Sunday, July 26, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Kerri French Discusses Instruments of Summer

Instruments of Summer

Author: Kerri French

Publisher: Dancing Girl Press

Publication date: 2013

Amy Winehouse’s Husband Sends Letter from Jail by Kerri French

Yeah, I meant what I said that night on the boardwalk:
love, or something like it. Amy, these promises move too fast.
In the arcades, teenagers contort their bodies, their tongues

surging like fireworks pressing into each other.
Wasn’t that us once—the wet hair, the warm mouths?
I could tell you a story about this woman who swam naked

in the water and then told me to get lost. Her body,
some instrument of summer. What is she to me, or you?
We’ve lost the darkness that kept our movements hidden,

but honey so what? Let’s find a spot on the beach
where no one can see us. Let’s strip off our clothes
like we’re the things on fire. Let’s think of cities colder

than our own, rain that doesn’t sizzle when it falls to pavement.
Here, beneath the whistles and sirens, I find a picture
of you in the sand: shirtless and exact, thighs stretching across

the blanket, lips moving in moans to the rhythm
of my hands—touching you like we were speaking, saying oh
baby, yes, yes, yes, please, don’t hate me when I go.

(Originally published in [PANK])

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Kerri French’s poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Mid-American Review, storySouth, DIAGRAM, Waccamaw, Lumina, Best New Poets, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, among others. A recipient of the Larry Franklin and Mei Kwong Fellowship from the Writers’ Room of Boston, she holds degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Boston University. A North Carolina native, she has lived in Georgia, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and England. Instruments of Summer, her chapbook of poems about Amy Winehouse, is available from Dancing Girl Press. She lives and writes in Murfreesboro, TN.



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

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

KF: Instruments of Summer is a collection of persona poetry exploring Amy Winehouse’s life. Written in the voice of Amy and those who knew her, the poems are inspired by tabloid headlines, with each persona attempting to retell those headlines in their own words.

NCL: How did you arrive at the title?

KF: The title came from a line in the poem “Amy Winehouse’s Husband Sends Letter from Jail,” which originally was not supposed to be a landmark poem in the manuscript, but as time went on, I noticed I was always writing these poems or revising the manuscript over the summer months when I was living in flats without a/c. For me, many of the poems in the chapbook seemed to represent the urgency of summer, the grittiness, the desperation…I loved the idea of the poems serving as instruments that attempt to capture this.

NCL: What drew you to Amy Winehouse and her life?

KF: I wrote the first few poems in 2007 just after seeing Amy play live in Boston. My roommate and I were huge fans and she became a bit of an obsession for me that year. The poems started off as a bit of a joke with friends one night when we were reading articles about her—the portraits those headlines painted were such a stark contrast to the singer we had seen live just a few months before. I said I wanted to write an acrostic persona poem based on one recent headline that claimed Amy had been diagnosed with impetigo, and I ended up writing it very quickly on my lunch break the next day. That poem spelled out impetigo down the page, and I decided to write a few more acrostic poems using more headlines. I had always intended to stop after writing just a handful, but at some point writing these really opened up something in my writing that I hadn’t previously tapped into, and I soon stopped writing the acrostic poems and just continued to write in Amy’s voice. I’m always quick to point out that even though these poems started from a place of humor, I wrote them as a way of playing against the headlines, as a way of exploring the real person beneath the media’s jokes. At the time, the media turned so quickly on her—she went from being praised as one of the best voices of her generation to ridiculed and scrutinized across every aspect of her personal life. I was so drawn to this voice I imagined was there behind all of these headlines, and as time went on, I kept envisioning a recovery, a happy ending, the great comeback story. I wanted to keep telling her story until we reached that place, which is probably why the manuscript took me so long to complete…

NCL: How did the poems, or the writing of the poems, written before her death differ from those you wrote after her death?

