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
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.

*   *   *
A sampling of Greg’s poems on-line:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Interview With Poet Nicelle Davis

My myths crossed when I was four. I mistook the pastel picture
of Jesus hung in every Mormon home for John Lennon. Both
called the Prince of Peace. Was encouraged to talk to him. Offer
up suffering. Let him carry my scabs in his satchel; red letters
addressed home. Inside the paper-wrapped package: a six-string
guitar interpreting lyrics. I still talk to John when praying to Jesus.

- from "Disclaimer: Assumptions Made by This Homemade Religion" by Nicelle Davis

*   *   *

Nicelle Davis is a California poet who walks the desert with her son, J.J., in search of owl pellets and rattlesnake skins. The author of two books of poetry, her most recent book, Becoming Judas, is available from Red Hen Press. Her first book, Circe, is available from Lowbrow Press. In the Circus of You is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in Spring 2015 and The Walled Wife is forthcoming from Red Hen Press in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Beloit Poetry Journal, The New York Quarterly, PANK, SLAB Magazine, and others. She is editor-at-large of The Los Angeles Review. She has taught poetry at Youth for Positive Change, an organization that promotes success for youth in secondary schools, and with Volunteers of America in their Homeless Youth Center. She currently teaches at Antelope Valley College.

*   *   *

I met Nicelle Davis twice, most recently in Ireland where she and I both attended the Ireland for Writers workshop. The workshop was beyond delightful, not simply because of the magic that is Ireland, but because of the amazing people in the workshop. Early on, we all decided to connect on Facebook. As it turns out, Nicelle and I were already Facebook friends. And after a bit of sleuthing, we deduced that our first meeting must have been at an AWP Conference. The poetry world is a small one indeed.

The workshop was held at Inish Beg, a ninety-acre island estate with gardens, trails, and woodlands. At one end of the island happens to be a white bird cage large enough to hold a woman. Nicelle and Annette, a writer/artist/singer from Minnesota, came up with an idea for performance art: to create a dress out of the stuff of Ireland—feathers, moss, curios. Nicelle and Annette, and any of us who wanted, would then take turns wearing the dress while sitting in the bird cage reciting poetry.

The idea for the performance was my first glimpse into Nicelle's wildly creative spirit. As the week progressed, her encouragement that we be brave in the making of our art—whatever it might be—was inspirational and continues to impact me personally.

Unfortunately, the performance was not to be. Nicelle and Annette worked tirelessly on the dress. When the day came for the performance, something interfered; I don't remember exactly, perhaps that was the day it rained. But we did get some fascinating photographs. The one here is of Nicelle wearing the Ireland dress, looking like a goddess, perhaps Circe or one the Muses, rising from the moss.

After I returned from Ireland, I read Nicelle's most recent book Becoming Judas and found it totally engaging—thought-provoking and smart, as well as evocative. I wanted to share her work with others and asked if she'd consent to an interview, to which she kindly said yes, despite her busy, busy schedule. You're in for a treat, folks. Hers is a fascinating interview, sure to intrigue.

But before getting to the interview, as a way of introduction to Nicelle's work for those unfamiliar, I'd like to leave you with a quick overview of Becoming Judas from the publisher, as well as one of her poems from the book.

—Nancy Chen Long

Becoming Judas (Red Hen Press, 2013)
"The second collection by Nicelle Davis, Becoming Judas, is an "elemental bible-diary-manifesto," that weaves together Mormonism, Mamaism, Manson, Lennon, Kabbalah, and the lost Gospel of Judas into an ecstatic, searing meditation on raw religion. Nicelle Davis is a poet with an eye towards the spiritual. Loosely based on Davis's upbringing in the back-room of a record store in Mormonville, Utah, this unexpected fusion becomes a "spontaneous combustion" of matter turning into energy. In these poems we encounter Jesus, Judas, YouTube, Joseph Smith, Hollywood, the Knights of Templar, Missouri, Utah, a prostitute, turnips, libraries, and God. Spirituality and faith eventually become, like Mallarme's "Dice Thrown," a game of chance: "I know only chance. My feet will / won't hit ground." Instead of choosing a faith based in the material world, which becomes a roll of the dice, Davis embraces the non-material of a pure energy: Let there be light."
Reviews of   Becoming Judas can found at:  Mom Egg Review, Ampersand Review, The Mockingbird Sings

When I was a Boy by Nicelle Davis

My mother bent a Lamborghini on a hydrant, crossing the street in a pair of stilettos.
Men couldn’t stop looking.

