Categories
2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Anthony Cody

Borderland Apocrypha, Anthony Cody

Anthony Cody is the author of Borderland Apocrypha (Omnidawn, April 2020), winner of the 2018 Omnidawn Open Book Contest selected by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge. He is a CantoMundo fellow from Fresno, California with lineage in both the Bracero Program and the Dust Bowl. His poetry has appeared in Gulf Coast, Ninth Letter, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, The Boiler, ctrl+v journal, among other journals. Anthony is a member of the Hmong American Writers’ Circle where he co-edited How Do I Begin?: A Hmong American Literary Anthology (Heyday, August 2011). In 2018, he received the Galway Kinnell Scholarship to attend the Community of Writers, and nominations for a Best of the Net and a Best New Poets 2018 via The Boiler. He is a 2020 Desert Nights, Rising Stars Fellow at Arizona State University. Most recently, Anthony won the inaugural 2020 CantoMundo Guzmán Mendoza / Paredez Fellowship for his work-in-progress poetry manuscript, The Rendering, selected by Aracelis Girmay. A recent MFA-Creative Writing graduate at Fresno State, he serves as a fellow in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio created by Juan Felipe Herrera, communications manager for CantoMundo, as well as an associate poetry editor for Noemi Press.

Interview

Sebastián Hasani Páramo: How long did Borderland Apocrypha from conception to publication?

Anthony Cody: The more I reflect upon the origins of Borderland Apocrypha, the less certain of a single, specific origin of where the book first started. The first poem I wrote that would fit within the framework of the book was an ekphrastic poem after seeing Jean-Michel Basquiat’s “Riding with Death” in 2013. Titled, “Juan Doe Rides with Death”, the poem never made it into the final manuscript, as perhaps it was attempting to do too much within the scope of the manuscript. In many ways, it was retracing disembodied histories and re-examining the self in the unnamed and unclaimed bodies crossing the border. This could be one origin. Another origin would be the archival research work on the lynchings in the southwest following the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848, which began for me at the beginning of 2015, and steadily increased through the summer of 2018. The other beginning would be the experimental style within the collection, this began in December of 2016, when I began using a comic strip writing pad that was 5” long by 17” wide. This new, wider form opened possibilities for what these poems wanted to be, and helped reset my vision to see a new shape that would manifest into a book.

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

AC: Deadlines help me focus. My brain is often a very jumbled and over-extended space that makes things very murky and abstract. Without a deadline, days turn into weeks, and weeks to seasons. Now, with the shelter-in-place order, this can happen to me at an exponential rate. I am exceedingly aware of this time issue, so I often have an email to-do list plug-in, as well as a stickie note app opened to help me stay organized and not lose sight of the work and deadlines. 

By nature, I am relatively laid back, so the increased pressure of the deadline helps me find a balance.

SHP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

AC: For the last few months, I have been doing deep dives with the writing, hybridity, and public performances of Guillermo Gómez-Peña, the mixed media art around climate and topographies of Vero Glezqui, as well as the Dust Bowl photographs of Dorothea Lange.

However, with the recent passing of my dear friend, Pos Moua, I have been revisiting his work. A person of firsts in Hmong poetry in America, I have been revisiting his chapbook “Where the Torches are Burning”, the first Hmong American poetry publication in America by a poet in 2001, as well as his debut collection “Karst Mountains Will Bloom”, published in early 2019. In his pages, I once again hear his tender lyricism and deep mystic inquiry of nature and the self. The wisdom and deep knowing in his writing and his musings allows me to remember to look deep into the beyond of a “burbling brook” to not only see yourself, but every ancestor that came before you. Read Pos Moua’s work. Remember Pos Moua’s name.

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

AC: I am in the process of shifting many of the daily rituals that I have grown accustomed to over the last several years while serving as a fellow in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio at Fresno State. The studio space allowed me to explore and make in a variety of mediums, and more importantly, collaborate with others to make art and lead generative, creative workshops. These three elements help me continue to ask more from myself, and my writing.

