writers, I reserve the right to revise reality if it makes the poem better, yet still true. (My grandmother once told me a story, then demanded I not use it in a poem, then waved her hand and said, “You’ll probably change it anyway. Go ahead.”) There are so many poets writing amazing - moving, honest, thrilling - poems about the parent/child relationship, but there is one poem in particular that I first read long before becoming a parent, which has become richer for me over time, as I have made the same shift as the speaker in that poem, from daughter to mother, from Persephone to Demeter: “The Pomegranate,” by Eavan Boland.

NCL: What are your thoughts on the question Emily Bazelon poses in her 2008 Slate essay “Is this Tantrum on the record,” about the ethics of writing about one’s children: What are the ground rules for writing about your kids?

MK: Now that my daughter is nine, she has a lot of say when it comes to things like social media, where the sharing is more immediate. But a poem, which may not be widely read until years after it is first written, is a little different. In The Dog Runs On, there are poems from her infancy and poems from just two years ago - she tends to have a nostalgic feel about those, and to be curious about them rather than defensive or embarrassed. In perhaps the most complimentary gesture possible, she took to school her copy of the chapbook (which she has illustrated) to share with her friends. But the ground rules are always evolving, and it is a conversation we return to frequently.

NCL: Diane Green wrote in a 2007 Rhizomes essay “Exploring Border Country: the Use of Myth and Fairy Tale in Gillian Clarke’s Poem Sequence, ‘The King of Britain’s Daughter’”:
[M]yth ... is such a familiar tool in the work of female poets writing in the latter part of the twentieth-century, particularly in its feminist revisionary role, as advocated by Adrienne Rich, and especially where nationality is an issue.
And in Contemporary Poetry: Poets and Poetry since 1990, Ian Brinton writes:
[A]n interest in myth and fairytale is a recognisable attempt to remove the poet’s self from a lyric expression into an embodied narrative. Traditional fairytales have a residual power of rethinking the roles of women and the ways they are represented within society.
Could you speak a bit about your use of myth and fairytale in your poems and your response to one or both of the quotes?

MK: I have been an avid reader since a very young age, but perhaps my most obsessive reading love was my grandfather’s 1932 edition of the Brothers Grimm tales - the translations were not too cleaned up, some of them were pretty horrifying, and I loved them all. So fairy tales (and myth and ballet stories and nursery rhymes) do creep into my poems - sometimes in a revisionary sense, sometimes for the usual version to be repudiated, and often as a way of taking a critical look at those roles and representations of women. One of the poems in The Dog Runs On that does this in a more overt way is “When the kind girl grows up,” where the title refers to the English tale of “Diamonds and Toads” (sometimes called “The Kind Girl and the Unkind Girl”) - a dichotomy that fascinates me, because growing up seems almost designed to turn you into an unkind girl! That one is followed by a couple of poems that continue the exploration of the kind girl in the unkind world: “Sunday Morning,” “When I think of genocide,” and “Fear.”

Red Bird Chapbooks will be publishing my next chapbook, The Thumbelina Poems, which has more to do with Ian Britton’s idea of moving from “a lyric expression into an embodied narrative” and examining the roles Thumbelina is given in that story. In the original story she is perpetually cast into the role of potential bride; I wanted to pull out her opportunities for agency, for response, and for meaning beyond what Hans Christian Andersen offered her. In my poems she is not always a kind girl, in fact she corrects the speaker at one point, who points out that “The wishes of others were winds that blew her life. / They birthed her, unmoored her, snatched her, and courted her” and Thumbelina is very firm in pointing out that when she was able to, when she needed to, she could act in her own interests at the expense of others: “Be fair, she says, the leashed butterfly still haunts me, / how it must have tired and fallen into the river to be taken by fish” (“The wishes of others”).

NCL: What are you working on now?

MK: Most immediately, I’m writing a poem a day in June with friends. Later this summer I’ll be working on revising poems from last fall and shaping two manuscripts. One will be a chapbook and the other a full-length manuscript; the full-length one is coming together from poems that run a gamut of themes, while the chapbook is more likely to come from the trove of mothering poems. Although lately it’s been a lot of monsters and ocean creatures showing up, so we’ll see. And we just got a new puppy, so that is another project (an extremely fluffy and adorable project) in the works.

