Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Kelly Nelson Discusses Who Was I to Say I Was Alive

Who Was I to Say I Was Alive

Author: Kelly Nelson

PublisherMinerva Rising

Publication date: 2015

Going Unsaid by Kelly Nelson

A man walks by carrying a table.
I say, you are carrying a table. He ignores me

on about his business, the reckless
secrets he must be keeping, his legs

sudden twitching in the moments
before sleep. When a man passes

with a rug I say, you are carrying a rug
or, you are wearing wing tips

to a man in a suit
or, to my brother’s found body, your skull

is in pieces on the floor.
And here, in the churchyard, saying the floor, his skull

to nobody who asks.
I jolt awake

early dark—things could be happening and going unsaid.
Hours spent listening

a window fan drawing in air
the inaudible air going out.

Originally published in Another Chicago Magazine (summer 2015)

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Kelly Nelson is the author of the chapbooks Rivers I Don’t Live By (Concrete Wolf, 2014) and Who Was I to Say I Was Alive (Minerva Rising, 2015). Her poetry has appeared in RHINO, Verse Daily, Prime Number, Tar River Poetry, Another Chicago Magazine and elsewhere. She has performed her poems at the Houston Poetry Festival, Phoenix Art Museum and on the Phoenix Light Rail as well as in book stores, coffee shops, galleries and diners. She serves on her city’s public art commission, volunteers as a gallery docent and teaches ekphrastic poetry classes at her local library. She holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology and teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University.

Author website:

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

Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook Who Was I to Say I Was Alive.

KN: It’s a short collection of 20 poems that explores the themes of loss, love and the things that go unsaid. While losses and silences pervade this book, there is also a strong undercurrent of persisting, of continuing on, of being present and alive.

Why did you choose the chapbook as the vehicle for these poems? When you started, did you intend to create a chapbook?

KN: With my first chapbook, Rivers I Don’t Live By, I very intentionally set out to write a chapbook around the themes of location and dislocation. I’ve lived in nine different states and wanted to explore both the lack of and the longing for a connection to place. This second chapbook snuck up on me. One day I printed out a dozen or so poems that had been recently published and starting reading them as a set and was surprised to find they held together. The poems were written over a concentrated period of time so my preoccupations and concerns at that time—the suicide of a friend, my own turning fifty, the ongoing gun violence in this country—created unifying threads in the tone and content of these poems.

The chapbook is titled after a line in one of its poems. Why did you select a line as the title?

KN: Once I realized I had a chapbook, I started holding auditions for the title. None of the individual poem titles seemed encompassing enough to stand alone on the cover (although Going Unsaid was a strong contender). Next I pulled out eight or ten individual lines from different poems and considered the sound and feel of each one. It came down to The Inaudible Air Going Out and Who Was I to Say I Was Alive. I love that the title I chose has so many shorter titles within it: Who Was I; Was I to Say; To Say I Was; To Say I Was Alive; I Was Alive.

Three of the poems in this chapbook are found poems. Please tell us a bit about your use of found poetry in the chapbook.

KN: I’m a big believer in cross-genre borrowing. One of the main moves in journalism is to insert the voices of others by using short quotations. This creates a sense of being closer to the event: an eye-witness is lending us her eyes. I make this same move in the poem “Stampede” where I embed quotes by people who have survived deadly human stampedes and in the poem “Look,” where I borrow lines from pundits talking about gun control on a radio show.

The poem “Brotherless” is a cento, the oldest form of found poetry, in which I’ve created a new poem by stitching together individual lines from seven “Brother-less” poems written by Marge Piercy. I like using found poetry techniques because they widen the sound field of my poems by adding different voices and tonalities. Working with found poetry techniques also injects a delicious element of surprise and discovery into the composing process.

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?

KN: The title of the chapbook comes from the poem “The man I nearly married.” I wrote this poem in bed with laryngitis in a hotel room in Seattle where I was for AWP in 2014. And yes, my ex called me while I was there. This poem has become one of my signature poems when I do readings. People comment on it; people remember it. In part I think it’s because it provides an opportunity to smile and laugh after hearing darker, heavier poems. And I see it as an affirming statement on coping and moving forward amid losses and deaths.

The man I nearly married

calls years later
He said it sounded
like I had died, like it was

my ghost
speaking to him.

Who was I
to say it wasn’t.

Who was I to say
I was alive.

So I tell him the afterlife is good
free trains always running

on time, plenty of noodle shops
and ripening mangoes.

And he says, all right, okay
I’m so glad I called.

Originally appeared in Red Booth Review, May 2014

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

KN: I feel super fortunate that I’ve been able to pick the cover art for both of my chapbooks. I volunteer as a gallery docent at the Tempe Center for the Arts so I get to meet a lot of Arizona artists. I’m thrilled to have the artwork of Monica Martinez and Clare Verstegen on the covers of my chapbooks.

What are you working on now?

KN: I’m currently writing a lyric biography of an uncle of mine who was a minor outlaw in Minnesota in the 1950s. I never met the guy and I’m recreating his life using his 500-page prison record. You can read more about this project in Rappahannock Review and Prime Number.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Catherine Moore Discusses Story


Author: Catherine Moore

PublisherFinishing Line Press

Publication date: 2015

Gazing by Catherine Moore

Draco, Canis Minor, Sagitarreous, Orion…
as a child I could identify them by name.
Once, on a really dark night, I counted 1000 stars.
Tremendous, though less in number than the grains
of a cold dune where my grandma and I sat looking east.
We’d stopped for a great deep chart with no meaning,
since the constellations are imaginary things
made up by poets, sailors, and old astronomers.
Still, she pointed and spoke, and you’d remember
that Orion's hunting dogs are always nearby,
hovered at his left shoulder, or resting at his foot.
You’d draw the image on your hand. That’s the way
mnemonics works, reminding how the unrelated fall
into place. There’s no value in knowing the North Star
or watching craters on the moon, still here I gaze.

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Catherine Moore’s writing has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Southeast Review, Cider Press Review, Southampton Review and in various anthologies. She won the 2014 Gearhart Poetry Prize and has work include in “The Best Small Fictions of 2015.” Her collection Story is available with Finishing Line Press. Catherine earned a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Tampa. She lives in the Nashville area where she enjoys a thriving arts community and was recently awarded a MetroArts grant. She currently teaches at a community college and reviews poetry books for literary journals.

Author blog:

Twitter: @CatPoetic,



Amazon author page:

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

Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook Story.

CM: Story is a series of narrative poems that explores resilient stories found in seemingly quiet moments. This collection seeks to observe the small but significant things around our world and in our own lives, and to record it in variety. From a tea room, to a laundromat, to home, these story poems mark moments as intimate as a dream or a conversation, and as universal as star gazing.

