Monday, September 16, 2019

Manuscript Selected as Contest Winner

I'm over the moon that my manuscript Wider than the Sky was one of the manuscripts selected by Diode Editions in their annual contest! An excerpt from it was selected as the winner of the 2019 Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award. The manuscript’s title is from Emily Dickinson’s poem “The Brain—is wider than the Sky—For—put them side by side.” The manuscript itself explores memory and its role in identity, how the physiology of the brain impacts who we are, the role of the senses in the formation of memories, how the human brain is wired for story, and how who we are—both individually and as a society—is, in one sense, a narrative.

It's an honor to be part of the Diode Editions family. Congratulations to the other winners! You can read the entire announcement here:

Monday, April 1, 2019

Interview with Poet Robert Walicki

The first time your body broke was to sound.
- from "B-Boy Meets Future Self" by Robert Walicki

Robert Walicki’s work has appeared in over 40 publications including Fourth River, Stone Highway Review, Red River Review, and others. He is the author of Black Angels (Six Gallery Press, 2019), and two chapbooks: A Room Full of Trees (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and The Almost Sound of Snow Falling (Night Ballet Press, 2015), which was nominated to the 2016 Poet’s House List of Books in NYC.

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Robert Walicki and I have been acquainted for several years. I wrote a blurb for his chapbook The Almost Sound of Snow Falling and had the wonderful pleasure of reading with him and Angele Ellis at City of Asylum in Pittsburgh. It was a delight interview him about poetry and his debut book Black Angels.

Praise for Black Angels
In Black Angels, Robert Walicki says, " will want to break you, / like they've been broken." These poems jackhammer us with compassion, asking over and over: What does it mean to be a man? The haunted details shift from the scarecrow to the dying fish, from Bowie to Prince, as the voice professes its burning love: "I caught a fish but didn't / want blood." ~Jan Beatty, author of Jackknife

Still Falling by Robert Walicki
(a poem from Black Angels)

like the air from a door when it's closing
                                                        strip of light revealing keys
on a table, crayons, finger paints, glitter on the floor
                                                      like air in the restaurant between us
I was talking about your children,
                                                    this strip of life this sudden whatever
like the air  this sudden door
                                                  you kept talking
like the rain
                                                  from a summer when rice hit your dress
against the door of your car as they drove you
                                                away like a door closing
into air before your children came
                                                like rain changing over
this sudden whatever
                                                I kept talking about children
this weather of you
* * *

Congratulations on the publication of your debut book Black Angels! Please tell us a bit about it. How did you decide on the title?

RW: Thanks! Well, Black Angels is the title of one of the poems in this collection that I think best represents what this book is about. At it's heart, "Black Angels" is about blue collar life and survival. Other poems move outside the identity of the speaker, and aim to represent the working class experience as a whole. There's something pure and transformative about these hard experiences and the characters that live in this imperfect world. These are the "Black Angels".

In a 2012 Poetry Society of America series called Poets on Politics, Fady Joudah writes: “The political in poetry is always born out of the incessant assault [that] systems of power and knowledge impose on the individual spirit, on ways of seeing, and on speaking truth to power.” How do you define political poetry? I was wondering, since one of the themes in Black Angels is shining a light on, and interrogating, the circumstances of the working class, do you consider your poetry political?

RW: I don't like to use the word "political" as I find it limiting, but when we write about the human condition, our work inherently becomes political. It has always been important to me to only write from personal experience first and foremost. The poems need to have an authenticity to them, and this is usually the barometer from which I start from. I usually don't intend to write a "political" poem, or a poem that has a direct agenda from that perspective. It's usually a byproduct of the poem's subject. That said, working conditions is a subject that I'm very passionate about. I've seen many individuals whose lives and health were gravely compromised, or even killed, as a result of dangerous working conditions brought on by the abuse, apathy and the greed of individual in positions of power over them. Most of the time, I want to simply take a snapshot of these experiences and invite the reader into the conversation. There are times however, when we are charged with taking a stand in this life, and poems like "Writing Political Poems at the Squirrel Hill Cafe" are a good example of the responsibility we have as poets and writers to speak about the climate of injustice, intolerance and hate we currently live in.

Poet Philip Levine was known for writing about the working class and had been called “Voice of the Workingman” (New York Times, 8/9/2011.) In the Poetry Foundation’s entry for Levine, they write that “Levine’s poetry for and about the common man is distinguished by simple diction and a rhythmic narrative style” and offer an argument by author Charles Molesworth “that Levine’s work reflects a mistrust of language; rather than compressing multiple meanings into individual words and phrases as in traditionally conceived poetry, Levine’s simple narratives work to reflect the concrete and matter-of-fact speech patterns of working people.” Do you find the same thing in your own work? How did you navigate between the two impulses of lyric and narrative? 

RW: Absolutely, language for me, falls into that category of authenticity. If these experiences are to be at all believable, they have to reflect the grit and the concrete details in the narratives. This is a very tactile world I'm writing about. It's not an academic or conceptual world. It's a mindset that's ruled by what is experienced by the senses. There may be a misconception however, that there's not a lot of subtlety in this type of writing, but there's always another layer to the onion in a lot of these poems. There's always more going on there for me, than what is on the surface. That's not to say that there isn't a lyrical component to the poems. Sometimes it's present more in some poems than it is in others. It really depends on the poem, and I try to get out of the way when writing and let the poem lead me.

