Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Sara Lupita Olivares

Migratory Sound, Sara Lupita Olivares

Sara Lupita Olivares is the author of Migratory Sound (The University of Arkansas Press), which was selected as winner of the 2020 CantoMundo Poetry Prize, and the chapbook Field Things (dancing girl press). Her poems have appeared in Gulf Coast, Denver Quarterly, Salt Hill Journal, DIAGRAM, jubilat, and elsewhere. She currently lives in New Mexico where she works as an assistant professor of English at New Mexico Highlands University.  


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did working on Migratory Sound take, from conception to publication?

Sara Lupita Olivares: I started the poems after moving from Michigan to Texas for my MFA where some were part of my thesis. I then moved to Brooklyn, NY for a few years and wrote some of the poems there, and then once I returned back to Michigan for my PhD I wrote the poems that finished the manuscript. It went through so much weeding out and adding in throughout this time and took many shapes. But for a short answer—I suppose about 9 years, which feels daunting to say!

SHP: Where did you get your title inspiration from?

SLO: Movement and migration became an important focus for me after leaving Michigan and later returning, as I started to see the ways my own movement felt paralleled to that of my family’s. Part of my family immigrated from Mexico to Texas initially, and during the summers they would come up to Michigan for seasonal work in the fields. Eventually my great-grandfather was offered work in the papermills and so they permanently relocated, and my mom and dad also supported my sisters and I in these factories. In returning to Michigan, I began questioning generational mobility and the ways that the traumas and dynamics within my family still felt audible in various ways. There is also a lot of secrecy within my family, so I think that adds to the narratives and stories being presented, yet partially intangible.

I have been interested in different points of access within these subjects and in looking more widely at movement and migration, specifically with animals and in the natural world. My writing process often involves looking to older texts, usually books with more technical language that give texture to my thought and ways of seeing. One of the books that I was exploring was called The Migrations of Birds (see, plain and technical title) and I was drawn to the logic behind the migration of birds, the shapes they took together in moving, and the invisible presence of wind. I wandered into the title Migratory Sound in trying to encapsulate the fogginess of movement and the ghosts and echoes connected to displacement.

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

SLO: When I first see a deadline I think I worry a bit. But I do generally like them, and I am pretty quick about getting things done significantly before the deadline so I don’t lose sight of it. Workshop / submission deadlines give me a sense of accountability and I usually make necessary last minute edits before I know someone else is going to see the work. I think there is a shift in seeing that has to happen when you know something is going to be out of your hands in some way and this has become a large part of my process.

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

SLO: I do believe in “a room of one’s own,” or at least a space of one’s own that invites and supports rituals. It is important for me to be in my office around my plants and stones / crystals, to stretch some, and to meditate in the morning. If I try to write before I have meditated then it often feels hard to access anything. Having a clear mental and physical space allows me to approach what I am writing about from a more distanced and observant place. All of this also always involves tea.

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

SLO: I have received a lot of gold from my mentors, but something that I often think about is Kathleen Peirce telling me to “get into good trouble.” John Lewis says this too! I think this teaches me to measure risk, yet to maintain a sense of control—whatever amount of control that may be required in each poem. This advice also speaks to what may come to inform the poems and it shows a sense of compassionate risk, yet an inherent curiousity and joy that I wouldn’t want to ever lose sight of.

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

SLO: Right now I don’t think I have a journal but in the past I have, so I should get one. I often write on notecards—my partner gifted me a green tin full of notecards from an estate sale somewhere and they are currently on my desk and easy to get ahold of. I will write on scraps if I’m driving or out somewhere, and I try to be intentional with notebooks (I have two that I’m going back and forth with lately), but I usually abandon the notebooks and go back to the notecards. More recently I have also been writing on lineless paper where I can sense white space and linebreaks a bit more. But in each case, I do think that the paper I use conditions the shapes of the poems.

SHP: Place seems to play a part in your manuscript. What is your favorite place to visit right now? Can you talk about your relationship to place a bit more?

SLO: I recently moved to northern New Mexico, so I have had a lot of new terrains to explore! I’ve never lived near mountains and it is pretty amazing having these quiet giants all around. My favorite place right now is the Wildlife Refuge near my house. There is a windy field you walk across and blue mountains further away but visible all around you. There are also signs to beware of wild creatures, and I like this sense of mystery in not knowing really what inhabits this space.

Place typically informs my poems, specifically natural spaces and the divisions and lines between the urban and rural. While writing Migratory Sound, I became interested in notions of the idyllic / pastoral and of what exists outside of these enclosed spaces. This contrast became important in looking at my family’s work in the factories and in the fields, and of how in returning to Michigan I began to notice both the prevalence of factories all around, and my family’s deep rooted connection to them—it felt like you couldn’t see one without thinking of the other. In going to nature there is a leaving and return and I am drawn to what becomes suspended outside of these spaces sort of haunting and shaping what occurs within them, and of the question of privilege and access to the idyllic. Natural spaces allow me to be lost for a minute and this is important to me for thinking and creating. I think, however, that this is more complex of a process for minority voices, or as Audre Lorde would say “disenfranchised” voices.

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

SLO: I would love to wander around a museum in all hours and nap under a Bonnard painting. If I could create something here, can it be a lot of ekphrastic poems? If poetry isn’t an option then I would paint. I love the sense of layering and overlapping of colors with painting but I’m not sure how to do it or if there is a right or wrong way. I think in my 24 hours I would hover around an Agnes Martin, Matisse, or Bonnard painting and see where that took me.

SHP: You also have a chapbook too. Is there a conversation between that book and this one?