KF: All of the poems were actually written before her death, but I did reshape the manuscript after her death. I mostly reordered the poems to tell a slightly different story, ending with a poem in Amy’s mother’s voice rather than her own. The order that the poems were placed became a lot more important after her death. I also went back and took a closer look at line edits and played with the tone of the manuscript so that there was less humor and more sadness, more desperation.

NCL: Why did you decide to write a series of persona poems, e.g., speaking in Amy’s voice, in her ex-husband’s voice, in her mother’s voice? In a March 2015 Girls Write Now post “Challenges & Rewards In Persona Poetry: A Mentee-Mentor Perspective,” Katie Zanecchia writes:
At its core, persona poetry forces poets to better identify themselves in order to take on another’s perspective. After all, how do you become someone else without defining who you are, in addition to who they are? While poets construct poems from the view of their chosen characters, the resulting poetry is their own. Whether through use of vocabulary, syntax, or punctuation, poets shape others’ voices into wholly unique works of art. Therefore, persona poetry says as much about the poet as it does her subject. The way that personas are presented on paper provides great insight into poets’ sense of self.
Did you find the above true for you?

KF: Absolutely! Writing these persona poems really helped me gain a better sense of who I was as a writer, and the type of poetry I write today is still largely influenced by these poems. I think writing persona poems allowed me the distance I needed to try new things in my poetry, in terms of both content and style. I also think the poems provided an outlet for me to emotionally purge a lot of things that I was experiencing personally—I had just moved from Boston to England, was newly married, and had to navigate a healthcare system I wasn’t familiar with during an incredibly difficult pregnancy where I was diagnosed with a liver condition that increased my risk for stillbirth and required me to be in the hospital 3 or 4 times a week. I wasn’t ready to confront any of this in my writing, but the persona poems allowed me to express all of the fear, desperation, guilt, and grief that I was experiencing in a way that felt safe. The emotions in many of the poems very much feel like my own.

NCL: Have you given a reading of the poems in which Amy Winehouse is the speaker, and if so, what has been the response?

KF:I found the response changed as the poems were developed and especially after Amy’s death. The readings I did in 2008 when there were just a handful in existence were much more light-hearted and the audience found humor in them—especially American audiences. By the time I was living in England, the poems had taken a more serious tone. The last reading I did was around the corner from her flat in London at a bar she used to frequent. It was about six months after her death and I felt it brought out a sadness to the poems that hadn’t always been present during past readings.

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?

KF: For me, the poem that really steered this from just a fun series of persona poems to something larger was the poem “Amy Winehouse Admits to Self-Harming from Age Nine.” That poem gave me a way into the persona that wasn’t just relying on humor or trying to be clever. It was a gut-wrenching one to write—even though it was inspired by an actual headline, it was definitely one that I took a lot of liberty with, but to me, it is one of the most real poems in the chapbook. It marked the turning point where I knew I wanted to keep going with these poems and expand the series to chapbook length.

Amy Winehouse Admits to Self-Harming from Age Nine

It was like drawing a map to every room
in the body, the bitter halves of fruit
seared across the stove. It was schooldays,
bathroom stalls, the back garden under rain.
It was the way he touched me, every stone
unstacked. Oh, the world must have seen
the initials we laid, must have heard
the steps of our names. I was a cat scratching
at the window. I was the tree’s branch
breaking my fall. I was the way I wanted
to be touched. I traced my hand in chalk.
I cut paper hearts with scissors. I bled.
I bruised. I was the stem of constellations,
a pattern of snowflakes buried between each page.
It was green water calling, the scars
swimming beneath my veins. My back
swore my secrets. Doctors sewed my skin.
I threw bottles against the wall and named
each piece of fallen glass. I followed
the clouds for cover, circled words
splayed like stars across my stomach.
I was a portrait writhing, a fence
crashing, cracked edges in the porcelain.
Even then, I saw my body as a maze.
Lines gave directions. My arms told my age.

(Originally published in Sou’wester, Fall 2010)

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)?