If I understand correctly, Story originated from poems you wrote in your journal or notebooks—you weren’t looking to form a collection, such as a chapbook. Tell us a bit about how you came to realize that you might have a chapbook and what you did to shape the poems into a cohesive whole.

CM: Yes, the poems were written over a span of years and I did not set out with the intention of writing this chapbook. The collection originated by finding a similar narrative voice within my notebooks when I noticed a pattern of menial tasks or places, and an expression that in these moments that we still find poetry around us. This broadened into more poems about the small and significant, until I eventually reduced the collection into the poems I felt did a unique job in distilling variations on the theme ‘story.’ I arranged individual poems to complement each other and to hold their own, as if everyday the book can beckon, “come here and let me tell you a story.”

Narrative seems to be a foundational characteristic in this collection, beginning with the title itself, Story. In addition, you also describe the collection as a series of narrative poems that arose from day-to-day “menial tasks and an expression that in these moments, we still find art and poetry around us.” I took that to mean that the collection is a sequence of poems that explored experiences in daily life. In her essay “Eloquent Silences: Lyric Solutions to the Problem of the Biographical Narrative” (The Contemporary Narrative Poem: Critical Crosscurrents, ed. Steven P. Schneider), April Lindner writes of the tension between lyric and narrative impulse within a poem, saying, in part: “While any long narrative presents challenges for the poet, … the biographical sequence [is] the epitome of those problems, since its author must distill something as complex as a life into a poem and in doing so provide moments of lyric payoff as well as plot.” (105) How did you navigate between the two impulses of lyric and narrative? Being a prose writer as well as poet, did you find it difficult to move to the lyric end of the spectrum? What is your experience with switching between genres?

CM: Each genre puts a different pressure on language, which I like to use to my advantage by intentionally switching genres. Sometimes the process of moving between them adds an interesting element, or allows less focused material to fall away. In the past, I structured the switch between genres. If I had writing that seemed bigger than a poem, I’d write a longer prose version of the piece, and often then combine the two with their best moments. Likewise, if I had a narrative poem that became too prose-like I would re-write it in a stricter form, like a sonnet. This reduction in line space requires poetical devices and forces a more lyrical mode. Lately, I’ve been writing unidentified written objects. The freedom of not declaring genre was game changing for me. When I revise the unidentified then I decide genre direction. This method has become highly productive.

In the end though, the specification of genre may really be in the eye of the reader. “Not About Liz” from Story, is a prime example of a versatile piece— published as a prose poem, and flash, and now included in the Best Small Fictions of 2015 anthology.

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?

CM: The most lyrical poem in the collection, “The While,” is unique in that it’s about the absence of story. It may be a misfit of sorts but I felt this meanwhile period should be included. It came from my own experience of feeling life as a holding pattern, when life moves around us not through us. Sometimes no story is the story. Months that appear frustratingly empty are often a time of hibernation, rejuvenation, and recovery.

The While

Now, unbearable.

Still life harvested from its branch sway, while broken free, no longer inching.

Child hands match its slow swing, tock back, wait while ticks metronome my hours.

This mockery of a dream while spades and aces slough off our face cards.

In this while: everything a question, every event a direction.

Moves paralyzed— deep while each pit roaring in the silence of a swing.

Scaitheamnh, yes spells, wound over tea pots or some while pints in lieu of answers.

We sleep, meanwhile ravens and crows cast a mid-point pause on wind thermals.

Every while, tick, tock.

You mentioned finding beauty in the quotidian as being one of the purposes of Story, that “the collection seeks to observe the small but significant things around our world and in our own lives, and to record it in variety.” I was reminded of what Jane Hirshfield wrote in Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, "The desire of monks and mystics is not unlike that of artists: to perceive the extraordinary within the ordinary by changing not the world but the eyes that look" (12), and I pictured you writing the poems almost as form of spiritual practice. Please tell us more about the importance of “small and significant” to you. Do you have a daily writing practice of recording observations?

CM: I love the writings of Jane Hirshfield and I’m tickled that you quoted her in this interview. I think of my poems as inventories of fragments: objects, narrative and people in word paintings, written photographs, and other literary inventions. Even in the simplest form, they are crafted to question our
making of the world through language and bias.

I've always enjoyed writings that explore the vagaries of situation and choices for women. Some may see it as domestic concerns, but I find the significant hidden in the smallest detail. Often times how I explore these themes is by combining mundane domestic narratives juxtaposed with unflinching poetics. A recent piece that comes to mind here is “How to Summons the Blues” published in Cider Press Review, Volume 17, Issue 3.

I make an effort to maintain a daily practice of free writing— observations, prompts, object descriptions, dream recordings. Any type of writing can be fodder for larger works; I try not to get rigid about how I come into the writing process since that tends to bind my thought process. It may be written in a journal or on a grocery receipt, but I hardly go three days without sketching a poem even if I’m knee-deep in some other sort of writing.

What poets did you look to for inspiration?

CM: It is tempting to answer “the Pulitzer and Pushcart prize winners” because that is often true, even if highbrowed. Then I’d confess that inspiration comes from everywhere. This collection contains a brief appearance from the B-52’s, and I have a poem currently circulating that features Batman, and had one published about Dr. Seuss Sneetches. Along those lines, I admire poets that combine the formal and the familiar. A few go-to poets for me include Barbara Hamby, Lucille Clifton, and Kay Ryan.

What are you working on now?

CM: I am working on a collection that is a sequel to another chapbook, “One February.” It is a long narrative poem written in Ginsberg American Sentences, with Southern Gothic under tones. So for right now, I’m into longer thematic works that span a bridge between poetry and prose. We’ll see where this new hybrid writing takes me.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Jessica Cuello Discusses My Father’s Bargain

My Father's Bargain

Author: Jessica Cuello

PublisherFinishing Line Press

Publication date: 2015

Worn-Out Dancing Shoes by Jessica Cuello

My sister’s hair
as she walked in front,

had light metallic strands
she couldn’t see. I knew
her colors intimately,
and our silent footsteps.

At Christmas we gather,
our children run out back.
When I mention the stairway
and the boats we rode across,
middle sister leaves the room
and eldest laughs,
I remember how we played—
we knocked on the bedpost,
pretended it opened
like a door.

The shoes were proof;
I’m the only one

with memories. Each night,
last in line, I learned
by heart their shoulder blades,
part butterfly against blue
crepe and yellow silk.

It seemed to happen at once—
my sisters forgot,
were distracted if I spoke
of the boats in darkness

outside the lit dancehall.
We spun with our weight
flung back, holding tight
with sweaty hands.

