“I write these things through a steady chiseling away at myself…”

 

caitlinFor some reason, when I post interviews I always want to recount how I met the interviewee. In this way, this blog has also become a catalogue of first impressions. I met poet Caitlin Scarano my first day at my PhD school in my lit seminar. I was entirely intimated. (Am I smart enough to be here?) Except for Caitlin and myself, the room was entirely male. These men liked to drop theorists’ names and wanted to “create knowledge.” (Actual quote.) The first day of class we went around the room and introduced ourselves and our discipline. When I learned that she was also a poet, I was like, um, why isn’t she smiling at me. I later learned it is because she is Caitlin.

Through multiple weeks of class, starting an orchard on campus, and running beside a river with a dog who is afraid of water, we became friends. She has just published her first book of poetry, Do Not Bring Him Water, by Write Bloody Press, out of Los Angeles, CA. Here is our interview.

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“my role as a poet is tied to a job we all are called to take on—treating each other with respect”

McKee head shotFreesia McKee is a working poet. She is a part of the Milwaukee scene — present, attentive and welcoming at poetry events and rallies alike. Her words have appeared in the Huffington Post, Gertrude, Painted Bride Quarterly, Burdock, and Sundress Press’s Political Punch anthology. She co-hosts The Subtle Forces, a weekly morning show on Riverwest Radio in Milwaukee. I met Freesia in at the Public House, a co-operative bar that also serves as a community center for poets and other residents of Riverwest.  A mutual friend introduced us by way of saying “If you two don’t know each other, you should.” I am so grateful to have met Freesia before she leaves Milwaukee for an MFA program next year. Though Milwaukee will miss dearly, I’m also excited that she will be entering into an MFA program and that I will get to read all the new poems she will write!  I’m also grateful that she took the time answer a few questions about the intersection writing, life, the artist’s responsibilities.

What do you write? How do you write it?

I write poems in small notebooks on the bus, at the kitchen table, in bed when I first wake up, on walks in the city. I “write everyday,” but sometimes a lot, sometimes a little. I keep a couple of notebooks running with notes, observations, ideas, and then I translate those into actual poems usually on the computer. Writing is difficult and it always feels like an accomplishment to finish a draft of a poem.

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“Small in-between moments” with Amelia Martens

IMG_6972.jpgDear Readers, You must forgive me. I have been withholding a wonderful interview from you of the poet Amelia Martens, who just published a collection of prose poems with Sarabande Books. I’ve not been holding back on purpose. You see it is the end of the semester. Grades are due for my composition students and so are my own research papers. At the same time, I had to find a sublease for my apartment, back all my belongings into a basement storage unit, and get sedatives for my cat to prepare for our move to an island three hours north of Milwaukee. I write this not to complain, as I am grateful for all these things: to be a PhD student at UW-Milwaukee, to have found a summer job on in an idyllic place, and I am grateful for Amelia Martens taking the time to do an interview with me. I tell you all these things because for a long time this blog has only been about writers who write and work in nonacademic fields. However, as I’ve just (about) completed my first year in PhD-land, I’ve re-learned that the work/life/write balance is just as mythical as it was when I was working as freelance writer and at a desk job, which is why I first reached out to Martens who teaches at composition at a community college in Kentucky. As someone towing the line between academia, raising children, and writing, I wanted to get her insight into the process. So without further ado, Amelia Martens:

IMG_0514Amelia Marten’s new collection, The Spoons in the Grass Are There to Dig a Moat, is as beautiful outside as it is inside. As I prepared to write this introduction, I thought to myself, well, there is just too much good here, I’ll just write about my favorite prose poem: But then I couldn’t decide between “Baggage,” about Jesus working the airport X-ray machine, or “In the First World,” recurring poems that turn the mundane into the absurd or “We Will Be Long Gone,” one side of daughter-mother bedtime conversation. These three poems, however, give a sample of far-ranging themes Martens packs into unifying tightly-woven prose poem form. Jesus, daughters, terrorism are all recurring characters as are irreverence, humor and tenderness. But you don’t have to take my word for it, poet Catherine Bowman called this collection “Wise, joyous, keen tender, she shows us the divine in the most unexpected places.” And you don’t have to take you Bowman’s word for it, you can read it yourself!

Amelia Martens’ interview is just as wise and tender. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

What do you write? How do you write it?

Poems. Mostly prose poems have been arriving for the past few years (although I’ve also recently written four book reviews). I write at a giant desk, rescued from the IU surplus store. It sits in our laundry room, right in front of window looking onto our backyard willow trees. I write on a Mac laptop, though most of my poems start now at notes written down in a rush in a little-Nancy-Drew-like notepad (there’s even a tiny pen that slips into the side!). I write in the small in-between moments; now that our girls are older (3 and 5) they go off and have their own adventures together—so I write until someone needs a Band-Aid, new pants, a snack.

