Interview with American Poet, Conrad Geller

October 1, 2014
Photo: Conrad Geller

Photo: Conrad Geller

Brief Biography:

CONRAD GELLER, a native of Boston, Massachusetts, is an old poet now living in Northern Virginia. His verse is widely published in print and electronically. Awards for his work include a Charles Prize, a Bibliophilos Prize, and several prizes from the Poetry Society of Virginia.

Geosi Gyasi: You grew up in Boston and received your education at the Boston Latin School and Harvard. Tell us about the literary landscape in Boston?

Conrad Geller: Actually I left the Boston area right after college, to teach in central Massachusetts. After military service and a few years of teaching I moved to suburban New York, where I spent most of my adult life. So I was never connected to a literary landscape, in Boston or, in fact, anywhere else. New York, of course, has always been a place of rich cultural ferment and, although I was never really a full participant in that culture, I benefited, I think, from its excitement and stimulation.

Geosi Gyasi: But what do you remember most about growing up in Boston?

Conrad Geller: My Boston in the Thirties to the Fifties was a wonderful place to be a kid. I lived in the West End, walking distance from everything. I sailed on the Charles River, skated on the Public Gardens pond, casually visited the great museums, which were free in those days, and went to the Peabody Playhouse to see miraculous productions of Gilbert and Sullivan and everything else. Best of all, the Corn Hill section, off Scollay Square, was full of used bookstores; where for a dime or fifteen cents I got Palgrave’s Treasury, Poe’s stories, and all kinds of interesting stuff.

But the best part of Boston was the opportunity to attend Latin School. That opened up everything for me, intellectually and artistically. There were no academic frills there, just Latin, French, German, English, history, math, and a little science. It was just what I needed.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a bit about your days in Harvard? What did you study there?

Conrad Geller: I commuted to Harvard from Dorchester, where I was living then, so I wasn’t fully a part of life at Harvard. I had a wonderful time studying English literature, though my parents kept telling me that wasn’t practical (they were right). It was for me a time of Shakespeare and Chaucer, listening to Harlow Shapley tell about the universe, once meeting and speaking briefly with Robert Frost at a Houghton Library reception, schmoozing endlessly at Dudley House.

Geosi Gyasi: You once spent a Fulbright year teaching in London. What was your observation of the literary scene in London?

Conrad Geller: London was an exciting place to be in the Seventies, especially for a poet. There were poetry groups, poetry pubs, readings somewhere all the time. I met regularly with PIGG (Poetry In Grangecliffe Gardens), a group of earnest and talented poets, who did a lot for my development as a poet.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think Americans read enough?

Conrad Geller: Perhaps we don’t read enough, almost surely we read less than we used to. Reading — books, newspapers, magazines – is no longer the main way for us to get information, stimulation, or entertainment. Significantly, the newer means of communication seem to have led to a drastically shortened attention span. Among other effects, that’s probably why football has replaced baseball as the national pastime. I still read books, mostly science, poetry and philosophy, very few novels these days. I’m not one of those who deplore current trends or lament that tomatoes tasted better when I was a boy. I can get more information in ten minutes from the internet than I could get from two hours in a library.

Geosi Gyasi: When did you start writing?

Conrad Geller: I remember my first poem, when I was about seven or eight:

“I was riding on my bicycle

When down came an icicle

And hit me on the head

So I went to bed.

And when I awoke

I asked for a smoke.”

I didn’t own a bicycle and certainly didn’t smoke, but those were the exigencies of rhyme. I recited it to my brother, who thought it was cool, and so my career was started.

In high school I wrote poetry and short stories, mostly, it seems, imitative of Poe. Then there was mostly a hiatus for college and other strenuous pursuits, but I never stopped entirely.

Geosi Gyasi: Why do you write at all?

Conrad Geller: I have never thought about this question before. I suppose it’s mainly in hopes of being admired, recognized, at least known. Since my teen years I have had a poet’s identity, which has served me pretty well. The other answer is that lines and phrases swirl around in my mind, and it’s a relief, like sneezing, to get them into form and get rid of them.

Geosi Gyasi: Your poem, “And Have I loved You?” has as it’s first line; “And have I loved you long enough by now?” How much emphasis do you place on the titles of your poems?

Conrad Geller: I hate the necessity of titles. By now I have written close to a thousand poems, and giving each one a unique title is a woeful burden for me. Using the first line as a title is a useful trick to get me out of the work of finding titles.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you write from personal experiences?

Conrad Geller: A writer can’t help but use his accumulated pool of experience, but for me poetry is neither confessional nor biography. Poetry, even according to its etymology, means making things up. I want readers to consider my poetry as fiction, not the revelation of my soul. The poet, like the stand-up comedian, assumes a character that is not himself when he goes to work.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the best time to write?

Conrad Geller: Many of my poems are, at least, begun in the twilight between sleep and waking. Sometimes, of course, whatever I composed is lost in the morning, but when it persists I then have to get to work to make it a poem.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you find the art of writing joyous?

Conrad Geller: Just the opposite. Since I sometimes write in forms and almost always in conventional meter, I have to do the hard work of an artisan to make it happen. By the middle of, say, a sonnet, I heartily hate what I’m doing and am eager to be rid of the task. Often I’m please with the result, however.

Geosi Gyasi: If you could go back to the past, would you want to become a writer?

Conrad Geller: Oh, yes. It’s impossible to imagine myself not writing.

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired “The Destination”?

Conrad Geller: I have done about twenty poems about a future world of joylessness and desolation. In “The Destination” there is in that society a rule for euthanasia at a certain age. The old man is going to the place where it will be done. Maybe some day those poems will be a book; I don’t know.

Geosi Gyasi: Are there any writers to whom you look up to?

Conrad Geller: I have mentioned Poe, my first literary love. Of current poets I admire Billy Collins, though his poems are formally nothing like mine.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever written out of love or hatred?

Conrad Geller: I write out of a need to gather pieces of language into coherent wholes. Whatever emotions are conveyed are a result of that effort.

Geosi Gyasi: I am not sure if I’ve exhausted all that I want to ask you?

Conrad Geller: Thanks very much for this interview. It was fun.