Thursday, May 21, 2015


Well, I didn't think I would be able to do it this year, but I managed to complete poems for all thirty badges in the Found Poetry Review's Poetry Month project called PoMoScoshort for Poetry Month Scouts. So, yay! Laureate Scout!

Over 3,000 poems were written by over 200 poets across the globe. It was a wonderful adventure in poetry. The PoMoSco site will remain up until the end of May, so if you haven't had a chance yet to take a look at it yet, head on over there now before it disappears. Lots of good poetry to be had there!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Lori Desrosiers Discusses Inner Sky

image of INNER SKY by Lori Desrosiers

Publisher: Glass Lyre Press

Author: Lori Desrosiers

Publication date: March 2015

New Season by Lori Desrosiers

I am alive,
running over wet rocks
still tipped with
winter’s frosting.
I almost slip,
barely holding on.
This is the key
to spring’s return
along garden path,
already blooming
with forsythia, cherry.
Soon, marigolds
will ring tomatoes,
peppers, squash,
leaving winter
only a bookmark.

*   *   *   *   *

[This interview was conducted via email in April 2015.]

NCL: Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook.

LD: Inner Sky is a book about surviving domestic abuse. The voices in the book are based on fact, but are not all autobiographical. The poems expose some of the issues typical in abusive situations such as control, enabling, anger and gaslighting. It is also about leaving, and finding strength and help. I’m hoping these poems will be helpful in some way to others who are going or have been through a similar situation.

NCL: In Gregory Orr’s Poetry as Survival, there’s a quote by Muriel Rukeyser “I don’t believe that poetry can save the world. I do believe that the forces in us wish to share something of our experience by turning it into something and giving it to somebody: that is poetry. That is some kind of saving thing, and as far as my life is concerned, poetry has saved me again and again.” In a Writers Chronical (May/Summer 2014) interview with Leslie McGrath, Camille Dungy said “For me, writing about myself, my family, and my home is a political act. It’s not just confession, it is confronting erasure.” Did you find either one of those be true for you while you were in the process of creating your poetry, and in the sharing of it with others? , and if so, could you elaborate?

LD: Writing about trauma is necessary and incredibly helpful, in that it permits expression of the harder things to say without burdening someone else with the weight of them. It is also a way to step back from the experience and get some perspective, which is conducive to deep healing. I like what Dungy said about confronting erasure. This is what happens when we are in a controlling relationship. The abuser is trying to erase us, and in order to rebuild our inner strength, we need to confront that erasure and find out where we put the person we used to be before the trauma. Perhaps this book is my way of doing what Rukeyser referred to when she said poetry “forces in us a wish to share something of our experience by turning it into something and giving it to somebody.”

NCL: What difficulties or challenges did you encounter in writing some of the poems? in publishing the collection?

LD: These poems were hard for me to write, in that I had to dig deep and revisit traumatic episodes, not only in my life but in my children’s as well. I spoke at length to my daughter about publishing this book, and got her permission to do so. One thing that was hard for me about writing the poems themselves is, because of the content, I was reluctant to send them out individually, but they seem to work well as a collection.

NCL: Did you ever regret including a poem or not including one?

LD: Certainly there are some things I did not write about in this book that could have been included. Perhaps they will come out in future works, perhaps not. There are two poems which are already in my first full-length collection from Salmon Poetry, The Philosopher’s Daughter, which would have fit well in this book. One, entitled “Wedding” ended with the line “If you could only go back and tell yourself to run.” The other was “That Pomegranate Shine” which was about the breakup of a first marriage and the incredible feeling when the woman finds herself on her own and realizes she is going to be all right: “Standing with my children / looking out over the river / the new brides asked me / where I got that pomegranate shine.”

NCL: Audre Lorde wrote “I write for those women who do not speak, for those who do not have a voice because they were so terrified, because we are taught to respect fear more than ourselves. We've been taught that silence would save us, but it won't.” Was activism one of the purposes or goals of the chapbook, e.g., giving voice or increasing awareness? If so, could you tell us a little more about that. Have you given a reading of the poems in the chapbook, and if so, what has been the response?

LD: I have so far only given two readings from this book. It is not an easy collection to read from, since some of the poems trigger strong emotions for me, and yet I believe it is important to do so. I hope it will inspired others to write about their own experiences with abuse and that it may help those, as it says in one of the poems from the book, still “mired in storm.”