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Rachel Kincaid: Managing Editor and Fiction Writer

Rachel's desk.

Rachel’s desk.

It was my good fortune, shortly after moving to Milwaukee, to catch a ride with Rachel Kincaid and her husband, Franklin, to a party featuring tamales and homemade salsa. On the car ride, I learned that Rachel is a fiction writer and managing editor for Autostraddle.com, an online journal featuring “News, Entertainment, Opinion, Community and Girl-on-Girl Culture.” I was especially drawn in by her regular chatty lifestyle column called “Helping You Help Yourself,” which links to advice from DIY household decoration projects to tricks to using gmail more efficiently. You can find links to her work at her website rachel-kincaid.com and you can follow her on twitter at @monkeykin.

She took time this week to share about her life and what it looks like to be a managing editor, fiction writer, and person generally excited about the world. I hope you will enjoy this interview as much as I did.

What do you write? How do you write it? (Like when, where, with what, etc.)

I write essays, news & politics coverage, and lifestyle advice for Autostraddle.com, where I’m the managing editor, as well as writing fiction. My actual writing time is usually interspersed with lots of other job tasks — editing other people’s work, soliciting people, managing a team, etc. Starting around 9:30 or 10 am, I sit at my desk in my home office (or on my couch, if it’s chilly and I need a blanket) with my MacBook. I use Google Docs and WordPress for my day job, and usually Scrivener for fiction (with a Google Docs spreadsheet to keep track of where I’ve submitted my work). I usually take a break around 6 pm or so to make dinner and hang out with my husband, and then do a bit more work and wrap up around 9 or 10 pm.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job and how you got there? Continue reading

“The voice that emerged from the pages became so raw and tragic and comical and real that I wanted to kiss the pages of the book. I want to write like that.”

lanaLana shared with us from her wells of wisdom a little over a year ago. Since then she’s been published in several journals. I wanted to learn more about what was fueling her so I asked her a few questions. And I’m so glad I did. Her honest self-reflection and love for the craft is mesmerizing and inspiring. Please read on and enjoy!

What have you been up to since the last time we spoke?

I’ve been swimming in flash fiction ideas. And every time I finish a new piece, I overhear a conversation between two octogenarians in the street or recall a summer-camp incident from my childhood, and off I go to start a whole new piece.

I’ve had twelve publication acceptances in the last year—mostly flash fiction—and this has increased my confidence in working with the genre. Acceptances and kind words from editors energize me to no end. I wish that approval seeking were not such a fueling force for me. I’m working on this. But for now, approval seeking is one of the reasons I continue working on pieces that become too hard. And I’m thankful for this impetus, because regardless of my motivation in sitting down to write, once I am actually writing I end up forgetting myself and exploring human emotion in the most genuine way I know.

I’ve noticed recently that when I spend a chunk of time working on a string of flash pieces, I do start to miss longer stories. I miss existing within their settings. I miss exploring the characters within the spaces of their homes and then following them to churches or bars or watching them sit on the tram and gaze out the window.

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“I return to these scraps during the day and type them…”

Luke Hankins in Uniform at the Biltmore Dining Hall

Luke Hankins in Uniform at the Biltmore Dining Hall

In my first days in Bloomington, Indiana, where I had just moved to go to school for my MFA, I met Luke Hankins. He spoke deliberately and with a bit of southern drawl, and he taught me that the building where most of our days were to be spent was called Ballantine, which rhymes with Valentine (not with trampoline, as I had mistakenly been pronouncing it). Besides making the world a more grammatically-correct and well-pronounced place, Luke is devoted to the craft of poetry and machine of writing, that is editing and publishing, the needful things to get writing to readers. He is the founding editor of Orison Books, a “literary press which is focused on the life of the spirit from a broad range of perspectives” and which has a prize for poetry, fiction, and nonfiction.  You can find links to his work and learn more about Luke at his website.  Below, Luke was generous enough to share a little bit about his writing and working life. Read on and be inspired.

What do you write?

I primarily write poetry, but also essays and book reviews, and I also translate Stella Vinitchi Radulescu’s French language poetry. In fact, my next book, The Work of Creation (Wipf & Stock, forthcoming Jan. 2016) is a collection of prose pieces in various genres (literary criticism, personal essays, meditations on art and literature, etc.). I also hope to start writing a memoir focused on my religious upbringing and eventual evolution out of traditional religion over the next few years.

How do you write it?  Continue reading

A review of Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay

Catalog of Unabashed GratitudeCatalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ross Gay’s newest book reminds me of why I love poetry. The sincerity and precision. The music. The seeing and cataloging what is beautiful and what is perverse. Though every word is well placed and every line well cared for, the poems wander, and wallow, and address themselves, and yet never loose focus. In poems the reader might wonder how she got from sexual innuendo to sharing a meal with small miracle worker: the bee, and so be forced to re-read and retrace the steps that got her there. Gay’s poem dare to the face both small, beautiful moments (most people would stumble over them without noticing) and the moments so large, so painful (most people would be rendered speechless and fearful).