Balance  though, between the lyrical and the narrative, is still very important. I can usually tell when I start writing a poem where that balance will strike. There has to be some music in every poem, but the music can be rough edged. It doesn't have to have an obvious beauty to it. In fact, I prefer that it doesn't. I often fight against the urge to be lyrical. I want the tension and the struggle between the narrative and the lyrical to be there. I think it gives the poems energy and keeps them from being one dimensional. Most importantly, I want the poem to feel as if it's been lived. Everything else is secondary.

You worked full-time while writing Black Angels. How do you make time for your writing?

RW: It's a juggling act. I go through long periods where I write copiously and other periods when I'm fallow.Lately, I've been trying to work on a regimen where i'm writing at least twice a week, but even that doesn't always work out. I've learned to not be so hard on myself though. Even the times when we aren't writing, we actually are. We're constantly absorbing experiences that come out in our writing eventually.

What is one of the more crucial poems in the book for you? Why is it important to you? How did it come to be?

RW: The poem, "Black Angel" is definitely one of the most crucial poems in this collection, but I think I'd like to include the poem, "Real Men", as it not only encapsulates those construction themed work poems that are the heart of this book, this poem bridges the gap between family, identity,and how the memories of our past shape who we are now. Here is the poem:

Real Men

Say it loud in a huff.
Shoot off their mouths and heavy guns,
drag bloody deer, leave their hearts on the ground.

Real men roll their sleeves up,
a handful of chips, edge of a mouth,
dripping with sauce, give you shit.

Real men screw tool boxes down to floors,
put rocks in your hubcaps, lock you in porta johns, tip them over,

Real men call you sissy and bitch,
quick as a fist bump, a punch in the gut at break
Say, I thought you’ve done this before?
Water break, gas leak, jack hammer between your balls

in some grandma’s basement. Say this breaking is necessary—
flaking concrete, ears and shoulder, burning.
So, when the ground opens, grab a shovel

and get down on your knees, keep moving as if this is your religion,
your hands, the cuts and blood,
the men standing above you in hard hats, laughing.
Every man you’ve ever met resembles the father you couldn’t know.

The father, heavy, as the shadows that fall over you,
6 feet of leaning earth, this ditch line, crumbling
into the shape of a body, your body, learning.

In publishing Black Angels, were there things you thought would happen, yet didn’t? unexpected things that did happen?

RW: Well, after publishing two chapbooks, I thought it would be a much smoother road, publishing this one, but that really wasn't the case. I knew I had something special with this book, and I can't thank Nathan Kukulski enough, from Six Gallery Press enough for believing in this manuscript and bringing this out into the world. He did a beautiful job! I'd also like to give a shout out to the amazingly talented poet and photographer, Rebecca Clever who did a phenomenal job with the cover, and last but certainly not least, I especially wanted to thank my poet friend Rick St. John for reading this manuscript and offering his insightful and invaluable help in early drafts! I would say that was the most unexpected thing that happened. I can't express how grateful I was in having an incredibly gifted poet like Rick mentor me and guide me through the daunting experience of putting a book together.

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

RW: Many. My first big mentor was my high school English teacher who blew the top of my head off exposing me to 20th century poetry and literature. It was the moment I fell in love with the written word. I didn't know poetry could relate to me in such a personal way until she exposed me to writers and poets like Franz Kafka, T.S Eliot, Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf.

So which poets would you say have influenced you?

RW: This is always an evolving list, but the poets who have influenced me the most would have to be: Jan Beatty, Dorianne Laux, Ellen Bass, Marie Howe, and too many others to list! I would say that more than any other trait, these poets gave me permission to write frankly, and with restraint, about working class living with a kind of hard, edged beauty that I keep trying to aspire to.

When you write, do you imagine a reader?

RW: I didn't initially, but when I began presenting my work in front of people, I tried to imagine the kind of audience whom my work might resonate with. One memorable night comes to mind after a reading, when a heavy equipment operator, who was the husband of one of my co-readers, came up to me after the reading, really inspired and validated by my work poems. I felt like what I was doing mattered at that moment, that I was making a meaningful connection with someone who didn't write about the experience, he lived it.

Generally speaking, how do you approach revision?

RW: Several ways. It's usually a process. I ALWAYS compose on the computer. It's very helpful in seeing line breaks, assonance, consonance, lyricism. Oddly, I edit as I go, for the most part. I would venture to guess that most poets just write and "get it out" first, but for me, editing actually fuels my creativity. I also like to read drafts aloud alone. It helps me "hear" more of what may work and doesn't work. Where I'm being too wordy, or prosy.

What are you working on now?

RW: Actually, I just learned that my latest manuscript, "Fountain" was just accepted for publication at Main Street Rag, so I'm currently putting the finishing touches on that. I'm really excited about this book as well, but for different reasons. In the new collection, there's a bit more emphasis on language and lyricism. The grounded blue collar aesthetic is still there, but I'm trying to stretch the boundaries out, see where they take me.