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

AC: I have been blessed to work closely with Juan Felipe Herrera in the Laureate Lab Visual Wordist Studio at Fresno State over the last four years. In 2016, he provided two very distinct pieces of advice that were so profound to my own path at the time. I recall them both very clearly, and both times, I walked up to the whiteboard in our studio and wrote them down.

The first, “Abandon the left margin in your poems.” The second, “write beyond the publisher.” In both instances, he was clear to note the risk in making and being left in obscurity. Yet, for the first time in my life, I felt that I should make poems that spoke to my own internal wildness that I do not outwardly express. In tandem, the advice served as a foundation on which I carried forward in Borderland Apocrypha, and all subsequent writing.

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

AC: Definitely anything I can find. This is definitely related to my use of a 5” x 17” comic strip pad to draft poems and the new paths found using that form for my collection. I would say that I am continually using different mediums to write on. Looking at my small pile of things in my bag at the moment this includes: envelopes, card catalog cards, a recycled envelope, several pieces of newspaper which I have taped together to form a larger piece of paper, and a small phonebook that was delivered on my door last year.

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

AC: Both titles scare me. I would say I consider myself a spacemaker. When I am writing a poem, I try and stay out of the way. In the editing process, I find myself asking the question, how can I make space in this poem to get it to where it wants to exist in the world. I would extend this thinking to my work as an assistant editor for Noemi Press, where I often ask myself, how can I help this collection find a space to exist where it can be most true to the spirit of its making?

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?

AC: I find inspiration in sifting through noise. The sifting is a focusing. I feel most inspired when I have some combination of ten internet browser tabs open, sketching on a piece of paper, music playing, am reading a book or two, drinking coffee, and revising a single line or poems in my head. The accumulation of the noise often results in my most productive time happening toward the late hours of the night and I have had the chance to steadily quiet some of the noise and dive more deeply into the project I have been indirectly working on throughout the day. I am cognizant of the over-stimuli the older I get, and have been attempting to find ways to work in the quiet and discern enabling my own bad habits versus seeking inspiration. 

Today, I sat for 10 minutes with the window opened, and listened. I was not hoping for inspiration, but simply seeking an awareness of the moving.

I think this is still a work in progress.

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

AC: I really love this question. The intriguing part is that just prior to the shelter-in-place orders in California, I was in the process of developing an art installation for my current work-in-progress, “The Rendering”, which examines the Dust Bowl and Climate Collapse. Which is all to say, the idea concept has been on my mind.

Ultimately, I would choose sound art to create and give life to the space. More than this, I would want the exhibit to be interactive for visitors, of all ages, to be able to participate, add to, and make it their own. Some of the most meaningful work and experiences I have had in my life have been when given a chance to create alongside artists and other community members, and providing that experience to others would be one of the primary focuses in a 24 hour pop-up museum show.

SHP: If you could describe Borderland Apocrypha in three words, what would they be?

AC: Restorative. Manual. Memory.

Order Borderland Apocrypha here!

Categories
2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Alyse Bensel

Rare Wondrous Things, Alyse Bensel

Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things, a poetic biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, April 2020). Her poems have recently appeared in Alaska Quarterly ReviewPleiades, Puerto del SolWest BranchPoetry International, and elsewhere. Her fiction and nonfiction have been featured at The BoilerEntropy, and Pithead Chapel. She is also the author of three poetry chapbooks, most recently Lies to Tell the Body, published by Seven Kitchens Press in July 2018.

Alyse served as the Book Reviews Editor at The Los Angeles Review, a literary journal from Red Hen Press, from 2013-2018. Her reviews have appeared in Colorado ReviewPrairie SchoonerLiterary MamaNewpages, and many other journals. Her scholarly work has been published or will be forthcoming in Journal of Creative Writing Studies and the International Journal of Mobile Learning and Organisation.

She currently serves as section editor for Theory, Culture, and Craft for the Journal of Creative Writing Studies (JCWS), an open access, peer reviewed journal. Submissions to the journal are open year-round. She is also a Senior Poetry Reader for Cherry Tree.