In case you’re wondering, I think you should go read this book. Right now.

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“I got to know a highly collaborative art form that helped me to question why poets sat by themselves so much in coffee shops and at home.”

vardaman2-12I was lucky to meet the wise Wendy Vardaman at The Book Cellar last year because we both had saint poems in the anthology St. Peter’s B-List  and joined together with a few other poets for a poetry reading in honor of Saints and Strangers. Wendy writes poems that are warm, human, inviting, and often humorous. They kind of poems you want to walk around inside for a little while. I loved listening to her read her poems that night at the Book Cellar and loved reading her first collection, Obstructed View (Fireweed Press), on my own afterward. Wendy is the poet laureate of Madison, WI, and recently published another collection of poems, Reliquary of Debt (Lit Fest Press 2015).  As you can see by taking a look at her website and the following interview, Wendy’s interests and accomplishments as an artist and an interpreter of art are many and varied (Check out the #midwestpoetic project in the list of links below the interview). I’m so grateful she took a moment to share with us about her journey because she’s reminded me of the importance of learning and collaborating and questioning and growing all the time.

What do you write? 

I write poetry and prose. And prose poems and poetic prose. I write creative nonfiction and book reviews and author interviews. I write reviews as prose poems. I write scholarly poems and poetic scholarship. I write comments on student essays and poems. I write up product information for one of my jobs and upload it to websites. I write website content for the poetry press that I co-founded (Cowfeather) with Sarah Busse, and I write that with html and css code. I write journal entries and notes to myself and lists of things to do. I write Facebook status updates (occasionally) and Tweets (rarely) and blog entries that are more long form essays than blog posts. I write up events and copy for the jackets of books and the occasional press release, which I’m terrible at. I write texts to my kids, which I am also terrible at. I used to write letters, but I gave up on those a few years ago. I write way too many emails. I’m a compulsive note taker.

How do you write it? (Like when, where, with what, etc)  Continue reading

“In the morning my thoughts are quieter, and my language tends to be clearer.”

rachellyonRachel Lyon is a woman of much grace and many talents. Not only is her fiction swift and piercing, she plays the violin, is a radiant dinner guest, and generally all around wonderful person. I had the pleasure of getting to know Rachel while we were both at Indiana University’s MFA program. She’s now back in her home city, New York, working and writing, and she took a minute to share with us a little snippet of her life. You can find more of Rachel on Twitter: @manateesintrees and Instagram: @appleeyed and a list of her published works that can be enjoyed anywhere the internet goes.

What do you write? How do you write it?

I write stories, mostly, of all lengths—short-shorts, long shorts—and I’ve just finished a second draft of my first novel. I usually get up sometime around six so I can write in the morning before work. I find my mind is freshest then. As the day goes on, my mental noise tends to accumulate, and that can drown out what I most deeply want to say. In the morning my thoughts are quieter, and my language tends to be clearer.

It also helps that one of my two cats is a restless little animal who won’t leave me alone until I get up. As soon as he feels that it should be morning he’ll come and harass me until I get out of bed. I like to think of him as my writer’s conscience… but probably he’s just bored. Continue reading

“The blog is all about the comedy and the novel is, well, not.”

awkwardprofilepicIf you have been feeling a lag in motivation in your writing life, you need to read this interview with Emelie Samuelson. Emelie is humorist, YA novelist, and all-around inspiring woman. She lives in the small town that the Gilmore Girls‘  Stars Hallow is based on. Read on to learn more about how and why she picked up and moved to this town. You’ll be inspired to follow your dreams.

What do you write?

I have my own blog, Awkwardly Alive and Pleasantly Peculiar, on which I share weekly stories about my many embarrassing moments in life, and I also just finished the first draft of my first novel. Now I’m in that dreadful editing process. The two projects are different enough, though, so my brain is never bored. The blog is all about the comedy and the novel is, well, not.

Can you tell us a little more about your first novel?
My novel is a psychological one, dealing with a teenager with schizophrenia, although I think it’s more about the characters than the illness itself. I think it will be marketed to young adults, which is great because that’s a genre I’m incredibly comfortable with. I’m pretty inspired by the Y.A. authors (but would never dare to compare myself to any of them because they’re too brilliant and I am…me.) Rainbow Rowell, John Green, and David Levithan (just to name a few, although there are a least half a dozen more). I like when authors of that genre can write books for teens that don’t over-dramatize things. It’s important to me that teen fiction is respectful towards what teenagers go through and what they feel. Whether or not my book will accomplish that, I have no idea, but I’m really hoping it will. Continue reading