(Originally published in Rose Red Review.)

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Jessica Cuello is the author of the chapbooks My Father’s Bargain (Finishing Line Press 2015), By Fire (Hyacinth Girl Press 2013), and Curie (Kattywompus Press 2011). She was the winner of The 2013 New Letters Poetry Prize and the recipient of the 2014 Decker Award from Hollins University for outstanding secondary teaching. Jessica was selected as a Juried Fellow by the Saltonstall Foundation and will be a Writer-in Residence in summer 2015. Her first full-length poetry book, Pricking, is forthcoming from Tiger Bark Press in 2016.

Author blog:

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

Please tell us a little bit about your chapbook My Father's Bargain.

JC: The poems are inspired by fairy tales, in particular the vulnerable experiences of women and children.

How did you arrive at the title?

JC: It’s a line from the poem “Rumplestiltskin.” Bargain is connected to the idea of the body as capital—that her body (in the poem) is not her own; it is to be traded by her father. In many of the fairy tales, fathers are either malignant or clueless. In fact, men are often unaware of the plot itself like the bridegroom in “The Goosegirl” or the father in “The Dancing Princesses.”

Manipulation and trickery, which we view as negative qualities, are often the only means for women in the tales to escape abuse. We need these traits less than women in the past, but I do think we’ve inherited these kinds of survival skills by necessity. The title points to the character’s awareness of how she is both part of a deal and also excluded from the deal at the same time.

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.” (49)

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?

JC: Fairy tales are powerful for women. The domestic realm possesses its own terror. Domestic violence means that the very place where we expect safety and rest is the place where we are most vulnerable. Childbirth hurts. One of my friends said that her experience of childbirth was like volunteering for a car accident. Sexual violence, marriage, the powerlessness of being a child in a family you can’t leave—these are unspoken kinds of pain and fear, even the tedious work that women do every day that is unpaid and unacknowledged, like feeding, clothing, and cleaning others. The other part of it is the responsibility for the bodies of others, particularly children. Many women who have grown up being careless with their own bodies suddenly find themselves responsible for the bodies and safety of others. That particular responsibility is primal. We see it on the faces of the refugees trying to enter Europe, holding their children in their arms. There is a negation of the father and mother’s self in that kind of crisis. Rumplestiltskin has this chilling theme. How can she save her child? How can she keep her child?

Certainly myth is a way to absent the personal self from the poem while retaining all the emotional connection to the poems. I did not choose to do so consciously. I never said, I don’t want myself in these poems, but unconsciously it began when I first read fairy tales at age 5. We negate ourselves and latch onto these stories; it is a way to cope with pain. I think an underrated quality of literature is its ability to comfort and soothe us, to literally help us survive. I think there is a self that exists in a story when we read—whether a self that identifies as the protagonist or a self that accompanies the protagonist. I watch my children do this. My 9 year old daughter writes journal entries in the voices of characters from her books.

While My Father’s Bargain is your third chapbook, from what I understand, the poems in it are the first poems you wrote that you intended to publish. How long did it take to write these series of poems and what, if any, was the impetus to start writing them? What’s the oldest piece in this chap? How did that timing come to be, e.g., that it isn’t the first chapbook that you published? When you started writing these specific poems, did you intend to create a chapbook or collection?

JC: I had always wanted to be a writer, but for years I spent far more time reading than writing. When my daughter was born, I felt a sense of urgency. I learned what time truly was for the first time. I wrote these poems then—intending them to be part of a full-length. I kept cramming them into books where they didn’t belong. I published two unrelated chapbooks and had a full-length accepted (forthcoming in 2016) before these poems found a home. A smart editor told me to take these poems out of my book and put them in a chapbook. Though my style has evolved since I wrote these poems, I still value them and wanted to see them in the world. The oldest poem is probably “Rumplestiltskin.” It was one of my first acceptances—published in Copper Nickel when Jake Adam York was editor.

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?

JC: The first poem in the book is important to me—I think because it is the only poem that addresses the idea of hunger and the importance of hunger and food in familial relationships. If a mother cannot feed her child, does she abdicate her identity as mother? I am still writing poems about this idea, nine years later.


Where to put our bodies?
We knew how to sit

and pretend we didn’t want
to eat. Our hunger grew

into our skin. We fit
inside a hollow tree. Branches

were the ceiling
and we played in a second house

where I served up
a feast of dandelion and rock.

At night I pressed a stone
against my chest

like a Mother’s hand.
Not our Mother (though she was)

who whispered the fact of our mouths.
Not our Father (though he was)

who led us in the dark.
I looked back at the symmetry—

a door amid doors. A yard intimate
with metal: the outgrown slide,

rust that flowered
like lichen moss.

As we fled, I curved my neck
to peer into the other houses:

shoes lined on a porch,
meals at the times

of meals: dawn, dusk,
and middle day.

Who were you reading when you wrote these poems? e.g., other fairy-tale poems or Grimm’s fairy tales or other books of myth? Which a fairy-tale related poem written by another poet is your favorite?

JC: I was reading Jack Zipes’ translation of Grimm (not the new one just out—I don’t have that yet) and I was reading a lot of Lucie Brock-Broido. Her poems are not fairy-tale related, but the energy in them captures the kind of darkness and visceral fear I wanted for my own poems. I love all her books, but I must have read Trouble in Mind twenty times during that time period. Her poems capture the witchy darkness of childhood and I was more interested in that tone than fairy tale poems. Many contemporary poems are ironic when they write about fairy tales and I wasn’t interested in that. I mean for the terror to be real; I am in earnest!

In addition to the theme of fairy tales, what are some of the other themes, metaphors, and elements of craft that you used to unify your chapbook?

JC: Childhood, siblings, loss. They are free-verse poems and I was thinking about line when I wrote them, particularly syntax and the breaking of it. The ideas about line were important because so many of the poems are about being mute or about animals and objects speaking.

Have you given a public reading of the chapbook? What was the audience response? Did you encounter anything you were not expecting?

JC: Yes. I have given one public reading from this chapbook and the poems made me very sad. They were almost impossible to read. I’ve done lots of readings and that has never happened before. The poems are old but apparently the material is still raw. I like to be in control when I read so I may read less of these particular poems at my next reading.

What are you working on now?

JC: I’m working on a series of poems based on the absent feminine in Moby Dick. Moby Dick is a myth too—an American one—so clearly I am stuck in writing from the mythic.