SLO: I have a chapbook Field Things, and some of the poems here are included in Migratory Sound. I wrote this chapbook while living in Texas and I think it reflects that location. This was the first time I had moved away from home and it was also a time when I lost a few important family members. I think it was a moment where I was learning to look at different parts of my life from a distance and discovering new vantage points. I do believe we constantly return to the same subjects trying to get them right in some way, so I think Field Things feels like an introduction to some of the subjects that Migratory Sound goes further into.

SHP: If you could describe Migratory Sound in three words, what would they be? Why?

SLO: Quiet, Shadowed, Periphery. The poems often slip into and out of the physical within the space they occupy and in their way of seeing. I think there is care given to detail but also a love for what is nearly out of sight or sound, though close despite being outside of the frame.

Order Migratory Sound here!

2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Malcolm Friend

Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple,
Malcolm Friend

Malcolm Friend is a poet originally from the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, Washington. He received his BA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the 2014 recipient of the Merrill Moore Prize for Poetry, and his MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of the chapbook mxd kd mixtape (Glass Poetry, 2017) and the full length collection Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple (Inlandia Books, 2018), selected by Cynthia Arrieu-King as winner of the 2017 Hillary Gravendyk Prize. He has received awards and fellowships from organizations including CantoMundo, Backbone Press, the Center for African American Poetry & Poetics, The Frost Place, and the University of Memphis. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including La Respuesta magazine, the Fjords Review’s Black American Edition, Vinyl, Word Riot, The Acentos Review, Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, and Pretty Owl Poetry. He is a Poetry Editor for FreezeRay Poetry, and together with JR Mahung is a member of Black Plantains, an Afrocaribbean poetry collective. He currently lives and teaches in Pittsburgh.

Here, Malcolm Friend talks curation, musical influences, and the story behind his debut collection.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple take to write from conception to publication?

Malcolm Friend: Our Bruises was born from my MFA thesis at the University of Pittsburgh. A few of the poems in there were first drafted the year before, during my senior year at Vanderbilt. During my second semester I took a manuscript workshop with Lynn Emanuel, and during the first month most of us in the class participated in a daily grind, writing a poem a day. Only some of those daily grind poems ended up in the chapbook I wrote for the course, but that’s when I first started writing around The Bomba Man and The Blues Man, and started to form the ideas of what I wanted the manuscript together. That manuscript ended up winning the Inlandia Institute’s 2017 Hillary Gravendyk National Poetry Prize and was published in 2018, so in all it was around a four-year process.

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

MF: Deadlines are very helpful for me. My mind wanders a lot and, like so many other writers, my day job isn’t focused around my writing, so it’s easy to lose track of it and go spells without writing, editing, etc. If I have a deadline I have to meet, that helps me focus and bear down a little bit more.

SHP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

MF: Wow there are so many names I could put here, from Ricardo Alberto Maldonado and Ana Portnoy Brimmer, both with debut poetry collections coming out soon, to folks like Yesenia Montilla and Jasminne Mendez who lately have just been blowing me away with their poems. I also have to give a shoutout to the homie Cameron Barnett. He was a year ahead of me at Pitt and we still send each other work from time-to-time. Everytime he sends me something I just have to step away from the computer for a second. And, of course, I’m really excited for Yona Harvey’s new book coming out this fall..

Outside of poetry, Lianna La Havas just released a new project, so I’ve been listening to that on repeat for a second.

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

MF: Honestly, for me, it’s all about remembering to nourish myself as a person, not just a writer. So I have to make sure to take time to do non-writing related things, like cook, spend time with my partner and our rabbits, watch sports–things like that to make sure I’m taking a breath every now and then.

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

MF: So this is kind of combination of what two people have told me over the years. In 2016, Juan Felipe Herrera was one of the faculty members at the CantoMundo retreat, and his workshop was based around play in our writing. The next year, as I was working on my thesis, Yona Harvey noticed how I was working with epigraphs, and encouraged me to play around with them a little more—let their rhythm echo through the poems a little bit more. Both of these together remind me to have fun with my writing, and to remember to write around joy when I can.

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

MF: When I was in high school and college I used to just write on looseleaf and keep it in a folder. Then for the last year or two in college and first year of grad school I used to have a journal. In the past few years I’ve more so been on the computer, just because of how often I have to be on it anyway and trying to scale down how much stray paper I have to keep track of. If there’s a line I need to remember or that’s just repeating in my head, I’ll take whatever I can find to write it down–a teaching notebook, an index card, a receipt. Otherwise, I just park myself in front of a computer until I feel I can’t do anything else with a poem for the time being.

SHP: When it comes to writing/editing, would you consider yourself an editor or more of a curator?

MF: I guess I’d have to say curator here. I think my work is always trying to see what voices and sounds are being pulled together, to find some sort of harmony out of that mix.

SHP: 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?

MF: It just comes when it does. Sometimes it’ll find me when I’m watching TV or listening to music, sometimes while I’m cooking, others when I’m on the bus on the way to work or the airport. I think that’s just a byproduct of the way my mind wanders. Those connections end up being made at any moment.

SHP: If you could curate the perfect reading experience for your book, name a meal, drink, and 3 song playlist that would describe the book.

MF: Meal- Pernil, tostones, and arroz con gandules

Drink- Palo Viejo gold rum mixed with pineapple juice and guava nectar

3 Song Playlist- “Las caras lindas” by Ismael Rivera, “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, “Calabó y bambú” by La Sista

Now not really sure if those all go together, but that’s what I’m going with.

SHP: If you could describe Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple in three words, what would they be?