Interview with Carol V. Davis, T.S Eliot Prize Winner for Into the Arms of Pushkin

September 30, 2014
Photo: Carol V. Davis

Photo: Carol V. Davis

Brief Biography:

Carol V. Davis is the author of Between Storms (Truman State University Press, 2012). She won the 2007 T.S. Eliot Prize for Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg. Twice a Fulbright scholar in Russia, her poetry has been read on NPR, Radio Russia and at the Library of Congress. She teaches at Santa Monica College and Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Mid-American Review, Bellingham Review, Verse Daily and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry. She is poetry editor of the Los Angeles newspaper the Jewish Journal.

Geosi Gyasi: You seem to have some sort of affinity for languages. Is/Are there any circumstance(s) that influenced you to study Russian?

Carol V. Davis: I fell in love with Russian literature early on at university. There were family ties, but that really didn’t influence me. My paternal grandparents were from Russia & Ukraine, but once they came to the U.S., they didn’t want to speak Russian. They spoke Yiddish in the home, but I didn’t grow up with it. My parents were born in NY, but their first language was Yiddish for both of them. I don’t think I have an affinity for languages; living in a country certainly helps in fluency.

Geosi Gyasi: This may sound somewhat unimportant but is the Russian language difficult to study?

Carol V. Davis: Yes (laughing) it is if you are a bad language student, as I was. I was always off reading a novel instead of studying my case endings. Russian grammar is difficult in that each word changes depending on what case it is (genetic, dative, etc.).

Geosi Gyasi: You earned an MA in Slavic language and literature from the University of Washington. Is there any special thing you remember about your days as a student?

Carol V. Davis: I struggled with the language. I have fonder memories of my undergraduate days, as I went to what was called an experimental college, very small classes, and the chance to do lots of independent study. I was the only one studying Russian literature there, but it was a college with a lot of freedom and it suited me well.

Geosi Gyasi: Did you know that you would one day become a writer?

Carol V. Davis: No, though I was always in the arts. I trained as a dancer from a young age, though decided to go to university and also studied art at first at university. I was always a reader. In some ways I think being a reader and certainly studying literature is good training for becoming a writer. Now it is common for writers to study creative writing at university and graduate school. This was not common when I went to university and though I teach creative writing, I have mixed feelings about it as an academic subject. In graduate school I imagined I’d go on for a PhD and teach Russian literature. I left after my MA and soon after started writing seriously. Very quickly then I knew that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Geosi Gyasi: Your book, “Into the Arms of Pushkin: Poems of St. Petersburg” won the T.S Eliot Prize in 2007. How much effort did you put into the writing of the book?

Carol V. Davis: I’m not quite sure how to answer that. I wrote the book actually over a 10-year period, so I guess a lot of effort. I first went to live in Russia in 1996, finished the book in 2005 and it won in 2007. I was very lucky as it won the first year I submitted it to a competition. There were about 550 manuscripts submitted to the TS Eliot Prize that year, so I was very, very lucky to have won. I had published a book in Russia in 1997 in a bilingual English/Russian edition, but Into the Arms of Pushkin is considered (by many) as my first book. The part I found most difficult was the ordering of the poems. Also since the manuscript was in some ways a record of this time period, I initially had the poems more or less in chronological order. I was later advised (by a poet who read the manuscript) not to keep that ordering. I’d published a lot by the time the book came out, but as a friend put it, “After 27 years you are an overnight sensation.” I was not at all expecting to win and was stunned when I got the call.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve said somewhere that you explore faith and doubt and superstition in your poetry. I am wondering the link between faith and doubt and superstition?

Carol V. Davis: First faith and doubt. Many of us go through periods of more intense religious beliefs and practice at certain times in life than at other times. As for superstition, well there is a certain level of suspension of disbelief in religion. There are religious events and experiences that are hard to accept if one believes them as historically true. I suppose all cultures (if not religions) have some superstitions. My grandparents (on my mother’s side, since they were the ones I knew more) certainly adhered to certain superstitions. These were culturally based. My parents were vehemently opposed to these. Some of this was the difference between an immigrant generation (my grandparents) and an American-born generation, my parents. Yet sometimes I saw my mother continuing these superstitions, for example, not buying a baby stroller or baby clothes before the birth of the baby. Many superstitions, I think, came about because of the frailty of life, the danger of disease. Many superstitions cross cultures varying slightly. I also became interested in Russian superstitions and how they were different from the Jewish or American ones I knew. I’m now working on a new manuscript and one of the themes I am exploring is Jewish superstitions.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind sharing your views on the political situation in contemporary Russia?

Carol V. Davis: I lived in Russia through many different administrations: Presidents Yeltsin, Putin, Medvedev, and Putin again. Over the years Putin has shut down much of the free press and taken away freedoms. It is alarming. My friends there are mostly in the arts, academic and Jewish communities, so I see Russia through those eyes as well. I’m hoping still to go back in early 2015. The undeclared war with Ukraine is terrible and the rise of fascism in Eastern Ukraine among the separatists also. Many people in Russia (as in other countries) are more concerned with a rise in quality of life than in politics. There is a striking difference between life in the major cities, St. Petersburg where I lived and in Moscow than in the provinces and rural areas.

Geosi Gyasi: Is there any special link between teaching and writing?

Carol V. Davis: Several: a chance to do close reading of texts. There is the hope for time off (summers mostly) and the stimulation of working with students, but it is draining too, of course. I am now teaching both literature (mostly American) and creative writing (poetry).

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Your grandparents are Jewish immigrants from Russia. My question is, are you a practicing Jew? If so, what does it mean to be Jewish?

Carol V. Davis: Yes from Russia & Ukraine on one side and Germany & Austria on the other. When my parents married, this match was considered an intermarriage. I think it was class differences, as the Germany Jews were middle class and the Russian Jews peasant/working class. The term intermarriage has a very different meaning now. Yes I am a practicing Jew. Being Jewish is complicated, as one can be a Jew and not be religiously observant at all, as Judaism is a religion, a culture, a history; some Jews are purely gastronomic, some socially active in causes. I have gone in and out of observance and belief, but have always identified as Jewish. The past few years I have reconnected more strongly as far as observance goes. My children, nor husband are. A few weeks ago the portion (chapter) read in the Torah was about arguing with God. That is a strong tradition as well. I don’t believe there is only one way of being Jewish. I’m in the more liberal branches of Judaism, so believe in women rabbis and full participation for women. I have friends in various movements in Judaism. One legacy that I was strongly brought up in and is one strain of Jewish tradition is: tikkun olam, literally repairing the world, giving back to society. That was very strongly preached in my family. One must make a contribution to society in order to have a fulfilling life.