Alyse is currently an assistant professor of English at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference. Questions regarding the conference can be directed to lgrwc@brevard.edu.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: How long did Rare Wondrous Things take to write from conception to publication?

Alyse Bensel: Rare Wondrous Things is probably the longest project I’ve probably ever worked on: approximately 10 years, from 2008, when I first encountered Maria Sibylla Merian’s work at the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam, until 2019, when I received the news from Green Writers Press that they wanted to publish the collection. Between those years was a lot of research, several radically different versions of the manuscript, and the annual submission cycle.

BRP: How do you feel about deadlines? Do you give them to yourself?

AB: Until recently, I was in school for what seemed like forever, so I always had deadlines that kept me moving forward. I did, and still do, like to make fake deadlines for myself. I do this more for my analytical work like book reviews, and my teaching, especially when it comes to grading work, but less so for writing poems. I do check in on whatever drafts I’m working on once a week, even though I’m less pushy with myself about creating new work or submitting to journals.

BRP: Who are you currently crushing on arts-wise?

AB: So many that when I get asked this question in casual conversation I blurt out ten or more names and then won’t stop rambling. I recently finished a few collections that have stuck with me, especially Paisley Rekdal’s Nightingale, Lee Ann Roripaugh’s tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Oceanic, and everything Marilyn Nelson has ever written, but honestly, I could keep going. I’ve always been particularly drawn to poets whose work resonates with the historical, persona, and the natural world. I love meticulously researched poetry that has a powerful voice. 

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

AB: Reading every day if I can. Reading (and sometimes yin yoga) is the only activity that I know will get me to write. And in no way does it have to be poetry–I served as a reviews editor for several years and so I read and reviewed fiction, nonfiction, cross genre work, anything. When I love a line or a sentence or an idea I mull it over, scribble a few responses, and keep on going. I know I’m being drawn into a text when my impulse to write takes over while I’m reading.

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

AB: There’s so much my wonderful mentors have given me. One of the most recent pieces of advice came while revising my dissertation, the manuscript that became Rare Wondrous Things. My advisor and dear friend, Megan Kaminski, had finished reading an earlier draft. We talked about it briefly, and then she asked me about my life. I told her how I was in the midst of wedding planning chaos and how the upcoming ceremony was filtering into every aspect of my life. She told me to include that in the manuscript, to let my life seep into Merian’s, to allow myself into the conversation, even just a little bit. That opened up the collection, and my writing. I tend to enjoy my privacy in a poem a little too much, but that often shuts a reader out. I know I need to sometimes spell out what’s hiding between the lines.

BRP: What was the biggest struggle you endured while writing Rare Wondrous Things?

AB: I partially explained this struggle in the previous question, but I also had another, perhaps even larger issue I kept on encountering while writing. Because Rare Wondrous Things is within the realm of the genre of biography-in-poems, I kept on trying to write what I thought a biography-in-poems “should” be. There are so many excellent examples of what you can do when writing about someone else’s life. However, so many excellent biographies-in-poems feature subjects that have fairly extensive written records. The only written records of Merian are her dozen or so letters (mostly business related), the prefaces and captions she wrote for her illustrations (mostly observation-based and descriptive), and bits of gossip or mentions in other brief texts. She did not like discussing her personal life, as far as historians have gathered, and was an intensively private person.

I mention all of this to demonstrate the tension I was having between me wanting more from Merian and the fact she wasn’t going to give me more than I already had. I eventually figured out I had to lean into the missing, the gaps and fragments of her life, if I wanted to write about her. All biography is at least partially imaginary, but I had to go farther than I initially felt comfortable doing in a text. After I decided to bring the imagined into the conversation, the poems went from an interesting idea to a fleshed out manuscript. 

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

AB: My notes are all over the place–my phone, my computer, my planner, random notebooks. I envy the beautifully organized journal. I can maintain order in my daily life with my planner and Google Calendar, but I could never write studiously in a journal. Lately I’ve end up piecing together the fragments I’ve written to see if a poem can happen somewhere in there.

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

AB: It depends on whatever given role I have and what responsibilities are attached to that role. For a while, it’s been more of an editorial role because, when I’m an editor, I am trying to give more specific guidance and feedback to a book reviewer or advising one of my students during a senior project. I’m more hands-on, getting into their work with them. When I’m curating, I’m trying to give space and bring certain ideas together. I think I do this in my teaching, when I assemble certain texts for my students and I to discuss and explore together. 

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?

AB: Typically when I’m reading or listening to others read or discuss someone’s work I’ll get some inspiration. And this may sound cliche, but I do spend a lot of time watching insects and plants and other creatures do things outside, even if I’m inside. On hikes I am always looking at the ground for mushrooms or orchids or spiders. I don’t write about my cats and dogs a lot, but I enjoy watching them. I think this gives me the space to “zone out” and let some ideas or images that have been circulating together click into place. 

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

AB: Recovering women’s history–because women’s work and lives are still so often ignored, erased, or undervalued. I recently saw someone wearing a t-shirt that read “name 10 women artists,” which I’d like to revise to “name 10 women scientists.” I hope that readers of Rare Wondrous Things will have at least one more name they didn’t have before.

Order Rare Wondrous Things here!

Categories
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!

Categories
2020 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Dorothy Chan

Dorothy Chan, author of Revenge of the Asian Woman

Revenge of the Asian Woman, Dorothy Chan

Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, March 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, The Cincinnati Review, Quarterly West, The Offing, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Poetry Editor of Hobart.

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: We love the titles of your books and poems. Talk to us about your titles!

Dorothy Chan: Oh gosh, I love talking about titles. I could teach a whole semester’s workshop just on titles. My trick is to aim for titles that are four words or longer—don’t be afraid to give it all away—more is better. I always remember what my mentor Alberto Ríos said about lines: “The best line of the poem is the one that I am reading, and this does not exclude the title.” One time he told me that one of my poems shouldn’t be titled “Balloon Animals,” but instead, “Balloon Animals Set Free in Ibiza.” He was right.

Regarding my book titles, I like to joke that I have this hidden obsession with Star Wars (even though I know almost nothing about Star Wars), because my first three book titles are as follows: Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), and Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming). So, Attack, Revenge, and Strikes Back. And yes, I know that Attack and Revenge are titles of the franchise’s prequels, but still, it’s fun to have this “trilogy” of first books. It’s a happy coincidence how the titles worked out.

Also, when you think about effective poem titles, think about timeliness movie titles, like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) or Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (2000) or It Happened One Night (1934). And of course, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). And oh, fun fact: Who Framed Roger Rabbit doesn’t contain a question mark, because the creators thought it’d be bad luck to have a question mark in a title—it’d be like questioning the success of the film. I apply this same idea to my poetry. I rarely use question marks. Even questions end in periods. Clipped sentences. Always be sure of yourself.

BRP: How long did it take for your first book to gestate? From conception to publication.

DC: I have about the worst memory, but it started as far back as my undergraduate years at Cornell. At Cornell, I was lucky enough to be mentored by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon. Lyrae is such a legend. And we’re still very close today. I remember writing two sonnet crowns in her workshop, and then one of them became the basis for my New Delta Review chapbook, Chinatown Sonnets, which is also a section in Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (2018).

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

DC: I do. This past summer I was on a strict one-poem-a-day schedule. It’s like vitamins.

I’m weird. I actually love pressure.

BRP: Who are you crushing on arts-wise?

DC: Gucci. Seriously. Have you seen their new furniture and décor? I especially love their blue seashell-shaped chairs and jellyfish wall dividers and their fun throw pillows with teddy bears, and tigers, and the infamous Gucci logo. It’s all so gorgeous and luxurious. I want to live in a movie that features that furniture.

Well, that was my answer from the past summer. I’m just very much driven aesthetically. Right now, I’m re-crushing on a bunch of East Asian artists, like Ren Hang, Nguan, Yoshitomo Nara, Ai Yamaguchi, and Jang Koal.