MF: A resounding echo.

Order Our Bruises Kept Singing Purple here!

2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Alan Chazaro

Alan Chazaro is a half armadillo half chameleon Mexican American poet. His poetry collections, This Is Not a Frank Ocean Cover Album (2019) and Piñata Theory (2020), are available from Black Lawrence Press. He is currently an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco and writing about the NBA for HeadFake.

Here, Garbriella Graceffo talks with Alan Chazaro about candy, social justice, Frank Ocean, graffiti, and the inspiration behind his debut collection.


Gabriella Graceffo: How long have you worked on Piñata Theory, from conception to the upcoming publication? 

Alan Chazaro: The oldest poem in the book was written about ten years ago, when I was an undergrad student in June Jordan’s Poetry for the People program at UC Berkeley. I was a community college transfer just barely figuring out that I had a voice. That poem (“Veracruz”) was the seed I needed to plant for the eventual book to grow from. 

GG: Your previous book, This Is Not a Frank Ocean Cover, featured disparate topics and experiences like an eclectic mixtape. Does Piñata Theory do the same with many types of cultural candy all bound into one book-shaped piñata? 

AC: I like the way you put that, thank you! I think it has some of that fragmentation for sure, but I also think the body of Piñata Theory is more solidly held together. It’s like the album to the mixtape; there is still a good variety of soundscapes and frequencies of experience, but where Frank Ocean didn’t have the literal space as a chapbook to explore other topics more deeply, I wanted Piñata Theory to pick up where I left off and push further beyond the colorful surface exterior. Just as an example, I really didn’t look at anything regarding citizenship and dual-heritage with Frank Ocean, but Piñata largely lives in that broken in-between space of what it means to be a U.S. citizen who enjoys the sweet privileges of that, while living with many others who only held the struggles of exclusion and undocumentation. You’ll also notice a lot more of Mexico in this one, from my time living there as an adult, and from memories traveling there as a pocho boy and teenager. That’s the kind of stuff Frank Ocean just couldn’t fit. 

GG: Since we’re talking about piñatas, what is your favorite type of candy? 

AC: I like anything that’s the opposite of chocolate to be honest. So, like, anything chewy, and sticky, and hyper-sugary, and sour, and gummy. Usually when I’m at a party with a piñata I’ll only seek out the Laffy Taffys and stuff like that and just ruthlessly leave all that other junk on the floor. 

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

AC: I keep a journal but not for poetry. It’s literally to remind me to do basic things because I can be really spaced out, like: follow up on interview; call your pops; pay grandma’s bill; the kind of stuff that I will mindlessly forget or wait until the super last minute to do if I don’t physically see it written down in front of me. With poems, I’m definitely a take-notes-on-the-phone kind of person, then I’ll shift over to my laptop when I can. I like to start with whatever ideas hit me in the moment by just noting it on my phone and writing the first things that come to my mind, usually jotting down the idea of a concept or title if anything emerges, especially if I’m on the move and I know the momentum will be lost if I don’t capture it like a Pokemon in the wild. I’ll just stop walking and type. Before smartphones became universal though I would definitely be the type to write on loose scratch paper, receipts, even my hand if I had to, just because…. I WOULD FORGET. It drove/still drives my wife crazy.

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

AC: Bruce Snider was my first professor in my first class, first days at the University of San Francisco MFA. He told us that if the writer doesn’t have any moments of surprise themselves, then the reader probably won’t either. It sounds so simple, but it’s something I actually go back to constantly, because since then, I’ve become better about letting my conscious self slowly erode on the page while I’m writing and entering a more stream of consciousness state, and when I feel that moment of surprise, I know it’s something that will more likely resonate with readers because it resonated with me, and I felt it. Before that I think I would approach poems more literally, thinking I was in control and that I should steer the poem in the direction I wanted to by choosing certain words or aiming for a certain feel, but I realized with Bruce’s advice that I was more of a passenger who could arrive at an unexpected place, and it’s a feeling I’ve enjoyed arriving at ever since. 

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

AC: I’m the type to just get up and walk around the room when I’m writing to let my ideas breathe. Need to move, run, or play a sport if I can during the week, too. Anything physical. Being in tune with my body on a daily basis goes hand in hand with my writing for sure. 

GG: 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? Do you find it in different languages and if so, does translation take away or expand the inspiration? 

AC: I try to keep my senses open to everything, which can be a problem, so I could literally be having a Zoom conversation with a former student and he might say something that will hit me in a certain way and then I’ll suddenly wander off into thinking about writing a poem in my head, but I’ll reel myself back in because I want to be as present as possible in those situations. But to answer the question, it really happens anywhere at any time, it’s just a matter of how much attention I can give it in the moment to give it to let it grow into something more. Music, of course, is also a tremendous source of inspiration for me (shout out Frank Ocean). 

GG: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you prefer? Or would you make a multimedia piece, something that evokes synesthesia like your poetry? 

AC: Definitely visual art. I grew up doing graffiti in California as a teenager, so I still have some muscle memory with aerosol. Graffiti is a cousin of poetry in my mind, and I miss doing it. Random story: the first time I ever met my father-in-law, he asked me to paint a mural in his family’s living room. It was bizarre, since I’d just stepped inside his house for the first time ever, and he’s a traditional Mexican man with rosaries and La Virgen all over the house, but he bought me all the paints the next day and asked me to depict a downtown skyline, so I spent a few afternoons on two ladders, covering the whole surface. I won him over by painting a dope, golden sunset row of silhouetted buildings in the front room above his TV. That was such a son-in-law test moment, but it’s still up in his house after 13 years so I think I won him over. 

GG: What are some things you learned from creating both your debut book and your second collection? Do you have some advice you could give to writers putting together a first collection? 

AC: Definitely don’t rush it. I feel like there is such pressure these days to have a collection and to feel validated by a published body of work, but I wanted my first collection(s) to be a reflection of where I was at that moment, however long that took me to express. Whatever that looks like for you, at whatever stage you’re at, in a way that honors you, your voice, your community, and your needs, I think you’ll know when you have something that you’re excited about and hella proud to share. It’s not a race to get to that point. It can be fun too, and if it ever becomes stale or feels flat, just give it some space and try something else you enjoy before coming back to get in your groove again–that’s where the patience, sports, and other stuff comes in for me. I’ll go days, even months without writing a poem, but whenever I get back to it, it just feels so unforced and necessary, and that’s my favorite place to be when I’m creating. 

GG: If you could describe Piñata Theory in three words, what would they be? Why? 

AC: Body. Break. Gather. Those are the three section titles for the book, but also, I think they reflect all of us, no matter who we are or where we come from. We all have to learn how to hold our space; we will all inevitably be shattered in small and large ways; and we will be tasked with picking it all up and seeing what’s inside. 

Also, on a separate but not-so-separate note, continue to fight for justice, not just by sending out Tweets but in real, meaningful ways in whatever capacity you are able to. Defunding the police means redistributing the exorbitant amounts of money unnecessarily funneled into the militarization of law enforcement, and I believe we must redirect those funds more equitably into other community needs, like education. Our public schools have been shit for so long, and only less than 3% of teachers are Black or Brown men of color–not because we are incapable, but because the conditions are so unlikely to attract and retain us in this field. We are severely overworked and underpaid more than most other comparable professions, and the few of us who exist in those spaces are pushed out. In Oakland, for example, “about 20% of the city’s entire budget — more than $318 million — goes to policing. That’s nearly double the amount of any other city department”, and barely a fraction of a fraction of this goes into our students. Think about that. Think about how much goes into creating fear and brutality through police officers when we could be creating empathy and understanding in our classrooms. I guarantee that more quality teachers would remain in the classroom–from all backgrounds–if the wages were respectable and districts had more money to allocate. Stay involved in your local community, especially after this moment passes, and keep applying pressure for institutional changes like this by making demands and using your political voice to support however/wherever you can. Much love and solidarity from the Bay.

Order Piñata Theory here!

2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Tatiana Ryckman

Image of cover for The Ancestry of Objects along with author Tatiana Ryckman
The Ancestry of Objects by Tatiana Ryckman

The Ancestry of Objects, Tatiana Ryckman

Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the novel, The Ancestry of Objects (Deep Vellum Books), as well as a novella, I Don’t Think of You (Until I Do), and two chapbooks of prose, Twenty-Something and VHS and Why it’s Hard to Live. Tatiana is the Editor of Awst Press and has attended residencies at Yaddo, Arthub, and 100W Corsicana. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Lithub, Paper Darts, Barrelhouse, and other publications.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did The Ancestry of Objects take to write, from conception to publication?

Tatiana Ryckman: Seven years? Oof, now that I say that, I’m not sure it’s good enough to have taken seven years, but there it is.

I wrote the first draft in two weeks in 2013. I was at Yaddo for a month with writers and artists much more established than I, and I felt an obligation to that space and the community of people there to produce as I never had before. That desire was facilitated by having someone else think about my meals and the fact that there was, essentially, nothing else to do. I spent six months or so on revisions and then started sending it out.

Nothing happened. I moved on. I put out a couple of chapbooks, I wrote another novella that came out in 2017, and upon returning home from the release party I fell into a deep depression and decided (in a very indulgent and unofficial way) never to write again. I threw away my writing desk. I gave up and it felt very grand.

About a year later Will Evans from Deep Vellum reached out and asked if I was working on anything. I wasn’t (see aforementioned petulance), but I said I had a manuscript I could dust off. A sent him a draft in February of 2019 and he generously offered to publish this weird, 17,000 word manuscript that I hadn’t worked on in five years. He suggested a light edit. You know, develop a few of the themes with a well-placed sentence or two. By the time I sent him the final revision in September it was 30,000 words. And that was more or less the end of it.

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How do you feel about deadlines? Are they a good or bad pressure?

Tatiana Ryckman: Deadlines are the best. I love a deadline. I wish I had deadlines for everything… reading books, responding to emails, finishing breakfast… How else can you be sure things will get done?

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

Tatiana Ryckman: Other than recording my dreams, writing is far from a daily ritual, and I’m not sure I actively do anything in service of writing for writing’s sake. I have a very strict morning routine that I would say is important to my continued existence, and is perhaps in that way important for writing. Before getting out of bed (often before I’m even actually awake) I write down my dreams. Then I do yoga while reciting the rosary. Since Covid I’ve added a very lenient version of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pandemic at-home workout. Then the day devolves into a mixture of snacking and looking at the internet. I’ve also instituted a “3-mile something.” Walk, run, bike—it doesn’t matter, but I have to leave the house, and I have to do it for three miles. Walking is probably the best thing I’ve ever done for my writing.

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

Tatiana Ryckman: My first semester of grad school at Vermont College of Fine Arts I worked with Diane Lefer. I reported to her that I was sitting down every day and making myself write for hours, and I sent her many shitty stories. In one of her generous and thoughtful letters in response to my work she said (something like) “where does this macho idea of writing come from? Why force yourself to write when you don’t want to? Go ride your bike.” If she didn’t say it directly, it was strongly implied that in order to write about life, you have to have one. That advice, along with an amazing reading list, broke my idea of what a story had to be, and how stories came to be, and that was certainly a gift to my writing.

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

Tatiana Ryckman: I try to keep little notebooks on hand, which means that my notes are never in one place, and usually forgotten at home, and then I end up writing on a gum wrapper or receipt (because gum doesn’t really come in sticks any more, have you noticed this?), and then I find these bits of trash months later, abused at the bottom of my purse, or tucked like a bookmark in the pages of an abandoned novel, or wadded at the bottom of the cupholder in my car. It’s a delicate system that I take great precautions against changing.

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: Who are you crushing on art-wise?

Tatiana Ryckman: Like… everyone? Beatriz González, Bob Thompson, Ebony Patterson, T Fleischmann, LK James, Claire Krueger, T Kira Madden, Patrick Madden, Prince, Oscar Wilde, and others.

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: If given the choice to spend 24 hours in a museum creating something, what medium would you choose?

Tatiana Ryckman: Installation. I have many ideas and none of the tools.

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: Could you discuss the form of your book a bit more? (You use “We” and white-space a lot and I’d love to hear about this process.)

Tatiana Ryckman: The “we” happened on its own. Though I had to acknowledge at some point that writing in first person plural should serve some purpose. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that the narrator struggles to find her own voice and identity, and the echoes of her grandparents scolding her “we don’t do that,” is also indication some internal conflict about to whom she belongs. There may have been a week where I re-wrote the ending switching from “we” to “I”, deleted it, re-wrote it, and deleted it again. Ultimately that indication that “now everything’s fine!” felt too heavy-handed, and fundamentally dishonest, so I didn’t. But I think that experience of going back and forth about who she is is fundamentally who she is. There is an additional implication in the “we” that I prefer to leave ambiguous.

As for white space… that may be an authorial tick of mine. I tend to write episodically, even in my longer writing, and white space helps demarcate shifts between those episodes, whether the episode is a scene, a revelation, or a mood.

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: If you could describe The Ancestry of Objects in three words, what would they be? Why?

Tatiana Ryckman: Hm… all that comes to mind is “dour.”

2020 Under Pressure

Protected: Under Pressure: Kelly Grace Thomas

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Dorsey Craft

Dorsey Craft’s debut collection, Plunder (Bauhan 2020), won the 2019 May Sarton New Hampshire Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Massachusetts Review, Poetry Daily, Southern Indiana Review and elsewhere. She currently lives in Lake City, Florida and serves as Poetry Editor for Southeast Review. Visit her here.

Here, Dorsey Craft discusses the pirate Anne Bonny, the inspiration for Plunder, and how Charleston and the routines that inform her process.


Gabriella Graceffo: How long did you work on Plunder, from conception to publication?

Dorsey Craft: The oldest poems in Plunder are about five or six years old, but most of the work took place over the past three years. 

GG: Where did you get your title inspiration from? Does the word plunder have several meanings to you?

DC: My friend and I were studying and decided to procrastinate by renaming my manuscript. All of my favorite titles of recent poetry books were one-word titles, so we actually plugged “pirate” into an online thesaurus and got synonyms. I loved the way that “plunder” sounded—and the way that it echoed the “l” and “r” sounds that were so present in the poems already. And Anne certainly does a lot of plundering in the poems—she enjoys material luxury for sure, but her plunder is also very much about a chaotic kind of feminist resistance. In the poem “The Pirate Anne Bonny Goes Through Her Lover’s Pockets,” I wrote “This is your way, to search before learning / what to find” and I think that Anne and the contemporary speaker are both reaching for something uncertain and undefinable. 

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

DC: I thrive with deadlines and pressure. I honestly don’t know if I would ever get anything done without them. I try to psyche myself out and set deadlines for myself, but it’s never quite the same. 

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

DC: Reading is pivotal—I read a lot of literary magazines and new collections of poetry, but also older texts and prose. This summer I am plugging away at the Old Testament and Middlemarch, but I’ve also been reading new collections by Marianne Chan (All Heathens), Traci Brimhall (Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod), Kathryn Nuernberger (Rue), and Justin Philip Reed (The Malevolent Volume). This year has busted up a lot of my usual routines, but having coffee, walking my stubborn dog, and jogging are still always on the schedule. 

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

DC: I have always aspired to be a journal keeper, but the construct of writing for just myself is too strange. Official journal entries feel like I’m performing “me” for me. But I definitely jot down images and lines that occur to me in my phone or computer all day long—and sometimes in paper notebooks back when we were still going to school in person. 

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

DC: This is actually in the acknowledgements of Plunder, but my favorite advise was from Jillian Weise just after I got accepted into my MFA program. I had gotten in off the waitlist and I was going straight in from undergrad. I said “I’m worried I’m not good enough,” and she said, “You’re just going to have to get over that.” It was excellent advice, and I’m still following it with varying levels of success. 

GG: 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?

DC: Morning is best for me—my mind is fresher when the day hasn’t started weighing me down yet. Usually inspiration starts with reading, but the poem doesn’t always happen immediately. I will sit down to write, read a whole collection of poetry and feel like nothing is going to come. Then I’ll lie down for bed that same night or go outside to get some sun and write a sonnet in my head. Chatting with my poet friends is also helpful for me when poems are in a germination stage. 

GG: What are some things you learned from creating this debut book? Do you have any advice you could give to writers putting together their first collection of poetry?

DC: Plunder had to change shape several times to find what it was really about. In spring of 2017 it had more poems about family and the American South that were trying to coexist alongside the poems about gender and Anne Bonny. I wanted it to be working because I wanted to be done.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write enough good poems about one theme to make a book, so I kept trying to juggle. One of my classmates in workshop told me it was really two or even three books, and I finally accepted that I was going to have to streamline it and then write more poems. Almost all of my favorite poems in the collection were written after that point. So my advice would be not to be afraid of your subject or to doubt your ability to sustain it over time. 

GG: Plunder braids together personal narratives, stories focusing directly on Anne Bonny, and poems that put the pirate in conversation with famous literary characters. Is there a particular structure you used to make them all connect?

DC: The connections were forged as I exhausted different avenues of the Anne Bonny series. I wrote the first ten or twelve focusing only on Anne in scenarios that were historically plausible, but our knowledge of her life is very narrow and often based more in legend than fact. Even her death is murky—we know she was imprisoned in Charleston, SC and sentenced to hang, but we don’t have a record of her actual hanging. I took this as permission to imagine her in more mythic or contemporary scenes, which helped to really solidify the relationship between Anne and the speaker. Once I could show the speaker and Anne Bonny playing video games or on a road trip, their relationship became much more concrete and the manuscript really came together. 

GG: If you could describe Plunder in three words, what would they be? Why?

DC: One of my words would be “lush.” The Anne Bonny poems really allowed me to get carried away by language, and I love the way that the stacking of euphonic sounds echoes the pirate’s tendency towards accumulation. Another word, certainly, would be “feminist,” since Plunder explores, and hopefully extends and interrogates, canonical feminist texts. The last word has to have something to do with the ocean—maybe “salty,” but “salty” as in it tastes like the sea, not “salty” as in “I’m still salty about that thing you said in 2015.” 

Order Plunder here!

2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Michael Torres

Image of the book cover An Incomplete List of Names alongside author Michael Torres

An Incomplete List of Names, Michael Torres

Michael Torres was born and brought up in Pomona, California where he spent his adolescence as a graffiti artist. His debut collection of poems, An Incomplete List of Names (Beacon Press, 2020) was selected by Raquel Salas Rivera for the National Poetry Series. His honors include awards and support from the National Endowment for the Arts, the McKnight Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, CantoMundo, VONA Voices, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the Jerome Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, and the Loft Literary Center. Currently he’s an Assistant Professor in the MFA program at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and a teaching artist with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop.

Michael Torres talks about the genesis of his debut collection, on being REMEK, and his inspirations.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo:  How long did working on An Incomplete List of Names take, from conception to publication?

Michael Torres: First book timelines are tricky to chart, I think, so I hesitate to say that I worked on this book for twelve years even though the oldest lines were written around 2008. Back then, in community college, I couldn’t have imagined that An Incomplete List of Names is exactly where I was going to end up. It makes me think of building a boat on the water: you begin with a surface that at least keeps you afloat and moving further out to sea while you design and tie together pieces. All of it happening at once. Then, when the boat is complete, you’ll realize that the boat is now equipped to take you somewhere you’ve been headed this whole time. So, for me, there was twelve years of imagining, twelve years of acquiring skill and building, twelve years of practice runs and failure—all those book contests and open reading periods coming back as rejections. And if we’re going to stick to this wild metaphor, I’d say it wasn’t until 2016 that I had a hold of the wheel and suddenly there was a captain’s hat on my head. But even then there were the winds, the weather, a crew to feed.

SHP: Where did you get the inspiration for your title?

Michael Torres: An Incomplete List of Names was first just a section title in the poem “Elegy with Roll Call.” It came to me toward the end of grad school in Minnesota, though the first draft was written on a visit home to Pomona, a week before 2016’s AWP in Los Angeles. I felt a gang of pressure about completing the thesis and getting everyone’s story from where I grew up into the book. I included in that poem a list of names of homies I used to kick it with, homies I painted walls with. I mimicked what we did as graffiti artists when we’d spray paint the names of everyone in the crew. It was an act of solidarity. It was a record. In trying to get everyone included in the poem, though, I ran into the fact that the list would always be incomplete: some of those homies died or got locked up, others I lost touch with. In this way I could not, with certainty, account for some of them. When I took a look at the entire collection I noticed that that’s what was going on throughout the collection: Naming. Preserving (or at least trying, desperately, to preserve) the stories attached to those names.

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

MT: I’ve more or less kept up a writing ritual created in grad school so that I don’t necessarily need a deadline. However, I like to think I’m good under the pressure of a deadline because I hate not getting done what I said I’d do. Deadlines helps me get into the zone, if you will. When I was submitting the manuscript for consideration, every deadline was a chance to revise/re-imagine/re-evaluate the manuscript. I submitted it forty-plus times over four years before it got picked up.

I once used the Gloria E. Anzaldúa Poetry Prize deadline to write a whole bunch of new work because at the time I thought the first book was done. The deadline gave me a summer to create a chapbook’s worth of something different than everything the book was doing, which excited me. I wanted to learn how to be independent of that first manuscript. All this to say, I wrote a crappy experimental chapbook that was ultimately rejected. Over the next year, though, I took those crappy pieces and created the All-American Mexican series, which are among my favorite poems that I’ve written. They seemed unlike the book but when I threw them in the mix, it made the collection more muscular, more layered.

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

MT: I’m a runner. Outdoors. All-season. On days I don’t make time for a good, long run, I at least go for a walk. Both have the ability to create a clearing in my mind where I can work on a piece on a sort of meditative level. Another thing I do—and maybe this is not as much ritual as it is tactic—is an imagined interview. When I’m struggling with a piece, I go outside, and in my mind conduct an interview focused on that piece. The invented interviewer asks questions like: How did you come to write this piece? Or, what is it you were trying to say? Or something like: How did you arrive at this ending? Beginning? This particular image? While I do worry about demystifying a piece, or like, “figuring it out” before it can fully develop on its own, I enter these interviews wanting to answer in earnest and a willingness to think through that answer. The process of this thinking-through had often helped move the piece along.

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

John Brantingham, professor, mentor, and who also advised the creative writing club at my community college, told me that when submitting work for consideration to “Send it, and imagine it getting lost in the mail.” This was snail mail days, but even as we moved into the digital era and Submittable came around, I found this tip helpful. It was a sort of compass that always pointed me back to the work, the writing of poems, which was the most important part.

In The Bread of Time, Philip Levine (whose work I was put onto by my mentor, poet Christopher Buckley) talks about the lasting advice his mentor John Berryman gave him: “You should always be trying to write a poem you lack the technique, the language, the courage to achieve. Otherwise you’re merely imitating yourself, going nowhere, because that’s always easiest.”

I love this quote because it simultaneously inspires me to grow but also keeps me in check so that I don’t travel in circles in my writing. Plus, as I’ve come to understand it, it makes me feel more comfortable with failure and failure’s lessons.

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

MT: Damn, I love this question because it reminds me of the different ways I’ve tried to save notes and lines from being lost to short-term memory. You ever get a dope line when you’re about to fall sleep and you think: well, it’s so good how can I forget it? Then you wake up pissed because it’s gone. That’s why I write mostly on my phone now. I text myself. For a long while I wrote in mini notepads I bought in packs of three at the Dollar Tree. When I first started taking myself serious as a writer I was working in retail at the mall. I would come home and pull from my pockets folded-up receipt tape I tore off at the register and filled with notes and images that came to me while I stocking shelves.

SHP: Who are you crushing on art-wise?

MT: The upcoming release of my first collection has made me super reflective of home, so I’ve been getting into and connecting with SoCal Latinx visual artists lately, specifically my homie Soledad Villa, and Jacqueline Valenzuela, whose work Soledad put me on to. We’re actually collaborating, and I’m commissioning them to do work in response to An Incomplete List of Names. I’m really excited about these projects because they are all about home. Both artists know the language in the book, can recognize the people in the stories being told. Each artist has their own, distinct style but one I can identify as Cali as well. And maybe that says something about what I want the collection to do, who I want it to reach. In a way, the book is a sort of vessel for my homecoming.

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

MT: For some reason “museum” sets me up to be intimidated. Like, I’d have the feeling that if I didn’t come up with some dope shit for the museum, I shouldn’t do it at all. And that’s interesting because if you put me in that museum, I’d want to rebel against that (perceived) expectation. Just to fuck around, I’d probably enjoy doing some sort of mixed media installation that just takes up a lot of space. Particleboard. Cardboard. Nail gun and rope. Yeah, I’d build something that barely fits in the room, but which can also be folded in such a way that I can walk out with it under my arm once the exhibit is over.

SHP: You begin your book with an epigraph by Larry Levis. Could you talk a little bit about your literary influences, like Larry Levis, and how they inform the book?

MT: I believe it was Sun Yung Shin, while I was part of the Loft Mentor Series, who posed the question in the context of ancestry. I liked that idea: who are my literary ancestors? It offered this connection to a larger web of history. It allowed me to see myself as part of that web as well. It made sense, too, on the level that imitation was a way for the student-of-writing me to try to be in conversation with them and their work.

So yes, Larry Levis for his ability to leave and return to a subject, idea, or image. For how he could turn the lens and address the reader; or change the subject completely without confusing the reader. For how he got me to love a long, winding poem. So much of my book attempts those things. Then there’s Octavio Paz and Labyrinth of Solitude, an essay collection, but still something that spoke to me about masculinity at a time in grad school when I was just realizing that that’s where I was headed. Also, Sonia Sanchez (Homegirls and Handgrenades especially) for her compelling poetic narratives in pieces like “Norma” that allowed me to write some of the book’s “Pachuco’s Grandson” series.

So many others: Philip Levine. Tracy K. Smith. Lorna Dee Cervantes. Terrance Hayes. All of them are in the book.

And if you want me to be really real, Bukowski’s problematic-ass, as I was introduced to him in the stereotypical, old-white-professor-teaching-an-introduction-to-poetry-class fashion early on in my education. Regardless, Bukowski’s work was one of the first times I saw poems made of words like fuck and shit, and not just thee, thou and dost. It sucks that I was already in my twenties when this happened, but it happened. And it was a door I could walk through with words like homies and this foo. So he’s in there too. Still, I suppose it’s good not to deny him. If he is indeed an ancestor of my work then I’m responsible for that as well.

SHP: If you could describe An Incomplete List of Names in three words, what would they be? Why?

MT: “That foo, REMEK.”

In grad school, one of my professors suggested the manuscript’s title be “Love Letter.” I don’t know why that surprised me at first. It was true, ultimately. I’d written a book about the homies, for the homies. And it was love: to focus and pay attention to and ask questions about our relationship, often critically, but with the sense that you really care about what the answers would be. All that I feel for them is in the book—having grown up with them, having left home. So, when I say “That foo, REMEK,” it’s because the book declares it, grapples with it. I can see my homie Jesse saying it, nodding in the direction of the house where I grew up.

SHP: Finally, we published your hybrid piece “On Being REMEK” as one of the winners of our contest a few years ago and it features as a name in your book. Could you tell a little story about REMEK?

MT: Seventeen years old and I’m out on a graffiti mission with a homie. We drive up to this industrial building, scope the spot and see a single security guard on the far side, opposite of the wall we want to paint. The wall faces the street and so is a great spot to catch, but it’s sitting behind a fence with barb wire spiraled along the top. The bottom of the fence, luckily, brushes against a sloping cement meaning we can slink underneath, paint the wall and get up out of there quickly.

We park down the street, wait a few minutes and then proceed to find our way under the fence and in front of the wall. We get to painting. It’s so quiet and security so far away, we think, that we take more time than we need. Of course security sees us, yells, and comes after us. We run around the building. My homie, being faster, slips under the fence first and heads toward his parked car. When I look, security is still far enough behind us that I’m not worried until I slide underneath the fence and can’t come up. My jeans get snagged. I’m stuck. I look back, see security still yards away and so I make the decision to kick off my shoes, pull off my pants, slide out, grab everything and run toward the getaway car in my boxers.

Order An Incomplete List of Names here!

2020 Under Pressure

Protected: Under Pressure: Naima Yael Tokunow

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

2020 Announcements

2020 Best of the Net nominees

We’re pleased to share our nominees for this year’s Best of the Net! You can read the nominated pieces here.


“Herstory of Pink” by Kiran Bath
“Why Scarred and Scared Sound So Alike” by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach
“Sister’s Ghazal” by Tatiana M.R. Johnson
“Hotel” by Gabriella R. Tallmadge
“Vox Populi, Vox Dei” by Victoria C. Flanagan
“Boyhood” by S. Yarberry


“Isn’t This What You Wanted?” by Hadley Franklin
“Buena Vista Bonded” by Mckenzie Zalopany

“Not Inside or Outside, but Quietly There” by Erin Marie Lynch

“Photographs of Your Tías” by Brenda Venezia

Under Pressure

Under Pressure: K-Ming Chang

Image of the book Bestiary alongside the author, K-Ming Chang

Bestiary, K-Ming Chang

K-Ming Chang /張欣明 (b. 1998) is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the debut novel BESTIARY (One World/Random House). Her micro-chapbook BONE HOUSE, a queer retelling of Wuthering Heights, is forthcoming from Bull City Press’ INCH series in 2021, and she is currently working on a collection of short stories. Her poems have been anthologized in Ink Knows No Borders, Best New Poets 2018, Bettering American Poetry Vol. 3, and the 2019 Pushcart Prize Anthology.

Here, K-Ming talks about the best writing advice she ever received, Hu Go Po, her latest art-crushes, and her recent book Bestiary.


Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Beastiary take to write, from conception to publication?

K-Ming Chang: Bestiary only took a few months to draft, but the revision process took about two years, and that’s when the book really began to take form. From conception to publication, I’d say it took about two and a half years.

SHP: Where did you get the inspiration for your title?

KMC: I always joke that I chose a title I don’t actually know how to pronounce! It’s a word I would never have thought about using. But I remember when I was researching potential ideas, I read a Wikipedia article about how Bestiaries were traditionally Christian texts that illustrated and told stories about animals that usually ended with a moral. I loved the mythological context of it, but also wanted to subvert the meaning of the word by refusing an easy moral, and by focusing on non-Western storytelling traditions.

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

KMC: For me, deadlines are great! I love deadlines. I wish everyone gave me one! It gives me the swift kick-in-the-butt that I need, but I also appreciate a flexible deadline, too. I often give myself fake deadlines as motivation.

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

KMC: Definitely reading and immersing myself in other texts. I’ve also recently started handwriting journal entries, which is a ritual I haven’t done since I was a kid. It’s been very grounding to check in with myself emotionally on a daily basis. It also helps me deconstruct my anxieties and forgive myself for days when I think I’m failing.

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

KMC: My favorite piece of advice is from a former writing professor, Rattawut Lapcharoensap: he basically told me to keep following the language. I think I learned from him how to trust my own instincts – and I also learned from him all the importance and possibilities of revision.

SHP: You write poetry and prose, what is their relationship to your writing and do you draw a line between the two?

KMC: I think that right now I’m in a more prose mode – I’m learning to have faith in myself that I’ll eventually return to poetry, and I hope that when I write prose, I carry my language obsessiveness with me.

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

KMC: It’s perfect that you mentioned this, because though I started to journal a bit, I almost never have a notebook with me when I need one. I usually send emails to myself, or write on whatever is available.

SHP: Who are you crushing on art-wise?

So many people! Helen Oyeyemi, Jenny Zhang, Marilyn Chin, Myriam Gurba, Kali Fajardo-Anstine, so many others!

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

KMC: I’m so hopeless at most mediums! I’d definitely choose some kind of storytelling method, either writing or an oral history or oral storytelling project of some kind. Or maybe it would just become a dance party!

SHP: You write incredible prose that evoke myth, could you tell us your favorite stories/myths growing up?

KMC: Yes! I loved the Hu Gu Po story growing up, which is a story about a tiger spirit who lived inside a woman’s body. I also loved the Monkey King story and consumed many versions of it, in movies and cartoons and books. I loved mythology of all kinds, including fairytales, but my favorite stories all included animals. There was a myth about a crow that pulled the sun across the sky, which was another one I loved.

SHP: If you could describe Beastiary in three words, what would they be? Why?

KMC: In three words, I would say that Bestiary is a queer love story. (Love of many kinds!) I was interested in queering all kinds of things, family and belonging and place, and at the heart of all of it, I hope that the love in this book is visible. It’s about familial love, queer love, and a love for language and storytelling, too.

Order Bestiary here!