Geosi Gyasi: How does your family feel about your books?

Carol V. Davis: My mother passed away young, so only was alive at the beginning of my career. My father was an academic so was pleased when I got my first Fulbright scholar’s grant, but he didn’t read poetry. My kids don’t read my books, though my oldest son is a visual artist and my 2nd son works in the art world. I think my kids are happy we didn’t pressure them to become accountants (laughing) but they are not interested in poetry, or at least my poetry or books. Of course I hope that will change at some point.

Geosi Gyasi: What things are often found on your writing table?

Carol V. Davis: Lots of print outs of drafts of poems, poetry books, a notebook where I record submissions. It’s a mess.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a strict writing schedule?

Carol V. Davis: I do try to devote at least a morning a week to poetry, whether writing, revising, sending out work, but time is always an issue during the academic year. I try to get to an artist’s residency when I can, where I can have two or three weeks of uninterrupted writing time. That is wonderful and terrifying (without distractions). I like going to different parts of the country (America) and find I see more clearly being in a new place. A few years ago I spent a cold, snowy January in rural Wyoming and two summers ago, I had a National Parks residency in Nebraska, on the Great Plains. Russia isn’t exotic for me, but rural Wyoming and Nebraska certainly was! I got lots of writing done in Russia too as I was more isolated (not so many friends, home more).

Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your work to others before they are published?

Carol V. Davis: The question isn’t so much before it is published as before it is ready to send out for submission. I have a friend I often show a poem too, especially if I have uncertainty about it or it feels not quite right. I have another friend I sometimes email poems too. It can be a long time (years sometimes) between initial submission of a poem to when it is published. Sometimes I feel like a poem is good but it takes a long time to find its rightful “home.” Not all the poems that end up in a book are published in literary journals, but I do try. And I want to be in the top-tier journals, so it’s a long process. It can take years between when a poem is written to when it is published and it can be rejected many, many times first. Getting published in good journals is harder and harder now, as well as getting a publisher. I think there are 350 university writing programs in the U.S. now. Last year when I attended the AWP conference (the large yearly creative writing conference), there were 13,000 people in attendance. That’s a lot of writers. Many people in the US are writing poetry, but I wonder how many read it. I also do not teach in a university. It’s a little harder getting a book when one is outside the “academy.”

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember these lines: “This is the new Russia/of suntans from Egyptian holidays/gated houses with security cameras/foreign cars and chauffeurs waiting at the curb.” What inspired “The New Russian”? Did you struggle choosing the title for the poem?

Carol V. Davis: I struggle with titles a lot. For me titles are one of the hardest parts of a poem. Ironically that poem was not hard to title. The term New Russian is a quite pejorative term meaning a Russian who has made a lot of money but is not very cultured or sophisticated. There was such a big difference in Russia between when I first went to live there in 1996 and when I last lived a long stretch there in 2005. Oil money has arrived and more conspicuous consumption. I had visited the Soviet Union in the 1970s when I was a college student and it was very, very different. Russia, like other countries, but not the US, has a long history with poetry and the role of the poet is/was central to the identity of the country. In the Soviet days it was not unusual for a book of poetry to sell out overnight. Poetry was central to the country’s identity and conscience. That’s not so any more, but it was wonderful living in a country which still has respect for poetry. No one in Russia ever asked me, “What do you really do?” And everyone there can recite Pushkin from their school days.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you feel you’re trapped between two worlds – thus, the United States of America and Russia? Which of these two worlds are you most attached to?

Carol V. Davis: I would say I was for a long time. It was hard to come back to the U.S. after Russia. I had more freedom to teach interesting things in Russia. I was the first person to teach various subjects in Russia and that was very exciting. Ironically it took living in Russia to seeing how American I really am. I never felt very American before. I grew up partially in Europe, but when I lived in Russia I saw how much I am a product of my own society. It showed in ways like my independence. I had a hard time asking for help. People were fine about helping me (computer problems, for example) but I had a hard time asking and accepting it. On the other hand, I was and will always be a foreigner in Russia, even though I (more or less) speak the language and know the culture. I was always considered an outsider. That is one of the themes of that book. It was painful at times. The book that came out in 2012, Between Storms, is not about Russia, nor is the one I am now working on. So I have moved on thematically.


Interview with British-American Poet Robert Peake

September 27, 2014
Photo Credit: Valerie Kampmieier

Photo Credit: Valerie Kampmieier

Brief Biography:

Robert Peake is a British-American poet living near London. He created the Transatlantic Poetry on Air reading series. His full-length collection The Knowledge is forthcoming April 2015 from Nine Arches Press.

Geosi Gyasi: Come to think of it, how has your study of poetry in the university helped you as a poet?

Robert Peake: As an undergraduate, I learned to love poetry as a reader. I had the pleasure of studying with poets like Robert Hass and literary critics like Stephen Booth, who opened my eyes to the enjoyment of both historical and contemporary poetry in a greater way. In the MFA programme at Pacific University, Oregon, I learned to deepen that appreciation for poetry as a reader, and furthermore to read not only as a fan or literary critic, but also as a writer. I feel that those two years of intensely reading and writing poetry with the guidance of my mentors accelerated my progression as a poet easily by a decade or more. It also contributed to my development as a poet and as a person in ways that I may never have discovered by simply writing by myself over time. It cemented my love affair with poetry to be in these environments. It made me feel that poetry is real and valuable, even if under-appreciated in our time.

Geosi Gyasi: What are some of the good memories you remember as a student at Pacific University?

Robert Peake: My best memories are about the people, and the atmosphere of the place–which I would call serious about the craft of writing, but unpretentious. One of our mentors started a tradition of ending every lecture with a sing-along. A group of students in my year saved a drowning man’s life by pulling him out of a river. These are the kind of people I wanted to emulate, both in life and in writing–the kind of people you can count on, who aren’t afraid to wade out into deep water, and yet who don’t take themselves too seriously along the way.

Geosi Gyasi: Which living poets have influenced you most?