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

RW: Read, read, read, not only work you enjoy, but work that challenges you and that you aren't naturally drawn to. Some of the most inspiring poems that have really stirred my imagination have been from poets whose work I wasn't initially interested in. If I had any other advice to give, I'd say that other than continuing to write, the most important practice one can have is to join workshops and to share your work with others. I've been fortunate to live in a community like Pittsburgh that not only is supportive, but offers a lot of opportunities for folks starting out in terms of free, peer led workshops for writers and poets of all levels. We aren't meant to do this in a vacuum. If I've grown at all as a poet, it's been because of the guidance, support and friendships of fellow poets I've shared my work with.

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Listen to Robert:
- on Electric Poetry
- on YouTube

Find Robert online:
- Twitter:
- Facebook:

All poems printed or quoted in this post © Robert Walicki Black Angels (Six Gallery Press, 2019)

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award

WOW, pinch me! I am honored and excited to have an excerpt of my second manuscript Wider Than the Sky selected as the winner of the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award. I am so grateful to Patricia Spears Jones for selecting the poems and for her kind words about them, and to the PSA for all they do to promote poetry. Only one other person so far has seen this second manuscript, and I've been doubt-riddled. Receiving the award is such good news. A sample poem from the manuscript is included here:

Friday, May 11, 2018

Gaudy Boy Poetry Book Prize

Gaudy Boy, a new independent press, is holding its inaugural Poetry Book Prize. The prize will be awarded annually for an unpublished manuscript of original poetry written in English by an author of Asian heritage residing anywhere in the world. No proof of Asian heritage will be required—they operate on the honor system. Below are details for the contest, as well a bit more about the press and the publisher.
PRIZE: Book publication and $1,000

DEADLINE: May 31, 2018

FEE: $10

ELIGIBILITY: Open to emerging and established poets of Asian heritage residing anywhere. No proof of Asian heritage is required. Manuscripts should be written in English and be between 50–100 pages.

HOW TO SUBMIT: Email Jee Leong Koh at Include a cover letter in the body of your email, as well as the poet's name, mail address, and email address. Attach manuscript in PDF or Microsoft Word format.

JUDGE: Wong May


  • Number the manuscript pages.
  • Include a title page, table of contents, and an acknowledgments page for any previously published poems.
  • The poet's name, mailing address, and email address should not appear anywhere in the manuscript. 
  • Submit the $10 entry fee via PayPal to Jee Leong Koh ( Manuscripts will not be considered until the entry fee is received.
  • Multiple manuscripts may be submitted and require a separate entry fee for each manuscript. 
  • Simultaneous submissions are allowed. Notify Gaudy Boy immediately if the manuscript is accepted by another publisher.

For more information about the book prize, visit the Gaudy Boy Poetry Prize section on the Opportunities page of their website.


Gaudy Boy is a new independent literary press based in New York City that publishes writers of Asian heritage residing anywhere in the world. Their name is taken from the poem “Gaudy Turnout” by Singaporean author Arthur Yap, about his time abroad in 1970's Leeds, UK. The name is also from Latin gaudium meaning joy.

One mission of the press is to bring literary works by authors of Asian heritage to the attention of the American audience. Last month, the press published its inaugural title Malay Sketches by Alfian Sa'at. Malay Sketches is a short-story collection that opens a prismatic window into the doubly-minoritized Malay-Muslim community in Singapore. Longlisted for the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, the book has been called "pitch-perfect" by Harold Augenbraum and "terse and profound" by Gina Apostol.

Gaudy Boy is part of the nonprofit literary organization Singapore Unbound. Launched in 2016, Singapore Unbound organizes the biennial Singapore Literature Festival in NYC, the monthly Second Saturday Reading Series, and offers other literary opportunities, including fellowships for writers and book reviews on their blog.

Jee Leong Koh is the founder and organizer of Singapore Unbound, as well as the publisher at Gaudy Boy. Koh is a Singapore poet and essayist living in New York City. He is the author of Steep Tea (Carcanet), named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times and a Finalist by Lambda Literary in 2016. He has published three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. His work has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, and Latvian. Educated at Oxford University and Sarah Lawrence College, Jee teaches English at a private school in Manhattan. You can read more about him in an interview he did with Jennifer Wong at The Adoit Journal.

One of the reasons Koh started Singapore Unbound was to build a cultural and literary exchange between Singapore and the US while championing freedom of expression and fair opportunities for all artists. A natural extension of that mission is the establishment of a US-based, independent press that publishes Asian voices from anywhere in the world. The team at Gaudy Boy consider diversity and representation to be crucial in the world's literature and are delighted to be able to contribute to the conversation.

Gaudy Boy plans to eventually publish poetry books other than the contest winner. In addition, they run a poetry contest for individual poems to be published on their blog. The contest awards $100, $50, and $20 for first, second, and third place. There is no entry fee. The individual-poem contest is called the Singapore Poetry Contest and, interestingly, is open to everyone who is NOT a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident in Singapore. For the Singapore Poetry Contest, Gaudy Boy is looking for poems that include the word “Singapore” (or its variants) in some creative manner. They prefer that the poems NOT be about Singapore, but instead, use the word “Singapore” in a way significant to the poems’ own subject and method. The deadline for that contest June 15, 2018. For more submission guidelines and more information on the Singapore Poetry Contest, visit the Singapore Poetry Contest section on the Opportunities page of their website.