Monday, October 5, 2015

An Interview With Poet Jessica Goodfellow

                               November Nocturne by Jessica Goodfellow

                               Even planets turn away from the easement of light,
                               sometimes. Night’s a rehearsal for the orb
                               and distance of winter, its map-unmaking
                               and its unmap-making, its failure to ravel
                               wander from resist. All night the night sounds
                               like children not breathing. I am afraid
                               of a thing and its opposite: leaving and not,
                               subject unspecified. The curtain stirs
                               though the window is closed. Stars flash
                               like bees abandoning the hive, humming a lullaby
                               in drone, in monotone but with the Doppler effect
                               of a death mask, coming right at you, wind
                               pulsing around the edges because there is
                               no mouth-shaped hole, no eye-sized emptinesses.

                                         - first published in Boxcar Review

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Jessica Goodfellow grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but has spent the last twenty years in California, Florida, and Japan. She received an MS degree from the California Institute of Technology and an MA in linguistics from the University of New England. Her first book of poetry, The Insomniac's Weather Report (three candles press), won the Three Candles Press First Book Prize, and was reissued by Isobar Press in 2014. Her new book Mendeleev's Mandala is available from Mayapple Press (2015). She is also the author of a poetry chapbook, A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland (Concerete Wolf, 2006), winner of the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in the anthology Best New Poets 2006, on the website Verse Daily, and has been featured by Garrison Keillor on NPR's "The Writer's Almanac." She was a recipient of the Chad Walsh Poetry Prize from the Beloit Poetry Journal, and her work has been honored with the Linda Julian Essay Award as well as the Sue Lile Inman Fiction Prize, both from the Emrys Foundation. Her work has appeared in Motionpoems Season 6. Jessica currently lives in Japan with her husband and sons.

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

Tell us a little about your book Mendeleev's Mandala.

JG: Mendeleev’s Mandala imagines the thoughts and attitudes of different personas from various historical eras, in short different differing worldviews. I have felt bifurcated for a lot of my life, needing to balance conflicting worldviews—for example, a deeply religious, conservative upbringing and an education based on science and reason—and instead of feeling torn up about it, as I have during much of my experience, I wanted to have fun with it—to explore it playfully. The nation as a whole also experiences that kind of conflicting multiplicity of world views, and I wish as a people we could cope with it with less rancor. So that’s partly what Mendeleev’s Mandala is, for me.

I find the title beautiful and compelling for a number of reasons, one being the mashup of science and religion. The poem after which the collection is titled is fascinating as well. (Poem can be found in the March 2012 issue of Thrush, second poem on the page.) What led you to write a poem about Dmitri Mendeleev? How did you arrive at the idea of a mandala? In an interview at Tell Tell Poetry, when asked “If you had unlimited time to create, what would you make,” you said “I’m interested in weaving …” Do you carry that desire of weaving into your poetry? I’m wondering specifically about an impulse in your work to weave, braid, or possibly even integrate science and religion, or other seeming opposites.

JG: I have been moved by reading about Oliver Sacks’ relationship to both the periodic table of elements and to Dmitri Mendeleev (the ‘discoverer’ of the form of the table we use now), prompting me to do more reading about Mendeleev. My favorite podcast Radiolab had an episode about him and I was fascinated by what hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad said about his life, details in his family experience that resonated with my own—for example, a disability that occurred in both our families, and that he had a huge groups of siblings. They talked about how he rode around on trains when he had to think, and riding around on trains and in cars has always been useful for me creatively. In short there were a lot of parallels that drew me to him, even as I feel this great gap between his amazing intellect and what I am able to comprehend.

I thought about how the periodic table represents all known chemical elements, and then thought about how a mandala is supposed to be a visual representation of everything in the universe, and the parallel and contrast of these two worldviews struck me, particularly in light of the central tension in my life between the spiritual and the logical.

As for weaving, I’m so appreciative of what you said about perhaps weaving conflicting themes in my poems. I haven’t done well with textile weaving, despite my interest, and I find that disheartening, so your metaphor has cheered me up. I suppose you are right—I do often juxtapose opposites, and it’s certainly more pleasant to think about it as weaving contrasting colors into a pattern than to think of it as courting discordance.

The Motionpoem film of your poem "Crows, Reckoning" is absolutely stunning. (You can find the film here and poem here, second poem down.) How did that film come to be? What was that collaborative experience like—that experience of having other artists interpret your work?

JG: This year Motionpoems worked with VIDA to promote the work of women poets, and they put a call out for submissions. I didn’t expect to have my work selected, and it was one of the thrills of my artistic life when it was. The collaboration from my end was minimal; after having had my poem selected, I had no more say in the process, which was fine by me.

Early on in my writing career, a group of poets asked to read a poem of mine in public, and when I heard what they did with it, I was shocked—not that I disagreed with their extreme interpretation, but it was not what I had ever envisioned for that poem. I talked with a friend about it, and he said it was like sending your child out into the world, and seeing them choose a life that you never would have predicted for them. He told me that poems are going to have lives of their own, just like my children will eventually, and that I’d be happier if I just embraced that. Which I have. I’ve had a few other experiences where artists have responded to my work, or paired one of their pieces with my poem, all without any additional post-poem input from me, and I’ve written a few ekphrastic poems myself, so I’ve gotten really comfortable with non-collaborative collaborations like this, responses really.

I teach a course on Japanese poetic forms, and one form, the haiga, pairs haiku with art. The best haiga have images that don’t repeat the images in the poem, but that deepen the feeling or meaning. That’s what directors Edward Chase Masterson and Alex Hanson did with the Motionpoems film—added new imagery to mine in a way that deepens the experience. It’s really stunning work they did, and I’m so honored to have had my poem be a part of it.

In Mendeleev's Mandala, what is one of the more crucial or important poems for you personally? Why?

JG: “Burning Aunt Hisako” was a poem I worked on for a long time, a poem about the cremation of my husband’s aunt; I knew there was something crucial in the experience, over and above the particular loss, but I wasn’t sure what it was. It was the first time I had attended a post-cremation ceremony, which is described in the poem, and I thought maybe that the visceral experience of coping with the remains of a family member was what haunting me. But I continued to have trouble writing about it. Finally, when I was on vacation, surrounded by snow and consequently thinking of the death of my mother’s brother (which occurred on Denali), I had a kind of personal breakthrough. My uncle’s body was never recovered, and that is one of the reasons his death has always been so hard to talk about in my family, and contrasting that lack of a body, with all that implies, with how my husband’s family was involved actively with the final rites for my husband’s aunt’s body after her death was compelling me.

Burning Aunt Hisako

Afterward we sifted through her ashes
with long chopsticks—one bamboo
and one willow, for this life and the next.

The furnace-keeper lifted bone by bone.
“Her ankle bone,” he tendered. “Her left thumb.”
A plate-shaped bone he named “her face,”

just before he smashed it into pieces
small enough to drop inside a dull bronze urn.
“What are we looking for?” I whispered

as we sifted. “From her throat, a bone
that’s said to hold a seated Buddha.”
From Adam’s rib to this, does at least one bone

from every body belong to someone else? Never
mind—what use are their own bone Buddhas now,
to Aunt Hisako smoldering on her slab,

to my mother’s father sealed beneath a hard
and glittering snow? Bits of mica, memory
of fireflies—my own hand on my own throat—

of what use is this thirst for things
resembling other things, this endless trying
to wring milk from a two-headed cow.

(originally published in diode)

In the diode version the poem says ‘my mother’s father’ instead of ‘my mother’s brother,’ as it does in Mendeleev’s Mandala, because I was afraid to write about my mother’s brother—afraid of breaking taboo and upsetting our family. But in writing this poem , though I wrote in code for the diode version, I came to the understanding that I was going to have to explore the subject eventually. I figured I could write it and not publish it, and I thought it would be a few poems, maybe a suite, and then I would be done with the topic. But that’s not how it worked out; eventually I wrote an entire book-length manuscript. And this poem was the breakthrough that caused me to realize that I needed to do that scary taboo thing.

In fact, my mother has been fine with me writing about her brother. She showed me documents and photos and newspaper clippings and letters, and we talked about his life, the accident that took him, and she told me she hoped I would eventually write about his life, not just his death. This was not something we had ever talked about before, but because I approached her with my idea to write about her brother, she opened up. So this poem is important to me.

Your chapbook A Pilgrim's Guide to Chaos in the Heartland was the 2005 winner of the Concrete Wolf Chapbook Award and your debut full-length book, The Insomniac's Weather Report, was the 2011 winner of the three candles press First Book award. Please give us a synopsis of each book. With either contest, were there things you thought would happen as a contest winner, yet didn’t? unexpected things that did happen?

JG: The chapbook A Pilgrim’s Guide to Chaos in the Heartland is very directly about my religious upbringing and my education in analytic fields, and about how and where they dovetailed and collided. It’s only about my experience—it’s a personal book with big themes, far less playful than Mendeleev’s Mandala, which has similar themes but includes my imagined experiences of other people thinking about these themes. Lana Hechtman Ayers, the owner and editor of Concrete Wolf, championed my work more than anyone ever has, and she made me feel like a legitimate writer despite it being my first venture in publishing. I had no idea what to expect from a press, but Lana set the bar quite high.

The Insomniac’s Weather Report is about my experiences in domesticity, in becoming a wife and mother. After it won the three candles press First Book Award, the press folded suddenly, with fewer than 100 copies in print. That was devastating, but luckily a few years later I was contacted by Paul Rossiter of Isobar Press, a Japan-based press publishing poetry in English, who offered to reissue it. Steve Mueske of the defunct three candles press was supportive, and we were able to do it. Both those publishers have been great.

Having the book go out of print within a few months of being published was completely unexpected, and so was getting an offer to reissue it. The entire experience taught me to be wary, but hopeful. You never know what’s going to happen. So just keep writing. In fact, I wrote Mendeleev’s Mandala during that period when The Insomniac’s Weather Report seemed lost, and I ended up being contacted by Isobar for the reissue and by Mayapple for Mendeleev’s Mandala within the same week, after a couple of bleak years.

If you were an animal or a place, what/where would you be and why?

JG: I am drawn to animals and plants that co-existed with dinosaurs yet still exist today in the same or similar form; for example, dragonflies, crocodiles, and gingko trees. I don’t know if I want to be one of these, but seeing them, being in their presence, always affects my conception of self and time, and just about everything.

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

JG: I started rewriting nursery rhymes before I could actually write, asking my mother to write them down for me. I’ve been writing ever since, with a break during the years of my first graduate program and when I worked as a financial analyst—I found it too hard to switch gears from analytics in the daytime to poetry in the evenings, though there are plenty of people who can do it.

I took one creative writing class in high school, and one in college, and other than that, haven’t had any formal education in it, and no mentor. I’d love a mentor though. If someone wants to be my mentor, I’d love that. My high school creative writing teacher had also been my next-door-neighbor when I was growing up, and he and his family always encouraged me to write, and more importantly modelled for me that a creative life was a possibility—I wouldn’t have had that model otherwise. But I really would love to have a mentor.

Generally speaking, how do you approach revision? Do you use a checklist or have any tried-and-true practices? Do you have a writing group with whom you share your work?

JG: This isn’t an original idea, and I regret that I can’t cite where I heard it, but when revising, I like to take a line and change it to the opposite of what it says, and see what happens. Sometimes I replace a line with its opposite; sometimes I juxtapose the opposing lines, for the resulting tension. Particularly when I make big sweeping pronouncements, I find this interesting and generative to do.

I work a lot with sound when revising. If something sounds clunky, then it needs work, no matter how logical or poetical the sensibility. And I try to cut as much out of each poem as possible; any word, line, or stanza that can be taken out without damaging the integrity of the poem is looked at long and hard for justification for keeping it. And more often than not, it gets jettisoned.

As for writing groups, I had a great one when I was living in Florida, but now that I live in Japan, I no longer do. I have one fiction writer that I work with sometimes, and when I’m really stumped, I use the consultations from Black Lawrence Press . Often you can pay a nominal amount to have one of their poets look at a group of poems (five poems or ten pages, or something like that), and give you their take on your work. I’ve done this three times now, and it’s been hugely useful, and a solution to a problem that those of us isolated in the non-English-speaking world face. I think they do entire manuscript consultations too (which I’ve never done), and some of the money goes to (or used to go to?) a literacy program. So it’s a win/win.

What are you working on now?

JG: Currently I am finishing up the manuscript about my uncle, who at age 22 died in one of the worst mountain-climbing accidents in US history, on Denali along with six other climbers. I’m writing about the accident, and its effect on our family, even on those born after his death who never knew him, but whose lives are both diminished and complicated by his absence, and by the absence of his body, a circumstance that has long-lasting implications.

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

JG: Practice fearless receptivity. Notice what you notice. Of all the many words, images, thoughts, facts, impressions, etc., that rush by you in a day, notice which ones catch your attention. Then use that.

For example, today I heard a poem with the word ‘indigo’ in it. Then I listened to commentary about the poem, which mentioned how difficult it is to dye an item indigo. Later today I listened to a memorial podcast by the New York Public Library for Oliver Sacks, who recently died. Sacks talked about having only seen indigo twice in his life, and he mentioned the cultural and historical importance of indigo. Now indigo is on my mind. I might not have noticed that I was noticing indigo—I might have let it go, even if I had noticed the coincidence of hearing about it twice in one day—if I wasn’t in the habit of noticing what I notice, and jotting it down in a notebook. Eventually, if indigo is crucial to me, I’ll get around to it. But I might get there faster for having noticed myself noticing it now.

Jessica Goodfellow Online

For a sampling of Jessica’s poems, see the Poems and Prose page of her website.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

An Interview with Poet Karen Paul Holmes

                               Winter trees reveal a drop off
                               inches from the road’s thin shoulder.

                               Some teachings call this universe an illusion:
                               We all share a dream, a nightmare really,
                               where we’re separate beings.

                                         - from "Scenic Bypass, Blue Ridge Mountains" by Karen Paul Holmes

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Karen Paul Holmes is the author of a poetry collection, Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press 2014). Formerly the VP of Communications at a global financial services company, Karen is now a freelance business writer, poet and writing coach. In support of writers and audiences, Karen founded and hosts the Side Door Poets critique group in Atlanta and Writers’ Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She received an Elizabeth George Foundation emerging writer grant in 2012 and has studied with poets Thomas Lux, Dorianne Laux, Joseph Millar, William Wright, Kevin Young, and Carol Ann Duffy, among others. Publishing credits include Poetry East, Atlanta Review, Caesura, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol 5: Georgia, and Stone, River, Sky (Negative Capability Press). She grew up in Michigan and has an MA in musicology from the University of Michigan.

*   *   *
[This interview was conducted via email in August 2015.]

Tell us a little about your book Untying the Knot.

KPH: First of all, thank you for this interview, Nancy. I appreciate your interesting questions.

Untying the Knot is a memoir in poetry. Sometimes mad, sad, funny, and/or forgiving, the poems recount the sudden end of my long-time marriage and the healing process.

In Untying the Knot, what is one of more crucial or important poems for you personally? Why?

KPH: I find it extremely difficult to describe nature, and therefore not much of my poetry does this. I workshopped this poem with Dorianne Laux at the Sarah Lawrence Summer Seminar, which gave me the confidence to include it in the book. Lines in the poem came to me on a walk, and I really did get hit on the head by acorns. It was an unusually beautiful day but in the midst of the stunning beauty, I was stunned by sadness. That’s how grief works, doesn’t it? One of the reasons the poem is important for me personally is that it reflects my belief that joy can always be found in the present moment – uncovering it is not always easy but we always have the option of choosing joy, or at least peace.


Despite the wind
poplars hang on to their leaves.
They catch the light and flutter like gilded eyelids,
jiggle like coins on a belly dancer’s hip scarf.
Whitecaps jostle my dock,
lake darker than the sky.
Those distant mountains, dusty-red with autumn,
recall Sedona’s rocks,
but green grass and willows speak
of lush Appalachia.

Joy surges
mixed with the old longing: that need to share.
The cherry tree over there—blooming
and showing orange foliage at the same time—
must be as confused as I am
since the gusty lusty breath of Catherine
blew away the colors of my marriage,
forced the black and white of divorce.

Suddenly, a shower of acorns bounces
off my head, knocking me back
into the windy, sunny present.

When Untying the Knot was published, it being your first full-length book, were there things you thought would happen, yet didn’t? unexpected things that did happen?

KPH: I guess you never know how you’ll feel when you actually have the book in your hands. I’m a recovering perfectionist, and I tried very hard not to second guess myself about what poems should have been deleted and/or edited more, but I did do that a bit and even started to question whether the whole thing was crap.

I didn’t know how strange it would feel going public. I felt bare naked, and I still cringe a little thinking of how much of my personal life I revealed, and also that of my ex and his girlfriend. But people praised me for being so honest with my feelings. Because of that honesty and because most people have gone through some kind of loss, people really related to the book -- poets and non-poets, men and women. That reaction was a pleasant surprise. It was also an affirmation of my intent to write poetry that touches people in some positive way.

I see you have a degree in musicology. If you were a musical instrument, which one would you be? Why?

KPH: Could I be the tune instead? I’d like to be a melody that lingers in the memory… in a good way.

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

KPH: In about 6th grade, I created an illustrated journal of poems I liked for a school assignment. I still have it. Richard Wilbur’s "Boy at the Window" is in it, and I remember being absolutely touched by the poignancy of that poem. Then in 8th grade, I won some sort of poetry contest. That teacher, Miss Darby, and also my inspirational 12th grade English teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, are my friends on Facebook so I’ve happily been able to thank them for their influence on my life.

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

KPH: The angel on my shoulder imagines a sympathetic reader who feels just like I do about things. The devil on the other shoulder thinks about a strict critic who expects perfection. In my first draft, I try to keep that devil out.

Tell us about "Writers’ Night Out". Is it a reading series? What prompted you to start it?

KPH: Once I started reading my poems in public (the first time was in front of the then Poet Laureate of N. Carolina, Kathryn Stripling Byer), I became an open mic junkie. I live in Atlanta but spend many weekends in the mountains. Up there, I started attending a Wednesday morning “Coffee with the Poets” with open mic. I decided to start "Writers’ Night Out" to give working folks a chance to come, and also to make it more of a date night on a Friday night. In the small mountain towns, there are a lot of writers and also a lot of tourists looking for interesting things to do. It is a monthly event, open to the public. We feature a poet or prose writer for about 20 minutes and then an open mic. Audience size ranges from 10-35 people—couples and singles—from four counties. We get 5-12 people reading at the open mic, often including really good writers/readers in their 70s and 80s and sometimes college kids. Many of us meet for dinner beforehand. We have featured some pretty well known writers from North and South Carolina and Georgia.

What are you working on now?

KPH:I’m a little scattered. I’m writing miscellaneous new poems as the inspiration hits. But I’ve got two books about 90% complete and can’t seem to say “Okay, done, time to send to a publisher.” One centers on family poems about the melding of my dad’s culture (Macedonian) with my mom’s (Russian/Irish settled in Australia) in the U.S.

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

KPH: Keep at it. Share and get feedback. I wrote for years, but kept everything in a notebook for no one but myself. While that was satisfying, what really made poetry a special part of my life was sharing my work, having it critiqued, and working to make it better. My poet friends are now some of my best friends. There’s nothing better than being in a community of like-minded people. And that’s how I met you, Nancy. Thanks again for wanting to spend this time with me.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Chapbook Chat: Nicole Rollender Discusses Bone of My Bone

Bone of My Bone, winner of the Blood Pudding Press 2015 Poetry Chapbook Contest

Author: Nicole Rollender

PublisherBlood Pudding Press

Publication date: Sep. 5, 2015

Bone of My Bone by Nicole Rollender

I am my own land, unmanageable. There’s a cross
           road where my hands and lips intersect

with an illumined city’s windows open to blackbirds
           that promise to come through branches,

incising a woman’s kitchen, the reliquaria of domesticity –
           white-draped ducks’ broken necks rising

on counters. How do I measure the body’s gardens
           from within its bone fences? A woman’s skin

is one world. The birth canal is another – how you lived
           in a bell or an oyster, rocking back and forth

in seaweed for a long time. Who hatches from it, shining
           through rain? In the old world, piss prophets mixed

a woman’s lemon urine with wine to discern what
           was in the womb. A hand held out for a zinnia

if she empties, if a distant horse runs back
           to God, if a boat grows smaller, its cargo

of consecrated pears now rotting. My mother will curl
           into herself, as will I, as did my grandmother, joints

unloosening more than a century after her birth. I put
           the lines that grew on her skin into a bowl, muddy

my fingers in her waxiness and into her dead eye,
           unraveling her, seaming her skin, blanching her

bones back to such a shine, like a giant star’s last open
           into brilliance. The unhurried light is dying, drunken

bees dropping into water, isn’t it? My body is made
           from these flat-footed women – when I step

outside not knowing where I’m headed, one of them wakes
           from her dream of owls calling and hisses,

We created you from what we saved.

(Originally published in The Journal.)

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Nicole Rollender is editor of Stitches. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Alaska Quarterly Review, Best New Poets, The Journal, Radar Poetry, Salt Hill Journal, THRUSH Poetry Journal, West Branch, Word Riot and others. Her first full-length poetry collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications. She is the author of the chapbooks Absence of Stars (dancing girl press & studio), Arrangement of Desire (Pudding House Publications), Bone of My Bone, a winner in Blood Pudding Press’s 2015 Chapbook Contest, and Ghost Tongue (Porkbelly Press, 2016). She’s the recipient of poetry prizes from CALYX Journal, Ruminate Magazine and Princemere Journal. Find her online at and

Twitter: @ASI_Stitches,


*   *   *   *   *

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

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

NR: I often have a hard time writing about my own work, or trying to encapsulate what a chapbook is trying to do in a few sentences, so I attempted to do that here: Through the half-lit poems in Bone of My Bone runs a troubling line of questioning – what’s beyond this life? – as the narrator contends with death on a very visceral level: “The hip is something/ no longer examined in the light.” In these poems’ rooms, which are like the ruins of a cathedral open to a night sky, the haunted narrator explores the real ways that we take which is ours, both in this life and in the next. There’s a chance to seize at “what is also the divine: There is no saint/without a past.”

One day, I was reading Blackbird and came upon Malachi Black’s poem, “Quarantine,” a crown of sonnets that follow the 10 movements (Lauds, Prime, Terce and so on) in the Christian monastic prayer known as the canonical hours. These movements follow the passage of one day, so Lauds is a predawn prayer, None is the afternoon prayer, Vespers is sundown’s and so forth. Black calls “Quarantine” a poem “to the possibility of God.” My chapbook started with a similar long “book of hours” type poem, parts of which appear in Bone of My Bone – where the narrator struggles to view and classify what God is: “What is the divine, but God-/light, thorn and scourge, blood let, that bone// shine?”

I put poems I already had written together to form the chapbook, which I wanted to be a kind of violent crying out to God – trying to make sense of why some babies are born very premature, women die early, some women can’t have children, women commit suicide, some women think of committing suicide. The poems walk between this life and the next, weaving together the disturbing and the sublime.

NCL: In a Yale Alumni Magazine article "Faith, in poetry" (May/June 2013), which discusses Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry magazine who left to teach at Yale Divinity School, Mark Oppenheimer writes "the relationship between poetics and piety—so obvious from biblical times through the Victorian era—now seems sundered; poets are a very secular bunch..." That isn't the case for Bone of my Bone, in which faith, God, the complexities and incongruities of being an embodied spirit seem to be pivotal. What has been the response to your poems from other poets? Have you found that others try to pigeon-hole you or minimize / make assumptions about you or your work?

NR: Good question. There’s definitely faith-based poetry like church hymns that are simplistic in their view of God – you know, we’re toiling in the vineyards, praising a distant God and longing for paradise. Things that border on or become cliché, what you referred to as the medieval or Victorian-type poems. Many Catholic saints even wrote poetry like this, poetry that doesn’t resonate with me, since it feels very one-note. My poems aren’t in this “church” camp.

What you observed about this small collection, that my poems deal with “the complexities and incongruities of being an embodied spirit,” is quite accurate. My maternal grandmother, who was very religious, also saw the dead. Her ability to “see” skipped over my mother and passed to me, so from a very young age, I recognized that there was a here and a there that co-existed. So from about the age of 3, I had an unnerving sense of the dead’s existence after death, and that someday I would be one of them.

Poet Anne Carson said something that makes sense of this disquiet. I’m paraphrasing here, but Carson described the feeling as walking through your life with an inkling of what’s also running alongside you on the other side, the flame of God, whatever the afterlife is. So that sense of mortality, of an internal straining toward something to take the place of loneliness. I’m a fan of Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, where she compares the inner self to a series of mansions one must enter and go deeper within in order to achieve some kind of enlightenment: “It is foolish to think that we will enter heaven without entering into ourselves.” There’s also a definite loneliness in that inner self-contending and contemplation. But the reward is what my poems seek, again quoting Teresa of Avila: “Union is as if in a room there were two large windows through which the light streamed in; it enters in different places but it all becomes one.”

I wrote these poems from a fragmented, fragile stance, and feel they’re confessional: The reader sees my falling apart as my water breaks nine weeks early in my second pregnancy. The reader sees that wish for death. The reader uses my kaleidoscopic lens: here’s the world through a religious/spirit-inhabited lens. The narrator is also a seeker, looking for a God that she hasn’t quite found yet, and is trying to determine if he will love her or shun her. But (as Rainer Maria Rilke wrote to a God who wants our love and is waiting for it), and as Teresa of Avila writes (“This Beloved of ours is merciful and good. Besides, he so deeply longs for our love that he keeps calling us to come close.”), these poems hope to find that God.

You know, I’ve been fortunate in that my poems haven’t been ridiculed or pigeon-holed by other poets and editors. Of course, “God poems” aren’t for everyone. But I think in my poems, alongside God also runs a strain of John of the Cross’ dark night of the soul. The despair juxtaposed with the eternal light. There’s sadness in my poems. There’s a music that I make from this chaos.

Also, I’m not so sure that there’s a strong, continuous tradition of Catholic or Christian poets to latch onto if your work centers on faith-type themes. For me, poets writing about God who resonate are: John Donne, John of the Cross, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard von Bingen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Czeslaw Miloscz, Kathleen Norris and Anne Carson. Rilke’s and Carson’s poetry especially, because of that seemingly secret understanding of a vulnerable God who is waiting for us to love him.

NCL: In her essay "Facing Altars: Poetry and Prayer" (Poetry, November 2005), poet Mary Karr writes:
[I]magine my horror when I began to have experiences of joy. ... But nothing can maim a poet’s practice like joy. As Henri de Montherlant says, “Happiness writes white.” What poet—in this century or any other—has founded her work on happiness? We can all drum up a few happy poems here and there, but from Symbolism and the High Moderns forward, poetry has often spread the virus of morbidity. It’s been shared comfort for the dispossessed. Yes, we have Whitman opening his arms to “the blab of the pave.” We have James Wright breaking into blossom, but he has to step out of his body to do so. We have the revelatory moments of Tranströmer and the guilty pleasure and religious striving of Milosz. W.H. Auden captured the ethos when he wrote, “The purpose of poetry is disenchantment.” Poetry in the recent past hasn’t allowed us much joy.
Does that observation hold true for you? Why (or why not?) What role has joy or celebration played in your poetry as whole?

NR: I do live with a strong sense of mortality, or perhaps the “morbidity” that Karr observed, and that sense often informs my work – so you see that I often contend with heavier topics like death, the spirit realm, God, saints, the afterlife. Of course, I experience joy in my life, and that joy does permeate my work. I also have a strong sense that what I have can just as easily be taken away, so I suppose that when celebration does enter my work it’s with a sense of caution (it casts its own shadow). My poems feel like artifact: They’re my attempt to create something beautiful from the imperfect world we inhabit.

Sadness, joy, both feelings come and go, but weaving their imagery together in a poem does create something indelible that doesn’t fade or lose its sharp prick. Yet, the self who inhabits these poems is already dead. In these poems, I’m celebrating small miracles of joy in the quotidian (“One summer/ you left your paper/dolls on a train in Amiens.”) This necklace of memories is what makes me nostalgic for a time and a self I can never return to – each day closer to the end of this life, and closer to the next. This makes me afraid, unlike the saints who were often miserable being earthbound, wanting to be reunited with the God who granted them small moments of ecstasy down here in the weeds. Frankly, I’m still afraid of death: The thought of leaving my children now makes me shudder. I would need to be dragged into the next world; clearly I haven’t yet achieved the same connection to the saints’ God.

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?

NR: Besides “Bone of My Bone,” which is also the chapbook’s title, another crucial poem that I also happen to like a lot is “Marked” (it first appeared in the December 2014 issue of MiPOesias). I worked through many, many drafts of this poem. I read about certain African tribes that singed the skin of women who didn’t bear children. I thought about people who tattoo iconography on their skin, and what that might mean to them. I thought of those of us who cut into our own skin to make our pain visible. We’re all in some way marked, spiritually, physically or both. And yet, we’re spirits in a body. How do we live these two joined forms? These lines address that concern, can we ever get at the spirit part of ourselves: “This is how // the body seems at first, impenetrable – / yet, a woman still sings ghazals // from between your ribs.”


This is a lie I used to believe: The thief
wasn’t nailed to a tree to enter the saved

city, his palms opening
like mouths, like doors. Only after

his hands were marked did a paradise appear –
I miss your bones, he mouths. This is how

the body seems at first, impenetrable –
yet, a woman still sings ghazals

from between your ribs. Here, these women
squat away from the village, hands

pressed into dirt, the bloody clench
and release of babies crowning near long-

haired cows. Their skin unmarked, the village
says, because otherwise the children

won’t be seen by the gods. Lord, I keep praying
underneath this shadow-drawn tree:

praying from a lion’s yellow belly is how
I understand the way godlight watches me. Bless

the dark. Bless the hole from whence we came.
Teach me to float cities, to salt and unsalt

this ancient hammer before it falls to ink-
arrowed chest. I’m saying make me visible.

If we carve saints who bleed into hagiographies
on our backs, is that enough

for our names to be written in the book
of the dead? They enter and exit my body

as smoke. Migrate the translucencies of seeing
to bone marrow, its shadow ossifying

on my spine, dangling femur, on skull. I watch
the secret face I make into my own flesh,

the way I kissed my dead grandmother’s sunken
chest, the lines of her clavicle like outstretched

arms. The women who don’t bear children
are held down and singed with black lines before

they return to work in the fields, skin a book
of illumination: a flame rises and thins. How

I’ll never see the way my life would move
unmarked, the path in moonlight

already full of stones, already stirring.

NCL: You had another chapbook, Absence of Stars (dancing girl press), that was released within a few months of Bone of My Bone. What draws you to the chapbook form? Specifically for Bone of My Bone: 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)?

NR: I’m drawn to the chapbook form because they’re tiny little countries that allow a poet to experiment and to also work through a theme or narrative arc in a smaller space. I actually put together Bone of My Bone specifically for the Blood Pudding Press 2015 Chapbook contest last December. I had been thinking about the theme for a little while, and felt that the subject matter was a good match for BPP, since I several of its chapbook titles that embrace the spiritual, the mystical, the ghostly, the macabre, the day’s darker undersides. I know that my poetry isn’t for everyone – my longer book of hours poem was rejected from numerous journals. That’s partly why I used it as a skeleton or starting point for Bone of My Bone. Luckily BPP Publisher Juliet Cook liked the chapbook enough to select it as one of the Blood Pudding Press Chapbook Contest winners.

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

NR: Bone of My Bone is also about carpe diem. Since I was a child of the ’90s, I loved the movie Good Will Hunting where the literature professor played by Robin Williams jumped on a table and gave a spine-tingling monologue about seizing the day. My chapbook is like a long prayer that’s asking for the ability to make the most of time one has on earth. There’s an excitement in being alive, about the possibility of what’s to come, and as Malachi Black said, “the possibility of God.”

NCL: What are you working on now?

NR: My first full-length collection, Louder Than Everything You Love, is forthcoming in the late fall from ELJ Publications, so I’m working on the final order and editing and looking for cover art. It’s scary and thrilling at the same time. I didn’t expect to have a full length out this year. Ariana D. Den Bleyker, ELJ’s publisher, had originally accepted a longer chapbook collection, and then earlier this year had solicited a full-length so for a while I’ve been editing, shaping and adding to that original collection. Many of the poems have found homes in journals and I’m excited to release it into the world.