Robert Peake: Robert Hass, as I mentioned, was one of my earliest major influences. His work has always resonated with me, and he also introduced me as a young and impressionable undergraduate to Seamus Heaney, whose influence was tremendous. My mentor Marvin Bell has had an undeniable influence, as well as poets like Jane Hirshfield–not only for their work but their way of being. I also felt that I hit a vein of gold when I discovered Polish poets in translation like Adam Zagajewski and Czeslaw Milosz (a friend of Robert Hass), as well as other Eastern-European-influenced poets like Charles Simic. They taught me that irony and wry humour could disarm a reader enough to slip in something essential “under the radar” as it were. There are so many; I could go on…

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a bit about the “Transatlantic Poetry on Air” readings in London?

Robert Peake: I started this reading series after I relocated to the UK, to bring poets together from either side of the Atlantic for live on-air readings and Q&A. It has garnered wonderful support from literary journals and national organisations committed to reaching new audiences with poetry. I wanted to create something that I myself would really want to watch and enjoy, to connect people from great distances and also connect to viewers in remote areas where readings are scarce. It has taken on a momentum of its own now, and I see it well on its way to becoming a major vehicle for how poetry gets transmitted and received in the twenty-first century.

Geosi Gyasi: As a technology consultant, do you think technology has influenced poets and poetry in any particular way?

Robert Peake: I think it has influenced the audience for poetry by shortening our attention spans, and I think poetry is always influenced by its audiences. That said, technology may also be the saving grace of contemporary poetry, because even as the fan base has dwindled since the advent of rock-n-roll, the ability of poets and poetry-lovers to connect and engage all over the world has expanded. The global audience for poetry today is therefore many times the size of what many poets enjoyed as a regional audience one hundred years ago. I think it is therefore a kind of “Invisible Golden Age” for poetry–with more availability than ever, despite the perception of scarcity.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you start a poem?

Robert Peake: I start much like William Stafford and his followers would–anywhere, with anything, with whatever comes to mind. I try to take hold of a thread from there, and let the poem have its way. Rarely do I start cold, though. I keep a single Word document with every false start, bad poem, odd idea–everything I write just gets “dumped” in there, like compost, and so I always have some creative fertiliser at the ready, instead of the terrifying prospect of a new blank page.

Geosi Gyasi: How do you know you’ve come to the end of a poem?

Robert Peake: Usually, there is a “dismount”, as in riding a horse. Yet sometimes it can be too tempting to conclude a difficult or uncomfortable poem, so I often try to push beyond the initial ending to see if I was cutting the poem off abruptly, if there was more to it that I was unwilling to venture into. Often, the poems end themselves. It doesn’t always mean the poem is “done”, and it certainly doesn’t mean it is necessarily any good. But once a poem has exhausted what it wants to say to me, I give it a rest. Sometimes a completely new poem comes out later, with similar themes, that is the “revision” of that poem in a much more successful form. So, I don’t try to force things too much. I try to let the poem tell me when it is through.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Your newest book, “The Knowledge” is due out in April 2015 from Nine Arches Press. Do you mind giving us a gist of what readers are to expect from the book?

Robert Peake: Many of these poems were written during an extended period of culture shock after relocating to the UK nearly four years ago. However stressful that was, it was also a heightened state of awareness. So, I took on the role of a kind of participant-observer in my new life, reflecting on London, on America, looking both within and without as a kind of “anthropologist on Mars”. You can expect a wide range of poems on the themes of knowing and knot knowing (I am told the title “Songs of Innocence and Experience” was already taken). I hope people close the back cover and come away with an experience they have never quite had before, that it provokes and startles and changes people, even for a moment, in some way.

Geosi Gyasi: Tim Krcmarik, author of The Heights praised you and your book, “Human Shade” as “Robert Peake is a first-rate poet whose collection, Human Shade, is a cycle of very tender and very finely crafted poems.” Could you comment on this statement?

Robert Peake: That was very kind of Tim, who is a fine poet himself. Tenderness and craft are, I think, my right and left hands–how I go about my work of making poems. To me, the human element is essential and necessary. For my purely cerebral delights, I turn to writing software source code. I think poetry can do better than be a head game, and so the tenderness informs my emphasis on craft. It fuels my fire. It is to render something essentially human, and ultimately ineffable, that I write.

Geosi Gyasi: While doing your MFA at the Pacific University, you were once selected by the faculty to give the student speech at graduation on the basis of “outstanding contribution to the programme”. Could you give as a glimpse of some of the things you said?

Robert Peake: The full text of the speech is actually available online: The ending is the most important part, where I encourage myself and all of us to just keep writing, no matter what.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you keep a strict writing schedule?

Robert Peake: Days that I write are better days, even if the poems seem to be holding out on me. So, I have found that I don’t need to be “strict” necessarily, because not writing is simply too uncomfortable. I write often, which sometimes means every day. The morning is optimal for me, because I have my best chance at spelunking through the inner territory where poems are discovered before the day gets cranking and my emails and other duties are upon me.

Geosi Gyasi: This may sound frivolous but what’s the best thing that has happened to you as a poet?

Robert Peake: The moments I really live for are the ones where I discover that a poet whose work I greatly admire feels similarly about what I am doing. To earn the respect of those I respect is really the greatest joy, and a most satisfactory companionship.

Geosi Gyasi: Your website consistently ranks as a top poetry blog. Is there anything special you do that other bloggers don’t do?

Robert Peake: I got into the blogging game early, writing about the world’s most popular web programming language, called “PHP”. My traffic actually plummeted when I decided to make poetry my main focus. That said, I try to focus on writing the kinds of articles I would like to read. I also try to be a good citizen of the virtual community overall. Whatever I would do to be a good neighbour in real life, I aim to do online. People are discovering that the internet is not really anonymous, any more than living in a village is anonymous. For me, it has always been more about connection than traffic numbers, and my blog is just another way that I participate in village life.

Geosi Gyasi: You’re often described as a British-American poet. My question is, where do you actually belong: Britain or America?

Robert Peake: I belong in both places, because both places are my home. Britain and America have inclusive poetic traditions, so as much as I am outsider, I am also an insider. I do my best to learn from what each country has to offer–and especially from its poets.


Ace Boggess on Drug Addiction, Life in Prison, Writing & Advice for Drug Addicts

September 24, 2014
Ace Boggess

Ace Boggess

Brief Biography:

Ace Boggess was locked up for five years in the West Virginia prison system. During that time, he wrote the poems collected here and published most of them. Prior to his incarceration, he earned his B.A. from Marshall University and his J.D. from West Virginia University. He has been awarded a fellowship from the West Virginia Commission on the Arts, and his poems have appeared in such journals as Harvard Review, Notre Dame Review, Southern Humanities Review and The Florida Review. His first collection, The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled, appeared in 2003. He currently resides in Charleston, West Virginia.