She knew the values of being wanted. My bowed nose concerned her. She always
asking if I'd been touched. Yet.

Where I shouldn't. I cut off all my hair—lived on the highest branch of a tree. As a
tomboy I gave her less to worry

about. Out-wrestled the sixth-grade. Taught myself, no. Ding-dong, a Sarah-Jane Adams
Elementary boy said, pushing my ten-

year-old nipple. Opening a door. You’ll appreciate being wanted one day, mother said,
rubbing the bump out of the rim of my nose.

What I wanted was her—the way I wished for a branch to grow past where I climbed—
to be lifted without others spading for our roots.

first published in [PANK]
© Nicelle Davis, Becoming Judas (Red Hen Press, 2013)

[This interview was conducted via email in August 2014 and originally posted on Poetry Matters.]

I recently finished reading your second book of poetry, Becoming Judas. It’s a tour de force, a remarkable book really, braiding and conflating the various story-myths of Jesus, Judas, John Lennon, yours, and others. Please tell us a little about the book’s becoming.

ND: Becoming Judas was written while I was a student at the University of California, Riverside (URC). It was the first complete manuscript I’d ever written; it taught me that a manuscript is more than a collection of poems—it is an unfolding of ideas. One poem tells the poet what to write next—and in this way, the book takes the author on a journey. Becoming Judas revealed to me that a poet doesn’t write a manuscript, the manuscript rewrites the poet. 

There were three factors that lead me to this realization. First, I had my son while at UCR—this experience literally tore my body in two; this physical reality mirrored my interior divisions. I was coming undone, falling apart, and in this space, my past, present, and future began to violently collide. Second, I was surrounded by incredible people while working on this book. As a new mom, my only time to write was late at night; I would stay up all night at a Riverside Denny’s to write Becoming Judas. My cohort took turns staying up with me. Over bottomless cups of coffee and shared sunrises, I fell deeply in love with my fellow writers; we became a family. Third, I had mentors who were willing to guide me through the darkness. I’m trying not to cry right now—because they (especially Kate Gale and Mark Cull) would all call me a wimp for tearing up—but without them and the help of Maurya Simon, Susan Straight, Goldberry Long, Juan Felipe Herrera, Robin Russin, Christopher Buckley, and Chris Abani, I wouldn't have been able to navigate the emotional toll of a first manuscript.

So here (without all the blah-blah) are my five steps to a book’s becoming:
  1. Let the book be what it wants to be—even if it is or isn't pretty or popular. 
  2. Let the book rupture you—let it change you forever. 
  3. Let the sun rise on your work (in other words, work all night / write your ass off.) 
  4. Let your cohort be your family—build a writing family. 
  5. Let others be your light. There are gracious people who are willing to help; let them, even when you don’t understand how or why they are helping you. Pray that their grace will teach you how to be gracious.

Grappling with the spiritual and transcendent in light of the human condition seems to be pivotal in Becoming Judas. Could you talk a little bit about that aspect of your work? I found The Gospel of Judas [a gnostic text first translated by National Geographic in 2006] to be fundamental to the book. When did you first encounter that text? What attracts you to it?

ND: I love the National Geographic’s documentary The Gospel of Judas—I love how they made Judas into a sort of religious Mickey Mouse—the commercialism is grotesque—which is delightful. The film is full of gangsters and backstabbers who, through violence and deception, allow us to encounter The Gospel of Judas. Leave it to Judas to be resurrected by thieves and brought to light by marketers.