NCL: In her essay “Reading the Living Archives: The Witness of Literary Art” (Poetry, May 2011), Carolyn ForchĂ© wrote “In the poetry of witness, the poem makes present to us the experience of the other, the poem is the experience, rather than a symbolic representation.” I imagine one would need a great amount of empathy to write a poem that makes present the experience of another. Could you speak a little to the process of creating poetry out of another person’s story or testimony?

LD: These are mostly poems gleaned from personal experience, but some are also inspired by other women’s stories from when I was in support groups after my second divorce. I’ve never thought of myself as greatly empathetic, but when you have gone through the same experience, it is easier to find a common language, even to the extent of being able to finally identify patterns and tendencies to abuse before a relationship even begins.

NCL: Please discuss the choice for a chapbook. For example, why did you choose the chapbook as the vehicle for your poems rather than a book-length manuscript or a section in a book? When you started, did you intend to create a chapbook? How long did it take to write this chapbook (or, alternatively, how did you know it was time to stop writing)?

LD: There certainly were other aspect of the experience I could have written about, but I felt these poems were enough for now. I think a chapbook is a good length also for my purposes, which are to facilitate some writing workshops and to share the book with other women trying to heal from domestic abuse. I have many other topics I write on. For example, my second book, which will be out from Salmon in 2016, is mostly ekphrastic poems in response to music.

NCL: What’s one of the more crucial poems in the chapbook for you? (or what is your favorite poem?) Why? How did the poem come to be?

LD: I decided to share the next-to-last poem in the book, under the third section, “Awakening.” It is entitled “The Ice Crow.” The image of a crow with whitened wing seems to me to symbolize the spirit of transition, in this case between death and new life, which is what a person goes through after a trauma. We gradually shed our winter trappings, but still leave black footprints in snow, still carry that cage on our crooked backs. Nevertheless, we hang up the “gone fishing” sign and hope to lay down the burden of our pain.

The Ice Crow
carries my cage
on crooked back,
head bowed
focus forward,
black feet left tracks
across winter landscape.
Fishing pole tucked
under whitened wing;
tomorrow she plans to
lay down
her burdens
and mine

NCL: In addition to the subject of domestic violence, what are some other themes, metaphors, and other elements of craft did you use to unify your chapbook?

LD: These are also poems of time and place. They are very much set in the 1980’s (one refers to New Wave music) and are set in Long Island and in Connecticut. I varied the pronouns (some are in third person) on purpose, to give several voices and perspectives to the reader, and to also soften the tone in places where a first-person narrative would have been too painful.

NCL: How did you arrive at the title?

LD: I was with a friend at the beach and we were discussing the idea of finding the light inside ourselves in order to be able to live and to write. I think she may have been the one who came up with the words “Inner Sky” and I thank her for that. It is in the title poem, where it says,

That freedom was inner sky
long warm days learning to live alone
made a decision to let go
to give herself permission
to ask herself, “what do I think?” to never
give her power to another again.

NCL: What else would you like readers to know about you or your chapbook?

LD: I think others might be interested in the fact that I went back to school at age fifty for my M.F.A. Sometimes we have to be brave and take a risk to reinvent ourselves.

NCL: What are you working on now?

LD: I have been busy promoting my books as well as teaching and mentoring students. My journal, Naugatuck River Review, which publishes narrative poetry, will be open for contest submissions in July. I am also working on a new online journal, Wordpeace, which is dedicated to peace and justice and features prose (fiction, non-fiction) and poetry in conversation with world events. I am also writing as much as I can, and am very grateful to be member of two critique groups, who inspire me regularly, and because nobody should have to write in a vacuum.

*   *   *   *   *

Lori Desrosiers’ debut full-length book of poems, The Philosopher’s Daughter was published by Salmon Poetry in 2013. A chapbook, Inner Sky is from Glass Lyre Press. A second full-length collection, Sometimes I Hear the Clock Speak, will be out from Salmon in 2016. Her poems have appeared in New Millenium Review, Contemporary American Voices, Best Indie Lit New England, String Poet, Blue Fifth Review, Pirene's Fountain, The New Verse News, The Mom Egg, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish-American Poetry and many other journals and anthologies. Her work was nominated for the 2015 Pushcart Prize. She won the Greater Brockton Poets Award for New England Poets award for her poem “That Pomegranate Shine” in 2010. She edits Naugatuck River Review, a journal of narrative poetry. She teaches Literature and Composition at Westfield State University and Holyoke Community College, and Poetry in the Interdisciplinary Studies program for the Lesley University M.F.A. graduate program.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

PoMoSco for National Poetry Month 2015

April is National Poetry Month (NaPoMo)! In my usual celebration, I'll be joining the Found Poetry Review for there annual NaPoMo project. This year it's POMOSCOshort for Poetry Month Scouts.