KF: A chapbook seemed to be the appropriate choice for these poems for a lot of reasons. I didn’t feel I could really sustain this series over a full-length manuscript, and at the time, these poems were so different from others I was writing that to be a section in a full-length manuscript didn’t feel right. The entire chapbook took many years to come together, though I had some very long pauses while working on it. The first handful were written in 2007 when I was living in Boston as a fun project during the height of Amy’s fame and it wasn’t until around 2009-2010 when I was living in England that I began to focus on developing the project further. I had actually completed the chapbook the summer before her death but reached for it once again after the news broke and reworked the chapbook into what it is now. I very much wanted to get it out into the world sooner rather than later at that point, and I felt the poems needed to exist on their own together, so the chapbook format seemed to fit perfectly.

NCL: The majority of the poems are persona poems, primarily in the voice of Amy Winehouse. What are some of the other themes, metaphors, and other elements of craft that you used to unify your chapbook?

KF: I based each poem’s title on a tabloid headline in an attempt to unify everything. I also tried to think about the voice of each persona in the chapbook and how what they sounded like would shape who they were. The voices of Amy’s husband and mother are more conversational whereas Amy’s voice is more lyrical and plays with language in more interesting ways. I also used many of the same images throughout the poems—cities, summer, fire, etc.—in an attempt to connect the poems to each other.

NCL: What are you working on now?

KF: I’m currently working on a chapbook manuscript based on the health complications I developed while pregnant that increased the risk for stillbirth during both of my pregnancies. The poems all work to confront the very real feelings of grief women experience when told their baby may not be delivered alive. My condition presented very early on, so there were many months of worry that played such tricks on my mind, and I tried to capture this throughout the manuscript.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Rachel Trousdale Discusses Antiphonal Fugue for Marx Brothers, Elephant, and Slide Trombone

Antiphonal Fugue for Marx Brothers, Elephant, and Slide Trombone

Author: Rachel Trousdale

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

Publication date: Sep 2015 (available for pr-order prior to publication)

Young Peggy Plays Taps by Rachel Trousdale
South Dakota, 1967

She is sixteen. She’s waiting for her cue
to take her trumpet, leave the heated car
and walk out to the grave. She has to do

this often, skip a high school class or two
and play for someone. It’s not very far,
and she’s sixteen. She’s waiting for her cue

behind the snow drifts round the lot, the blue
Dakota winter afternoon. They are
familiar: they do what the families do,

they stand beside the cut earth like a queue
for bread or for a bus. The minister
will lift a hand, and out she’ll come, on cue,

and play him down, the drop six feet into
the end of snow and trumpeting and war.
That’s all she does, and all she’s asked to do.

It’s always someone that she almost knew,
and she is worried by and fearful for.
She is sixteen. She’s waiting for her cue
and for a better thing that she can do.

(Originally published in Literary Imagination)

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Rachel Trousdale is an assistant professor of English at Framingham State University in Framingham, MA. Her poems have appeared in Literary Imagination, the Atlanta Review, Rhino, and DIAGRAM, among other places. Her book Nabokov, Rushdie, and the Transnational Imagination was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2010, and she is now working on a project on humor in modern poetry. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University.

Author website



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

NCL: Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook Antiphonal Fugue for Marx Brothers, Elephant, and Slide Trombone.

RT: It’s a playful little book, containing a poem spoken by a guy building a pyramid in his back yard, a comparison of migraine headaches to yetis, and a joke about bananas. And it’s also about art and death and family and the meaning of life. More specifically, one of the things Antiphonal Fugue deals with is how our work shapes and reflects (or fails to shape and reflect) who we are. This theme shows up in three longish poems that constitute about half of the book: "Isabel and Jimenez," about the unification of Castile and Aragon and the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain; "Night Shift, Summer, 1994," spoken by four employees working late at a McDonald's; and "The Pyramid," about a man building a pyramid in his suburban back yard. All three poems are, in various ways, about how different kinds of work demand that we balance the practical, physical demands of life with our ideals—and how that balance can tip horribly in one direction or another, depending on the constraints we’re up against and what exactly our ideals are.

NCL: How did you arrive at the title?