Geosi Gyasi: I find it difficult to ask this but what took you to prison and how long did you spend there?

Ace Boggess: I was a drug addict for many years–Oxycontin and the like.  Over time, that took away most of my sanity, and I ended up robbing pharmacies for drugs.  I spent five years in the penitentiary.

Geosi Gyasi: Your most recent book, “The Prisoners” published by Brick Road Poetry Press has most of the poems written while in prison? Were you allowed the liberty to write in prison?

Ace Boggess: Yes, all of the poems in the book were written while in prison, and probably 2/3 of them were published while I was locked up in magazines such as Atlanta Review, River Styx, RATTLE, J Journal, and so on.  The first poem in the book was written on the day I arrived at the penitentiary, and my acceptance letter for the book arrived on the day of my release.  I lived with that book for five years, constantly obsessing over what belonged in there and what didn’t.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you regret to have been incarcerated?

Ace Boggess: It’s a mixed bag.  I hate that I lost everything I ever owned, lost track of friends, not to mention five years of my life.  At the same time, I wrote that book while I was there and, in doing so, proved something to myself.  It was the one thing no one could take away from me, and I achieved success in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.  Plus, it often takes losing everything in order to figure out you didn’t need any of it to be happy.

Geosi Gyasi: What’s the most profound joy – if any – you got from prison?

Ace Boggess: I found it in odd places: a library book, a conversation, working as the legal rep and trying my best to help other inmates with their problems.  Of course, my first year there, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl, and watching that was probably the happiest time in my five years.  There’s a poem about it in the book.

Geosi Gyasi: Was it difficult finding a publisher for your book, “The Prisoners”?

Ace Boggess: Finding a publisher is always difficult, and more so from prison.  Most publishers and probably 3/4 of journals have moved to electronic submissions, and in prison there’s no internet access.  Still, I was writing and publishing before I got myself arrested, so I knew what books and magazines to order to help me find places to submit.  In this case, though, Brick Road Poetry Press was the first place I sent the complete manuscript.  I really didn’t know how the editors would respond.  Luckily, they loved it.  I’m still shocked when I see how folks react to this book.  It’s not something I expected.

Geosi Gyasi: How different is your first book, “The Beautiful Girl Whose Wish Was Not Fulfilled” from “The Prisoners?”

Ace Boggess: The first book was more traditional, with what I often call philosophies of nothing and the moon.  There are love poems and depictions of scenes with friends, writing experiments, notes on Camus and Hemingway.  It’s all over the place.  Of course, I was a drug addict when I put that book together, and I think that can be seen in the sadness and loneliness that haunt its pages.

Geosi Gyasi: From the title, can I query you on who and who constitute the prisoner(s)? I am most interested in the last letter “s”.

Ace Boggess: “The Prisoners” is the long poem that wraps up the book.  It’s a note of sorts on the suffering of those around me.  In five years, I probably encountered two thousand people, and many of them had the same troubles: wives and girlfriends leaving or fooling around, the growth of either a religious pleading or its opposite in wild desperation, money troubles, child support for children the inmates never saw.  What I observed in these shared troubles was a grayness in eyes and spirits.  That became a theme of the poem, and to a greater extent, the whole book.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you remember some of the friends you met while in prison? Have any of them become writers?

Ace Boggess: I’m still in touch with a handful of folks.  None have become writers as far as I know.  Maybe they should try.  They would have their own perspective on that world.  It might prove fascinating.

Geosi Gyasi: How did you get into writing?

Ace Boggess: The same way I got into drugs.  I’ve dealt with severe social anxiety all my life, although I didn’t recognize it as such early on when I started writing and taking pills to help myself deal with my fear.  This is all looking back, of course.  That was the end of the 80s and the early 90s.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me and what I was doing to cope.  But, both the writing and the pills were a big part of my life after that for a long time.  The weird thing to me though is that I always considered myself a novelist.  It still amazes me that my novels haven’t sold, but my poems have taken off.  Que sera sera.

Geosi Gyasi: Was the place where you wrote from prison very much conducive or environmentally friendly?

Ace Boggess: In West Virginia, prison is mostly just a warehouse filled with loud, obnoxious people.  There’s plenty of time for writing, but you have to be able to tune out the noise.  Some days that worked, and some days it didn’t.  What’s important is that there were plenty of things I hadn’t seen there.  The newness of, say, a shakedown or smoking a cigarette that someone had smuggled in in his butt was fascinating to me.  My training was in journalism, and like a reporter I wanted to give those scenes to other people.  I tried to capture everything I saw.  Again, it didn’t always work, but a lot of the time, it did.

Geosi Gyasi: Who inspires you to write?

Ace Boggess: The poets I love to read are Bob Hicok, Billy Collins, Natasha Saje, Kevin Young.  I read constantly.  I saw a study recently that suggested reading poetry triggers things like introspection and nostalgia.  I find that to be true.  So, I read whatever literary journals I can get my hands on.  At the same time, the book I always go back to is David Lehman’s The Evening Sun.  I read that a decade ago when I was reviewing books for The Adirondack Review, and it blew me away.  I even ordered a copy of it while I was locked up.  I also have an attachment to Velocities by Stephen Dobyns, because it was the only poetry book in the prison library when I first got there, so I read it many times.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Could you define what a love poem is? How much liking do you have for love poems?

Ace Boggess: To me, it’s a search for connection.  When I write what I consider a love poem, it’s often the description of a scene in which I and someone else share something beautiful: a walk along the riverbank, a sunset, a movie, a moment of intense passion.  I always enjoy love poems if they’re well done without being sappy.  I read Neruda early on, and I go back to his books.  They just have a certain feeling to them without wasting time talking about that feeling.  It’s hard to explain.  I guess for me a love poem is like any other poem except that I have a co-author who provides me with something other than the words.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific purpose why you write?

Ace Boggess: The main thing I try to do is take a photograph or make a home movie and then share that with others.  I’m writing about my life and my stories and the things I see, but I always hope I’m doing it in such a way that the reader will connect with it and wonder if I’ve been watching him or her through a window.  If the reader finds a connection to her own life, I consider that a win.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a particular target audience when you write?

Ace Bogess: I don’t have a particular target audience.  Ideally, everyone would read my work.  Knowing that won’t happen, I just cast my line and hope I get a few bites.

Geosi Gyasi: The gap between your first and second books is quite huge? Why is that so?

Ace Boggess: Yes, a decade passed. Half of that I spent in prison.  Book-ending that time are–on one side–a couple years of the worst phase of my drug addiction, descent into despair and madness, time in rehab, etc., and–on the other–the two years since my release while I’ve been focusing on the new book and trying to sell several others.  I have two manuscripts left over from before I got locked up, and I’m trying to find homes for them, plus a handful of novels that are still making the rounds.  But, I had no access to any of my older manuscripts while I was inside.  So, my focus was entirely on The Prisoners, which I built from scratch and hovered over as if it were my sick child.  Anyway, I hope it won’t take nearly as long for the next one to find a home.

Geosi Gyasi: Tell us a bit about the literary scene in Charleston, West Virginia, where you currently reside?

Ace Boggess: Honestly, I don’t know that much about the Charleston literary scene.  I grew up in Charleston, but I hadn’t lived here for a couple decades before my release from prison.  So, I’m still exploring.  However, West Virginia as a whole has a marvelous literary tradition, with recent poetry books by wonderful authors such as John McKernan, Kirk Judd, Ron Houchin and A.E. Stringer, and novels out recently from amazing authors John Van Kirk, Andrea Fekete and Marie Manilla.  There’s much to be praised here.  I’d like to see it become more visible everywhere else.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you describe the typical American prison system? Do you think American prisons have any flaws?

Ace Boggess: Ah, now there’s a rub.  The West Virginia prison system is, from what I understand, not typical of the American system.  As I said, it’s mostly just a warehousing system for people the state wants to be rid of for a while.  There’s a lot of dead time.  I’m sure the intensity and craziness you hear about in most prisons happens here, too, but I didn’t see much toward the extremes.  It’s just passing time.  There are many flaws, but they’re American flaws and, as such, mostly stem from apathy.  I’ll leave it that.

Geosi Gyasi: If you were asked to give advice to a group of drug addicts, what would you say?

The best advice I can offer is this: ask for help.  You can’t beat the habit alone, but your junk-hungry brain will tell you that you can.  You’ll try everything you can think of, but it’s always back to the dope in the end.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not anti-dope.  The drugs helped me survive something I couldn’t understand inside me that might have destroyed me.  They opened doors in my writing, also.  But, taking drugs and being an addict are worlds apart.  Once the addiction gets you, ask for help, or you will destroy yourself.

Geosi Gyasi: I would not let you go without telling me the inspiration for the poem “Mango Smoothie”? Of course, that’s how I encountered you!

Ace Boggess: It’s pretty straightforward.  I set out to write a love poem for a new love, and she happened to be sick at the time.  It started me thinking about what we do for love, even when we know it won’t work.  I found my moment of beauty and connection in what was otherwise an ugly, disturbing scene.


Christine Potter on Writing & the Connection between Poetry & Scripture

September 22, 2014
Christine Potter and the Statue of Elvis Presley

Christine and a Statue of the Young Elvis Presley at his Boyhood Home

Brief Biography: Christine Potter is a poet, writer, and internet broadcaster who lives in the Lower Hudson Valley with her choirmaster/organist husband and two very spoiled kitties.  She has two collections of poetry: Zero Degrees at First Light (2006) and Sheltering In Place (2013), with work forthcoming in American Arts Quarterly and The Anglican Theological Review.  She’s also putting the finishing touches on a YA novel and beginning the arduous task of finding an agent.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve said somewhere about the connection between poetry and scripture. Could you elaborate on this connection?

Christine Potter:  In the bio I wrote for Rattle, I said that I think poetry and scripture both come from the same place, that there’s a sort of holy spirit moving in the best poetry, no matter what its topic is.  Ever noticed the way a poem can take off on its own as you are writing it–or read something you’ve written and see how an image you seemingly picked at random was exactly the right one?

Geosi Gyasi: Perhaps, your description of the incense and bells comes to mind?

Christine Potter: As for the incense and bells–yes.  But they’re also part of the tradition I was brought up in; my family belonged to an Episcopal church when I was young.  They are very vivid things, aren’t they–stuff to hear and to smell and to breathe!

Geosi Gyasi: How long have you been writing poetry? 

Christine Potter:  I’ve written poetry pretty much as long as I can remember.  I used to write metrical, rhyming poems in a kind of ballad style when I was in grade school.  Fortunately, none of those have survived!

Geosi Gyasi: Could you explain how the idea for “Save the Human Race” came about?

Christine Potter:  It’s a loose allusion to Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of our Teeth, a play where the human race (symbolized by one family) is beset by all sorts of horrors, but survives.  My father, who passed away this spring, often went on long rants about how terrible the world was, how we are all doomed.  But I believe that we are somehow rescued, again and again, by “the skin of our teeth” — partly our own efforts and partly Grace. The poem has a lot of near-misses in it.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you go through a tedious process of arriving at the titles for your poems?

Christine Potter:  Sometimes I do.  When I wrote this one,  I knew the title right away.  It was the first thing I wrote and the poem followed it.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific reason why you write?

Christine Potter:  I write because it feels good to have written a poem, and it feels good to do the writing.  And there’s that magic thing that happens with the poem kind of putting itself together, when I’m really lucky.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you like most about your writing?

Christine Potter:  Gee, I don’t know!  I think I do an OK job with imagery.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have any special rituals you do before you write?

Christine Potter:  Not usually.  I like to do poetry marathons with a few other poet friends sometimes.  Sometimes an image or a strong feeling sets me off.  Sometimes I open a poetry book by someone I respect and read a little from it.  Robert Bly’s Morning Poems is good for that.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: How much of your poetry come from true life experiences?

Christine Potter:  All of it.  I write fiction in prose, but my poetry is based on my life, stuff that actually happened–to the best of my memory.  Of course, memory lies sometimes.  And straight autobiography would be boring.  It’s kind of stacked-up stuff that I thought or saw.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific reader in mind when you write?

Christine Potter:  I want my poetry to be easily read.  I don’t think poetry should be a private club.  I think you can be plain-spoken and still do good work.

Geosi Gyasi: How has family affected your writing – whether positively or negatively?

Christine Potter:  I very often write about family, so I guess they’ve inspired it.  Like all families, they’re a bit crazy-making and a bit astonishing.  My parents were not the happiest folks in the world, but they were strong models for loving the arts and reading.

Geosi Gyasi: What books did you read growing up?

Christine Potter:  As a child, I was a compulsive reader.  I read everything I could get my hands on.  Lots of biographies, a few classic YA books like A Wrinkle In Time, and various anthologies of poetry for young people.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?

Christine Potter: Hmmm.  Mark Doty, Ted Kooser (although he’s a bit older than me), Aliki Barnstone, Sharon Olds.  That’s today.  I read a lot of different poets. Tomorrow I might tell you something different.  But always Mark Doty.  He’s just amazing.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you take advice from anybody when you write?

Christine Potter:  Not as much as I used to.  I was head moderator at The Alsop Review’s Gazebo for years.  That was an online workshop, and we edited one another like crazy.  It’s probably hubris to say this, but I think I’ve gotten to the place where I can revise my own poetry without a ton of input from the outside.  I have a few friends I might email or share new work with.

Geosi Gyasi: What theme(s) do you often write on?

Christine Potter:  Guess I write about family and love the most. That and extreme weather. I really like watching storms!


Interview with British-Nigerian Writer, Adura Ojo

September 16, 2014
Photo Credit: Adura Ojo

Photo Credit: Adura Ojo

Brief Biography:

Adura Ojo is an author, poet, blogger and a mother of two. She is the author of Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs, her debut poetry collection. She loves observing the world around her and teasing the voices within. In previous lives she was a graduate of English, Law and Social Work – not all at the same time. She also enjoyed work – as a lecturer, trainer and mental health practitioner. Her work has been published in Sentinel Champions, Sentinel Nigeria, The Poetic Pinup Revue, and a number of websites. She lives in the UK where she is currently working on her debut novel and a second poetry collection.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve been blogging for some time now? What circumstance(s) led you to become a blogger?

Adura Ojo: I’ve been blogging for six years. I used to visit the Nigerian Village Square, a well- known Nigerian online forum. I read blogs and became fascinated with them.

Geosi Gyasi: How much of the blogging experience do you bring to your writing?

Adura Ojo: I blog spontaneously. Most of my poems are written the same way in less than thirty minutes. Though editing can take longer.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think blogging has a place in modern world? And what mostly fascinates you about blogging?

Adura Ojo: We can’t always say all we want to say in 140 characters and any video on that popular website loses viewers quickly if it’s more than five minutes long. Blogging has a place. It would become more commercialised. That’s already happening. Almost anyone can just start a blog. I like that.

Geosi Gyasi: You blog from two places – thus – Life is a Woman and Naijalines. Could you tell me a bit about the two blogs?

Adura Ojo: ‘Naijalines’ is my personal blog where I write about anything that takes my fancy. ‘Life is a Woman’ (taken from the title of my book) is my writing blog. I share poetry and prose pieces and take part in writing challenges.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind sharing about motherhood and writing?

Adura Ojo: Motherhood is a privilege as well as a challenge. I enjoy both aspects. As a writer you need lots of alone time…I do. As a mother you cannot have lots of alone time…my eight year old daughter says so. When my son was growing up, (he’s in his early twenties now) I was a full time practising mental health professional. It seemed more straightforward. I had more energy then.

Geosi Gyasi: You are a graduate of English, Law and Social work? I am wondering if you could share that bit on your study of Law?  Have you abandoned it totally?

Adura Ojo: I read Law in the UK and graduated with honours. Right from my first year, I knew there was a possibility I would not want to go to law school. There were a few reasons for my decision. I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned it; at least I haven’t abandoned the purpose for the law degree. I am an advocate of social causes rather than the law. That’s why I did a Masters in Social Work. My main interests are women and mental health. I get involved in selected projects that deal with these issues. These two issues also feature prominently in my poetry.

Geosi Gyasi: You were born in London and brought up in Nigeria? What memories do you have about your birth in London and your upbringing in Nigeria?

Adura Ojo: I can’t recall much about my early years in London. I was three when we moved to Nigeria. I can recall smells though. I have almost an allergic reaction to celery and suspect it’s to do with a childhood incident in the UK, possibly outside of my home. I have a lot of memories growing up in Nigeria. The first poem: “Happy Lizards” in ‘Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs’ is a reflection on those childhood years in Nigeria.

Available on Amazon

Available on Amazon

Geosi Gyasi: Having lived in the United Kingdom since your early twenties, do you feel more British than Nigerian?

Adura Ojo: I am both British and Nigerian. A Nigerian would describe me as ‘Britico’ and a British person would describe me as Nigerian. ‘The immigrant experience’ which I allude to in my book further complicates matters. I was born British. Socio-politically in the UK, I’m still seen as an ‘immigrant’ on British soil. Being Nigerian is central to my identity as much as the UK is my home.

Geosi Gyasi: What flaws, in your opinion, does the British society have over the Nigerian or vice-versa?

Adura Ojo: No culture is perfect. Cultures are complex. One culture does not have an upper hand over the other as far as these two are concerned. They are just different.

Geosi Gyasi: How often do you return to Nigeria?

Adura Ojo: I was in Nigeria twice last year. I hope to be there later this year.

Geosi Gyasi: Have you been following the literary landscape in Nigeria?

Adura Ojo: I have to a certain extent. It’s vibrant at the moment with many young writers coming up. We’ll see how it develops.

Geosi Gyasi: Which writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?

Adura Ojo: Jude Dibia. I wouldn’t describe him as ‘my contemporary.’ He has three novels to his credit. Dibia has that ability to get into the mind of his characters and do it in a subtle, yet effective way.  For poetry, I love Somali poet Warsan Shire’s work. Her work is hauntingly beautiful.

Geosi Gyasi: At what point in life did you stumble on the art of poetry?

Adura Ojo: I studied English at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. We read a lot of English and African poets: Keats, Donne, Okigbo, Clark, Soyinka, Okot p’Bitek, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Pope, Milton and Shelley among others. My first poem was to my then boyfriend around this time. I was actually 17 though we first met when I was 16.  The poem I wrote expressed thoughts I did not feel safe expressing anywhere else. Poetry seems a medium I’ve adopted for expressing thoughts I do not feel able to express elsewhere. I did not write another poem until 2009. Thinking of it now, that was when I was ready and it all started to come out.

Geosi Gyasi: Your debut poetry collection, “Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs?” was recently published. What struck me about the book was the cover. Who designed the book cover? Did you have a hand in influencing the cover design?

Adura Ojo: Writer, Kiru Taye designed the cover. She did a fantastic job. I was clear in my own mind as to what I wanted. Describing it to someone else was not easy. I suck at sketches. After Kiru did a couple of draft images, I summed up the image in my mind as ‘a woman in a flowing robe, with attitude.’ Barely 24 hours later, Kiru sent this cover. It was as if she took a picture of the image in my mind’s eye.

Geosi Gyasi: Beyond the book cover are a number of poems that celebrate feminism? Are you often biased towards women?

Adura Ojo: Geosi, I don’t know what you mean by ‘biased towards women.’ I am a woman who is proud of my womanhood. I love to celebrate that with women and men alike. There are three sections in the book. The first two sections look at the human condition as a general landscape. The last section is perhaps the one that best meets your description, ‘celebrating feminism’ and womanhood. Besides that, there are a host of poems that look at different spheres of the human experience: identity, race, the diasporan experience, poverty, terrorism and poor leadership. Poems such as: “The Museum”, “Say My Name”, “Eggs Crack Easy”, “Nagging Area”, “This Land”, “French” and “Zebra Crossing” deal with some of these issues.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us a glimpse of what book you intend to write next? Would it be another poetry collection or fiction or non-fiction?

Adura Ojo: I have a novel that is 75% finished. It is about a young man and an older woman. I’m also working on my second poetry collection which promises to be of lighter subject matter than the first. I would like to think that the novel would be next one out. I could be wrong.

Geosi Gyasi: Could you comment on these lines from your poem, “A Woman Knows Her Place”: A woman knows her place/and how to get there.

Adura Ojo: I am surprised that you homed in on those lines. I was not sure that readers would get it. There were prevalent attitudes towards women and also emotional blackmail that one was exposed to, growing up within a patriarchal culture in Nigeria. It was not part of the experience in my own family but it was very much a part of the society I grew up in. The saying: “A woman must know her place”, we often think we’ve come a long way from that sort of thinking but it is still evident in people’s attitudes. My own approach is to twist that statement on its head. Yes, a woman knows her place. Not only does she know her place, she most certainly knows how to get there. It is empowering for women to define where that ‘place’ is.


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Dancing Masks by Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo

September 10, 2014
Dancing Masks

Dancing Masks

Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Dancing Masks begins with two important proverbs:

You do not stand in one place to watch a dancing mask – Igbo Proverb.

The world is like a mask dancing. If you want to see it, you do not stand in one place – Chinua Achebe.

Like Achebe, Adimora-Ezeigbo’s opening page with the Igbo proverb affirms her believe that cultures use folklore and poems and proverbs to pass on great cultural richness and values in the society. Hence, proverbs, which is often associated with wisdom finds befitting place(s) in the poetry of Adimora-Ezeigbo. The latter proverb, solicited from Achebe’s Arrow of God, recounts Ezeulu’s speech to Oduche in the wake of the new religion. ‘I want one of my sons to join these people and be my eye there. If there is nothing in it you will come back. But if there is something there you will bring home my share. The world is like a Mask dancing. If you want to see it well you do not stand in one place. My spirit tells me that those who do not befriend the white man today will be saying had we known tomorrow.” – Arrow of God p45-46.

Dancing Masks is divided into five different sections: Signs of the Times, Fingers of Feeling, Haiku Connections, Ikpem: Pidgen Blues and Infinite Cycles: The beginning ends where the end begins. Adimora-Ezeigbo raises enough concerns and issues that cripple the society in which we live. A myriad of themes from love to family to friendship to climatic changes runs through the book.

The opening poem however sends shivers down my spine and raises concerns of Global Warming and the “disaster” that “looms” in this weird world. As if human beings sitting on a time bomb, waiting to explode even when “time crosses the abyss of hope” and “poor nations await the guillotine”.

In Casualty, both young and old share their sentiments towards one another. For young casualty, her worry: “Why do you have to travel and leave me at home?” For Old Casualty, the desire to succeed in this profession of “publish or perish” roused her ambition for good prospects from elsewhere. The “mad competition to excel” in “this land that kills initiative” could better be the divine excuse for a year sojourn elsewhere? Nonetheless, the niggling trepidation for Old Casualty hangs in the balance; the fear of young casualty metamorphosing into “drug addict, rapist, thief or terrorist?” Could it then be argued that the insurgence of terrorism in recent times stems from the absence of proper parental care of young casualties?

Albeit, there are several Ways of Dying, this poem inspired by plane crashes in Nigeria between the years 2005 and 2007. Starting on the ephemeral make of mankind and ending on a rather hopeful note and like the biblical quote presents better: I will not die but live to declare the works of the Lord.

The second section of the book is all about love and friendships and relationships. Adimora-Ezeigbo’s description of love is thoroughly unpretentious. We meet phrases like “Woman of liquid midnight skin” in Celebrating Agbonma the beauty, “mind gestates in acrobatics” in Small talk, “love’s surplus banquet” in Joys of friendship, “frolic of a smile” in In brotherhood, “throttle our love” in Soul mate call, “air sodden with perfume” in Moon song to the beloved, “love-drenched eyes” in Sweet Havila.

Other sections captured in the book are Haiku Connections with poems touching on our heritage living abroad as portrayed in “Benin bronze in London”, illegible hieroglyphics analogous to ancient Egypt in “Grim faces thought-creased” and feasting on worm infested mangoes in “We sit at table”.

The last section, Infinite Cycles: The beginning ends where the end begins is a proverbial title that pays tribute to a number of important people. For instance “A hero for all seasons” pays tribute to Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, “Farewell, great compatriot” written in memory of Chief Emeka Obiabaka, “Tribute to Atakata Agbuo” written in memory of Col. Chinyere Ike Nwosu, “Homecoming of a Christian Soldier” written in memory of Elder Justin Ezeokwura and “A Matriarch Departs” written in memory of Madam Gladys Adimora.

In Dancing Masks, Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo presents many problematic societal issues to the reader in a most discernible language. The poems oftentimes sing melodious tunes, breathe and die like human beings, cautions the reader in times of looming dangers, cares for the family, worries about casualties, praises artists and pays tribute to some important personalities. Dancing Masks is no doubt a remarkable feat.


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