There are 213 poets representing 43 states and 12 countries who are joining together as a troop:) We get to earn digital merit badges for completing experimental and found poetry prompts.


Each day in April, I'll be writing and posting one poem to fulfill the requirements for a 'badge'. The requirements for each badge can be found here:  Just click on one of the pages on that page and you can see the rules to earn it. If you're looking for some creative inspiration this month, try out some of those prompts and write your own poems!

And here's a link to my PoMoSco page if you want to check in on my progress:

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Rabbit Punch! by Greg Santos

Greg Santos 
Rabbit Punch! 

DC Books 

By the numbers 

ISBN 978-1-927599-22-8 
Publication: 2014 
Total pages: 76 
Number of poems: 61

Like Rabbit Punch on Facebook
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Greg Santos, a Canadian poet and graphic designer who teaches creative writing to at-risk youth, is also the poetry editor for carte blanche. He lives in Montreal with his wife and two children. Greg and I know each other via social media, both of us having been active participants in a couple of projects sponsored by The Found Poetry Review (FPR). When Greg's second book of poetry, Rabbit Punch!, was released, he asked me to review it. The book's cover and title, as well as what I knew of his poetry, led me to suspect that the book would be an imaginative foray into pop culture, that it would be filled with humorous, witty
at times dark or surrealpoems. I accepted his invitation. As it turns out, the book is as I anticipated; it does not disappoint. You can read all about it in the review below.

Greg was also kind enough to do an interview. You can find out more about his thoughts on poetry and his books here.

—Nancy Chen Long


[This interview was conducted via email in January 2015 and was first published on Poetry Matters.]

Greg Santos' second book Rabbit Punch! is filled with lithe poems, quick on their feet, poems that are witty, whimsical, serious, sarcastic, celebratory, bittersweet. Some are entertaining, while others are deceptively sopoems layered with meaning that reward upon repeated readings. Santos has dedicated the book to the memory of his mentor Paul Violi and in some of the poems, it's evident that such mentors and favorite poets have exerted a heavy influence over Santos' work. 

Rabbit Punch! is divided into three sections. Each of the sections has a variety of different types of poems, from traditional to experimental. The majority of the poems are short, i.e., less than a page long. While the poems cover an array of subjects, the majority of them include some treatment or reference to Western popular culture. However, the first section, taken as a whole, has fewer references to pop culture than the other two sections. The poems here are a bit more personal and lyrical. One of my favorites is "Lullaby":


A little way ahead
winter is come

Do you remember
it ever being so cold?

Ash trees burn
above white paths

The sky goes on
with cool indifference

Wheels of the train
fall silent

We have arrived
at the junction

All creatures
don their coats

A little way ahead
winter is come

In addition, the first section has an international bent as well, with a good dose of things French, which can be seen based on the titles alone, e.g., “La Mue” and “It’s Snowing in Paris.” And 
Santos also gives a nod in this first section to fairy tale and myth. For example, in the poem “Cronus,” an intriguing poem that's only three lines long, Santos approaches the Cronus myth—the god of time that devours all—through the metaphor of a farmer
The farmer has a basket full of eggs.
He wonders if he should bring them back to their coop.
But they are his children and he is hungry.
And in “Hansel and Gretel,” Santos depicts a story different from the Grimm Brothers' version. Instead of victims, in Santos' world, Hansel and Gretel are instigators, defying their parents because they want to find the witchthey’re actively seeking “peppermint, floss, and doom.” The line “We were ready to die for love” and last line of the poem “At long last, love in all its glory” suggest that Hansel and Gretel believed the witch to be Love. There are a number of ways in which to read that sentiment. One of the more obvious ones is that Hansel and Gretel were evil like the witch. Another is that they were so unloved they would love anything that beckoned, so desperate that they grasped at evil, thinking that's what love looks like. While both readings are surprising and fresh, the second is punch in gut that left this reader thinking about it for days. 

The second section of Rabbit Punch! is prefaced with the first three lines of Dean Young's "Sean Penn Anti-Ode." It's an appropriate presage for this section filled with poems about Western public figures, cultural icons, and folklore: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, model/socialite Paris Hilton,  caped crusader Batman, the actor Charlie Sheen, American politician John McCain, the Tooth Fairy, aliens, and more, all find a home in this section. 

A number of these poems in the second section are dramatic monologues written in the persona of a famous figure. In "I May Be Macho but I'm no Genius" (another one of Santos' poems that appears to be humorous, but is not), professional wrestler Randy Savage tells us "I'm more Burger King than Macho King. ... I wouldn't wish Macho Madness on anyone, brother." The last line "I miss Elizabeth," transforms the poem from one of sarcasm or mockery to one of sadness. Elizabeth had been Savage's romantic interest, as well as his wrestling manager. When she left Savage for another wrestler (Hulk Hogan), it unsettled the world of professional wrestling. Elizabeth was stalked and even injured. She died of a drug overdose in 2003. If the last line of the poem refers to when she left Savage, then the poem is a wistful one about heartbreak. However, if it refers to when she died, then the poem is one of mourning, a poem of grief and regret, especially in light of the poem's epigraph: "Reincarnation doesn't have to be. You can concentrate and you can mental telepathy. Yeah!" The epigraph is a quote by Savage from a 1987 promotional. The quote might elicit ridicule from the reader when first read, but by the end of the poem, all one feels is pity.

It's not all famous figures in the second section. The poet-persona also makes an appearance, with the poet as a first person narrator. Even so, some pop-culture aspect is still prominently featured. For example, in "A Wild Night at Hooters," the narrator recounts a fictional evening at the American restaurant Hooters, an evening spent with famous dead poets and writers (e.g., "We'd get smashed drinking Coors, spot Whitman coming onto Frost, / we'd have to keep Yeats away from the dartboards.") And in the endearing poem "The Great Hoarder," which is the last poem of this section, Santos gifts us with a narrator who hoards in the spirit of Hoarders, that American television show about people who compulsively keep things forever. However, instead of hoarding material objects, the narrator hoards thoughts and questions while his family sleeps.

In the third and final section of the book, we find a collection of surreal and experimental poems. The opening poem "Imaginationland" (which is also the title of a series of episodes of the animated TV show South Park) takes us on a quick jaunt through the "the Tim Burton-ish forest" in the narrator's head, where "squirrels dance merrily with foxes" and "My family waits for me in a gingerbread house." In addition, this third section houses poems about a New York that is "left of the center of the universe" and advice poems about how to handle ghost hares ("Don't play dead. And whatever you do, don't act like a carrot. / Wearing orange around ghost hares is suicidal.") There are poems about poems, even a poem that wants "you to trust it," but not immediately. No, it "wants you to hold hands first for a while before getting serious." 

This final section is also a celebration of some of the poets who have influenced Santos: The poem "We're all Just Passing Strange" is dedicated to Santos' mentor Paul Violi and the line from that poem"Suffering from the morning of the poem" could be a reference to James Schuyler's epic poem "The Morning of the Poem." A number of poems are patterned after poets that Santos admires, notably "Meanwhile, What I'm Going To Do" and "We the Wild Bunch" (the link is to a video of Santos reading his poem) are written after John Ashberry and "Types of Silence" and "The Disease is Its Remedy" are written after Mark Strand. Indeed, in the the spirit of celebration, Santos openly confesses here his love of the art: "I have a unique condition. / I am prescribed to eat poetry for the rest of my days. / Do not cry for me; it is a happy ailment" ("The Disease is Its Remedy.")

In the last poem of the book, "A Vanishing Act," a magician pulls "rabbits out of a top hat," wields the tools of illusion "fog and mirrors," intones special words "to distract" the audience. Magician as conjurer; poet as conjurer. It reminded me of what Jane Hirshfield wrote in "Strange Reaches, Impossibility, and Big Hidden Drawers: Poetry and Paradox" (The Writers Chronicle, Feb 2015)that in a good poem, sometimes one finds oneself "inside both the realm of the most common human truths and the realms of sequin and smoke, of scarf-trick and card-trick and mirrors that at once reveal and hide." One will find such poems in Rabbit Punch! From poem to poem, one can sense Santos' imagination hard at work to extend, as he says in his interview, "poetry's potential to both entertain and enlighten." Santos shared that he was interested "in exploring the idea that everything and anything is fair game to be poetic fodder." And in that, he has found success.