Oh, I also love going on the Pantone app and looking up my favorite colors.

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

DC: I’m not sure if this is good or bad, but I drink a lot of coffee and green tea.

I also watch Riverdale every Thursday. Riverdale is the greatest show on television. I’m kidding but I also 100% mean that. It contains film noir, melodrama, mystery, teen angst, a mix of high and low fashion, and many other things I love.

I also like taking a bath in the middle of the night. This helps clear my head and get into poetry mode.

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

DC: Everything my poetry dad, Norman Dubie has ever told me. He is everything.

Here’s a piece of his advice that will help everyone (paraphrased): I remember the first day of Norman’s workshop, the first day of the MFA at Arizona State. He told us to stay healthy, to eat well, and to limit our drinking. He said it was important to stay healthy because staying healthy also ensures good poetry and longevity of career.

I always think about Norman’s advice. The poetry world can feel so competitive sometimes, but it’s also important to keep the big picture in mind, in more ways than one. So, it’s important to stay healthy. If you’re not healthy, you can’t write your best poems. You can’t organize full-length collections. You can’t keep a clear, calm, and steady mind.

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

DC: Right now, there’s about twenty or so Post-its on my desk, all filled with notes for the next next book.

I also keep journals, of course. They’re especially handy while traveling. But I think I actually jot down ideas on my iPhone Notes app the most. At times, I’ll have 100+ notes, all with poem ideas and opening lines.

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

Both. Always. I was telling my students this the other day: I love the part of the book process when you print out all your poems, lay them on the floor, and arrange and re-arrange their order. I love both the micro and macro aspects of revision. One technique I always reinforce in the classroom (regarding revision) is to do multiple “test runs” of the same poem, so make multiple copies of the same poem and don’t be afraid to really get in there and do major overhaul.

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?

DC: I’m not a nature person at all. More like inspiration from midnight to 4 AM, honestly. I also don’t necessarily believe in epiphanies. I believe in putting ideas to the page almost immediately.

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

DC: I’m totally designing a whole fashion line. The problem is that I can’t sew. But I would get over that in order to make something very memorable. I wish I could have my own fashion line IRL. It’d be a mix of tomboy chic and Harajuku style, plus a little bit of early to mid-2000s celebutante. Oh, and also a little bit of Ivy League prep. Very eclectic yet practical. Street style at its finest. Very sexy too.  

BRP: Tell us about your new book and your new recipe form.

DC: The Triple Sonnet is my favorite form in Revenge of the Asian Woman. It’s basically three sonnets in a row, or to refer to my favorite quote by Liberace/Mae West: “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” I think the sonnet is the perfect form, so why have only one when you could have three in a row?

Revenge is set up in a triptych structure: I. Chinese Soap Opera, II. On the Menu, and III. Hong Kong Babe in Vegas. It’s about excess, it’s about “it,” and it’s about awakening. Here’s my elevator pitch: “Who doesn’t think kissing is the greatest thing / in the world other than eating?” Revenge of the Asian Woman comes to life on a sexed-up soap opera / B-movie platter where passion and food and fantasy reign supreme: excess in the form of full odes and triple sonnets with towers of macarons and carnival desserts and Hong Kong street food on a skewer—and make it a double.

The Recipe is the new form I recently invented, and there’s a whole section of these recipe poems in my forthcoming collection, Chinese Girl Strikes Back. There’s literally a recipe in the middle of the poem—I mean, what’s better than food and poetry? I love this third book so much. It’s just so decadent.

Order Revenge of the Asian Woman here!

Categories
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!

Categories
2019 Under Pressure

Under Pressure: Dana Alsamsam

(in)habit, Dana Alsamsam

Dana Alsamsam is a first generation Syrian-American from Chicago and is currently based in Boston where she works in arts development. A Lambda Literary fellow, she received her MFA in Poetry from Emerson College where she was the Editor-in-Chief of Redivider and Senior Editorial Assistant at Ploughshares. She is the author of a chapbook, (in)habit (tenderness lit, 2018), and her poems are published or forthcoming in The Massachusetts Review, North American Review, The Shallow Ends, The Offing, Tinderbox, Salamander, BOOTH, The Common and others. 

Interview

Bina Ruchi Perino: How long did (in)habit take to write from conception to publication?

Dana Alsamsam: This may be a political answer but (in)habit took my entire life to write. It’s a chapbook, not a full-length, but it still very much has the feeling of a first collection because I am working through a lot of childhood traumas and coming-of-age narratives. Technically, I would say, the collection is a summation of everything I wrote during undergrad that I was proud of, and was published about a year after I graduated. So, for a real answer, let’s say five years.

BRP: How do you feel about deadlines? Do you give them to yourself?

DA: I’m very type A and don’t have an issue with deadlines. I love a spreadsheet. 

BRP: Who are you currently crushing on arts-wise?

DA: I love this question! There are two poets who I’m seriously rooting for and following closely right now. Both of these poets not only write breathtaking, experimental, compassionate poetry, but they are also organizers, activists, and community builders that I stand behind. I’m grateful for their work in many ways. 

One of these poets is Porsha Olayiwola, poet laureate of Boston, who I had the great opportunity to be in workshop alongside while at Emerson.

The other is Kay Ulanday Barrett who I had the absolute pleasure of meeting at the Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices in 2018.

Book them. Pay them. 

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

DA: I’m a very physical person and writing through and back into my body has always been generative, and essential, to my work. As a queer, Arab-American woman I often think about how the bodies of my people are codified and, if not deemed generally acceptable, marginalized. I also want to get rid of this idea that it’s cute to be purposely unhealthy, or to sacrifice your physical and mental well being to be a prolific artist. This is all to say, my daily rituals involve movement in many forms. I am a dancer and choreographer for a few dance companies in Boston, I walk everywhere, and I also train at the gym for strength and athleticism. My movement and writing practices are wonderfully intertwined. When we are able to gather physically again, collaborations along these lines will be in the front of my mind.

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

DA: The day I met Ryka Aoki, the cohort leader at summer 2018’s Lambda Literary Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices, she said something very close to this: “I’m so glad you’re here. I’ve spent a lot of time with your work. You have incredible discipline and musicality. In fact, you’re disciplined enough to be so much braver.” I’ll never forget that. 

Book her. Pay her.

BRP: What was the biggest struggle you endured while writing (in)habit?  

DA: (in)habit, similarly to most things I write, heavily features my family members. I constantly grappled with the conflict of being able to tell my story, express my hurt and pain, sort through intimate personal tragedies that built who I am, but that portray my family in a negative light. I had to get to a point of accepting that speaking my struggle, my emotional breakthroughs, my damage is not an attack on them. I have a right to this story. I write about it because it’s important. 

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

DA: I try to always have a journal with me. 

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

DA: I am no longer in any editorial roles except for freelance poetry consulting (email me if you’re interested, dana.alsamsam@gmail.com). When I was Editor-in-Chief of Redivider, I thought of myself more so as a community leader, a thought leader, an energy leader. I did a lot of difficult work behind the scenes planning, fundraising, creating institutional materials, etc. but what my community saw is what I gave to them, and that was the most important part of the work for me. This super difficult “labor of love” industry needs compassion and authenticity, but that’s a thought for another day…or a very long essay…I work in arts fundraising now and often feel inspired or pushed forward by the imbalances I felt working in editorial.

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?

DA: I haven’t written much at all since the global pandemic began. When I have the energy, I try to read and take inspiration from others while my own creative heart is tired. Typically, however, inspiration comes while walking. I don’t really have time in my days to sit down and write. I walk and take transit everywhere, so I try to use that built-in, rhythmic time for my body and mind to recalibrate with the present. I try not to distract myself with content during this time, instead taking the opportunity to be mindful of my physical and mental state. This simple, mindful curiosity is often followed by inspiration. Walking while digitally scribbling in my phone notes is a regular practice.

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

DA: Suburban. Grotesque. Intimate.

Order (in)habit here!