Gaudy Boy

Singapore Unbound

Jee Leong Koh

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Chapbook Chat: mcmxciv by Nate Logan and JJ Rowan

For this edition of Chapbook Chat, in addition to an interview with the poets, I'm delighted to offer a micro-review of mcmxciv.

—Nancy Chen Long

*          *          *

by Nate Logan and JJ Rowan
Shirt Pocket Press, 2018


i’m having numeral anxiety to
which the internet is a bad
bandaid. the administration
claims i is in my toolbag but
they could just as easily buy
that info from aol. seven times
i’ve been a healthy scratch.
here’s something taped on
my skin to simulate healthcare.
here’s a good example of a
bad example. there’s where i
kicked the asphalt to tell you
my bucket list had a hole
in the bottom the size of a zero

“xxi,” © Nate Logan and JJ Rowan mcmxciv (Shirt Pocket Press, 2018)

mcmxciv is a collaborative chapbook of contemporary sonnets by Nate Logan and JJ Rowan. If the sonnet form is a box as some say, the sonnets in mcmxciv demonstrate that it’s a flexible one: The poems in Logan and Rowan’s sequence make use of the basic fourteen-line structure of the sonnet and most poems can be said to have a volta. However, the poets also freely play with meter and there is no standardized rhyme scheme. Most, but not all, follow sentence syntax and punctuation. Indeed, on the page, the sonnets in mcmxiv resemble a box—each poem is a single block of fourteen lines without any stanza breaks and all of the poems are in lower case.

As one who has a keen interest in math and numbers, I was delighted to find that numbers / numbering is prominently featured in mcmxiv. The title of the chapbook itself is a number, the Roman-numeral equivalent of 1994. [Aside: And some of the poems feel as if they take place in the year 1994, with the mention of AOL and answering machines. The first poem puts us there as well, “standing in line / at a ferris wheel in 1994.”] Returning to numbers: The titles of the poems are also Roman numerals, although they are not in numerical order and there are gaps in the numbers. For example, the collection begins with “x”, but there are no poems “i”  – “viii”. In some poems, numbers are directly named, such as the mention of the year in the first poem. In addition to actual numbers, things and activities related to numbers make their way into the poems, for example “try counting / to learn about failure. try numbering pages / to learn about sex” from the poem “xv.”

My favorite use of numbers is in the last two lines of the last poem “xxiii,” which begins with “entered your figure in the search / bar” and proceeds through various things that had been entered, which in itself is interesting, since, as the last poem, it is exiting. As the poem iterates through the various ways of entering, an error occurs (“invalid. error. error. entered / a column as a row. claimed entry.”) The last two lines of the poem come after that declaration of an error and consist of a series of binary numbers that translate into (computer) ASCII codes that in turn translate into letters that spell the word french. For me, ‘french’ here takes on multiple meanings. It suggests that the one and zeroes might as well be another language. Secondly, if the last two lines are the speaker replying to the computer in its native machine language, then the last two lines suggest that the speaker is swearing at computer, as in “pardon my French.” Or the last two lines could simply be a memory dump by the computer that gives the illusion of making sense by spelling a random, potentially human-recogizable word.

In mcmxciv, the authors create a world that hints at  hyperreality and technoculture, a world in which simulation and reality blur, but one that is at the same time intimate and personal. The theme of simulation and stand-ins can be seen in the first poem, “x.” There’s a building used for an activity that becomes a stand-in for the actual human activity (“the hockey rink that doubles as actual hockey”), a person-as-icon-or-cursor on a computer screen (“see you blinking on the page”), a phone call that does not occur, but if it had, the speaker knows s/he would not have been speaking to a person, but to a machine instead (“another hour / almost call to your answering machine.”) References to technology are peppered throughout these sonnets. For example, in addition to “internet,” “aol,” “answering machine,” “cell service,” and “search bar” already mentioned, in “xli,” the speaker demonstrates “bravery by tearing a pixel / wishbone from the night sky.” That simulated experience and technology pushes against the personal and conjures an impersonal, almost lonely space. Then we have those many numbers and acts of numbering and calculating that introduce even more distance to the personal. Amid this swirl of numbers and technology, the speaker says “i saw you across the / room / disembodied.” And I do experience the speaker as disembodied, existing in a seeming virtual, simulated world. However, even in the face of all of these numbers and all of this technology, the voice in the poems is intimate. The poems are like monologues or notes to a friend or lover, of a person sharing private thoughts, for example “unless you’re a fuck-up like me” (“xlviii”), “it’s june but i’m tired / of being brave” (“xxii”), “i try not to want or be” (“xxxvii.”)

In “To Sonnet, to Son-net, Tuscon Net,” Sina Queyras writes “It’s a challenge to make [the sonnet] lively, to not feel you’ve handed yourself over and let its history have its way with you: are you writing the sonnet, or is the sonnet writing you?” In mcmxciv, Logan and Rowan have not handed themselves over—they have made the form their own. Their sonnet sequence creates a fluid, asynchronous, stream-of-consciousness world that uses structure sparingly. Rigidly following form, syntax, and capitalization, as well as the use of numbers, are all ways of imposing structure and order. Logan and Rowan’s choices in applying the sonnet form, coupled with the lack of punctuation, the way they use fragmentation and numbers, all work towards releasing the need to be in total control, instead embracing fluidity and spontaneity, an appreciation for surprise. In this chapbook of fourteen fourteen-lined poems, Logan and Rowan create an intimate world through the voice of a disembodied speaker, a sense of logic and wholeness rooted in the unexpected. In one slender sequence, they share with us a world where you can feel the air “falling tenderly against / technology’s faux-romantic whir.”

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Nate Logan was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. He's the author of Inside the Golden Days of Missing You (Magic Helicopter Press, Fall 2018). He's editor and publisher of Spooky Girlfriend Press.

JJ Rowan is a poet and dancer living in Southern Oregon. Her previous chapbooks include so-called weather (Locofo Chaps, 2017) and the selected jesus (Shirt Pocket Press, 2015). Her VisPo recently appeared in Dream Pop Journal #2.

An Interview with Nate Logan and JJ Rowan

Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook mcmxciv.

Nate: mcmxciv (1994) is a collaborative chapbook of sonnets written over a distance of 2,000 miles. 

JJ: *Over* 2,000 miles! ;) The fine folks at Shirt Pocket Press recently published it.

How did you decide on the title. The poems are numeric numbers as well, and out of order. Could you say a bit about the poems titles?

N: JJ chose the title. I remember she specifically asked me how to write “1994” in Roman numerals. As far as the poem titles, it wasn’t clever at all. We started our collaboration by giving Roman numeral titles to the poems in the order we wrote them.

J: I remember having a lot of very minor Roman numeral anxiety. I could never quite get them right and asked Nate to check them a lot of the time. I am pretty sure our book is from 1994.

N: Haha. This is true, but it’s also funny because once we were in the 20s, I looked up the Roman numeral equivalent for every poem I had to start. I definitely didn’t know off the top of my head.

J: And I was weirdly stubborn about figuring them out off the top of my head. 

N: I was more worried about how I was going to follow JJ’s great lines when it was my turn with whichever poem we were working on.

I struggle with sonnets and admire that your wrote a chapbook of them. Are sonnets a form you normally write? If so, what draws you to it? If not, what did you like about writing them? What did you find difficult? Some writers insist a sonnet must follow the rules for a known type of sonnet, e.g. Shakespearean, others say it’s a sonnet if the poet says it is. To you, what makes a sonnet a sonnet?

N: I wouldn’t say I normally write sonnets, but right now I do usually write shorter poems. I think we chose to write sonnets because it was easier to devise a scheme on how we would be writing them together, as opposed to another form or having no form at all. What was particularly challenging and fun was to follow JJ’s lines in a way that kept the poems together. These aren’t really my poems, or hers. This is a third voice somewhere between us. And as far as what makes a sonnet, I say 14 lines. The rest can be played with.

J: I absolutely struggle with sonnets. I write long messy things -- I feel like sonnets are the opposite of that. Nate, the form was your idea, right?

N: I think maybe I suggested it first, yeah.

J: It ended up being a great scaffolding for collaboration. The definition we were working with was 14 lines and we mostly stayed within a certain shape. I expected, actually, to have trouble with the form but I ended up really comfortable in it. For me, I think writing them with Nate was key -- I’m not sure I’d write sonnets on my own.

One way that I experience these poems is as call-and-response pieces. What was your writing process for these poems?

J: Nate got into this a bit in the last question -- every poem is from this place between the two of us, this third voice. I like that idea of call-and-response. I’d say every poem is the call and the response. It’s definitely a conversation of sorts.

N: Yes, these are definitely conversations. The nuts and bolts answer to this question is this: JJ - 4 lines, me - 4 lines, JJ - 4 lines, me - 2 lines, 4 lines of the next poem, and so on.

J: So we’d alternate who started and finished each sonnet, which was really the most control either of us had at any given time. And we were always taking cues from each other, and sometimes fucking with those cues, setting out on unexpected paths.

Writing can be such a solitary experience. In addition, for some writers, their personal artistic vision would not be able to tolerate the cooperation and mutual concessions that collaboration can require. How did the original idea for your collaboration come about? How did you find the experience rewarding? Difficult? 

N: I approached JJ originally and asked if she’d be interested in writing together. I wanted to do something to break me a little from that solitary experience. And it was rewarding exactly for that reason: JJ’s influence helped give me a booster shot I was looking for.

J: Well, I’m laughing at myself right now because I keep thinking collaboration was my idea. I love collaborating -- it’s not always easy (and not everyone is the right partner) but when it works it’s amazing. Nate suggested this when I’d been writing solo for a while and really needed it, too. It has been extremely rewarding for me. We’re very different writers on our own and I think it made the work more interesting. Sometimes I’d finish my lines with a clear idea of where the sonnet was going and then Nate would take it somewhere else. I loved that.

N: It could’ve been JJ’s idea! We can go back in the archive and see. I also think the excitement of not knowing where a sonnet was going kept me on my toes. Any “idea” I had was silly because I had no control, really.

J: I looked :) It was you! Good job!

What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates?

N: This is a really good question, Nancy, and even after some days of thinking about it, I’m not quite sure how to answer.

J: For me, this question feels more personal coming from a collaborative space than it would if I was writing alone, I think. In the last question you mentioned writing as “a solitary experience” -- and I don’t think that idea necessarily goes away in collaboration. I feel like a world this chapbook creates (maybe there is more than one?) is the space where that third voice lives, especially when that voice is made up of two voices who are in reality quite far away from each other. I think that world is a sprawling space trying to make itself smaller or closer. I can’t seem to separate the idea of distance from everything else going on in the poems. I feel like Nate and I were, inside of the sonnets and in general, often talking about miles.

N: While I don’t have a concrete answer, I think distance has something to do with the world here. Almost like a mile scale on a map. An inch will represent lots of miles, but it’s also an inch. Maybe this chapbook is that inch? Does this even make sense?

J: Yessss, that.

Which poem in your chapbook has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

N: For me, “xiii.” JJ started this poem and I would’ve been happy to stall and not add to it.

J: Ohh, I adore that one. And I’m wicked glad you didn’t stall forever! Some of the sonnets feel like we’re standing next to them and some feel like we’re standing inside of them. I think we might live in that one. For me, and this is a really hard question, it’s “x.” Maybe that’s why I was so enamored of “mcmxciv.” as a title for the collection. A lot of the sonnets I know immediately who began and who ended -- if I really sit with it I can figure this one out, but it’s not immediately apparent and I love that. It’s a very clear third voice to me. I know that’s not really a back story.

N: Haha, I just wanted to linger in those lines for a while. Like JJ says, I really like those places where I don’t remember who wrote what, too. I think that’s where a lot of the magic lays. But even places where I know who wrote what, it’s fun to see what both of us came up with in response to each other. I don’t think I could fully do that when we were writing them.

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

N: All the best lines are JJ’s :)

J: No! Not true. I kind of can’t believe we got this far in the interview without saying anything about being a Capricorn and a Virgo. That seems important. Also! The full sonnet sequence is actually 100 sonnets. We got a little obsessed :)

N: And also! Our fiftieth and one-hundredth sonnet are double sonnets! Maybe they will be out there in the world in the future.

What kinds of writing (comics, dictionaries, magazines, novels, etc.) that aren’t poetry help you to write poetry?

N: I’m not sure I’d say non-poetry writing helps me, but I’ve had songs inspire my writing and I do listen to music when I write, which seems to be a thing not a lot of poets do. 

J: Reading my horoscope! For real. I’m pretty obsessive about Chani Nicholas and Gala Mukomolova (Galactic Rabbit). I think what actually helps me write poetry the most, though, is movement. I have a fairly obsessive dance practice and that has become an essential part of my writing practice.

What advice would you offer to aspiring chapbook authors?

J: I know it isn’t for everyone, but I would absolutely recommend collaboration. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a practice or an exercise, but I think it’s a really great way to learn more about your solo writing practice and shake up your routine.

N: I would say resist the urge to compare yourself to others. There are so many small presses today, there’s probably more than one out there that would love to showcase your work. Be as organic as you can.

If you have any other chapbooks or books, please tell us a bit about them.

J: Ok, I really want to take this opportunity to yell: Nate’s first book is coming out from Magic Helicopter!!!

N: JJ is too kind! Yes, my first book is scheduled to be released this fall. Last year, I had an anti-T___p chapbook published by Locofo Chaps as part of their series of political chapbooks. I know JJ has at least one other chapbook out there, right?

J: Yep. I also had chapbook in that series from Locofo (there were a ton of us!). Previous to that I had a solo chapbook with Shirt Pocket.

N: I’m starting a petition to get JJ a full-length collection. Her work is so great and deserves the breadth of a collection!

J: See, we’re sort of each other’s superfan.

What are you working on now?

N: I’m just doing my sacrilege once a week writing routine (I know, I know).

J: Though Nate and I wrote our sonnets in a shared space online, I have a pretty staunch write-by-hand practice. I do this daily for the most part. I recently finished a poem sequence of shorter poems (which our sonnet practice influenced for sure) and am in the middle of a long prose poem sequence. And we’ll be sending more sonnets out into the world, I hope.

N: Yes! More sonnets out into the world. And who knows? We may get the itch to write some more together.

J: That could definitely happen.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Chapbook Chat: Trish Hopkinson Discusses Footnote

cover image of Footnote by Trish Hopkinson

Author: Trish Hopkinson

PublisherLithic Press
Publication date: 2017

Waiting Around by Trish Hopkinson
                         after "Walking Around" by Pablo Neruda

It so happens, I am tired of being a woman.
And it happens while I wait for my children to grow
into the burning licks of adulthood. The streaks
of summer sun have gone,

drained between gaps into gutters,
and the ink-smell of report cards and recipe boxes
cringes me into corners. Still I would be satisfied
if I could draw from language
the banquet of poets.

If I could salvage the space in time
for thought and collect it
like a souvenir. I can no longer
be timid and quiet, breathless

and withdrawn.
I can’t salve the silence.
I can’t be this vineyard
to be bottled, corked,
cellared, and shelved.

That’s why the year-end gapes with pointed teeth,
growls at my crow’s feet, and gravels into my throat.
It claws its way through the edges of an age
I never planned to reach

and diffuses my life into dullness—
workout rooms and nail salons,
bleach-white sheets on clotheslines,
and treacherous photographs of younger me
at barbecues and birthday parties.

I wait. I hold still in my form-fitting camouflage.
I put on my strong suit and war paint lipstick
and I gamble on what’s expected.
And what to become. And how
to behave: mother, wife, brave.

originally appeared in Voicemail Poems
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Author photo of Trish Hopkinson
photo credit: Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen

Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. A Pushcart nominated poet, she has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Chagrin River Review; and her third chapbook is forthcoming from Lithic Press in 2017. Hopkinson is co-founder of a regional poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets, and Editor-in-Chief of the group’s annual poetry anthology entitled Orogeny. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at

Author Facebook page:


Author blog:

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[This interview was conducted via email in June 2017.]

Please tell us a little bit about Footnote.

TH: Footnote is my first official chapbook published by a real press! It’s a collection of response poems as homage to some of my favorite artists. Most of the poems have been published in literary magazines over the last few years, and I’m honored to have them all put together in such a striking way by Lithic Press.

How did you arrive at the title?

TH: Originally, the title was the same as the final poem “Footnote to a Footnote.” When Lithic began working on a design for the cover, they suggested simply Footnote, which was perfect, since each poem in the collection indeed includes a footnote in reference to the original artwork that inspired the poem.

You mentioned that your chapbook contains response poems—poems inspired by other artists, whether poets, writers, or filmmakers. When you brought up “by other artists,” the first thing I thought of was ekphrastic poetry. While the common understanding of ekphrasis is poetry in response to visual art, in a 2008 essay “Notes on Ekphrasis” by Alfred Corn, he mentions that poetry in response to “works of music, cinema, or choreography might also qualify as instances of ekphrasis.” Do you consider some of the poems in Footnote to be ekphrastic?

TH: While I think that most of these poems are closer to the tradition of response poetry or found poetry, in which poems are written to respond to another text or artist’s work, I do think some of these poems are ekphrastic, specifically the poems in response to films. For example, “From Her to Eternity” is a poem that encompasses not only the story of the Win Wenders and Peter Handke’s film Wings of Desire but its origins in Rilke’s Duino Elegies—and even the soundtrack, with lyrics from Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s song as the title of the poem. There’s definitely some gray area within all of these definitions.

Tell us a bit about your writing process in forming a response. What techniques did you use? For example, did you write replies to a poem in a call and response sort of way, use a part of the poem as an epigraph, imitate or echo the forms of a poem, etc. “Waiting Around,” the poem at the beginning of this interview, is after Pablo Neruda. Tell us a bit about how the poem is “after” Neruda.

TH: “Waiting Around” is a great example of one way to approach response poetry. One way to respond to a poem is to write your own version from a different perspective, line by line or stanza by stanza. For “Waiting Around,” I responded line by line to Neruda’s poem “Walking Around” using a female speaker, rather than the original male speaker. Another one of my favorite approaches to found poems is to take the original poem, reverse the order of the lines (the last line first, the first line last), and then do an erasure. This technique has a tendency to reverse the meaning from the original to something opposing within the newly created poem. I used this technique in “Reconstructed Happiness,” which is in response to “I am Waiting” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. His original poem is quite somber, while the result of the erasure in reverse has an uplifting, empowering feel.

In a 2011 essay “Thinking Like an Editor: How to Order Your Poetry Manuscript,” April Ossmann writes “[T]he biggest mystery to emerging and sometimes even established poets is how to effectively order a poetry manuscript.” How did you order Footnote? Was it something you had in mind early in the writing process, for example or did you write the poems with a strategy in mind? What were some of your considerations?

TH: Honestly, I think selecting and ordering poems for a poetry book manuscript is the most challenging part of the process. These poems were written over a few years, and after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work. I gathered them together, printed them out, and tried to order them in such a way that each poem connected in some way to the one that followed, while also paying attention to starting and ending with one of my favorite pieces. It never hurts to start strong and end strong. Once the collection was accepted by Lithic Press, there was some tweaking to the order to flow smoothly page wise (two-page poems on facing pages, etc.) and I swapped out a couple of the poems for stronger poems during the editing. It’s hardly an exact science, and the order of any collection will often be affected by the theme, style, variety of format, white space, and physical limitations of the book itself. I’ve ordered the poems for a few anthologies as Editor-in-Chief for Orogeny, and it’s interesting to see how poems from several different poets often connect into a final collection. That said, it’s never easy, but can be fun and surprising.

What is one of your favorite poems in the book, or one that is important to you? Why is it a favorite (or important)? How did it come to be?

TH: There are several poems in this collection that I love, mostly because they are a reflection of some other artwork that is important to me, but there is one that stands out and has a more personal meaning. “In a Room Made of Poetry” is a found poem based on the tradition of cento poetry and consists of several complete lines from Laura Hamblin’s book The Eyes of a Flounder. Hamblin is a dear friend and was one of my poetry professors during my undergrad at Utah Valley University. She introduced me to many of the poets featured in my book, including Neruda and Rilke, and her classes were where I learned so much about how to deeply appreciate not only the poetry of others, but other art as well. I was thrilled when Lithic chose a portion of this same poem as part of the cover design, which to me, became a dedication to her. The timing couldn’t have been better; she is retiring and teaching her last poetry class this summer when Footnote is being released.

In a Room Made of Poetry

Think how loss pulls language from us until
it swallows everything,
like undiagnosed cancer,
the accumulated past—
less eye, less mouth, less heart.
We had, not much—
thin coffee, thin socks. Here you can
wait, with desire, with
roots exposed
for an open womb. That heart-balm
as hope. The raw
bent—a bowl of fruit
in a language I never knew . . .
without tails, crosses of ts. The autonomous dot of a
blackness answers, There are only ifs.

Source: Hamblin, Laura. The Eyes of a Flounder.
(originally published in The Found Poetry Review: Issue 8)

Please tell us a bit about your use of found poetry in the chapbook.

TH: As a lover of all things words, found poetry is not just a way to respond to another text but it’s often word play as well. There are many different techniques that can be used to “find” a new poem in an existing text. I mentioned one above, erasure, which is also often referred to as “blackout poetry,” and even when doing an erasure, I often like to apply other methods to change it up a bit. Another fun approach is to sort the words by length and then create what’s called a “snowball” poem by ordering specifically selected words from shortest to longest. My poem “Strange Verses” employs this technique to create a set of reverse snowball poems from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The result was pretty cool—I ended up with four columns/stanzas that can be read in many different directions and angles.

The Found Poetry Review has this quote by Anne Dillard about found poetry:
By entering a found text as a poem, the poet doubles its context. The original meaning remains intact, but now it swings between two poles. The poet adds, or at any rate increases, the element of delight. This is an urban, youthful, ironic, cruising kind of poetry. It serves up whole texts, or interrupted fragments of texts.
 In the found poems in the chapbook, did you find yourself ‘doubling’ the original text’s context in one or more of them? If so how? If not, what relationship do you see between the original text and the poem(s)?

TH: I think so. The way I often describe this to others is as a “palimpsest,” in which the original text is erased/removed and a new text is written in its place while still leaving remnants of the original. In this sense, I think it is a form of doubling, or a way to contribute to the larger conversation in which we as writers participate. Response poetry is my way of communicating with both the original texts and the reader.

Sometimes, I nerd out on this whole poetry/writing thing a bit much and well, thinking through these responses resulted in my creation of this Venn diagram:

Found poetry venn diagram

I imagine the topics that you responded to varied widely. Even so, did you find yourself coming back to the same handful of themes, despite what it was you were responding to? I’m thinking of writer obsessions, perhaps in grand themes like love or death, or even images or words. For example, I’ve discovered, to my surprise, that dust, particles, dots, and related sorts of things pop up frequently in my writing. Tony Hoagland, in his book Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (p82), wrote “In the work of a good poet, it is usually possible to discern one or two characteristic emotional zones in which he thrives: melancholy, rage, pity, vengeful rationality, seduction.” How did those obsessions reveal themselves to you? Did you find yourself surrendering to it? 

TH: Since this book was sort of a surprise collection based on the discovery that I tend to respond to other poets/art in my writing, the only other theme I think often emerges is one of feminism. I think that most of these poems reflect my feminist slant to poetry in general.

What was the final poem you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?

Most of the poems were previously published and felt finished. One that still felt incomplete was a Plath response poem entitled “Daddies.” I have reworked and reformatted the poem several times and toward the end of the editing process, I dug in hard and finally was able to revise the poem into what I feel is a finished state. (At least for now.) Once I sent that poem off, it did feel like the final edits were complete and the book was ready to be sent to print

What are you working on now?

TH: I’m aiming toward a full-length collection someday, but I feel like I need much more material before pulling together a new collection. I’ve tried piecing a few different projects together with poems I’ve written in the last couple of years, and there’s just not a nice, organic set making itself visible to me. Ultimately, I need to write many more poems to help my next collection materialize. Other than that, I’m always working on my poetry blog, which has become such an important part of my interaction with the larger poetry community. My blog was also a surprise and started as just a way to keep track of poetry resources, submission calls, etc. I started sharing it on social media and found there was definitely a need. Since October of 2014, my blog following has continued to grow and I’ve been honored by the turn out! It’s been a pleasure to interact with fellow poets, writers, editors, artists, etc. who are all looking for an easy way to access and share information. Sometimes, the things we never intend to create become the greatest of gifts.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

2017 NEA Fellowship

Absolutely over the moon to be a recipient of a 2017 NEA Fellowship in Poetry. I'm in amazing company! Here's a list of who was selected.