Oblivion Avenue
- by Greg Santos

When you make the decision to leave
and your loved ones wave their handkerchiefs from the docks
like a million mad flappings of Daffy Duck's beak,
you can't help wondering if you've made the right choice.

We leave the shores and drift so all that is left of our past
is an infinitesimal speck on an ancient iceberg,
complaining about its arthritis and bad hips,
melting toward oblivion.

Where? Oblivion Avenue.
You make a left turn at Albuquerque
Bugs Bunny always made a wrong toin at Albukoikee
but he somehow turned out fine. A wrong turn didn't stop him.

No. Even with Elmer Fudd at the end of the tunnel,
what didn't shoot Bugs made him stronger. He had the right idea.
Burrowing frantically through the dirt
toward a golden carrot that probably never has or ever will exist.

We all have an Elmer Fudd waiting for us at our final destination,
shotgun in hand, hiding among the welcoming throngs on the boardwalk.
Remember, fold your rabbit ears under your bowler hat.
He'll never suspect a thing.

"Lullaby," "Cronus," and “Oblivion Avenue,” © Greg Santos Rabbit Punch! (DC Books, 2014)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Interview with Poet Greg Santos

      That feeling the executioner has
      when he hangs his mask at the end of the work day,
      I have that right now.
      Like a rabbit punch out of the blue.
      But I’m not complaining.
      I'm just singing a requiem for all decent centaurs everywhere.

       - from "The Prodigal Son" by Greg Santos

*   *   *

Greg Santosnewest book is Rabbit Punch! (DC Books, 2014). He is also the author of The Emperor’s Sofa (DC Books, 2010) and two poetry chapbooks. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. His writing has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Drawn to Marvel: Poems from the Comic Books (Minor Arcana, 2014), Daddy Cool (Artistically Declined Press, 2013), A Face to Meet the Faces: An Anthology of Contemporary Persona Poetry (Akron, 2012), Mcsweeney’s, The Best American Poetry Blog, and The Feathertale Review. Greg is a graphic designer, teaches creative writing to at-risk youth, and is the poetry editor for carte blanche. He lives in Montreal with his wife and two children.

*   *   *

I first encountered Greg Santos’s poetry as part of The Found Poetry Review’s (FPR) Pulitzer Remix project and then again as part of FPR’s Ouilpo project. I admired Greg's keen interest in exploring and interrogating popular culture, which plays a prominent role in his poetry. I found myself especially drawn to the cleverness and humor in his poems. When he invited me to review his second book Rabbit Punch!, I suspected it would be a book filled with fast-paced and witty poems, some with a dose of irreverence, poems that were funny and sad, serious and playful, at the same time. And indeed, that it is. [You can find a review of the book here.] 

For those who are not familiar with Greg's poetry, to give you a better idea of his work before proceeding to the interview, here’s a poem titled "Zombies," which is an example of his work with popular culture, containing references to the Irish rock band The Cranberries and American musician Rob Zombie.  

—Nancy Chen Long

Zombies by Greg Santos

Zombies like listening to The Cranberries

Particularly their hit song, “Zombie.”

Zombies like the song because they can relate to it.

They nod their heads, mouths agape.

“Ughhhhhhhhhh,” they grunt affirmatively.

Zombies, however, do not like Rob Zombie.

He is not an authentic zombie.

He is a live human who has appropriated the zombie name.

There is no greater zombie taboo.

Look out, Rob Zombie! Behind you!

Just kidding.

Or am I?

first published in New Wave Vomit
© Greg Santos, Rabbit Punch! (DC Books , 2014)

[This interview was conducted via email in January 2015 and was first published on Poetry Matters.]

Congratulations on publishing your second book! While getting a first book of poetry published is difficult, getting a second published is even more so. Please share with us how Rabbit Punch! came to be and how you got it published.

GS: Getting my first book, The Emperor's Sofa, published was really a dream come true. It was edited by poet and scholar, Jason Camlot, and published by the Punchy Poetry series, an imprint of Montreal-based DC Books. I'm very proud of my first book and if that had been all I had ever published, I would have been more than content to leave it at that. So I still have a hard time wrapping my head around having a second full-length collection of poetry out there in the world.

I approached Jason with a second manuscript comprised of confessional poems written while I was living in Paris, where my wife was pursuing a research fellowship for her PhD. My first book had just come out and I was a new father living in the City of Lights. It was an exciting time, everything was new and terrifying. I tend not to write confessional poetry, so these poems were also new and terrifying for me to share with the world.

After some discussion with Jason, we decided that the manuscript I sent him in its original incarnation did not quite fit with Punchy Poetry's mandate. That manuscript is still a work in progress that I'm hoping to publish elsewhere in the future. At the same time, he pointed out some poems that he felt we could work on together, in particular, "Reading Ou Yang Hsiu in a Café". He asked me if I had more similar pieces that we could compile into a separate project. Thankfully, I had been putting together a completely separate manuscript that I was planning on sending out to some poetry contests and that manuscript turned out to be Rabbit Punch!

Rabbit Punch! has a good dose of pop-culture references. In a post for the Poetry Society of America, Adrian Matejka writes “Every important idea that poetry interrogates has a corollary in popular culture, and when poetry and pop culture team up like those Marvel comics, good poems can happen.” Please share some of your thoughts on the union of popular culture and poetry, how you find pop culture impacts your writing or your relationship to poetry, etc. 

GS: When I include pop culture references in my writing, I do so knowing full well that I am potentially opening up poetry to people who might not normally be inclined to read poetry. At the same time, I am also interested in exploring the idea that everything and anything is fair game to be poetic fodder. Paris Hilton, Bugs Bunny, John McCain, Hooters, and Batman might on the surface seem like odd poetic bedfellows, but TV shows, celebrities, comics, movies, music, spending our time on Facebook, for example, these things are all part of our vocabulary and daily lives, so why not attempt to incorporate them into our poetry? I’m not really doing anything new, though. Poets like Frank O'Hara, David Trinidad, John Ashbery, David McGimpsey, Denise Duhamel, to name a few, have all made great use of pop culture in their writing. I'd like to think of myself as following in their footsteps and playing with poetry's potential to both entertain and enlighten.

Thinking back to your first full-length manuscript that was published, were there things you thought would happen, yet didn’t? unexpected things that did happen?

GS: I was expecting, perhaps naively, to get more reviews for The Emperor's Sofa, but as a relatively new writer at the time, I'm quite happy with the reviews that the book did receive. I was particularly tickled when I heard from one of my wife's relatives that they had read a review of it in the Telegraph-Journal newspaper from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, which is near where they live. It was a really detailed and thorough review and I couldn't have asked for a better analysis. Reviews aren't everything, but for a new author like me, it was exciting to know that someone had actually taken the time to read and study my work.

I would have liked to have done more readings for the book in Montreal, which is my hometown, and where my publisher is based, but like I had mentioned earlier, I was living in Paris the year the book came out. That allowed for some unexpected and very cool opportunities to promote the book. In particular, doing readings in Paris, Berlin, and London. My good friend, Joshua Levy, who's a wonderful poet and short story writer, was living in London at the time and he organized a lovely event at Goodenough College where I read alongside Todd Swift, a poet I've long admired. That was a real thrill and an honor.

When do you remember first being interested in poetry? Was there a mentor who encouraged you?

GS: "The Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service was one of the first poems I remember reading when I was a child. I used to pore over my elementary school library’s edition of the poem that was paired with the colorful and haunting paintings by Ted Harrison. I recently found the book for my father-in-law after I found out it was his favorite poem. It wasn't until I was a teenager trying to write songs and lyrics to play on the guitar that I seriously started wanting to read and learn more about poetry. My songs were my first poems. It was around that time that I started reading e.e. cummings, Emily Dickinson, and my aunt's copy of Flowers for Hitler by Leonard Cohen.

At a young age I knew I wanted a career in the arts but I was all over the place. I wanted to be a cartoonist, an animator, an actor, and the list goes on. I took my first poetry workshop as an undergrad at Concordia University in Montreal with poet, David McGimpsey, and it was an eye-opening experience. Until then, I had been trying my hand at both prose and poetry but there was something about that class that really clicked and made a tremendous impression on me. McGimpsey was a passionate teacher and he took poetry extremely seriously, despite his writing being some of the funniest stuff I had ever read. I really admired that. It was after McGimpsey’s class and because of him that I made the decision to buckle down and focus on learning as much as I could about poetry and I've never looked back.