RT: I woke up from a nap one afternoon with the title in my mind and an intense desire to write a poem to go with it. That isn’t something that happens often; I like dream-poems but don’t usually write them. When I was assembling the chapbook, I realized that the poem I had written under that impetus combined all of the things I wanted to place in dialogue in the manuscript: order and authority on one side (in this case, the dignified character played in the Marx Brothers’ films by Margaret Dumont), and humor and creative chaos on the other (the Marx Brothers themselves). However satisfying it is to mock Margaret Dumont, meaningful work (which here I guess means Duck Soup) draws on both sides. That dialogue is especially important for artistic work, which needs to make something really new and to grapple with other, older art, but I think the problem is relevant for most ambitious projects.

NCL: The subject of work and its hand in shaping identity factors into some of your poems in the book. In the introduction of You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929-41, an anthology of poems written by workers and published in union newspapers during the Great Depression, John Marshal writes:
As the contemporary economist Michael Zweig puts it, “To exercise power, you need to know who you are. You also need to know who the adversary is…” (74). If they did nothing else, then, these poems reminded people who they were and who their adversaries were…” (19)
And in an interview with poet Philip Levine (Fresh Air, NPR, rebroadcast on 2/20/2015), one gets the sense that his earlier work as a manual laborer, with its adversarial relationship with “management”—those in power pitted against the laborer, heavily influenced the shaping of his identity. In your poems, what role does an adversary or antagonist play with respect to shaping identity? Is there a group or person or circumstance against which the speaker rails, some power structure that needs to be overcome? or perhaps something along the lines of shaping an identity, not on what one wants to be, but what one does not want to be? How are some of the ways that work “shapes and reflects (or fails to shape and reflect) who we are” in your chapbook?

RT: In “Night Shift,” the McDonald’s poem, work provides one of the central tensions in the poem: the speakers one way or another all discuss the difference between the low-paying, unrewarding work that they are doing (purveying burgers at fifty cents an hour above minimum wage) and the meaningful work they would like to be doing instead (making music, raising their children, learning). There’s definitely an antagonist in that poem, but how you define it (management? poverty? capitalism?) may depend on your politics. The disjunction between paid and chosen work, which is particularly jarring for these speakers, helps define who they can be, not just because spending eight hours a day at a fast food restaurant constrains how you use your time but because it also shapes your body, your relationships, and how you view human nature.

In “Night Shift,” most of the speakers don’t get to do their real work. In “The Pyramid,” the speaker goes too far in the other direction, becoming obsessed with his artistic project. He thinks it’s going to secure him a kind of immortality and a connection to other people, but if that’s what he wants, he’s probably going about it wrong. Once again, there might be different accounts of who the antagonist is here. Death? Or the speaker himself?

“Isabella and Jimenez” is about a much higher-level choice: what kind of ideal we serve in our chosen (rather than our necessary) work. Isabella wants a unified Christian Spain. The poem examines the weird combination of cynicism and idealism it takes to do her work—i.e., launching the Spanish Inquisition. Here the sides are clear: it’s Isabella versus the Jews, the Moors, and (implicitly, since the poem doesn’t address them directly but is mostly set in the year 1492) the Native Americans. Which party counts as the antagonist depends on who you are; in the poem I’m interested in examining what she was thinking and how her actions have echoed in Spain ever since.

In all of those cases, how an individual balances the interplay between chosen and necessary work shows us as much about them as what their chosen work actually is.

NCL: In addition to the motif of work, what are some of the other themes, metaphors, and elements of craft that you used to unify your chapbook?

RT: Craft: I’ve been playing with concrete poetry—kind of a reaction to my early training, which was heavy on traditional form. Though I haven’t walked away from form, either; one of my favorite poems in the book is a villanelle. Themes: Closely related to the theme of work is an examination of consequences--cause and effect--on the large and small scale, like Isabella’s effect on Spain. I’ve also got an alien anthropologist deducing all of human history from the first cave painting and a damaged girl’s life as a Rube Goldberg mousetrap unwittingly set up by the people around her.

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?

RT: “Old Joke,” the penultimate poem in the chapbook, is important to me. It’s built out of a joke my grandfather told us shortly before he died. The idea of using that joke’s setup and punch line as the outer layers of a poem sandwich came to me quite abruptly, and when I sat down to write it I was shocked to find how much filling the sandwich had. The process of editing the poem, which I did with the help of Terrance Hayes’ workshop at Bread Loaf in the summer of 2013, was very much one of removing extraneous material. Here’s the poem:

Old Joke

An old man goes to his doctor and says,
Doctor, how long have I got?
            (This joke is to be told in a descending intonation,
            with echoes behind the voice of the man behind the fish counter
            calling number ninety two, and Mrs. Silber requesting         
            a nice piece of whitefish, and the whirr
            of the coffee grinders, and if it were
            possible for a voice to contain a smell it would have the tinny
            smell of refrigeration holding in check
            the thousands of dollars of imported cheese;
            this joke contains gold-wrapped three-pound bars of chocolate
            and apricot jam from Turkey and rye bread which can be sliced or left whole;
            when it’s done being told, this joke will be getting on the crosstown bus
            and riding with big plastic bags lined with paper bags
            through the park on 79th Street to the east side
            where the old women wear white sneakers
            beneath their long mink coats;
            this joke will walk four blocks north from the bus stop
            through the sliding glass doors, nodding to the doorman
            whom it tips well at Christmas, past the big vase of flowers in the lobby,
            up to the apartment it’s lived in for twenty-seven years,
            alone for the last eight, where it will wrap
            cheese and halvah and chocolate and a flat
            of smoked salmon in yesterday’s Times
            to overnight to a girl in college reading too seriously
            and not cleaning her room and from the look of her starving)
And the doctor says, well, I’m not saying you’re going to die,
but don’t buy any green bananas.

(originally published at Two Serious Ladies)

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

RT: When I read poems, I want play and precision and payoff. I’m writing for people who share my priorities. So maybe I imagine myself, but a self who didn’t write the poem and wants to discover something interesting in it. Perhaps that’s why the “I” of my poems is rarely me, or is me only in passing—I couldn’t write to myself about myself and think I was getting somewhere novel.

NCL: I read your essay “Humor Saves Steps: Laughter and Humanity in Marianne Moore” and the poems you link to on your website, some of which have a delightful humor to them. Can you speak a little about the role of humor in your poems? What has been your experience in publishing those poems?

RT: Thank you for reading! I think humor is one of our most complex emotional registers, and one of our most deep-seated. One of the first things a baby learns—long before language, before even sitting up—is to laugh. Humor is really fundamental to what makes us people. And our senses of humor, like our work, shape our understanding of the world. Is it a hostile place where we laugh at other people’s failings? or do we laugh out of glee, or surprise, or fellow-feeling? and what happens when those provocations to laughter are combined? Perhaps most importantly, humor is a wonderful way to discover new ideas and strange juxtapositions, which makes it particularly fruitful for poetry.

I’ve enjoyed looking for places to publish those poems. While I’ve placed some light verse in venues like Light, my more humorous work seems to do best with journals that publish experimental writing. I like that, because it suits my theory of humor, namely that it’s a way to be innovative, to get new places.

NCL: What are you working on now?

RT: Lots of things! I’m writing a critical book on humor in modern poetry. The Moore article is one chapter of it; other chapters are on T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Sterling Brown, Elizabeth Bishop, and a big round-up of contemporary poets. I’m also editing a collection of essays on the same topic. I’ve got a book-length poetry manuscript, which is about the ways that our minds and bodies shape each other. (One of the poems in the chapbook, “Five-Paragraph Essay on the Body-Mind Problem,” provides that book’s title.) I’m always writing reviews. My husband and I recently had a baby, so I’m also working on finding ways to write while we care for him—and on making him laugh, of course!

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.

*   *   *   *   *

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:

*   *   *   *   *

[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 Forché 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: