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2020 Under Pressure

Protected: Under Pressure: Megan Peak

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2020 Under Pressure

Protected: Under Pressure: Melissa Wiley

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2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Todd Dillard

Ways We Vanish, Todd Dillard

Todd Dillard‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous publications, including Fairy Tale Review, Booth, The Boiler Journal, Electric Literature, and The Adroit Journal. His debut full-length collection of poetry Ways We Vanish. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughter, and works as a writer and editor for a hospital. 

Here, Todd Dillard discusses literary cities, baking bread, tension, and the best writing advice her received from Jericho Brown.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Todd Dillard: One of the poems in the collection is titled “Ways Things Vanish”, and deals with a son dying and mother calling his name. Ways We Vanish is kind of like an inversion of that—the book is about people, which is why the “we” is there, but also the book deals with my mother’s passing, in some ways it’s like a son calling his mother’s name.

BRP: How much impact did your surroundings have on the imagery and setting of your collection?

TD: My attention to setting is twofold: first, I want to ensure the things happening in the poem–the sensory details–are actualized by the text. The poems in this collection are perhaps less cerebral that the work of other poets, and this is linked to my second answer: I need the physical world described in the poems to be very real, or appear to be very real, because I need the reader to be present and also surprised when something impossible happens. Many of the poems are fabulist or speculative in that way: simple, sensory settings or scenes, into which something alien or impossible descends. Were the poems less focused on scene and setting and the senses, there would be too much confusion, I think, when the weird arrives. It’s kind of like how going outside your comfort zone first requires you to know/identify/describe your comfort zone. 

My background is pretty split between the suburbs of Houston, the country of Texas, and the cities of New York and Philadelphia, which is why the poems are split across rural and urban settings. Ultimately though, what I want to do is establish something familiar for the reader, to invite them in to a safe space before I take them somewhere new. (I hope!) 

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

TD: I tend to avoid deadlines. I’m aware they exist! But it’s sort of like being aware solar powered cars exist. They seem nice and useful, but I take the bus.

This is different than my time management, which is fairly rigid with regards to writing: wake up at 6:15am, read the last thing I wrote, read and edit on the bus/subway from 6:45am to 7:15am, read and edit and write during my lunchbreak (11:45-12:30 or so), read and edit and write on my commute home (4:00-4:45), edit when I can after my kid goes to bed or while I’m at the gym (7:30ish-8:30ish), edit right before bed (11:30), then start all over. Every weekday is like this. I don’t always edit or write during those times, and I try to read instead if that’s the case. I mostly take weekends off; that’s for family.

The result is a lot of bad poems or poems that need a lot of reworking! But there are some good ones too.

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

TD: It’s so interesting you say “art-wise”! Because I’m reading a case study of the Russian neuroscientist A.R. Luria, and it’s not artful at all, and yet it’s artful in many unexpected ways. The study deals with the fractured memory and perception of a veteran who had a bullet lodged in his brain.

I’m also reading Aase Berg’s poetry collection With Deer, translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson. It’s weird and interesting and at times horrifying and always several orbits outside of my comfort zone. I maybe get about 70% of what’s going on, so it feels like a verse version of a mirror maze in a creepy fun house. It’s exhilarating!

I’ve also started reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I haven’t read it in over a decade, so I just feel due for a revisit. Also… I try to keep at least one excellent novel or story collection in the rotation of stuff I read at all times. A good novel is a safe harbor to me.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

TD: Jericho Brown was a PhD student at the University of Houston when I was in undergrad, and I had the very good fortune of being in one of this poetry workshops. (He was brilliant then, he’s brilliant now, truly he’s one of our best!) And it’s funny, I’ve had so many great writing professors and connected with so many great writers in my life, but it’s his advice that’s stuck with me the most: JUST SAY IT. Because so often, I think, poets have this impulse toward the beautiful and pretty, to playing dress up with nouns by wrapping them in metaphors and adjectives and ribbons and lace. But that can interfere with the thingness of the thing. If it’s worth writing about, let it be itself! If it’s worth saying plainly, say it plainly!

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?  

TD: I think I am going to say Houston here, though it’s a pretty even split between Houston, New York City, and Philadelphia. There’s a lot of nostalgia attached to Houston, since it’s where I grew up—I remember going to Notsuoh’s and Helios (previously The Mausoleum) for slams and open mics as a teenager. Then there’s the community around Gulf Coast and University of Houston, with their reading series, and First Fridays over by the Rothko Chapel. Of course there’s still Brazos Bookstore. And for years I worked in the Alabama Theatre Book Stop, which has sadly closed down and turned into a Trader Joe’s or something. There’s a lot of thriving writing culture and creativity in Houston, especially in the Montrose area, and I was really lucky to be a suburban kid who had access to such amazing art and writing. Favorite eateries and bars: Late Night Pies, House of Pies, Niko Niko’s, Poison Girl, The Ginger Man, Whataburger.

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

TD: I love making bread! Poetry is bread! It has such a small smattering of ingredients, but with the right craft and the right practice you get this amazing, soul-filling meal. There are at least as many kinds of poems as there are types of bread.

I also used to play clarinet, up through college. Music is a big part of my life—I’m not playing clarinet these days, but I still play guitar almost every day, and I sing to my daughter every day. My love for music appears as more than prosody in my poems. I love the use of register, of resonance and differing patterns of rhythm and speech, sure, but I also love the emotional and imaginative landscapes lyrics explore, and try that in my poems. I mean, have you ever read the lyrics of a Bush song? If that’s not permission to write whatever the hell you want, I don’t know what is.

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

TD: I read at least one poem of mine before bed and when I wake up. This is in part to keep myself engaged with my work, but also because the person I am when I write before bed is not necessarily who I am when I wake up. I like to think there’s an ongoing, tripartite collaboration there, between my morning, my day, and my night selves.

Other stuff… it’s hard to say. Do I consider being a dad and raising my kid and being a partner to my wife a ritual? No. But it has the semblance of ritual, there are patterns there, and there’s comfort in patterns and routines, especially as these routines are what permit me to find time to write.

I also shine my boots a lot. This might be weird, but I have two pair of beautiful boots that I try to take care of. Something about plunking down and cleaning boots, stripping them of wax, cleaning, polishing, building those sealant layers back up… it feels ritualistic, holy. There’s a way to do it right, and you have to study and practice until you get it right. My boots literally carry me to all the places I need to go, so this care, this sense of practice feels important to me. There’s a good chance I’m going to go home tonight and give them a once-over just because of this question!

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

I put notes in my Notes app, transfer them to my Notes software on my PC, rework them there, paste them and email them to my beta readers or paste them into a Google Doc and send my beta readers screenshots, tinker some more based on feedback, save the final versions in my Google Docs file and copy from that file into a Word document when I’m ready to submit or print a packet of poems out to edit by hand. The numerous applications are useful to me, seeing my poem in many variations I find very helpful when editing.

BRP: If you had to describe Ways We Vanish in only three words, which would they be and why?

TD: I’m going to resist the urge to send some sort of image-based lyricism and say: “And then I—” 

One of the tensions of the book, I think, is that it’s a collection in motion, it’s origin story and life story and afterlife story and once upon a time and happily ever after and backyard Ragnarok—and this is in tension specifically with how the book, is, by nature of being a book, contained. It tells a story, yes, but that story stretches into robots on Mars, magic, ghosts, fatherhood, grief, and beyond. It (hopefully!) shows that one thing comes after the next, and even if the sequence of things doesn’t immediately become a story, the trajectory of all things in one’s life becomes its own story. I was a son. And then I was survivor. And then I was a wreck. And then I was haunted. And then I was loved. And then I was a father. “And then I—”

Order Ways We Vanish here!

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2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Letters From The Interior, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha is a poet, essayist, and translator. Her first full-length collection of poems, Water & Salt (Red Hen) won the 2018 Washington State Book Award for Poetry. She is also the author of two chapbooks, Arab in Newsland,  (Two Sylvias, 2016), and Letters From The Interior (Diode Editions, 2019 ).

Here, Lena Khalaf Tuffaha discusses gardening, embroidery, bibliomancy, and the inspiration behind her latest collection.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: How long did working on Letters From The Interior take, from conception to publication? 

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha: The very first poems of this chapbook began after some translations of Fairuz songs, while I was on retreat at Hedgebrook in 2015. Meadow cabin in April—the light and the silence gave me so much room to be playful, to listen. New textures and eventually whole worlds emerged from lines I had known and sung for years. 

After the Fairuz-pantoums I began to write the Letters. These poems came together more slowly. I kept working on the poems during my years at the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program. Eventually, a full-length manuscript came together, and I’m still refining it. The letters and songs, the rooms in which they echo, however, became Letters from the Interior. 

BRP: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure for you? 

LKT: I love-hate them. Generally speaking, my writing doesn’t follow a strict routine, despite my attempts at creating one over the years. I find there are bursts of time when all the gathering and listening and reading yields poems, and there are silences in between. Sometimes deadlines move the process along, sometimes they create anxiety.

BRP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise? 

LKT: I’m crushing on Palestinian poet Maya Abu Alhayyat. Fady Joudah has beautifully translated several of her poems in the most recent issue of Asymptote and I’m thrilled for English-language readers to get to know her work. 

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate in or feel are important to your writing? 

LKT: My morning coffee routine—the same few gestures, the quiet as it brews, the first fragrances and taste. No matter what happens the rest of the day, I have those moments.

Beginning in March, I spend time in the garden. Tending to living things, learning, practicing patience and trying to embrace the myriad ways your best plans might not come to pass and what does might be even more magnificent if you look closely, if you let it.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing? 

LKT: My first mentor at Rainier Writing Workshop, poet Peggy Shumaker, gave us a magnificent send off at the end of our first-year residency. It ended with the sentence: Go forth and lavish! Her talk was about the writer’s time and the work of attention. I have returned to that generous vision of writing so many times. 

BRP: Do you keep a journal, or do you prefer to write on anything you can find? 

LKT: I have multiple journals going at all times with different purposes. Some for collecting fragments, some for drafts of my own work, some for words & their etymologies (an idea borrowed from my friend poet Molly Spencer) and a bibliomancy book-of-days, in which I open a book of poems to a page and record that one poem, try to memorize a few lines, just spend some time with it. For my own writing, I always begin with paper and pen, most often in a notebook, but not exclusively.

BRP: When and how does inspiration find you? For example, do you go outside to find it in nature, or does it suddenly come to you in the middle of the night? 

LKT: It tends to build. There is usually an initial insight—a word, an image, and idea, or even a sensation in time and place. That sets a series of “awarenesses” in motion—maybe it leads to a question, or even a fragment or a line. 

BRP: How did writing a chapbook compare to writing a full-length collection? Can you compare these experiences? 

LKT: This chapbook was a very different experience for me. My previous chapbook, Arab In Newsland, was written with a specific theme in mind, the poems all speak to the experience of being Arab in a world constructed of and by the news industry. This chapbook surprised me; it emerged, sort of like a nesting doll living inside of a larger work.

BRP: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you prefer? 

LKT: I want to say thread and fabric because I’m trying to learn Palestinian embroidery, but I am so incredibly slow I can’t imagine ever creating something that would live in a museum! And museums are complicated spaces. So maybe dance. A body in motion that makes something alive, wordless, and vanishing. Something that cannot be colonized, that walls cannot own or contain.

BRP: If you could describe Letters From The Interior in three words, what would they be? 

LKT: One word I’ve recently learned in Arabic:  زمكان zamakaan, translation: place-time. That and memory, and language.

Order Letters From The Interior here!

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2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Stephanie Cawley

Stephanie Cawley, author of My Head But Not My Heart

My Heart But Not My Heart, Stephanie Cawley

Stephanie Cawley is a poet from southern New Jersey. She is the author of My Heart But Not My Heart, winner of the Slope Book Prize chosen by Solmaz Sharif, and the chapbook A Wilderness from Gazing Grain Press. Her poems and other writing appear in DIAGRAM, The Fanzine, TYPO, The Boston Review, and West Branch, among other places. Her next book Animal Mineral will be out from YesYes Books in 2022. Learn more at stephaniecawley.com

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Stephanie Cawley: I almost never have a title in mind when I begin something, and I rarely even put a provisional title at the top of the page when writing. The title of my book, My Heart But Not My Heart, came a while after I’d written most of it. In a workshop with Yona Harvey, she led us in an extended free-writing session — maybe two hours long, with some prompts intervening along the way. The phrase “my heart but not my heart” emerged there, somehow. It felt right for the book, and it felt right for this book that its title come from somewhere outside it.

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

SC: I’m pretty resistant to the idea of internally-imposed deadlines in my writing practice, though I recognize that external deadlines (application or submission deadlines, workshop deadlines when I was in school, needing to put something together to send to a friend) can have a motivating influence on getting me to commit to a decision about a piece. Left to my own devices, I try to carve out time for writing but let myself “work” in a pretty intuitive way, whether that’s generating new writing, revising, assembling a manuscript, reading, or not writing. I think I do my best writing when I trust that my creative process isn’t something that needs to operate according to capitalist logics about productivity, organization, and time management. It’s more like a plant that needs tending: certain kinds of light, water, air, space, time.

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

SC: I saw Portrait of a Lady on Fire twice in theaters before beginning to shelter in place. That, plus Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters, plus for a long time now Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love are haunting and inspiring a lot of the writing I’ve been doing recently.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

SC: Dawn Lundy Martin crossed out a line in one of my poems that was kind of over-explanatory, kind of facing towards the reader and pointing out what was happening in that moment, and Dawn said I didn’t need that line, that I should trust my reader. While other writers, mentors, and peers might have told me to cut a moment like that, too, I had never thought about it quite that way before. I return to that advice often. I think writing feels best to me when I am working to trust my readers, to approach them with generosity, rather than any defensive need to prove myself — whether proving my own skill or control, or proving or explaining my suffering, my feelings, my beliefs. 

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?

SC: The two literary cities of my heart are Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I really began to be a poet while living in Philadelphia after college, and I’m glad to be (almost) there again now. Philly has great bookstores (People’s Books and Culture, the new Harriett’s Bookshop, the Wooden Shoe) and truly more poetry readings than a human person could hope to attend. Then I lived in Pittsburgh for graduate school and a bit after, and I treasure and so deeply miss the poetry community there, bookstores like White Whale Books, incredible readings and workshops put on by the Center for African-American Poetry & Poetics at Pitt, plus DIY readings at venues like Glitterbox and in people’s houses. 

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

SC: I have cycled through a lot of textile-based hobbies over the years: sewing, knitting, crochet, embroidery. I think it can just feel satisfying to make something more tangible than a piece of writing, but I also think attending to questions of color, texture, and shape as you do with textile crafts can help me bring a different kind of attention to writing, particularly if I’m having a hard time getting distance from a piece I’m working on. 

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

SC: I’m not particularly ritual- or routine-oriented, but for me, caring for myself is an important support to my writing. Taking my meds, going to therapy, cooking, exercising (horrifying), going to bed on time. Often if I’m not doing these things, I’m not going to be able to write. Other than that, while I don’t have a strict routine or discipline about it, reading is the most important practice to support my writing. I don’t even read every day, but I do love to carve out big blocks of time for reading, to read all morning when I can, to read on the train, to read before bed.

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

SC: I mostly write on the computer, and I mostly write while looking out the window or off in the distance, paying as little conscious attention to what I’m doing on the page as possible, for as long as possible, or as long as I feel moved to do so.

BRP: Would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

SC: What an interesting question! Perhaps I am more of a curator. As you might suspect from how I’ve been talking about my writing process, I tend to generate a lot of writing, material, text, and then revision or editing for me is about shaping a smaller amount of that material into a poem, or a sequence, or a manuscript. I don’t think of this process as about cutting or discarding material to excavate something, like I’m carving a statue, but rather as about sifting through and gathering pieces that I want to assemble and then refine into something new, like making a nest. 

BRP: What advice would you offer to young writers on the topic of inspiration?

SC: Cultivate it, but trust it. Figure out, through trial and error, what fuels your particular creative process (movement, stillness, solitude, sociality, looking at art, listening to music, reading X kind of book, mornings, evenings, quiet, routine, lack of routine, being outside, etc. etc.) and try to arrange your life as much as possible to give yourself space for those things. And then don’t panic if things move slowly, or strangely, or irregularly, or mysteriously, or if what you need changes as you and your life change.

Order My Heart But Not My Heart here!

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2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Jenny Molberg

Jenny Molberg, author of Refusal

Refusal, Jenny Molberg

Jenny Molberg is the author of two poetry collections: Marvels of the Invisible (winner of the Berkshire Prize, Tupelo Press) and Refusal (LSU Press). She has received fellowships and scholarships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Sewanee Writers Conference, Vermont Studio Center, and the Longleaf Writers Conference. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, Gulf Coast, Tupelo Quarterly, Boulevard, The Missouri Review, West Branch, and other publications. She is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Central Missouri, where she directs Pleiades Press and co-edits Pleiades magazine. Find her online at jennymolberg.com.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: How long did Refusal take to write from conception to publication?

Jenny Molberg: About five years ago, I started writing the epistolary poems that would inform the heart of the collection—a kind of book-length love letter to my friends. Over the next few years, as I dealt with a divorce and a subsequent abusive relationship (both included dealing with our often-broken legal system that continues to favor white male-dominated power structures), the book began to take a clearer shape. I wrote the final series of poems, the battle between Ophelia and the Demogorgon, during my time at Vermont Studio Center in 2018.

BRP: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

JM: When I was putting the book together, I had the sense that I wanted a one-word title—a word that resonated with more than one meaning. “Refusal” is a word that I often encounter in the work of writers I admire, like Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Anne Carson, and in formative books like Jane Eyre. The word confronts female anger, and the canon’s eschewal of female anger, in its many definitions: a denial or rejection of a demand, a horse stopping short of a jump, an opportunity to accept or reject something before it is offered to others, something that has been rejected—I was thinking in terms of Rich’s concept of refusing patriarchal constructs, in art and in life. I had landed on the word “refusal” in the first Ophelia poem of the collection: the refusal of a character to play one’s role; the refusal to view a work of art through the male gaze; in many ways, the refusal of the muse.

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

JM: In the past few years, as I have become a wearer of many hats—professor, editor, administrator, budget coordinator, mentor, press director, etc.—I have tried to be kinder to myself about productivity and deadlines. I demand a lot from myself, and it often times becomes too much. The current quarantine due to COVID-19 has forced me to reevaluate that self-pressure and to think about both my privilege and obsession with time—to try to manage time when one needs to worry about finances, health, family, parenting, etc. is an impossible task, and we just have to do the best we can. I look to poets I love, like Brigit Pegeen Kelly, or Ilya Kaminsky, or Carolyn Forché, who take their time between collections, several of whom embarked on important projects of translation or memoir or editing that were equally important passion projects in the spaces between publishing collections of poems. It takes time to live and learn, and it takes living and learning to write good poetry. Living and learning are inherently disorganized and resist timelines, so I often remind myself to slow down. This is a luxury I am not often afforded—it is a luxury in and of itself to be able to discuss it here—but because of reasons of gender and workplace competence and money, time is a concrete thing with which I’m constantly sparring. 

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

JM: In terms of reading, I’m currently inspired by the work of Carolyn Forché, Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, E. J. Koh, Philip Metres, Leila Chatti, and Donika Kelly, among many others. I’ve also been mining the photographs of Corinne May Botz, who captures the work of female forensic scientist Frances Glessner Lee in Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death—this work confronts violence enacted upon the female body and our society’s obsessive focus on the male perpetrator rather than the female victim. I’m also consistently inspired by Jenny Holzer’s projection art and Kara Walker’s cut-paper silhouettes. Refusal takes a lot of its inspiration from art I encountered when I was living and working in Spain—I found myself revisiting canonical artwork and texts and revising their narrative through the lens of the damage inflicted by patriarchal gaslighting, silencing, and violence. Finally, I’ve been reading a lot on the work of female forensic scientists (which is an art!), as well as exploring the true crime genre; I just finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara, and I’m currently reading Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession, recommended to me by poet and fellow true crime enthusiast Ruth Williams. 

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?


JM: Bruce Bond once described a poem as a “gift,” and that idea has long resonated. It helps me to see that the poets I love present offerings in their crafting of language and experience, and it helps me to think more about the kind of communion that occurs between a poem and its reader—to focus less on any outside validation and more on the ways in which a poem can start a conversation. My mentor David Keplinger once encouraged me to get in the practice of writing every day, even if what I write down hasn’t found its own meaning or form. The practice of poetry can become a daily exercise, and though the cultivation of that habit can be frustrating or difficult to keep, it develops muscle memory for experimentation with language. He describes the poems that emerge out of that kind of practice as “poems from the future,” and I’ve experienced that a few times when I’ve kept up with the practice—after weeks of writing to no avail, a poem will sort of fall from the sky fully formed, like a weird little Icarus. I have to admit, though, I am not always able to keep up with the daily poetic workouts.


BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

JM: This is a great question. Most of my adolescence and early adulthood was spent in frustration that I wasn’t a more talented visual artist or musician, but my failure in those crafts led me to see that poetry was my art form. I consider the work I do for Pleiades magazine and Pleiades Press to be a kind of making that informs and inspires my writing. The editing, design consultation, selection of work to publish, and overseeing the curation of special features introduces me to the work of new writers, and I find the process of ushering a new book into the world to be so rewarding. I consider myself to be very fortunate to be able to contribute to the literary dialogue. This work doesn’t leave me much time for hobbies, though I love to travel and am often looking for ways to travel to share the work of our press or to find some time and space for writing. I also love to cook—I’m an adventurous eater and enjoy learning new recipes—there’s something about the timing of making a meal that I find akin to the musical tempo of poem making. Cooking is daily practice, one that creates sustenance, and I think of poetry as a thing I can cultivate and consume, a thing that nourishes me.


BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

JM: When I draft, I always hand write. I keep a dream journal and try to write down something every day, even if it’s just an idea or lines I love from other poets. I like to write in the afternoon or late at night, and I find it difficult to draft when I’m not alone, sitting in silence. It is important for me to have the books I’m reading and old favorites that inspire me close at hand as I draft a new poem. I’ll often pick up a book, read a poem, and start drafting. It’s a kind of call-and-response practice—it’s almost impossible for me to sit down and start writing on a blank computer screen. 

BRP: How did writing Refusal compare to writing your first book, Marvels of the Invisible? What are some lessons you learned from your first book that helped you through the second?


JM: It’s interesting—I found the experience between writing the two books to be wildly different. First, Marvels of the Invisible, I think, was the product of writing two other collections that failed as books—it is the culmination of at least ten years of practice with poetry, and in some poems, the beginning stages of my learning. I also wrote Marvels of the Invisible as part of my dissertation for my PhD, so I had a lot of guidance and mentorship from my peers and the faculty at the University of North Texas, most significantly Bruce Bond and B.H. Fairchild. Most of the poems in that collection took a lot of time to whittle and craft. Refusal, on the other hand, though not necessarily written quickly, came out of more immediate feeling, anger, obsession, and fantasy. While Marvels responds to scientific texts and memory, Refusal is in many ways the product of imagining spaces where I could deal with my trauma that don’t exist in the real world. I experiment with persona and form more in this collection, and it helped me write my way out of some really difficult psychological spaces. I do think I learned a lot about ordering and shaping a manuscript from my first book that were useful to Refusal—it took me a lot less time to see the collection as a whole, to organize and fill gaps in the book.

BRP: If you had to describe Refusal in only three words, which would they be and why?

JM: Testimony: Many of the poems in the collection rise out of witnessing my own experience with trauma, abuse, addiction, and gaslighting, as well as larger, more societal dealings with those issues. As I have forced myself to confront the fear of testifying through poetry, and dealt with our culture and legal system’s victim blaming and failures in addressing power structures, I have heard many other people’s testimonies in response, and this inspires me to speak out in the interest of changing our systems. 

Friendship: Publishing one of these poems allowed me to reach out, through poetry, to someone who would become one of the most important friends of my life. As I invented “hospitals” for the kind of trauma I was dealing with—gaslighting and abuse—that doesn’t always have a clear treatment path or cure, I decided to dedicate those poems as epistles to my friends. My friends pulled me from the depths of the underworld during the time I was writing these poems, and I am interested in the idea of rethinking the beloved as a friend. Adrienne Rich explores communities of women as a form of resistance or refusal of male-dominated society (most specifically in her essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”), and it is my hope that these poems embody that concept. 

Resilience: Refusal deals with difficult issues, trauma, and cultural toxicity, and as I was writing these poems, I found myself longing for hope. I think that in this collection, hope is embodied in community—an unburdening that comes from shared experience. I reimagine the Ophelia figure in the book as a character who is unfettered by a patriarchal dictation of her own narrative, and I hope that these poems reach even one person who is struggling with similar experiences—it is my ardent desire that the poems issue forth a sense of strength in healing. 

Order Refusal here!

Categories
2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Kayleb Rae Candrilli

2019 Whiting Awards winner Kayleb Rae Candrilli by Beowulf Sheehan

All The Gay Saints, Kayleb Rae Candrilli

Kayleb Rae Candrilli is a 2019 Whiting Award Winner in Poetry and the author of Water I Won’t Touch, Copper Canyon Press 2021, All the Gay Saints, Saturnalia 2020, and What Runs Over, YesYes Books 2017. You can read more of Candrilli’s work here.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Kayleb Rae Candrilli: With particular regards to All the Gay Saints, I took an immense amount of inspiration from Hernan Bas’ painting titles, especially in the moments of the alternative title or the OR maneuver. I loved how much context he could build with one title, let alone with the utilization of two titles. A title, ultimately, is too important a rhetorical opportunity to miss. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about search engine optimization, too, and how that consideration effects contemporary poets. Ideally, I’d like my poem titles to help me be found in the mountains of data we’ve created and are creating. It takes a ton of moxie to go for that one-word title, moxie I often don’t have lol 

And too, with the continual reappearance of the Future Husband-Wife in the titles of All the Gay Saints, I credit Michelle Tea and her partnership with Dashiell Lippman, as it gave me a language for where my love is headed, and how to name it. 

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

KRC: I would say I’m a pretty vigilant manager of myself. I never miss a deadline I want to hit. I always do what I say I will do. I make a point to say it out loud, though, if only to myself. 

Nobody tells you when you first start, that writing is 90% business management, and 10% actual writing (if you’re lucky). So now I try to shout it from the rooftops and let folx know that so much of poetry (if you choose to try and monetize/make a career of it) is efficient project management. You do your own writing, editing, submissions, grant applications, promotion materials, contract negotiations, manage bookings. You save your own receipts(!), do your probably complicated taxes, find reviewers, make certain reviewers get copies, make list of post publication awards and make certain you are submitted for consideration, etc, etc. 

But re: actual writing, I have always found self-imposed constraints productive, whether it’s Ekphrasis, an erasure of Creed’s “Human Clay”, somatic practices, still lives, a crown of sonnets, a sprawling sestina, a form I create, a pile of poetry magnets, I employ it all. I think I learned something valuable when my mother kept every single piece of ~kid art~ I ever made. Everything can be salvaged, retooled, reimagined. No idea is too small to find a home somewhere. 

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

KRC: I recently discovered Brian Ino and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemas. I’ve been loving those!

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

KRC: Michael Martone told me his goal for all of his students was to foster a sustainability, the sustainability to write forever. I think about that all the time. And forever doesn’t mean every day, it means your whole life, which is so different, and much easier to manage somehow. 

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?  (Have you read there? Highlight bookstores/eateries.) 

KRC: I think Philly is a really wonderful literary city. I’m lucky to live in it. I probably make it out to readings less often than I should! 

But Berry Grass’ “Tragic: The Gathering” is an incredible reading series for Trans Writers, typically held at The Wooden Shoe (Philly’s anarchist bookstore). Boston Gordon’s “You Can’t Kill a Poet” is also a stellar series. & Manny Brown’s is my favorite dive—best bar food, in my opinion!

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

KRC: I really enjoy found photos, sifting through thrifted slides, finding these incredible, indelible photos. I’d like to find more time to figure out a way to present them, curate them into something beautiful. I think there are so many parallels between that love and writing, but I try to actively resist that line of thinking. Sometimes it’s just nice to have a hobby, for hobby sake. 

I also really wish I could produce EDM, which is very unabashedly my favorite thing. But have you ever opened Ableton!? So complicated. 

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

KRC: I listen to a ton of electronic music, and drink a lot of iced coffee, even in winter! Those are my morning rituals, and if I skip them, the day is typically a wash.

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

KRC: I mainly draft in the “notepad” function on my computer. Though, I definitely handwrite when my computer isn’t available. But the notepad is generally my jam. You should have seen my desktop when Macs still had “Stickies.” What a terrible mess. 

When the poem is ready to become a poem, I transfer it to a proper word document. That’s that “now you’re a real thing” moment. 

BRP: Would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

KRC: I like the idea of curation! The way I draft is such a modge podge of lines, that curation feels like the right word. I will have all these disparate images that I’ve collected in my notepad, and the work of the poem is to build strong connective tissue between them all—to use everything I’ve got. 

BRP: What advice would you offer to young writers on the topic of inspiration?

KRC: I think generative exercises are imperative—self-imposed restraints, assignments. Do whatever you can to foster a deep love and unending fascination with both words and your own ability to grow. I can point to so much of my human growth in my poems. We all have different vehicles for growth, but this is certainly mine. 

I don’t know that I love “inspiration” as a term, really. But I think that’s my, very particular (and often shifting), angle on writing. For me, it’s silly to call what is truly my “production,” inspiration. Living inside capitalism is a tremendous burden. There is a direct tie between my poetic production and my ability to buy the best dog food I can buy. I don’t think it’s useful for me to hide that truth. 

That said, I often still feel that “runner’s high” when I write. But much like running, you’ve got to get into the poem long before you feel that feeling. 

Order All the Gay Saints here!

Categories
2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Esteban Rodríguez

Esteban Rodríguez, author of In Bloom

In Bloom, Esteban Rodríguez

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of the poetry collections Dusk & Dust, Crash Course, In Bloom, (Dis)placement, and The Valley. His work has appeared in Boulevard, Shenandoah, The Rumpus, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for [PANK] and Heavy Feather Review. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas. 

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: Where do you get your title inspiration from?

Esteban Rodríguez: I like titles that don’t distract from the poem itself, at least in the poems that I write. I wholeheartedly admire the way some poets utilize long titles and how those titles sometimes lead into the poems themselves. I, however, have never felt comfortable relying on such a technique, hence the one- or two-word titles that appear in my work (“Quicksand,” “Lotería,” “Ballad,” “Golgotha,” etc.). I’m hoping that my titles say something about the poem without revealing everything about it, and more importantly, I’m hoping that readers are invited to enter the poem without feeling as though—right from the onset—they will be burdened with what it’s attempting to convey. 

BRP: When working on a project, do you give yourself deadlines? What does that time management/organization look like?

ER: Deadlines are key for me getting work done. I’ve known poets—and have read about writers— who write when inspiration hits them. I like the idea of writing being organic in that manner (for some it works amazingly well) but perhaps because I’m a bit impatient at times I impose deadlines on myself. Generally, my goal is to write a poem every week, and I try to have the framework of a manuscript done in about eight to ten months. The project might change over the course of those months. I might go a different direction or add poems that I’m trying to salvage from a past project, so I always try the remain flexible. Nevertheless, I try to treat my writing as a job, and the more disciplined I am, the more I’m able to produce. It sounds highly impersonal (and oddly capitalistic), but it’s the route I fell into and the one I feel works best for me, at least for the moment. 

BRP: Who/what is currently inspiring you, art-wise?

ER: W.S. Merwin has been occupying most of my reading this year. I read his collection The Vixen last spring, and to say that it had a profound impact on me would be an understatement. I bought his Collected Works in January and have been devouring it ever since. There is a timelessness to his work, and I’m glad my enthusiasm for his poetry has not waned over the past few months. I’m also reading Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s last two collections, Song and The Orchard, which have served as inspiration when trying to write about and depict landscapes in my own work.

BRP: What is a favorite piece of advice from a mentor of yours? How did it help you with your writing?

ER: The best advice I’ve received was not from a mentor, but from my wife. About five years ago, I became a high school English teacher and I was finding it difficult to adjust to the workload and the schedule (the hours were long to say the least). I was not writing, and the moments when I was were less productive that I had hoped for. At the time, I was seriously considering applying to a PhD program in Creative Writing, but not because of the passion that drives most writers to apply to such a program, but rather to escape the onslaught of work I was faced with. My wife, quite bluntly, said that was a stupid reason to apply, and that ultimately if I wanted to write, if I wanted to see myself as a writer, I needed to find a way to do so, regardless of what my job was. Though this doesn’t sound profound enough to warrant being put on a motivational poster, the discipline I have toward writing and poetry spurred from this conversation.  

BRP: What is your favorite literary city and what makes that community special?  (Have you read there? Highlight bookstores/eateries.)

ER: I wouldn’t say that I have a favorite literary city. I live in Austin, which has a great literary scene (Malvern Books, Texas Book Festival, Michener Center for Writers), and it’s undoubtedly great to be surrounded by it. Inspiration, however, comes from the books I read, and I think Austin, or any city for that matter, merely provides encouragement to write. The Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes said in an interview once that his country was the country of artists and painters that he admired, and I too echo those sentiments.

BRP: Besides writing, what else would you say you do you have a passion for making? What parallels do you see between it and writing?

ER: I’m really drawn to art, and my intention after graduating high school was study to become an artist. That path, for various reasons, didn’t pan out, but I’ve always been fascinated with creating artwork, and I deeply admire the innovative ways in which something can be expressed on a canvas (my art days, sadly, are behind me). Nevertheless, I see a lot of parallels between the two, and perhaps that’s where my needs to paint an image on page comes from. If I can get readers to see an image and examine it in a way that they would a piece of art, then I think I’ve stirred something in them that makes them seek a deeper interpretation and meaning.

BRP: Besides writing, what other daily rituals do you participate or feel are important to your writing?

ER: Reading. I read every day, even if my schedule makes it difficult for me to do so. If I can spare even ten minutes to read a few pages of poetry, then I make sure I spend those ten minutes wisely. Also, exercise is not a bad way to keep the mind focused.

BRP: What is your process when drafting? Do you use a journal or draft in other ways?

ER: I used to write in a journal in my early twenties. I would spend a few hours writing down notes and sketching an outline for a poem. Eventually, this became unsustainable, particularly because as I changed jobs, the hours I worked increased significantly. I had to adapt, and nowadays I write poems on the Notes app on my phone. This has allowed me to work on my poems wherever I’m at—no need to find a space, open my notebook, and hope that the ink in my pen hasn’t run out. It also allows me to immerse myself in the poem more. Since it is quite literally on me, I feel a closer connection to it, and I feel that I can write it in a more intimate manner.

BRP: Would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

ER: Both. I feel I’m an editor of individual poems but a curator when I’m trying to arrange my poems into a collection.

BRP: What advice would you offer to young writers on the topic of inspiration?

ER: This advice has probably been given a million times, but if you’re looking for a source of inspiration, then look no further than books. Read. Read a lot. And when you feel that you have read enough to put pen to paper, finish that last line and read some more. 

BRP: If you had to describe In Bloom in only three words, which would they be and why?

ER: I would say the following three: Home. Family. Celebration. 

Order In Bloom here!