When you write, do you imagine a reader? If so, what type of reader?

GS: There’s a quote from Gertrude Stein that I love: "I write for myself and strangers." I don’t normally imagine a reader. I’m usually too busy writing to exorcise an idea from my head or to make myself laugh. That said, if I were to imagine my ideal reader, I guess I would picture someone like me, only smarter.

We met online when we were both participants of a Found Poetry Review project. When did you first become interested in found poetry? What attracted you to it? What sort of response have you gotten from your readers regarding your found poems?

GS: I first became interested in found poetry when I started teaching poetry workshops. I was looking for more prompts that would force myself and students to think outside of the box and I discovered Austin Kleon's Newspaper Blackout. The book is made up of poems that Kleon created by taking a black sharpie and blacking out pages from The New York Times to create new texts. It's exciting and liberating to create something new out of existing works of art. In effect it’s a type of collaboration. Around that time I was also really interested in collage and remix culture. I started constructing poems using lyrics from pop stars like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, and Miley Cyrus and rearranging the words into poems that I would call “poetry remixes.” This led me to seek out other found poetry forms and writing exercises.

My chapbook, Tweet Tweet Tweet (Corrupt Press, 2011) contains more of my remixes and found poems, but I didn’t really include many of them in Rabbit Punch! except for “We Were Startled by the Sound of Fog”, which was an erasure poem using Out of the Fog by C.K. Ober (Associated Press, 1911) as a source text. I used the great Erasures website at Wave Books to create it and I was thrilled to find out that the poem was chosen to be the November 2014 Poem of the Month at The Montreal Review of Books. I was happy that an example of found poetry was being showcased, when it might not normally be seen by a mainstream audience.

Generally speaking, how do you approach revision? Do you use a checklist or have any tried-and-true practices?

GS: Revision is always an ongoing process for me. I have poems that I’ve been tinkering with for years. I don’t have a checklist but here are a few practices that I turn to regularly:

I - After writing out the first draft of a poem, I often eliminate the first line or two. I have a tendency to over explain myself and this helps cut out any superfluous words.
II - Reading the poem out loud is always a good idea. If I find myself regularly tripping over any words, then that’s a surefire sign that something’s gotta go.
III - Putting a fresh poem away and not looking at it for a while also helps when I return to it after giving myself a little distance.
IV - I took a great workshop with poet Matthew Zapruder when I was doing my MFA in Creative Writing at The New School. One of the exercises he had us do was taking our completed poems and rewriting them backwards, meaning writing the last stanza first and so on. It doesn't always work but sometimes an odd juxtaposition surprises you and makes the poem sound more interesting.

As an editor at carte blanche, what would you tell hopeful poets looking to find homes for their work?

GS: I share poetry editing duties with Patrick McDonagh at carte blanche. We both have pretty eclectic tastes. I’m not actively searching for poems that resemble my own writing style. I simply choose poems that move and surprise me. It’s hard to say what that might look like, but whatever makes me say, “Wow! I really need to help share this with the world.”

Who are you reading now? Do you have a favorite poet or poets? What poets influence you?

GS: I have way too many books on my to-read pile, and I am often reading more than one thing at the same time. I just finished two great novels, actually. Blind Spot  by Laurence Miall, who is carte blanche's fiction editor. The protagonist, Luke, is a great anti-hero. I found myself disliking him, but wanting to keep reading to see what he was going to do next. The book reminded me of Camus' The Stranger. It's a remarkable debut novel. The second is 10:04 by novelist and poet, Ben Lerner. The book really brought me back to my time spent in New York as a graduate student and aspiring writer.

The poets and writers that I often turn to for inspiration include James Tate, Kenneth Koch, John Ashbery, Dean Young, Charles Simic, Mark Strand, Mary Ruefle, Russell Edson, Elizabeth Bishop, Paul Violi, Lydia Davis, Robert Hass, Linda Pastan, David Lehman, David McGimpsey, Stuart Ross, Gillian Sze, and Ben Mirov.

If you were a place, where or what type of a place would you be?:)

GS: Gee, I've never been asked that before! I would be a traveling carnival or a place like Coney Island. Complete with cotton candy, Cracker Jacks, haunted house, sticky floors, Ferris wheel, fun house mirrors, a sideshow, and clowns.

Thanks again for the opportunity to be interviewed! This was fun.

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A sampling of Greg’s poems on-line: