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.