I also enjoy Tobias Churton’s Kiss of Death: The True History of the Gospel of Judas, which does an excellent job making fun of the National Geographic documentary. His book however, mainly focuses on the concept of authenticity—what makes a gospel a gospel?— what makes a disciple a disciple?—what makes a kiss right or wrong? The “this or that” of the Churton’s book is a little difficult for me. Even so, this book was one of my dearest companions while writing Becoming Judas—so much so, that now six years later I find my son’s “lost” ultra-sound photos wedged between the pages. So it seems, Churton's book continues to help me explore the idea of “lost,” “saved,” and everything in-between.

There are many code phrases that distinguish authentic believers from non-believers. In the Christian community, I am often referred to as fence rider; Judas might be called a fence rider too. Fence riders believe but don’t do what they're told—or they do what they're told but they don’t believe in it; they are considered dirty because they are indecisive and noncommittal. But Judas never struck me as uncertain or unfaithful; he seemed a man born into a world of flux—his is the story of when all the stories collide—he wasn't riding a fence—he is the moment of impact—he is / was a kiss. Judas (in his historically and / or mythical form) betrays and saves us with a kiss. We all save and betray each other with a kiss.

I have often felt like a religious tourist; I grew up in Utah, but wasn't raised Mormon. This isn't to say that I didn't go to several Mormon events and attend church(es) regularly. I’d often take myself to church, any church, and watch. If I have any authenticity it is that of a spiritual voyeur, which in my later years, I encounter more in tattoo parlors and trapeze class than churches. (Though, I still love churches; I’m drawn to them.)

In addition to churches, I’m drawn to religious texts, same as I am a devout reader of Rolling Stone magazine and tabloids. I’ve poured over the Gnostic texts for years; Gnosticism is one of the few places where women are seen as active spiritual beings. Pop-culture tabloids are also a rare resource for visible and active women. (We take our models where we can find them.) So, I pounced on the text as soon as I heard Judas (the most feminized of the male apostles) had a gospel. (This gospel, ironically, was published around the time I was working on a book about being a rotten-no-good snitch.) I started to enjoy the synchronicity of things—started looking for synchronicities—I wanted to feel all the stories collide.

What attracts me to Judas? We are both rotten-no-good snitches; we are tabloids. I believe every writer must come to terms with being a tattletale—every snitch has to take their stitches before they can really begin to write. This book is what I needed to become a writer. It is an awkward position to be in—to attempt to save the moment while betraying it. As a writer, I want the ephemeral to become everlasting; this is problematic. Judas and writers are problematic, but what I love about Judas is that his love seems greater than his failings. Because he loved Jesus as he betrayed him, we have a story that transcends time; this betrayal is as present today as it “was” before or after the kiss occurred. I can only hope to be a Judas.

Both Becoming Judas and your first book Circe include illustrations by Cheryl Gross. Tell us a little about how that collaboration process worked. Will there be visual art in either of your forthcoming books?

© Cheryl Gross, an illustration from
In the Circus of You
ND: Cheryl and I were recently interviewed by the amazing Liz Bradfield for the Alaska Quarterly Review. We submitted our responses separately, and yet there were these astounding moments of overlap which highlighted for me how lucky we are to have found each other. At one point in the interview Cheryl announces, “Nicelle and I are rebels. We care more about the art/projects and pushing boundaries.” Cheryl's statement was one of the few times that I felt proud to be a writer—that I belonged to something larger than myself. We are friends who push boundaries and this is because of collaboration.

We started collaborating on a book called In the Circus of You, which will be released from Rose Metal Press this spring. After this experience, it seemed natural that Cheryl and I make more art together. We have started other projects that I’m very excited about; I can not wait to see where our collaborations take us.

You’ve also done collaborations with Cheryl and others on trailers/motion graphics for your books, including motion graphics for five poems in Becoming Judas, trailers for both Circe and your upcoming book The Circus of You, and a video poem “The First Hour of Being Buried Alive in the Walls of a Half-Built Cathedral.” The idea of video poetry and moving/motion poems is fascinating. What kind of responses have you been getting from those who “watch” your poetry? What has been the most surprising thing for you about making these?

ND: Motion Graphics are great! Great!

As the famous Shakespeare quote goes, The play's the thing. I couldn’t agree more. The “play” of twenty-first century is the Motion Graphic; these films allow multiple artists to gather and return to their roots—to a place of performance. The Motion Graphics feel like pure art to me; they are so collaborative by nature that no one person is in control; in this way, such projects are as terrifying and exhilarating as live theatre. I feel so grateful to live in a time when artists from across the globe can virtually gather to create a very tangible performance of art, poetry, music, and dance.

The most surprising thing about making these films is how well people work together. Very serious artists are given a space to play, and they do play with diligence. This is a sort of work that adults rarely get to participate in—it approximates how, as children, we created imagined worlds together—it feels like falling in love, but without any of the complications.

I’m also surprise at how far the Motion Graphics travel: they have been shown in film festivals across the globe. My poems go places I’ve only dreamed of. I hope they are leading the way—teaching me how to be a resident of the world.

In addition to visual art, performance seems vital to your connection to the word and to poetry, such as your reading at Pasadena Central Park. While I’ve heard wonderful, dramatic readings by poets reading their own work, I’ve never seen a poet perform her poem at a reading. You do so, complete with costumes. It must take a tremendous amount of work to perform a reading like that. How do you prepare for such a reading from an energetic standpoint? From a practical standpoint, who creates your costumes? Does the performance aspect ever come into play for you when you’re in the first stages of creating a poem? Could speak a little about costumes and poses on the cover of the Becoming Judas

ND: It takes hours and hours and hours of work. It requires the efforts of many people.

All this effort and yet it is met with mixed reviews. Not everyone likes performance art for a host of reasons. I love performance art because it’s hard to ignore; it’s raw and it’s experiential; it is often awkward and uncomfortable, in other words it’s human. The documentary, Women Art Revolution, is a great introduction to the role performance art in women’s rights. When women are visible, raw, and experiential, people can get mean; I find this interesting and at times difficult. However, I find it much more difficult to be invisible. There is a group of performance poets whom I appreciate for their efforts and process, including, Lauren K. Alleyne, Ching-In Chen, Kate Durbin, and Sierra Nelson. These ladies are inspirational to me, as I am sure they are for others.

Costuming is one of my favorite art forms. I’ve spent years obsessing over the history of fashion. Clothes create a silent conversation; costumes amplify this dialogue. My favorite costume artist is Pavlina Janssen; I consider her my art sister because we know each other’s secret language. As a collage artist, Pavlina doesn’t just make a dress, she creates layered stories. She made the dress for the cover of Becoming Judas.

For this dress I brought her all the remnants of my failed marriage: a feather comforter, a fox coat, a negligee, bones, and teeth. She mended these things into a dress that brought the dead back to life. Dennis Mecham took the photos. He has an incredible knack for conducting light; his tones are so intense that they seem to sing. I was so anxious to work with him that during the photo shoot I didn’t notice that the fox claws were shredding my legs; it wasn’t until the next day that I realized my thighs were scratched and bleeding from the little fox paws.

At this point there have been hundreds of costumes and dramatic events—I wish there was time to go into each of them at length, but events are not meant to last. I owe a great deal to photographers Jason Hughes, Marcelles Murdock, and Lauren Marquardt who have helped document the making. Making is the best part of any art; it brings people together—it is an organic magic. The puppets used for the Pasadena LitFest were a joint effort of Brandon, Natasha, and me; we stayed up late talking and carving. Brandon is an amazing craftsman and Natasha is an intuitive designer. It was fun to perform with the puppets, but the real benefit of this collaboration was spending time with these two friends. Making helps me form relationships and forge meaning in my life. The artistic products (I feel) are just an invitation to join in the making.

For example, I was delighted this summer (dear Nancy) by our writing group, who accepted the invitation to make and foraged for feather. We made a dress out of Ireland. I feel like the feathers gave us permission to touch the landscape in a way we wouldn’t have otherwise. We are so lucky to be makers.

Of all of the poems you’ve written, what is one of your favorites? 

ND: My favorite poem is always the one I’m writing; once the writing is over, the poem doesn’t belong to me anymore.

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

ND: It is difficult to write a book, twice as difficult to publish a book, and infinitely more difficult to gain readership. On the surface poetry isn’t very practical—there is less than no money in it (I’ve hocked all my jewelry and skipped many meals to afford poetry)—however, there are treasures in this pursuit that exceed the monetary. I feel that this difficult process has shown me the best of people. My teachers and editors have shocked me with their grace and loyalty. I’ve watched my publishers risk everything to sponsor a book; seeing their dedication to art (or rather, their efforts to extend the world of ideas and imagination) is humbling to say the least. Also, after going through the “publication” process, I have cultivated a great appreciation for readers.

As a first time author I wrote a book to create a gift—a tangible item that could be handed to another person. When I was younger I privileged the giver, but now I recognize that the receiver carries the bulk of this intimate exchange. It is the intangible actions (such as engagement and acceptance) that sustain us. I now recognize that time spent with a piece of art costs a portion of a person’s life; I’ve learned (maybe the hard way) that I will never write a book worthy of a person’s time—but I can try, I will try, and hope that the effort bleeds through the pages—I try to create art that fights to meet readers half way.

With your two forthcoming books, you will have had four published in the span of five years. You’re prolific, not to mention hard-working. It takes sustained effort to write, prepare, and promote a book of poetry. Do you have any favorite tactics for promotion? What have you learned from your first two books to help with your next two?

ND: I have found that the same attributes that move a person forward also hold them back; a writer has to work with and against themselves when creating their writing life. For example, I’m a very creative person (I can see the possibilities clearly), but this also means that I have a hard time recognizing my limitations. I have to tell myself no sometimes. Most of the time I rebel against the idea of no. This leads me to do more, which is great; this can also lead me toward total collapse, which is very bad. Because of that quality, I’ve had to learn how to listen to myself and others. In this way, my strengths move me forward as my weaknesses teach me.

I recommend that a writer identify key attributes—the things that make them who they are—and use these characteristics to carve out a writing life that reflects them. My toolbox includes: shamelessness, shyness, awkwardness, and pride. (Not the best tools, but they’re what I’ve got, so I have to make them work.)

I’m shameless when it comes to who and what I love; I love poetry, so I’m willing to try just about anything for it. I’m also shy by nature, so if what I’m doing doesn’t feel dangerous, I know I’m not risking enough. This devotion to risk has guided me past my comfort zones; risk also involves a lot failure, or rather, many awkward moments. I’m trying to embrace the awkward by putting myself out there—I allow myself to experience rejection and acceptance. Getting out there includes asking for publication, asking for readings, asking bookstores to carry books, asking for reviews—asking, asking, asking. I’m a proud person, so asking for anything makes me nauseous—but I have that shameless thing to help me deal with the awkwardness of puking.

I also highly recommend forming a writing community. I have my five; they keep me going—they keep me honest. I keep my core writing family near me: I would be lost without them.

As an editor at The Los Angeles Review and Connotation Press, what would you tell hopeful poets looking to find homes for their work?

ND: Every editor is different, so if you receive a rejection from one publication try another.

What I look for in writing is something that surprises me. Often I’ll read a submission that sounds exactly like the twelve I rejected before it. These can be well-wrought pieces; they just lack a mark of uniqueness. The same way that I’m drawn to brush strokes in a painting or thumbprints in ceramics, I like to see an intrinsic quality in a piece of writing.

If I’m still thinking about a submission an hour after reading it, I feel that writing has done its job and will be accepted for publication.

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

ND: I’m currently obsessed with Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty; I love this book. Right now, I have Natasha Saje’s new collection, Vivarium, sitting next to me. I also have, no exaggeration, 100 poetry collections stacked in alphabetical order at my bedside; my goal is to read a book a day—sort of a read-a-thon. (I’ll let you know if I finish this race.)

My favorite poets are Stephen Crane and John Keats (I don’t think that will ever change.) Of course Anne Sexton, Anne Carson, Claudia Rankine, and C.D. Wright are my guiding lights.

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

ND: I was 7; I was annoying my grandmother. She handed me a book by John Keats and said not to bother her until I knew what it was about. I’m still trying to figure that book out.

There have been many mentors. Natasha Saje, Alma McKertich, Charles Hood, Kate Gale, Mark Cull, my instructors at UCR—these are the few who were willing to put up with me. They have been good to me in ways that surpassed my expectations of kindness.

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

ND: I usually write a book with one person in mind. With my latest project, I’m writing for one but editing with a larger audience in mind. I would like to write a book that shows its bones—a book that anyone who is willing can access.

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

ND: Forming a manuscript is like carving a sphere—you can tell it’s off because it wobbles in motion. I can recognize when a work needs revision, but I get lost in the muck of it. I get too close, too focused on the material to see what the overall manuscript needs. I require smart and honest readers to make a book. I have a handful of readers. Kate Gale and Mark Cull will give me no-holds advice. My dearest reader is Adam Smith; he’s brutally honest and wildly funny. Adam helps me laugh through my shortcomings. He is nothing short of a brilliant editor. Readers and editors are not recognized enough for their contributions to a book.

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

ND: I try my best to be as many places as possible, but really I’m a southwestern kind of gal. The desert never washes off.

Are you working on a fifth poetry book? When you and I were recently in workshop together, you were working on fiction. How is that project coming along? Could you tell us a little about it?

ND: I’m playing with three poetry projects; I’ve been obsessing over maps, taxidermy, and Caliban. I also hope to finish the Ghost Republic project this year, which involves 20 poets, a photographer, and a concept album by the Willard Grant Conspiracy: we’ve recreated the ghost town of Bodie through art. (I have to finish this project or this project will finish me.)

I’m working on an experimental memoir / graphic novel that will revolve around the concept of social noise. Noise is all the static found in poverty, racism, sexism, and inequities. Noise is the invisible weight that keeps people down. I’m really excited about this because I’ll get to collaborate with Cheryl again. (I love working with Cheryl.)

The fiction project you referred to, currently titled After the Rats, is the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do. Long form is so foreign to me, but I love it. The plot is basic: boy meets girl, they fall in love, its all fucked up and crazy, but so is life. After the Rats is a man’s search for meaning in the wake of a horrible catastrophe. Loosely based on the legend of the Pied Pier, this is a love story that happens in the graveyards of dead rats and the empty rooms of missing children. It’s trying to reconcile moments of happiness that are found in the wake of a tragedy. I have a feeling that if I can pull this book off, I’ll believe in a joyful form of love again. I want to believe again.

Is there anything you like to share about any of your books or say about poetry or writing in general?

ND: In general I feel it is important for us to be mindful that we are more than an individual artist, we are a community. To keep this community going—to keep books in the world—we have to be supportive of each other. We also have to allow for mistakes and conflict. Art doesn’t make us human; it challenges us to act humanely. This is always difficult but important work. Art is the place where we are allowed to fail at failing better. There is no winning or success in this space, only a chance for growth.

Finally, what advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

ND: My dad is an artist; he gave me three important pieces of advice:
  1. Dirt and gravity can only be pushed so far. You have to push past these limits for it to be art. If you chance the miracle and the pot survives the fire--that's art.
  2. Some people are born to play the love and understand Jazz. Just because your music (poetry) isn't what everyone likes doesn't mean you can't play. Be nice to yourself.
  3. Call when you can; those who love you, miss you.

Nicelle’s website:

A sampling of Nicelle’s poems on-line: